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Whenever I have a social affair at the house, there is always a contingent of people who say, ‘Let’s play whist,'” says Roland MacFarland, vice president of standards for the Fox Television Network. “And there are probably eight people waiting to play the winners.”
MacFarland and his colleagues are caught up in the excitement of bid whist. The card game has been a tradition of African Americans since slavery, according to research by Angel Beck. She writes the only syndicated bid whist column in the nation (for more information, e-mail her at a7notrump @aol.com) and is the author of How to Play Bid Whist (Zwita Productions, Box 112486, Stamford, CT 06911, $6.95). “It started from slaves when they developed their own adaptation of the card games they saw the white folks playing, primarily bridge and whist,” she says. And contrary to popular belief, Beck says, black professionals are this pastime’s biggest fans. “Like golf, it’s a setting where networking, business opportunities and transactions are made,” she contends.
“In my profession, I have met individuals, made deals and [established] contacts over a game of bid whist,” says MacFarland. Last year, MacFarland played in the celebrity bid whist tournament at the San Diego Black Film Festival, where he ran a “Boston” (see sidebar). “Playing against [actor-director] Bill Duke, who bragged all night long about how good he was, was the highlight of the night,” MacFarland laughs. But the chairman of the Black Film Festival believes their social meeting will result in some professional benefits as well. “He [Bill Duke] says he’s going to spread the news [about the festival], and I think he’s going to bring [a film] next year,” MacFarland says. “He established what he felt were solid, more genuine relationships, and that was as a result of playing bid whist with us.”
Several professional organizations, such as the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, sponsor scholarship bid whist tournaments at their conferences. Bid whist is also at the center of an annual
fund-raiser for the Friends of Lincoln Foundation Inc., based in Tallahassee, Florida. It sponsors the largest bid whist tournament in the nation every July, and boasts about 72 players and 300 observers. “I’m amazed at the interest. We didn’t have a budget for marketing or advertising, so a lot of it was word of mouth,” says Mack Rush, a member of the organization’s National Bid Whist Tournament Committee. “Most of our participants are professional folk…[Bid whist] is definitely bigger than a coincidental rent party, and it always has been. Our tournament is a way to raise funds for the foundation.”
But bid whist is more than a vehicle for fund-raising or socializing. Black professionals continue to slam cards, brag about their stellar hands and give each other high fives because they have fun. The players and observers are able to shed their professional armor-if only for a few hands-and be accepted. “This is one of the attributes of the game,” MacFarland suggests. “You
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