“You never get the same hand twice, you just never know what’s going to happen,” said Brenda Ray. “You can have all the right cards, all the points, and still not win. It’s in the distribution.”
Back in the days of Mad Men, bridge games were all the rage. Middle and upper class friends built parties and social clubs around it. Today bridge players are still to be found if one looks in the right circles – usually among seniors.
Ray, 69, and a resident of St. Johns Towers, has played bridge socially since she was 16 years old. These days she meets with her bridge club once a month in North Augusta. Sometimes they play all day.
Ray taught bridge to her daughter, but her daughter’s friends don’t play so she doesn’t either.
“I don’t know why not. It’s fun. It keeps your mind challenged,” Ray said.
Across town in Evans, Linda Bush peered over her hand of cards and considered how high to bid. The other three players wordlessly slapped down “bid” cards in declaration – one-diamond, three-heart, three-no trump. Bush laid down “pass.” Fingers drummed. The room was as quiet and tense as a chess tournament.
Afterwards, terse comments between Bush and her partner suggested the round did not go well.
“They had two strong boards,” Bush said of the other team.
Nine other tables at the CSRA Bridge Club, and many others in clubs across the Southeast, played exactly the same hands in a duplicate bridge match that allowed high-scorers to accumulate silver master points.
Tournament bridge has been around since the late 1930s and is popular locally, according to bridge club director Ray Coleman. Nearly 2,000 people played in a tournament in Augusta last year, and Coleman expects to have even more return in 2012.
In the 1950s and 60s, tournament bridge gained popularity on college campuses, according to Douglas Trapp, a CSRA Bridge Club member. The game’s complex scoring system demands concentration, a skilled bidding strategy and trust between partners.
“The hardest thing to teach is card sense, how to listen to the bids and responses and, in some ways, to see the hand of the person who is bidding,” he said.
Trapp learned the game as a teenager from his mother and his uncle, Easley Blackwood, who invented a famous bridge convention. A professional urologist, Parkinson’s disease ended Trapp’s medical practice and his golf game. After a lapse of 40 years, he returned to bridge in retirement.
“The reason we play is because we’re competitive people,” Trapp said.
Bush, retired and in her 50s, taught herself how to play bridge on the computer four years ago. Last year, she won rookie-of-the-year in competition.
“I was bored. You have to have something to do when you retire,” she said. “Some women said, if you learn to play bridge, you can play with us.”
The game of bridge attracts “numbers” people, Bush said, such as doctors, engineers and computer technicians. And she concedes that many of today’s players are older.
“I think more people started working (after the 1960s and ’70s) and not as many people played,” Bush said. “If I was still working, I probably wouldn’t have started playing.”
But Coleman said bridge is gaining traction again on college campuses. The CSRA Bridge Club recently sponsored a summer camp, where grandparents brought their grandchildren and taught them to play.
“Grandparents and grandchildren seem to bond when they play bridge together,” he said.
Studies show children who play bridge do better in school, he said. The CSRA Bridge Club also sponsors a junior bridge league.