And so the bidding goes. My parents taught us to play Bridge at our cottage when we were kids. In those days we didn’t have TV or video games or even a radio with decent reception up there. So when the weather was bad we’d play Bridge or attempt to play, given the game’s complexity. My parents taught us the basic conventions, which helped in later years when my sister and I picked the game up again. More recently I’ve taken lessons, read Bridge books, and begun playing in a women’s group.
Family Bridge is the most casual. We chat, we laugh, we argue, and we constantly change our bids and take cards back when we realize we’ve goofed. Playing with my women friends is still quite casual and there is usually good food and wine involved. It’s social and it’s fun. And we are quite forgiving when it comes to mistakes. We keep score but don’t care who wins. There has been talk about playing for toonies to make us a little more competitive.
A while back, my very keen Bridge-playing friend, Nancy, thought it was time for our social kitchen Bridge group to start playing with the “big boys.” Having found a Duplicate Bridge organization in our community, she put us on the waiting list and after a year or so, we got the call. We were in. Duplicate is serious business. There is no talking, no dawdling, no moaning when you don’t like your cards, and no wine! A card laid is a card played. One time I changed my mind after pulling a card, and even though I had not yet played it and no one had seen it, I was told that it was too late. Seems like a card touched is also a card played.
The average age of my women's group is about fifty. The average age of the duplicate players is about eighty. The men like us; they call us the young chicks, which is probably the last time in our lives that we’ll ever be called that. There are a couple of women in their nineties who play like pros and keep us on our toes.
At Duplicate, all tables play the same hands. After two or three hands you move on to the next table and in one session you play about twelve tables. The only time you can talk is between rounds. During this short interval we slowly get to know one another. We’ve learned about grown children scattered across the country, about great-grandchildren, and retirement residences. There are widows and widowers and people who have been predeceased by their own children. Some of the folks are grumpy and some are gracious and fun. Most are excellent bridge players.
We’ve had our hands slapped when we don’t follow protocol (we’re still learning), and we’ve been congratulated for good playing. One time I made a mistake and didn’t follow suit (which is called reneging) and was put in my place in short order. Our opponent yelled, “DIRECTOR!” to get the organizer’s attention across the room. All heads turned towards us and the accuser continued in a loud voice, “She reneged!”
“I’m sorry,” I said with my face turning crimson. “It was a mistake.” I felt like I had committed some terrible crime. The director said, “It’s a two trick deduction. Don’t worry about it.” The accuser looked smugly at her partner, as if she had achieved a great triumph by having justice served and the criminal adequately punished. This is when I realized how competitive and serious the card game can be. It’s dog-eat-dog in the duplicate world, and we’re not even playing for money. You’ve got to have thick skin to swim with some of these seniors.
Some people collect master points, which is a way of determining one’s ranking. The more master points you have, the more prestige and respect you garner amongst your peers. High master points to Bridge players is like a low handicap to golfers. It sets you apart from the riff raff. I’m not in the game for master points nor do I care about my golf handicap. What I do care about is improving my game, keeping my mind sharp, enjoying the camaraderie, and learning something new.
One of my favourite things about playing Duplicate Bridge is when the gents greet us with their big grins and friendly banter. They can be sly old foxes who cream us at cards, but they have yet to slap our hands if we break protocol. They inform us of the correct rules, but with a whisper and a smile.
Playing Duplicate with seniors is like a microcosm of daily community living. You’re exposed to all kinds of people—friendly, nasty, uptight, easy-going, smart and slow. And there’s always someone in the crowd who warms your heart and makes you feel glad to be there.