Over the course of eight short years, Reese Koppel has gone from knowing nothing about bridge to being one of its fiercest advocates.
“Bridge can be here to stay if we help my generation appreciate its essence, and it is my goal to do everything I can to ensure this happens,” he says.
This enthusiasm prompted the ACBL Educational Foundation’s selection of Koppel as 2018 King of Bridge.
According to Barbara Heller, Ed Foundation president, “Reece received the most votes by the trustees who recognized his dedication to spreading the bridge bug by teaching bridge at a local retirement home and several local schools. Reece is also a teacher/counselor at residential summer bridge camps in Illinois and Michigan, which the Educational Foundation proudly supports with grants.”
The 18-year-old from Metairie LA was turned onto bridge by “The Cardturner,” Louis Sachar’s fictional story about a teenager who, “forced” to drive his great-uncle to the local bridge club four times a week and serve as the blind man’s cardturner, develops his own interest in the game.
Reese’s grandmother mailed him his first Audrey Grant “Bridge at a Glance” pamphlet when he was 10. With guide in hand, he jumped onto Bridge Base Online.
“Many Turkish experts hurled Turkish profanity at me on BBO as I confidently bid with just the pamphlet at my side and without a clue as to what I was doing. I began to catch on by seeing what generated the least profanities.”
After nine months online, Reese discovered the Louisiana Bridge Association. He kibitzed John Onstott the first time he went to the bridge center. “One of the few things that I remember about that day was Onstott heatedly debating with his partner about whether a 4♦ bid was a splinter or not. I remember telling my father later that not only did I not have a clue what a splinter bid was, but I probably would never know. Little did I know I would be using splinter bids a few years later at a Youth NABC!”
Reece found that everyone at the club had advice for him.
“As my one hundred new grandmas welcomed me, I loved them back. I began to appreciate their enthusiasm, intelligence, competitiveness, humor and patience. I honestly think that I enjoy the lessons, stories and social skills they’ve taught me more than any masterpoints.”
Reese sees how bridge has contributed to every aspect of his life. He believes that he learned to carry himself with confidence in interviews and received an offer of admission from his top-choice college: He enrolls at Yale University in the fall, where he plans to study statistics and data science, “which bridge furthered and improved.”
He says, “I’ve learned to struggle through adversity and I have gained knowledge and perspective, but the true reason I love bridge is how I approach life like a bridge player. When life goes tough and the cards don’t split in your favor, you have to adapt and try another line of play.”
Koppel is taking and giving back to the game in equal measure. He tells of his work as a bridge counselor and chaperone of three energetic 11-year-olds at the Youth Bridge Camp in Carlinville IL.
Because of Reese’s enthusiasm and lightheartedness, he was hand-picked by a senior counselor to mentor one homesick boy named Caleb.
Caleb begged Reese to help him earn his first masterpoints. After their game, Caleb eagerly sprinted across the room to Reese to inform him that they had picked up a sliver of a masterpoint, and gave him a big bear hug.
Reese says, “Seven weeks later, at the Youth North American Bridge Championships in Toronto, Caleb and Justin (another one of our bunkmates) excitedly showed me the trophies they won by playing as partners. It was gratifying to see how ecstatic my kids were about their bridge success.”
Reese is an NABC Life Master. He finished second last year in the National Youth Teams at the Youth NABC. He also captained a team which competed in December in the Youth U.S. Bridge Championships, finishing third.
Reese says he practices bidding online with his grandmother, who lives in New York. He also plays with his 98-year-old great-grandfather, who lives in Palm Springs.
“I owe much of the credit for my successes thus far to my fellow members of the Louisiana Bridge Association as well as to the game of bridge as a whole,” Reese says. “And let’s not forget the entire network of friends that bridge has given me though the Youth and Junior events for the ACBL and USBF! I’ve met some of my closest friends through bridge-related activities. And for that, I will be forever thankful and appreciative.”
Heller says the Ed Foundation received a record number of applications this year. “In addition, it was a tight field with many strong contenders.” The annual recognition, which awards $2000 in scholarship funds, recognizes a graduating high school senior for their playing record and overall participation in the bridge community.