RALEIGH — Alex Hudson and John Marriott III are college students, and like other young men their age, they enjoy whiling away the wee hours with games.
But these 19-year-olds don't stay up late in their N.C. State dorm room to play online poker or Xbox. They play bridge, the game of their grandparents' generation, and they've become extraordinarily good at it.
The buddies left Wednesday for Turkey, where they will play in the World Youth Championship, organized by the World Bridge Federation. They are part of a 12-player delegation to Istanbul representing the United States.
Both players started playing bridge only about three years ago, after family members introduced them to the game.
"It's competitive," said Hudson, who prefers cards over video games because the challenge of bridge never ends. "It's an intellectual game. You can never stop getting better."
Marriott and Hudson play regularly with the Raleigh Bridge Club, which meets in a small banquet center on Hillsborough Street. During a game one night this week, the pair routinely took on teams two generations their senior. Of the 64 players in the room, only a half dozen or so appeared to be under 40.
The men attended Apex High School but didn't know each other until a bridge club member suggested they look one another up. They've been friends ever since.
They often play online bridge together in their dorm room, teaming up to take on players from all over the world. Like online poker, which has been popular on campuses for years, online bridge can have a gambling component. These guys insist, though, that they very rarely play for money.
They qualified for the overseas tourney after a good showing in an online tournament. The U.S. Bridge Federation is covering their expenses.
During bridge club this week, Hudson and Marriott played match-point duplicate, a style of bridge in which they rotated around the room as a team. Among those they were paired against were Fred Gaines and Paul Page, and both men complimented their playing style.
"They play a tight game," said Page, who declined to give his age. "They don't do anything foolish."
Because bridge was popular on college campuses two generations ago, Marriott said older players often ask whether they play bridge with their friends at school. They don't. When he mentions to his peers that he plays bridge, he'll often hear this response: "My grandma plays that."
Bridge is not a seniors-only game, Marriott said. It's just that poker is having its moment right now, as bridge did long ago.
As for their trip to Turkey, both men said they want to have a respectable showing.
"We hope to win," Marriott said, "but our expectations aren't super high."
After all, they have many years of bridge-playing ahead of them.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-829-4889