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Taking Tricks: Bridge Clubs

by Sally Alt + photo by Chris Jackson

Bridge

With a devoted community of staunch card players, Hagerstown Bridge Club draws competitors from near and far to test their mettle.

For some seniors, a night on the town means playing bridge with friends. Seniors from Frederick, Chambersburg, Mt. Airy and other nearby communities travel to Hagerstown to play bridge at the American Legion.

Bridge is “the best card game that exists,” says Frank Carden, the club’s director, who has played bridge for 65 years. On Friday nights the Little Heiskell Club participants play hands of duplicate bridge, a variation of the game in which every table plays the same hand. People play bridge at 3–5 tables on Friday, and at the Hagerstown Duplicate Bridge Club on Wednesday afternoons, up to 18 tables are in use by several dozen bridge players.

Frank, who teaches bridge classes at the Shepherdstown Country Club in West Virginia, says that novices can be intimidated at first. However, he believes that anyone can learn to play bridge well enough to enjoy the game. Growing up in a bridge-playing family, Frank learned how to play bridge from his aunt, who he describes as a “superb” player. Frank’s wife, Anne, who has played bridge at the club for 25 years, says she enjoys playing with different club members. She also likes the fact that each bridge game is different, because of the infinite number of card combinations.

In the game of bridge, each participant plays with a partner and tries to win “tricks” using a standard 52-card deck. Players sit four to a table, with partners seated across from each other. At the beginning of a bridge game, players make bids — bets to take a certain number of tricks. Frank says that during the bidding process, “you are trying to converse with your partner so you know what is in your two hands.” Consistency is important in bidding, he says, adding, “What you bid must mean the same thing every time you bid it.”

As club director, Frank ensures that everyone plays fairly and that rules of the game are followed. He says some bridge players are very competitive, but most of the seniors at his club play for fun.

Barbara Beard, who often partners with Frank, says bridge “challenges the brain.” People who play bridge don’t have to worry about getting Alzheimer’s disease, according to Barbara.

One of the challenges in playing bridge is learning all of the different terms that players use in the game. For instance, a “singleton” means that only one card in a suit is present in a player’s hand, while a “doubleton” means that a hand contains only two cards in a suit. A “major suit” refers to spades or hearts, while a “minor suit” is diamonds or clubs. Achieving a “grand slam” means that a partnership wins all thirteen of the tricks that make up a game.

David Abuhove, 90, has attended the Heiskell Club meetings since 2002, and says he plays bridge 6–7 times each week. “I have a lot of bridge friends,” he says. Like most households at the time, his family didn’t have a TV while he was growing up, so they played card games for entertainment. David, whose mother taught him how to play, says that he most enjoys the competition of the game.

Barbara Burkhardt, who plays bridge regularly at the club, says, “We have some very excellent players.” One of the benefits of playing bridge is that it “keeps you out of trouble,” she says. Spouses also don’t get jealous if husbands or wives go out to play bridge, Barbara shares.

Elaine Rowe, who has been playing for more than 50 years, says that bridge is “stimulating” and is a good way to meet new people. She says that she and her bridge partner, Willa Garner, do not get upset when they don’t win. According to Willa, Elaine is so devoted to the game that she would “come to a bridge game on a stretcher.”

“You never get enough” of bridge, says Elaine.

Willa drives an hour and a half from Mt. Airy in order to play bridge at the Little Heiskell Club. While bridge was at one time a game popular among younger and older generations alike, Willa says seniors now primarily play the game. “You don’t see the youngsters playing bridge. It’s almost a dying art.”

Alan Brown, who also plays bridge at the Legion twice a week, says that he would enjoy seeing young people in their 20s or 30s play bridge at the club. “We would love to recruit some new bridge players,” says Alan. He added that anyone who likes card games will enjoy bridge.

“I’ve met a lot of nice people playing bridge,” Alan says, adding that a player can walk into a bridge club and easily partner with someone they haven’t met before. Like many of his fellow players at the bridge club, Alan is nothing if not committed. “I will keep playing as long as I can.”