Sport or not, Bridge is life to this Guy in Chicago

Guy Franklin (center) is seen playing Bridge with his club mates at the Chicago Duplicate Bridge Club.

Guy Franklin headed to the Bridge Club downtown in his comfortable black sweater and Nike shoes. It was Wednesday, Sept. 23 2015. He wiped away a bead of sweat as he waited for a Blue Line train to take him downtown. He fidgeted with his coat. It was a cool and sunny day, but he wasn’t enjoying the weather. His graying eyebrows were knitted together. He felt a slight discomfort in his chest.

But the thought of the bridge club and the game he loved made him step on the train. He had, after all, been playing for as long as he could remember. He couldn’t imagine not playing — certainly not because he was feeling a little worn down.

He took a bus from the downtown Blue Line stop to 820 New Orleans Street. He hung his coat and talked to his partner Bruce Ladin and his bridge director for the day, Jim O’ Neill, but he didn’t feel the excitement that he usually does when he enters the club. He served himself a portion of vegetable salad from the brunch counter and slid into one of the seats. He meticulously finished his salad, taking a little longer than usual. The discomfort was still there. The broad smile which usually forms a crinkle in the corner of his almond-shaped eyes was nowhere to be seen. His eyes missed the customary twinkle.

They began playing.

He misplayed on a defensive move. Bruce, his partner, gave him a “what did you just do” look. Anxiety started creeping in. Guy felt a discomfort down the center of his chest, which he thought was his esophagus. They finished round one of the three boards in the first table. During the second board, Guy made another mistake, and this time Bruce’s eyes held anger. He knew that look: Another mistake?

Building anxiety. He didn’t know if it was because of his mistakes or the discomfort. He felt the pressure build down the center of his chest, like someone pressing from the outside. Jim, sit in for me for a few minutes, he said. He slowly walked to the bathroom outside the club. He felt the pressure increase. He pulled off his sweater and sat down, thinking the uneasiness will pass. Another few minutes, the discomfort only got worse.

He stumbled down the street, looking for a cab. By then the pain had gone from five on a ten-point scale to a seven and a half — not a crushing pain, but as if a sheep was kneading his chest.

When he reached the clinic downtown, he threw a $20 at the cab driver, leaving without the change. A nurse walked by. A man was wheeled to his doctor. He counted a 100 cars on the driveway. And just five minutes had passed. He limped to the receptionist with his right hand on his chest and said “I need to see the doctor now.” He waited for a few more minutes before the nurse took him to a room to check his weight and blood pressure. He was patient with her but he knew just a little more pain and he’d start screaming.

His blood pressure read 160/90. Yesterday he had come to the clinic for his yearly physical. Clean bill of health — his blood pressure was 120/80. Today sweat dripped down from his gray hair. A technician took him to another room to take his electrocardiogram (EKG). Three doctors checked the report and one turned and said to Guy in matter-of-fact voice — “You are having a heart attack.”

Fifty-eight years ago, 13-year-old Guy lay sprawled on his mother’s bed in their two-bedroom home in Skokie near the Evanston border, with How to Play Winning bridge open two inches from his face. He was devouring the rules of the game, getting ready to quiz his mom, who had taken a sudden interest in it. Bidding, one aspect of bridge, which involved telling the opponent how many points of a single suit their team can make, drew his attention because of the risk factor involved. He found the many bidding conventions fascinating. He quizzed his mother on the different rules and reviewed her responses before moving on to the next rule.

Guy and his mother played with a third person — a dummy — to get the real feel of Bridge. They sat in their living room table and played bridge relentlessly for around seven months before his mother lost interest in the game and moved on to Mahjong, played with 144 tiles of Chinese symbols. He played Mahjong with his mother but he didn’t feel the same adrenaline rush that bridge gave him.

The seed was planted. He found the game intellectually challenging and yearned to play it on a professional level.

His reunion with bridge came in the form of his best friend’s mother, Gertrude Keith, when he was a freshman in Evanston Township High School. A University of Michigan graduate, she had a “knack for bridge.” Guy watched her play with her friends one evening after school, and was immediately hooked. He spent hours in his friend, Chuck’s house, playing bridge with his mother and his older brother, Ken.

They played party Bridge, which is played once or twice a month, where points are not tallied and carried over to the next game. Guy did not know exactly what he was doing but he knew he wanted to continue playing and learning.

But never once during his high school days did he think that he would come to love the game so much he would have to cling on to his life while rushing to the hospital from the Bridge Club.

In 1967, 22-year-old Guy boarded a plane to Hawaii with $500 and a ticket in his pocket. He graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a French major and Spanish minor. He accepted a teaching job in Hawaii for two years. He was asked to teach sections 14, 15 and 16 at Washington Intermediate School in Honolulu, which consisted of the least inquisitive students — he uprooted his entire life and moved to a sunny beach house which he shared with a few people. In those two years, he never once played Bridge.

He returned to Chicago and set up a property management business. He met Jim Pauls, who loved playing bridge. Together, they played party bridge once a month for 25 years. Guy itched to take classes in duplicate bridge and join a club. But he needed a partner. And Jim wanted nothing to do with duplicate bridge.

After many months of unsuccessful persuasion, Guy decided to join the American Contract Bridge League in 2010 by himself. He was 65. By then he had retired from his property management business and the antique business he ran with his friend Joe Hartness. He had all the time in the world to delve into the world of bridge. For three months, Guy played everyday and earned 19 master points, which is a lot for the short time he played duplicate bridge. One Tuesday evening, when he reached Ron Helmen’s American Bridge and Social Club downtown, Ron walked up to Guy and asked him if he wanted to play Bridge with a partner that evening. Guy immediately knew Ron found him a partner.

Bruce Ladin and Guy Franklin played as partners for the first time that evening. Bruce’s glare was enough to tell Guy he had made a mistake. Guy’s tsks were enough to tell Bruce he was annoyed with his move. Bruce called Guy “a great bidder” and Guy said “Bruce plays the hand better.” And a special bond was formed.

Bruce and Guy were like two sixteen-year-olds. They ate their salads together. They played together at least once everyday. They traveled to different states to play in tournaments. They always scratched — they were at the top of the table — at the low level they began playing.

To become a life master in bridge, players had to acquire 500 points from playing at clubs, tournaments and sectional and national championships. Guy was enchanted by the possibility of becoming a life master. He participated in tournaments across the U.S. and within a year after he joined ACBL, he became a life master.

Bruce could not have cared less about points. He played to have fun. But Guy knew that becoming a life master was the most important step in duplicate bridge world. So he persuaded Bruce to accompany him for a tournament in Wisconsin in 2012. He wanted people to call his partner a life master. Begrudgingly, Bruce agreed. Guy rode the Blue L from his house in Logan Square to Bruce’s house in Albany Park. Bruce and Guy set off to Lake Geneva in Wisconsin in Bruce’s car. While Bruce drove, Guy read Bridge conventions and quizzed him.

“I hated reading books and he loved them. Opposites attract, they say,” Bruce said.

Competing against some of the best players gave him an adrenaline rush. And he wanted Bruce to experience that.

Bruce and Guy came back from Wisconsin as life masters.

In 2010–11, the first full year Guy played, he won over 300 points. He took home the ACBL National Award for the most points. He also won the award for getting the most points in clubs and tournaments that year. Guy played against Eddie Wold, one of the top-ranked bridge players from Texas in a Swiss game. He bid very aggressively — something that he doesn’t usually do — and in his words, he “decimated” Eddie Wold. At the time, Guy had 1,500 master points while Eddie Wold had 30,000 master points.

During their years together, little did Bruce know that he would be sitting five feet away from Guy when he left the Bridge club during the middle of a round — something he has never done in his entire life as a bridge player — to stumble into a cab to the hospital, his right hand clutching his chest.

You are having a heart attack.”

The sentence replayed in his head over and over. Before he could even process what he just heard, the doctors placed him in a gurney, gave him a nitric glycerin and an aspirin and called 911. He was rushed to Northwestern Hospital where he was prepped for surgery.

He was wheeled to the operation theater and to his horror, the entire theater was packed with doctors, residents and nurses. A resident flashed a consent form to his face and asked him to sign it. Instead, he insisted that he would read it first. His eyes flitted directly to the fifth point. “death may ensure as a result of this operation.” He whispered to the resident and said, “Is there any chance I am not having a heart attack?”

Shocked silence.

The doctors used stents to remove two blocks — one in the left ventricular descending artery and one in the right coronary artery — and despite Guy’s wishes to be given anesthesia during the surgery, he was denied. The brunch salad was still fresh in his stomach and they did not want to risk complications like vomiting and choking.

He was awake for the entirety of the surgery. He could see the high intensity light placed right above his head. He could hear the doctors as they requested equipment. He felt numb throughout the process.

The doctors performed angioplasty to get rid of a third block. He was then taken to the ICU. The doctors asked him how he felt and he said, “My pain level is at 3 on a ten-point-scale.”

“Oh, it’s just phantom pain,” mocked a resident. “You are fine now.”

He spent the next twelve hours watching the red seconds-hand of the clock in his room, go round and round.

When his doctor visited him next morning, Guy said to him, “When can I play Bridge again?”

His doctor smiled at him.

“Take it slow, Guy. Take it slow,” he said.

Bruce visited Guy that morning. After making sure that he was going to be okay, he yelled at him for not picking up his call or telling him what was going on.

Guy’s friends did not want him to climb stairs to reach his second flood house. For the next three weeks, Guy recovered at his friend’s house where he watched TV and read. His doctors told him he could not do yard work: another hobby he thoroughly enjoyed. He began cat-sitting for his friend Joe instead. It reminded him of a decade ago when he took care of his cat and her seven kittens.

He had gained 70-pounds over the course of the five years he played duplicate bridge and the heart attack was an indication that he needed to work on his body. He ate salads and cut down on carbohydrates and fat.

But he itched to get back to playing bridge.

A month after his heart attack, he was playing bridge three times a week and two months later, he was playing everyday.

He threw down the two of spades bid card, looking at his hand in satisfaction. He had to make eight points to win the round and he knew that was doable. His hand was calloused from gardening and playing bridge. A deep graze from cutting himself with a spade was visible on the back of his hand. When it was his partner’s turn to bid, she threw in the five of spades, raising the winning points to eleven. He glanced at her once, his eyebrows scrunched and his lips pursed.

Guy was sitting across from his other partner, Carolyn Rowley, at Ann Sather Restaurant in Belmont Ave. Eight other tables were occupied by 32 bridge players, sipping coffee and calling cards.

They made eleven points and won the round. Finally, a small smile broke across his face, as he placed the deck of cards back in the card-holder. Carolyn looked at him, a mischievous smile playing across her face as well.

“Carolyn, why did you bid five of spades? I know you had a good hand but that was crazy,” he said.

Carolyn’s smile widened. Guy Franklin, her bridge partner and friend, was giving her a piece of his mind about the round, but that did not upset her. Guy was like her mentor and she appreciated that about him. But there was one thing that Guy does that gives her knots in her stomach to this day.

Guy Franklin tsking at her for making a mistake during a hand.

Bridge players are known for yelling at their partners. For losing their cool, throwing their cards on the table and storming out of the room. But Guy’s calmness was a rare and revered quality in the Chicago Duplicate Bridge Club. His tsk was enough to let his partners know he was upset about the mistake they made. The wrinkles in between his eyebrows and the red on his cheeks told his partners they needed to buck up and play better.

That was how important bridge was to Guy Franklin.

Guy and Carolyn came first in the game playing east and west. Bruce and Carolyn are his constant partners and friends for life. Bridge gave him a sense of purpose in his life — every morning he woke up knowing he would be respected and loved in the bridge world.

Before the game that evening, Carolyn’s other partner, called her to talk about her recent bridge game. Guy requested to talk to Carolyn’s partner for a minute. He congratulated her on her recent bridge game. Carolyn smiled. For Guy, it is about texting bridge players and telling them they had a good game. For Guy, it is about making new friends at the bridge club everyday. For Guy it is a way of life. He is at the 91st percentile level, among the top players in the league.

He is hosting, Mark, a medical student, at his house for two years free of rent and bills. He met Mark at the bridge club.

His heart hasn’t improved the extent to which he had hoped. His pumping rate is at 40 percent now. It used to be 75 percent before the heart attack. Large aneurysms hit him in the thoracic area of his heart intermittently, and he has been going for regular MRIs. If the aneurysms expanded in length, he will have to replace his iota with poly background material.

Will this stop him from playing bridge?

I will play the game till the day I die.