Sixty-six card players loosened their ties, let down their hair or took off their shoes Tuesday night, intent on becoing the District's Whistologist, champion of a sit-down game that takes on the physical excitement and energy of athletic competition.
"Two Bostons in a row," screamed Walter "Boss Hog" Carter of Southeast, a Metro clerk intent on becoming the top Bid Whist player in the area.
Carter jumped from his chair, slapped his winning hand on the table and flashed two gold-capped front teeth. "Two Bostons in a row," he yelled again at the other 32 teams competing in an area-wide Bid Whist tournament at Howard University's Blackburn Center.
Washingtonians, especially those in the District's black community, have been in love with the game for years. Many a faithful spouse has been known to cheat on a loved one, leaving him or her for a rendezvous with the cards and a blissful union that can last well into the morning.
Bid Whist is played on playgrounds, in offices and at the back of classrooms during lunch break or work time. Most often, however, it is played on a Saturday night.
"At the beginning of the summer, I used to play every Saturday, Sunday and through Monday," said Renee Boykin of Northwest. "Until, like, 4 o'clock in the morning."
Six minutes after the tournament began, Boykin, 22, and her partner Garrett Barr, 29, of Alexandria, ran the evening's first Boston, the game's ultimate feat in which a team wins all the cards played in a hand. Boykin banged on the table, shook a headful of short sandy curls and shrieked with ecstasy.
It was a night of passion and loud noises. Bid Whist is a form of whist, a game related to bridge, with a special betting feature in which teams bid on how many "books" or winning plays they can make. Most of the fun in the game is the challenge of how many "books" a team can make. And jive talk is as much a part of the game as cutting the cards.
"I'm here because I'm the baddest," bellowed Dennis Hyater, 38, a Fourth District police officer from Southeast. Hyater was the first to register for the tournament, having rushed over to sign up after it was announced last month on WOL-AM, the tournament sponsor.
"Bid Whist is a game that D.C. folks think is indigenous to us," said Hyater's partner and next door neighbor, Bernard Walker. "It's played other places but it takes a Washingtonian to understand the nuances of the game. . . I don't know why. It's one of those unexplained quirks of nature."
Hyater and Walker boasted that the city's best players came from Southeast Washington. A majority of the tournament players did.
"We're the poorest area in the city. All we have to do is make babies and play Bid Whist," Hyater joked. Later he admitted the jive talk was part of the game.
"One of the beautiful things is the bull that comes with it, the camaraderie. It all hype," he said.
Bid Whist's popularity is greatest in the black community, with many enthusiasts at area colleges.
"Most of the people I know here play," said Zechariah Williams of George Washington University's Black People's Union.
GWU Student Association president Douglas Atwell had already said, "I guarantee to you that it's not popular here."
At other schools, some white students said they had never heard of the game; those who had said they didn't think many students play it. But according to an informal sampling, Bid Whist ranks high among the indoor pastimes of black students in Washington.
At UDC, the game is second only to chess, according to Beverly Gurley of the Students Activities Office.
Bid Whist is but one of many popular games at American University, according to Black Student Union president Pennye Pinckney.
"I was in Atlanta. They play it like mad down there," Pinckney said. However, the 20-year-old communications major guessed that backgammon and spades are the AU favorites.
"Backgammon is big too," said GWU's Williams, a 20-year-old engineering major from the District. But of those who play both, he said, "whist is bigger."
Love of the game wasn't the lure for all of the tournament contestants. Tony Blake, 33, who is unemployed, said he entered hoping to win a cash prize. The tournament prize, however, was four tickets to the Capital Center for the closed circuit screening of the Sept. 16 Sugar Ray Leonard fight with Tommy Hearns. Chauffeur and limousine service to and from the arena will be provided.
"I figured I might as well play," Blake said. "I can sell four tickets, can't I?"
James Dantzler, 23, of Northwest, modestly declared, "I've been playing for eight years. I'm just about the best whist player in Washington. I'm not just blowing my own horn," Dantzler said, even after being knocked out of competition in the first round of play.
Dantzler had been a regular caller to WOL since deejay Rock Newman announced the tournament. Dantzler, known by WOL listeners only as "James," bragged and boasted for weeks over the city's airwaves about how he and his partner, his mother Geneva Dantzler, would win. But his mother couldn't make the tournament, and Dantzler and his teammate, Haywood Perry of Northwest, lost out early in the night.
Dantzler and the evening's other losers wandered about for a while, stopping to watch two video screens showing a taped documentary on the life of Muhammad Ali. As the remaining card players boasted their way through the final rounds, the voice of a young Cassius Clay declared loudly: "I am the greatest."