Queen of the Clubs race

Irva Kay Neyhart

Irva Kay Neyhart plays a lot of bridge.

So much that she’s won the national Ace of Clubs race three times in a row in three consecutive brackets, this past year in the 5000–7500 bracket, with a point total good enough to also win the next higher bracket.

But don’t call her Helen Shanbrom yet. Although Neyhart racked up more than 600 black points last year, she didn’t do it sitting in one spot at the club in Corvallis OR where she lives. Neyhart plays in about 15 tournaments a year, at least 10 in the Northwest and three or four others further away. Even her club schedule requires an unusual amount of travel. Neyhart plays 25–30 club games a month, many of them in Portland, Eugene and Salem – places an hour or two away – as well as Corvallis and nearby Albany. All together it’s about 450 sessions a year.

“The last three years, that’s been my life,” Neyhart said. “I do take a week off here and there, spend time with my grandchildren. But even then, I take a night off to play bridge.” She’s started teaching the grandkids, who are 8 and 10 – or as she describes it, “old enough that I can bring them to the club.”

With all the tournaments added onto her club points, Neyhart finished seventh in her Mini-McKinney bracket, behind six professional players, with more than 1000 masterpoints in 2018. It was the second-highest total among all players in District 20, after bridge pro Roger McNay.

The NABCs are becoming a part of her schedule more frequently since going to her first one in 2016, and this year she’ll go to all three for the first time. She came to Memphis to play in the Rockwell Mixed Pairs with McNay. She plays regularly in mixed and women’s events and has made it to the second day each time since Kansas City two years ago.

Now a Diamond Life Master with more than 6200 masterpoints, Neyhart learned bridge from a neighbor when her children were little. “I’ve never taken a lesson,” she said. After a 20-year break, she started playing duplicate in 2004, but not very much at first. She was too busy with work as a certified public accountant. “I owned my own company,” she said. “I worked day and night.” Fortunately, there were night games available – and good-sized ones back then.

She started scaling back on her work in 2012, and two years later semi-retired, selling the company and starting to work part time. At the district level, she’s won her Ace of Clubs bracket every year since 2012 and won the Mini-McKenney for five years straight. Last year, two of her regular partners finished third nationally in their Ace of Clubs brackets: Brian Breckenridge in 1500–2500 and Dennis Harms in 2500–3500.

She’s also gotten more involved in other aspects of bridge since then, unlike most players who rack up masterpoints at the rate she does. Neyhart serves as an area representative for three units on the District 20 board and on its finance committee, as well as a special committee created to examine ways to reduce expenses. She attends board meetings at all the clubs in the three units she represents. “I feel like I’m making a contribution as well as getting to know the people at the clubs in my area,” she said. “I like making a contribution to bridge.”