MARQUETTE - Curly haired and freckled, Cooper Smith of Marquette looks pretty much like any other 11-year-old. He plays soccer and goes mountain biking and is an avid reader of "The Hunger Games" book trilogy, as evidenced by the gold "mockingjay" pin attached to his t-shirt.
And then you learn about one of his long-term goals - to reach the status of Life Master in the game of bridge before he leaves home for college.
Since learning the game in January of 2011, Smith has been playing a serious game of cards, playing against adults in the Superiorland Bridge Club, and not just as a casual participant.
Cooper Smith, 11, checks out scores posted at the Superiorland Bridge Club at the Westwood Mall with his grandmother Mary Buys. Smith’s goal is to reach the status of life master in the competative card game. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
Below, Buys, Smith and fellow bridge player Sally Jorgensen of Big Bay get ready to begin a new game. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
"Once you know it, it's kind of easy," he said.
Initially getting an introduction to the game from his grandmother, Mary Buys, who has been playing since she was 10 years old, Smith then took lessons from the Superiorland Club before becoming a regular member of the organization in May 2011.
Unlike casual games played at social events or parties, the game Smith plays is duplicate bridge, sanctioned by the American Contract Bridge League. Winning games earns him master points, which are used to determine a player's status within the ACBL. To be considered a life master, Smith needs 300 master points, some of which can only be earned at certain tournaments. Currently he has 26.
Individual games or "boards" are played in groups of four, split into two sets of partners. At the completion of a board, the groups switch, with game play lasting several hours, or in the case of a tournament, all day.
"He started from zero knowing how to play," Buys said.
"She (Buys) taught me two times before then (taking lessons) and I never understood it," Smith said.
Typically during the school year, Smith plays once a week, but during the summer months, will be playing two or three times a week to improve his chances of getting master points.
And his opponents don't take it easy on him just because he's young.
"Both (club) directors have made it very clear people are to play normally with him," Buys said.
Although his first game playing with the club was fun, and nerve-wracking, Smith still remembers his first win.
"It felt like a big accomplishment," he said.
The game is fun for Smith, but he's also putting skills like math and memorization to the test each time he plays, not to mention developing a sense of strategy.
"You have to quickly figure it all out," Buys said.
For more information about bridge or to find out when lessons are available, contact the Superiorland Bridge Club at superiorland_bridge.tripod.com or contact club manager Tony Wros at 906-225-1047.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.