Playing Bridge: The World’s Most Popular Card Game Isn’t Just for Over-50s

Bridge is a funny card game; like golf it takes quite a while to learn and, after you master the basics it will alternate between delighting and infuriating you, sort of like emotional aerobics. Oh, wonderful you think, I can’t wait. Luckily there’s more to the story, most of it happier.

If you have only a nodding acquaintance with bridge, you probably associate it with grey hair and shaky gaits due to its popularity with those of us for whom changing our kids’ diapers is a distant memory. That’s OK, we know what it does for us and what it might do for you.

It is undoubtedly the world’s most popular card game which means that no matter where you go in the world, you can find a game. It’s played 24 hours a day on the internet and all you have to do is sign on and join a game. You may be in the US, playing with three people on three other continents. Really. Closer to home you can probably find a game in town, any town, either by looking in the phone book or by checking around with the town library, the senior center or a book store. So, it’s easy to locate and your skills are portable.

Those skills are basic mental abilities that everyone needs to develop and maintain: memory, attention to details, communication, reasoning, numerical estimation and decision-making. It will either exercise those abilities you already have, lucky you, or it will develop them. As you learn the game it’s a real kick to look at your cards, dredge up the memory of what to bid and announce it to the other three at your table, knowing that what you did was what you were supposed to do, out of dozens of choices. It ranks with sinking a long putt, or an ace serve.

You soon find yourself applying bridge concepts to other situations in life such as purchases, discussions and any decision that has future implications. It reins in my impulsiveness with a quiet “Whoa, Baby, are you thinking ahead?” And when I speak to someone, I’m more careful about what they might hear instead of just what I could say. Bridge demands careful communication along with foresight, not such a bad habits.

There are some social skills that get polished, hopefully, at the bridge table, now that the governing body, The American Contract Bridge League, has instituted a zero-tolerance policy for snotty behavior. All of us juggling those demands on our memory, reasoning, etc., are going to make mistakes. In the beginning, that’s about all we’ll make and the mark of progress is a tilt toward correct bidding and play. When we see our partner make mistakes, we must practice a gentle tongue and quiet voice. Conversely, when it’s our goof that’s being identified and explained, then’s the time for humility and gratitude for the lesson.

During the course of an evening, you’ll get strong hands and weak hands and some evenings seem like one long string of weak, dull hands. It isn’t fair, but it’s life. However, there is a simple cure for the Weak Hand Blues and that is to play what’s known as “duplicate” bridge. In duplicate it doesn’t matter what kind of hand you’re dealt because your score depends on how well you and your partner played that soggy mess of low cards compared with how well other people in the room played the exact same hands. That’s a level playing field and it’s great. It requires a minimum of eight people and a few plastic holders to keep the hands straight when they go to the next table.

Bridge is powerful medicine and you might want to check it out. It really can change your life; maybe for the better, maybe not. There are people who have divorced their spouses or dropped out of college in response to the charms of the game just as there are folks like me who have delighted in playing with the same group of friends for 15 years.

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