Why bridge protects against dementia and where to learn in Atlanta

Dementia - What You Need to Know

The days when only seniors and the country club set played bridge are long behind us. Today's motto for bridge beginners in Atlanta should probably be, "You're never too young." Bridge Hall of Fame inductee Patty Tucker teaches students under the age of 26 for free at the Bridge Club of Atlanta on Saturdays in the fall, for example. The corollary rule about bridge in the 21st century is, "You're never too old to reap the health benefits."

Bridge has long been considered a way to prevent the onset of dementia and Alzheimer's and boost brain power. It may even stimulate the immune system, according to AARP, perhaps because it engages players in memory, visualization and sequencing.

Keith A. Josephs, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic, told AARP, "It is soft data that says, 'Boy, perhaps playing these games and being socially active result in better performance.' Patients are less likely to be depressed; hence they sleep better, tend to exercise more and have a better life in general. They do better from a cognitive standpoint."

If you're somewhere between ages 8 and 108, you're set to learn bridge in the Atlanta area. Unlike a game night party or most of Atlanta's free Texas Hold 'Em leagues, you need to know more than the general idea of bridge to play in public. A few "party" bridge games are available at various places, but most bridge clubs open to the public are strictly "duplicate bridge." This type of tournament involves pairs who all play the same hands and score who does best on each to determine that day's ranking.

No need to worry about the scoring when you're a bridge beginner, though. More experienced players or Bridgemate wireless scoring devices take care of that. One universal truth about bridge players is that they welcome new players and will go out of their way to make sure newbies get support. You can tap their expertise and catch the general enthusiasm with a class or teach yourself online or with books, some of which are written by Atlanta bridge experts. Whatever path you take to the brain-boosting game, here's where to learn to play bridge in Atlanta:

Beginning bridge classes with American Contract Bridge League Hall of Fame member Patty Tucker typically start the second week of September with daytime and early evening start times. Each class runs 10 weeks and costs $200. A second session is usually offered beginning in January.

Two locations:

Atlanta Duplicate Bridge Center, Dunwoody Park South, Building 5, Suite 118, Dunwoody. 770-248-0306.

Peachtree Presbyterian Church, 3434 Roswell Road, Atlanta.

Bridge & Company

Founder and lead instructor Melissa Bernhardt was co-creator of Whirlwind Bridge with Tucker. That set of materials includes the concept behind Learn Bridge in a Day? ® , which Bridge & Company offers periodically. They also teach higher-level bridge "boot camps." The group is also trying to gauge interest for a "Bridge Brunch" where they will "simply gather periodically in a fun setting to share a meal and an afternoon of cards." To reach out to Bridge & Company, use its website to email individual instructors or on its Facebook page.

Location: The clubhouse at Cross Creek, 1221 Cross Creek Parkway, Atlanta. 404-351-7600.

Atlanta Junior Bridge

Funded by private and corporate donations, Atlanta Junior Bridge furnishes teachers and materials for groups that want to teach children and young adults to play bridge. It also teaches free lessons for all players 25 and under on Saturdays. The basic lessons start in mid-September and run up to the winter holidays with various instructors including Patty Tucker, Bob Jones and Marty Nathan. Contact Patty Tucker at patty@bridgewithpatty.com for more information. Atlanta Junior Bridge also offers an online library geared to Juniors but available to anyone, with very specific topics like how to bid no trump.

Club location: Bridge Club of Atlanta, 4920 Roswell Road, Suite 33 (Fountain Oaks Shopping Center), Atlanta. 678-812-4324.

Bridge in a Box

While this bridge tool crafted by Grand Life Master Tucker may not substitute for hands-on learning, it does allow you to start playing right away and costs around $49. There are no lectures and you learn at your own pace, either using the four-player or individual option via the mobile/computer app.

Private teachers

The ACBL also maintains a directory of personal bridge instructors, and Atlanta has its fair share. Many of those listed are the same ones teaching local classes; some offer online options as well where students pay by the hour.

Online options

Bridge Base Online is a great practice tool and also runs ACBL-sanctioned tournaments. On BBO, after downloading software a few of the free options include playing a stream of hands, practicing bids at a "bidding table" or sharpening your wits at video bridge. For those who learn best by listening to experts, there are also online tutorials. For an Atlanta expert, try Tucker's online "Bridge Chats With Patty." They begin with a free introductory session and continue with topical downloads like "opening bids" for $2.50 each.