It happened at least 10 times a day during the tournament, Stanko said. “And every time we sit down at a table, someone says how nice it is to see young people playing.” Benda added,
“It doesn’t hurt that we’re dressed like a 1990s boy band.”
Even when the bulky cameras are out of sight, the matching jackets always catch people’s attention. After joking that Benda was a celebrity, Stanko explained to the couple that their team,
which includes Stefanie Woodburn and Monique Thomas, is sponsored by Baron Barclay.
“Sponsored? You must be high-level players.”
Well, not exactly. They were playing in bracket four and got knocked out in the first round. This isn’t the bridge version of being sponsored, where a client hires top players to play with them. This is more like the skateboarding version of being sponsored, where a company gives you branded clothing.
The reason for the cameras – and the sponsorship – is that Benda and his teammates are making a movie. It’s a documentary about four millennials learning bridge and playing in their first few tournaments, and the ACBL Educational Foundation is supporting the project. Benda hopes to have the film, called “The Kids Table” finished by the end of the year. A trailer is available on YouTube at youtu.be/9LfcpKsWRFo.
“I always associated bridge with a game old people play,” said Benda, whose grandmother played. But he discovered there was more to it when he found out about ACBL tournaments. “Being a filmmaker and a storyteller, what a fun world to explore. What is it like to be a young person wandering into the world of bridge?”
The jackets were Thomas’s idea. There’s a cute moment in the YouTube video, which was filmed during their first days together, where she explains her decision to join the team, saying,
“Hopefully, we’ll have some sort of matching jackets.” That’s one dream checked off.
The Los Angeles–based group began taking bridge lessons last May from Samantha MacDouglas and Brian Reynolds. The teachers tried to give the group the intense boot camp they were asking for while keeping the emphasis on fun. MacDouglas describes her teaching philosophy as “less is more” and advises teachers to say as little as possible. Reynolds explained, “Kids will figure stuff out way faster than you think they will, and they will self-select” if they are interested enough to want to learn more.
“If you’re not having fun on day one, you’re not going to stay,” said Woodburn, an online gamer who sometimes live-streams her online bridge practice on Twitch, a popular gaming forum.
After three months of lessons, they expanded their weekly training routine to a two-hour lesson followed by a club game. They played at The 750 Club in Woodland Hills for a few months
and then switched to the Barrington Bridge Club in Santa Monica, where there are usually a couple of Grand Life Masters in the field. They got their first taste of tournament play in November at the Ventura Regional. “We were very slow, and we could feel the anxiety that came with being the last tables in the room,” Benda said.
Later that month, they went to the Fall NABC in San Diego, where they got their first win – a bracket two morning knockout on a six-man team with their coaches – and then entered the
Reisinger, coming in last. In February, they played in the Riverside Regional, where they won a bracket three KO. “To say we traveled leaps and bounds since Ventura would be an understatement,”
Benda said. “We now played on pace – even fast at times – and we were significantly more comfortable at the table.
The Philadelphia NABC, where they played the first day of the Vanderbilt, was the team’s fourth tournament and the last one they planned to include in the film, though Benda and Thomas
have since played in Gatlinburg. Benda and co-director Stephen Helstad are now immersed in post-production. “We get to enjoy combing through hours upon hours of interviews and bridge content to
uncover the story at the core of our adventure,” Benda said.
They plan to release the film in early 2019. To get updates on their progress, sign up for their newsletter at bridgekidsdoc.com.
Though the four have quit playing regularly while Benda finishes the movie, he says they all plan to be back. “We regularly talk about how the local club sessions will be something
we look forward to continuing. It’s a special gift and skill that we now have.”