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He Happens To Be Blind

Bridge is certainly a hard game. Edgar Kaplan said: “Bridge is a game that can never be played well — only in varying stages of badness.”

But what if you had to play with a blindfold? What if you couldn’t see your cards or your opponents? How much harder would that be? That’s the situation Joe Kalk of Beachwood OH is in — he is blind.

Kalk had an operation for a brain tumor on his optic nerve at age 16. After, he had no vision in one eye and limited vision in the other. Nevertheless, he finished high school, college and law school. Kalk practiced law for 30 years.

At the time, he played bridge about two times each month. He could see the cards if he held them close to his nose. After practicing law for 30 years, he finally retired because his vision had continued to deteriorate.

It was then that Kalk decided to take bridge more seriously. He became completely blind, so started playing with what’s called a reader — that’s someone who sorts his cards, then cups their hand and whispers them to him. Kalk has four readers. They love volunteering, he says, and won’t take any pay.

None of the readers play bridge. “I prefer it that way,” says Kalk. “Because they don’t play, no opponent can think they are helping me.”

“I’m fiercely competitive and I love the challenge of the game,” he says. “My goal was to make Life Master.” Phyllis, his wife of 53 years, supported him in his quest.

“I’ve made Life Master, and now my goal is to play for pleasure and to just enjoy the game” he says.

When asked if his disability makes playing harder, Kalk says, “I have no disability. I have a limitation. I’m not a blind bridge player. I’m a bridge player who happens to be blind.”