With all of today’s high-tech games, you might be surprised to learn that bridge still is played by millions worldwide. The game originated in England in the 16th century and arrived in the United States around 1890. These days, the majority of players are adults who have been playing for years. People are drawn into it because no one ever truly conquers the game. The learning opportunities keep coming, game after game.
Some of the brightest achievers, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, are dedicated bridge players. But you don’t have to be brilliant – or a billionaire. You just need three other players, a sharp-enough mind and a desire to learn a complex game.
Using a standard deck of 52 cards, bridge is played in groups of four, divided into two sets of partners. Every card played is important, and partners must learn to follow each other, strategically. Besides being a mental workout, bridge sustains old friendships and builds new ones. Some groups have been playing together for years.
Longtime Houstonian Connie Colley has played bridge with her girlfriends since she learned to play as a teenager at summer camp. “I still play with some of the same ladies today,” said Connie. She plays weekly at several locations, including the Houston Racquet Club, and enjoys the camaraderie and the challenge. “We’re in it for fun, but we’re serious about having fun,” Connie said, laughing.
A member of the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL), Connie is part of a network of more than 100,000 bridge players. In addition to hosting tournaments, the league provides guidance for everyone from experts to beginners. Players can download instructional software at the league’s website (www.acbl.org), as well as find local clubs, partners and teachers.
These days, bridge generally is thought of as a game for older adults, and most players do fall in that category. The ACBL offers junior memberships to make sure bridge is passed on to the next generation.
Many players begin with what is known as “social bridge.” Similar to a book club or luncheon group, social-bridge players get together regularly to play and enjoy each other’s company.
For those who want to take their game to the next level, players can advance to duplicate bridge, where everyone plays the same hands. Having an identical starting point eliminates the possibility of getting a lucky hand and showcases individual strategy and skill. Duplicate bridge is a serious game, played for masterpoints, with the goal of being designated “Life Master” by the ACBL. Life Master status is achieved by earning 300 masterpoints at tournaments, which can last for days and involve thousands of players.
Life Master player Joan Pleason began playing duplicate bridge in 1978 because her husband was an avid player, and now she plays in a couple of tournaments around the country each year. “Bridge is great for the brain. It keeps your mind active because you have to use analytical thinking,” said Joan.
Even though she has been playing for years, Joan still takes lessons through her local bridge club. “It’s a hard game to learn, but once you do, you can’t stop,” she said. There are countless ways to play each hand, and players have to quickly evaluate the options.
Pat and Lew Levy also are involved in the ACBL tournament circuit, playing in several cities each year. Because of Lew’s work in the oil industry, the Levys have lived all over the world, in places like Brazil, Australia and Hawaii. They were able to quickly find a bridge group in each city. “It’s a way to go to a strange place and quickly end up with a whole lot of friends,” Pat said.
The Levys love the game’s challenge, but are also grateful for the social aspect. “We have made many friends playing bridge,” Pat said. She met one of her dearest friends, Mary Pat Gentry, three years ago through bridge. Now they are frequent partners.
The secret to their success as partners is to never criticize one another. “Bridge is all about your demeanor,” said Pat. “It takes quite a calm temperament to be a good partner.” Pat and Mary Pat now play about once each week to practice and refine their game.
Bridge has been around forever, and likely will be around a good deal longer – or at least long enough for you to give it a try.