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One of the most common tools promoting bridge is the notion that it keeps the mind young, that it's a potential means of warding off Alzheimer's. The mental activity is part of what attracts Burke, but this age-based advertising strategy doesn't do much to advance the game.

"I don't care about Alzheimer's," Burke says. "I just turned fourteen years old. The game's effects are long-term, not short-term, and we have to find a way to promote the reality in a way that speaks to people my age as well as their age."

*****

Burke Snowden's skills trump those of players six times his age.
Anthony Camera
Burke Snowden's skills trump those of players six times his age.
Burke Snowden began playing bridge at age six with his dad, Craig.
Anthony Camera
Burke Snowden began playing bridge at age six with his dad, Craig.

Buying his own club was a big move for Burke. It provides a way for him to not only promote the game, but also to bring his parents together again. The two divorced when Burke was six, and he's traveled between their homes on a weekly basis ever since. But now his club puts them in the same room every Thursday from 6:30 to 10 p.m., when they help their son facilitate games.

Burke is elated about this. "My mom cooks all the food, and my dad plays in the club, so I get to work with both of them a lot," he says. "They're the reason I started playing bridge, and it will be great to work with them again and see them together."

Because Burke's club game is geared toward intermediate newcomers, his status as a life master prohibits him from doing anything but monitoring. His main function is to make calls on bridge rules when players ask for his advice, and he worries about the realities of a fourteen-year-old telling a 74-year-old that he cheated and needs to leave. Bridge directors are frequently called upon to make risky decisions during heated moments; this is where his dad comes in handy. Even at Sands's holiday party, an event presented without competition, one team had to be silenced when a loud argument broke out and each player accused the other of playing so poorly that they lost the game.

Burke had worked as a director at Fort Fun for two years when the club's owners, retired married couple Marilyn Pultz and Bill Foliss, announced that they planned to sell the club in order to travel. Burke, who was at a music camp in Wyoming at the time, learned of this via e-mail and immediately called his parents to convince them they should buy the club. The three of them offered $1,200, but for months they competed against another group vying for ownership.

As the January 1 deadline to turn over the club approached, Pultz and Foliss took an informal straw poll and asked club members which new director they'd prefer. The vote came back in Burke's favor, and though his parents anted up the up-front costs, Burke must cover maintenance, liability insurance, rent at Saint John's Lutheran Church, where the games are held, and a sanction fee to the ACBL; he plans to repay his parents at a rate of $50 to $100 every Thursday. The move has made him a young businessman, and he is an aggressive one.

"They want to keep their talons on it as long as possible," Burke says of Pultz and Foliss, "so we said we'd go ahead and pay them now instead of in installments. And the list of items they're giving us isn't even itemized. They're claiming they're giving me a great deal, but I'm not so sure."

He's far more sure of how he plays the game. After rounds, he tends to point out any mistakes his partner made — an action that pits his personality against players who are senior in both age and master points. "I tell them, 'This is what you should have done instead; that wasn't logical,'" he says. "I'm trying to make them better."

As a game, bridge is a great equalizer: Depending on which cards you are dealt, it's entirely possible to beat one of the country's highest-ranked players based on chance alone. But some members of the Colorado bridge community have yet to grow used to seeing a fourteen-year-old as their equal.

"When I'm playing with Billie, she gets angry, even though I'm probably about as good as her or better at this point," Burke says.

According to Craig, his son is decidedly better — even though Turner has earned almost 3,000 master points in a game where it is possible to earn as little as .4 after eleven hours of play.

For what it's worth, Turner boasts that she has yet to compete in a tournament with Burke in which the two earned fewer than 35 points — though this is not technically true. "When my kid was that age, he wasn't nearly as smart," she says. Turner praises Burke as though he were her own grandson, boasting about everything from his grades ("straight As") to his maturity ("fourteen going on forty") to his handwriting ("beautiful") to his latest oboe concert ("very impressive"). "She still thinks she's trying to teach me, so she tries to tell me something, but I know I've done it right, and she gets mad and yells at me," Burke says. "I'm more of a natural at it than she is. She doesn't have the talent for it, but she's been playing since 1976."

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