Bridge, Aging, and Brain Power

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘In a New York Times article entitled “‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘Brain Power: At the Bridge Table, Clues to a Lucid Old Age,” Benedict Carey reports on a decades-long study of health and mental acuity in the elderly that focuses on the activities of residents of Laguna Woods Village, a sprawling retirement community of 20,000 in Orange County, California. Laguna Woods Village offers a list of of over 400 residents’ clubs. A popular activity is Bridge.

Bridge requires a good if not a strong memory. The game involves four players in two pairs. Each player must read his or her partner’s strategy by closely following the cards played. Good players count and remember every card played and its significance for their partnership. Lose count and lose the contract.

I became interested in bridge while in high school. I purchased a copy of Charles Goren’s Bridge Complete in an effort to teach myself to play. At age sixteen, I was motivated to learn the game not because I was concerned about maintaining mental acuity in old age, but because I thought sophisticated and really smart people played bridge.

I didn’t actually sit at a bridge table until I was in college. I “played” party bridge with a few friends and their parents in what amounted to showing my hand to one of the veteran players and asking, “How would you bid this?” Terry’s dad always kept score on a regulation party bridge score pad in a case with a flip top cover that he would open and snap closed with a smart blow intended to remind his partner that they had a “leg on” and needed to bid only high enough to win one more hand to win the rubber.

I was married to someone who was not a card player and not the least interested in bridge. The demands of graduate school, pursuit of a career, and raising a family soon overtook time for or interest in bridge.

When I retired last year, I decided I wanted again to pursue my interest in bridge and was delighted to learn that the over 55 community to which I had moved had a bridge club. Because I felt I needed to start from scratch, I hesitated to join the group and turned down several invitations.

Coming across the course schedule for the CSU Bakersfield Extended University, I discovered a bridge course listed. I signed up. There were five members in the class: one woman had played bridge for years but wanted to refresh her skills. Two women were learning from the beginning. Another woman and I had roughly the same experience, that is, lack of experience.

Our teacher, an excellent bridge player and gifted teacher, started us with the very basics: a deck of cards, four suits, thirteen cards in each suit, leading to, taking, and registering tricks, trump versus notrump, etc.

That was January 2011. Through the winter, the group that met in that class formed its own bridge club. We met several times a week outside of class to practice using the programmed hands in the ‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘Audrey Grant book we used in the class. I thought I would never learn. By the middle of June, our teacher thought we had progressed enough to begin playing duplicate bridge at the local bridge club, a unit of ‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘ACBL, that had organized a sanctioned game for novice players.

One of my classmates and I were the only two from the class available to play in the first game, an experience I will never forget. My partner opened the bidding with one spade. My right hand opponent passed. My mind went blank. It was as if I had forgotten everything I learned or knew about bridge. At the end of the match, we were in last place. I was disappointed because I hadn’t earned any master points which I thought one earned simply by playing in a match.

In September, I earned my first fraction of a master point. Now, I play weekly, sometimes two or three times a week. I continue to take lessons, to read and to study. I joined an online bridge club called the ‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘Beginner Intermediate Lounge (BIL), found a bridge mentor who I’ve been working with since the first of August, and participate in some of the many practice sessions and free lessons given by bridge experts that are available through the BIL’s link on ‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘Bridge Base Online.

Carey’s article validates my own experience with bridge. Learning to play bridge requires me to study harder than I think I ever studied as an undergraduate and graduate student! Bridge offers excellent opportunities for social interaction. I’ve met wonderful people and made some lovely friends. And, whether or not bridge has done or will do anything to sharpen my mental acuity, I find I am content to agree with W. Somerset Maugham who, in his introduction to Goren’s Standard Book of Bidding (1944), wrote, “bridge is the most entertaining and intelligent card game the wit of man has so far devised.”

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