Dale Hughes and Martin Ringstaff upset defending champions Jackie Evans and Charles Tollett to win the 40th annual Bigsby Creek Rook Tournament on Dec. 7.
The pair ended the day with a 6-1 record while Evans and Tollett finished 5-2.
Hughes and longtime partner Paul Duncan came within one card of winning the tournament in 2012. They last won top honors in 1997. Ill health compelled Duncan to opt out of the tournament this year, which forced Hughes to find another partner.
“Paul bowed out after last year. He decided he could not play this year,” Hughes said.
Hughes, a city councilman, hotelier and former educator, invited Cleveland City Schools Director Dr. Martin Ringstaff one day at Mountain View Inn after Rotary.
“I’ve liked him since he came to town, so I decided to ask him if he played Rook,” Hughes said. “I didn’t know if he played or not.”
As it turned out, Ringstaff grew up in a family that played cards together and he continued playing in college.
“Our family is big card players. We enjoy setting around the table and talking. It’s closeness. It’s what friends do. I was honored to play this first year and hope the tournament continues because I just got here.”
“We played a couple of practice rounds with Jim Sharp teaming with O. Wayne Chambers in the first practice game and Dr. Ken Beard in the second. We had two practice rounds, came to the tournament and we enjoyed the end results immensely,” Hughes said. “We complement each other with our Rook game.”
Ringstaff said, “It was a great tournament with some excellent Rook players.”
The director of schools said his first priority going into the game was to not embarrass his partner. He also wanted to network and meet people.
“These people have played a longtime together. It’s a great group of individuals who have great respect for each other and to be a part of that meant more — winning the tournament was consolation.”
According to Wikipedia, Rook playing cards were introduced by Parker Brothers in 1906 as an alternative to standard playing cards for those in the Puritan tradition or Mennonite culture who considered the face cards in a regular deck inappropriate because of their association with gambling and fortune telling.
Hughes said Rook is a trick-taking game that requires players to make the right moves with the cards dealt.
“Some people say it’s luck because if you don’t get the cards you don’t win. First of all, you have to get the cards and then you have to play them correctly. That’s what I would say about Rook. We complement each other because you have to know how to bid, when to bid, when to drop out and when to go over your partner.”
Ringstaff agreed, “You’ve got to have a good partner and you’ve got to pay attention to what’s been played in all four suits. There’s a lot of thinking involved. You can have good cards and still go set if you are not thinking.”
The pair went set once during the day and that was on the first hand of the first game when the director of schools took the bid. After that, he said he played a little gun shy.
“We were not aggressive. I think we were very conservative during the tournament,” Ringstaff said. “There was one card I played that I shouldn’t have, but I don’t remember Dale playing a card he shouldn’t have all day, so we played very well. When we got beat that one game, we just got beat and we couldn’t stop it.”
Jim Sharp, Jackie Evans, Eddie Cartwright, T. Roy Jones and Jim Henderson are the five surviving members of the original card game in 1974 in Sharp’s home that was then in Winding Lakes subdivision on Eureka Road. The tradition began among friends who enjoyed the game.
The first tournament lasted throughout the night and finally ended at 9 the next morning because it was a double-elimination format. Afterward, the format was changed to head-to-head match ups with the best records qualifying for the playoff.
Sharp moved to Bigsby Creek the following year and that is how the tournament got its name. So far, no one has disputed claims that the annual Bigsby Creek Rook Tournament is the longest continuing tournament in the history of the game.
“I’ve been fortunate enough that Mr. Sharp invited me to play 39 years ago,” he said. “We always have breakfast on the hill at Mountain View Inn and we have a speaker. This year, David Davis was the speaker. He spoke about friendships and past relationships, which was excellent.”
After breakfast, the 16 men move to the office of Sharp Developments where they have a devotional.
“The past few years, the devotional has been by Charles Tollett. Charles is very quick on his feet and makes a presentation that is usually stimulating. He knows how to throw a dagger out there that will be food for thought and he did that again this year.”
Shortly after the games begin, he said Sue Sharp brings “a ton of food” and puts it on the table in the “food room.”
Hughes said, “I told Martin, let’s go in there and see how long we can stay in the food room —”
“— We won and they still made us move,” Ringstaff exclaimed. “After they made us move, we decided we were going to play all out and win this thing.”
Each year, participants give Sue an appreciation gift.
“We play the whole day. There is a lot of interaction and fellowship, it’s just a good time had by all,” he said. “Every year, win or lose, you always leave feeling good about this tournament. When you look at the relationships and friendships cultivated from the Rook game, it’s tremendous.”
Though Hughes and Ringstaff have bragging rights for the next 12 months, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are favored to win in 2014.
“I guess Charles Tollett and Jackie Evans are probably the favorites. Dale and Martin were the favorites to upset Charles and Jackie this year, and did. It’s hard to say who the favorite is for next year,” Sharp said. “I guess you could say Charles and Jackie are favored to upset these two.”
In addition to Ringstaff playing for the first time, Robert Rominger and his nephew, Gary, substituted this year for Bill Rominger, who was out of town.