The Big Payoff

National Tournament Director Rick Beye.

The year was 1987. The place was St. Louis, where the ACBL had meetings in advance of the Spring NABC. Rick Beye, a member of the tournament committee, was sitting at the end of a long table. Someone said the expectation for the tournament table count was 9,000. At that point, Beye spoke up. “It will be 11,000 tables,” he said.

Beye said this because he was in charge of spreading the word about the tournament, and he felt he was doing well in that position, getting notices in the local newspapers and on the radio.

When the final table count was announced, it was just short of Beye’s projection.

There was no “I told you so” from Beye. “I knew what I had done,” he says.

That kind of confidence is one of the personality traits that make him one of the ACBL’s ablest and most popular tournament directors, a veteran with National TD rank who is more than willing to share his experience with promising young directors.

Beye’s journey in bridge – he has been a full-time ACBL employee since 1990 – began on his father’s lap, where he sat when his parents played bridge with friends just about every Saturday night. “Ace is four, king is three” was the drill. He occasionally turned the dummy and on rare occasions played as declarer, but he did little else in bridge.

After graduating from high school in St. Louis, where he was born and has lived for almost all of his 71 years, Beye enrolled at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, studying marketing with a minor in economics, plus a fair amount of bridge.

He graduated in 1969 and, almost immediately, Uncle Sam came calling. Beye was drafted into the U.S. Army. He ended up in the infantry and was sent to Vietnam, arriving in July 1969, returning home 15 months later. When he had the chance during his Army service, Beye continued playing bridge.

Back home, Beye discovered duplicate one night at a dinner party when he met Nancy Hope, who told him about the different form of the game. She is still an active player. A week after they tried duplicate for the first time, they took off for a regional in Indianapolis. Beye was hooked on duplicate. “Once I started playing,” he says, “it consumed me.” Beye recalls that he loved going to a bar with friends after every duplicate session to talk about the boards. “I learned a lot that way,” he says.

Before joining the NABC committee for the St. Louis NABC, Beye had done some directing at clubs, taking over a Tuesday-night game that was closing.

When he wasn’t playing bridge or directing games, Beye sold books, later going to work for 3M selling ad space on billboards.

After his surprisingly accurate projection for the table count at the St. Louis tournament, he was invited to handle publicity for the 1987 Summer NABC in Baltimore. While he was working in Baltimore, veteran TD Bobbie Shipley and another director asked Beye if he was interested in directing at tournaments. He worked for free at four or five regionals before starting to do the job for pay.

“I liked it,” he says. “I liked the guys and gals I worked with.”

One day in late 1987, he got a call from Chris Patrias, a veteran TD based in the St. Louis area. Patrias was calling from Effingham IL, where a sectional had “blown up” – TD jargon for significantly exceeding attendance expectations. Beye helped out at that tournament and was soon picking up more and more sessions for pay.

In his first year as a TD, he worked about 50 sessions. That grew to 150 in his second year and 250 in the third year, expanding again to 350 to 425. He also runs eight to 10 regional tournaments a year.

Beye was driven to get better at bridge after discovering, and he took the same approach to improving as a TD. “I wanted to be good,” he says. “I tried to learn the laws and I conceptualized movements. I kept a laws book in the bathroom with a highlighter. When I finished with one book, I started on another one.”

Tom Marsh, who has worked as a director for more than 20 years, made friends with Beye when another TD, Tom Whitesides, would have Beye assigned to work at tournaments in Texas. Marsh, who lives in San Antonio, says Beye helped him a lot as he was developing. “Rick did more for my directing career than any other one person,” says Marsh, another popular and knowledgeable director. The two of them work together a lot nowadays, and Marsh still admires his colleague and friend for his willingness to help other TDs.

“He has a wealth of knowledge he loves to hand down,” says Marsh, “and he means it when he tells someone to call him if they need help.”

Beye was promoted to associate national rank in 1995 and earned national rank in 2001. He worked for 10 years at ACBL Headquarters, then in Memphis TN, where he was chief TD before returning to tournament work as a director.

Known for his affability, Beye says he acquired the skill with effort. “I still treat it as a game,” he says, and even if he’s not in the best mood when he called to a table, he has a solution. “I try to pretend that I’m talking to one of my mother’s friends. I wouldn’t want someone telling my mother I was a jerk.”

At the 2015 Spring NABC in New Orleans, Beye found himself in a new role at NABCs. Instead of working the floor, he now is managing the office of Tournament Operations. It’s a job he loves despite the long hours and heavy workload. “All the action is here,” Beye says, referring to the office. “It’s a charge.”

“He is a perfect fit that the job he’s in now,” says veteran TD Matt Smith. “He does it really well.”

Beye says he likes the job in part because “I’m hyper-organized. You have to be.”

Wendy Sullivan, NABC meeting planner, says Beye’s personality and support makes her job easier. “He makes the working thing more enjoyable. He’s a good dude.”

Besides bridge and sports – he loves the St. Louis Cardinals in baseball and the Billikens of St. Louis University – Beye enjoys spending time with his daughter, Detective Sgt. Ann Long, a former caddy, and her 3-year-old son Ben and 6-year-old daughter Maeve.

Beye was out of commission for several weeks last year after sustaining serious injuries in a bicycle accident in October 2016. He suffered a broken pelvis, broken collarbone and three broken ribs. The year was nearly over before Beye was back to normal. It was tough, he says. “I like to work and stay busy.”

Although he likes the NABC assignment, Beye hasn’t lost his enthusiasm for working in the field. “I still walk into a room sometimes, look around and say to myself, ‘These are my people.’” Even better, he says, is when players tell him they have had a good time at a tournament he has run. “That,” he says, “is the big payoff.”

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