Bridge is winning hand at keeping seniors sharp and social

WHERE TO PLAY

Here are a few open-play, drop-in venues hosting regular bridge games and tournaments. Players are charged a small fee.

  • Bridge Club of Atlanta, 4920 Roswell Road, Atlanta (Fountain Oaks Shopping Center). Games are Mondays-Saturdays; newcomers game, 10 a.m. Fridays and noon Saturdays. 678-812-4324, bridgeclubatlanta.com.

  • Atlanta Duplicate Bridge Center, 6761 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., Atlanta. Games are various times mornings and evenings every day except Sunday mornings. 770-248-0306, Atlantaduplicatebridgeclub.com.

  • Alpharetta Duplicate Bridge Center, 6250 Shiloh Road, Alpharetta. Games are Mondays-Saturdays; closed Sundays. 678-361-5198, alpharettadbc.org.

  • Play Bridge Atlanta, Northwest Presbyterian Church, 4300 Northside Drive, Atlanta. Games are noon on Mondays and Thursdays. 770-713-1445, bridgewebs.com/playbridgeusa/.

  • Ruff ‘N Sluff Bridge Club, 1809 Roswell Road, Marietta (Syms Shopping Center). Games are Mondays-Saturdays at various times. 770-973-7717, www.mindspring.com/~ruffnsluff/.

Bridge is back in vogue in metro Atlanta, and seniors have helped make it so, say lovers of the card game.

The mind-challenging partners game has been growing in popularity over the past decade, a growth largely fueled by retiring baby boomers looking for a hobby that is both intellectually and socially stimulating. For many, bridge also satisfies the competitiveness they were used to in the workplace.

Gay Maloney, 70, a player and tournament director in north Fulton, said she meets lots of retired professionals now playing competitive duplicate bridge, a variation of the game that’s widely played in tournaments.

Some seniors are coming back to the game after a long hiatus, but others are learning it for the very first time.

“Bridge is definitely making a surge back. I get calls from people all the time who want to learn the game,” said bridge instructor and player Patty Tucker, 60, of Dunwoody.

Contract bridge is played by four people and requires players to bid how many cards or “tricks” they believe they can take on a deal. Knowing what to bid and then how to play the cards at hand challenges the memory and requires high-level skills such as reasoning, visualization and sequencing, among others.

Researchers have discovered intellectual games like bridge are ideal for seniors because playing keeps their mind engaged and provides an ongoing social outlet.

Dan Miller of Johns Creek plays and directs social bridge, another variation of the game, for the Roswell Ramblers, an active senior group meeting out of the Roswell Adult Recreation Center. He said the vast majority of people playing bridge in Atlanta are older adults.

Many of today’s senior bridge players fondly remember learning the game as children or playing while in college. Bridge enjoyed its heyday before television and other media began gobbling up free time. It’s so popular among older adults that some retirement communities are using free bridge tournaments with food and prizes as marketing tools, Maloney said.

Tucker can rattle off the names of four or five full-time bridge clubs in the area with games scheduled at least six days a week, and there are also countless games going on daily in homes, restaurants and various other venues.

Most of the open-play venues welcome players of all levels. The cost is around $10 or less for a few hours of play, and if you don’t have a partner, you’ll be matched up with one. Lessons are usually offered for beginners.

Tucker, who has played the game consistently since age 11, teaches from a guide she wrote herself: “Learn to Play Bridge in a Day.” And despite its complexities, you can learn to play the card game during the five-hour session, she said.

“The beauty of bridge is that you can play on any level,” Tucker said.

There are basic rules to learn, but the nuances of the game extend forever, or so it seems. The more you study them, the better player you become. These deeper, more complex levels are part of the game’s appeal.

“You can never conquer it,” said Joan Thull, who took beginning bridge lessons 10 years ago after she retired.

Maloney, who first played bridge while in her 30s as a stay-at-home mom, was surprised when she came back to the game years later to find a whole new level of play. She quickly caught up and now competes in tournaments.

During a recent social bridge game with the Roswell Ramblers, Maloney matched up with Thull against partners Charlotte Boroughs and Mary Horne. Boroughs learned to play 60 years ago while a student at the University of Georgia. Horne first played 50 years ago as a young mom. Both women stopped playing for decades, then picked it back up as seniors.

It wasn’t hard to jump back in. “It’s like riding a bicycle,” Boroughs said. “The basics never leave you.”

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