BY JANET MANDELSTAM
While other 7- and 8-year-olds were chasing fly balls or reading comic books, Dennis and Jerry Clerkin were playing bridge. “That was our recreation,” says Dennis. “We started playing in our family when we were very young.”
By the time they got to college, the brothers were reading books about bridge and “taking it very seriously,” says Dennis, who is a year older than Jerry. The two began playing tournament bridge together over 35 years ago and have never looked back.
Those years of experience paid off in July 2010 when the Clerkin brothers, both Bloomington residents, won the American Contract Bridge League’s Grand National Teams Championship in New Orleans, a tournament in which they played 320 hands over five days.
As in all tournaments, during the final stages, screens were put up so that the players couldn’t see their partners. No winks or tics or other discreet signals. That was just fine with the Clerkins. After all those years together, “We know each other so well,” says Jerry, “that we don’t need to see what’s going on. When the screens go up, our edge goes up.”
Even after all those years, the game is still challenging for the Clerkins. “Bridge is a game of not making mistakes,” says Jerry. “You never reach perfection; you just strive for it. And there are always fascinating hands you haven’t seen before.”
When they aren’t playing in tournaments the brothers teach bridge locally and, thanks to the Internet, play online. “People all over the world play online,” says Jerry, recalling recent opponents from Turkey, Israel, and Portugal.
The brothers spend 15 to 18 weeks on the road every year. They’ve traveled to Europe half a dozen times and frequently to Mexico and Canada. In October, the Clerkins will be in Philadelphia for the world bridge championship, which will take place over 17 days.
But Bloomington has always been home. “When we started to play, people told us we should move to New York or Florida or California where most of the players are,” Dennis recalled. “But Bloomington grounded us, and it was such a wonderful place to come home to.”