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No bridge too far – septuagenarian wins multiple championships

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Johannesburg septuagenarian Irene Sundelson surprised herself by playing bridge for 48 hours across six days to win two South African Women’s Bridge Association Championships in October last year.

“I’m 78, and can’t believe I had the stamina to sit and play for six days full days and keep the concentration going against top bridge players from 09:30 to 17:30 each day, and win,” she says.

After convincingly winning the South African Congress Team Championship by 31 points, Sundelson ticked off an item on her bucket list by winning the even more prestigious South African Ladies National Bridge Pairs Championship. Sundelson and Di Rosslee, her bridge partner at the tournament, now hold this title for a year.

“I’m so amazed that we managed to pull this off against all the top playing ladies, many of them Springboks and South African champions. On the final day, we played 60 boards against all 15 finalists. Your average tournament is 21 to 24 boards.”

Sundelson played both of these online tournaments from the comfort of her home.

The Pairs Championship consisted of a qualifying round between 48 pairs, including seven Springbok pairs such as Roz Bernstein and Sharon Lang, who competed in the World Bridge Team Championships in Morocco last year, to get into the championship, congress, or plate sections.

“We qualified for the championship, and we played in the finals the following day,” Sundelson says. “We played each pair for four boards, and it was a long, arduous day of playing and just keeping our act together. We came through as winners. I’m proud of myself for getting there and staying there. You need that kind of temperament to be there. We just homed in, and didn’t make mistakes.”

Sundelson has been playing bridge “forever”, she says. “I’ve been fortunate. I learnt bridge from a good bridge player who was my mentor.”

About eight years ago, Sundelson was one of four Jewish players to win the South African Ladies Team Championship.

Sundelson plays bridge at the Links Bridge Club in Johannesburg, but since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, she often plays on Bridge Base Online. “This website is popular. People love playing online in their own home.”

She describes herself as “very competitive”, and says the same applies to her grandson, two-time Maccabi Games golf medallist Judd Sundelson. “We both appreciate that urge to excel,” she says. “It’s in our genes. My two sons, Barry and Dean, have won many golf tournaments. We’re a sporting family. I’ve spent many wonderful hours on the golf course, urging on my sons. I’ve been to the Maccabi Games, and had other wonderful experiences with the golf.”

Bridge, however, has always been her passion. “I’ve been teaching bridge since about 2012. I teach nearly every day of the week. We play tournaments, and I try and help them to get better. This is my life, and it’s been fantastic. I’ve made friends all over the world.”

Sundelson has competed internationally for South Africa. “We twice finished first out of all the teams from South Africa and Scotland. These tournaments were like the bridge version of the Ryder Cup, with several teams from South Africa playing teams from Scotland.”

Sundelson had a 30-year career as the national marketing manager of Suzuki South Africa. “As a single mother with no money in the bank, I managed to make a very successful life for myself,” she says with pride.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Maureen Narunskty

    Jan 25, 2024 at 10:44 pm

    Regarding the South African players who qualified to play in the prestigious Bermuda Bowl World championships held in Morocco last August there were quite a few Jewish players besides Sharon Lang & Roz Bernstein who qualified
    – From Gauteng – Neville Eber & Bernard Donde
    From Cape Town – Alon Apteker ,Brian Pincus ,Maureen Narunsky ,
    Michael Alexander
    Also the pair that came 2nd in the Ladies National bridge championships held on line last year were also Jewish – Maureen Narunsky & Shirley Kaminer from Cape Town

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