Bridge has been called “the card game for a lifetime.”
Perhaps. Some play it for a lifetime, some take it up late in life, but few quit.
Ken Trobaugh, an avid player, had nine tables with four players each as he taught the game at the Golden Isles Duplicate Bridge Club off Skyline Drive.
“I’ve heard bridge compared to chess. You can learn enough to get by and enjoy playing it, or you can spend the rest of your life trying to master it,” he says.
Bridge has a couple of things in common with other card games: The suits are ranked. The spade is the highest followed by hearts, diamonds, and clubs.
“The high card in the suit led wins,” Trobaugh says. “... unless you’re in a trump suit. If spade is the trump and I play my ace of hearts, you can play the two of spades and take the trick.”
And like other games, there is bluffing when players bid more tricks than they can take without some wily play. As Trobaugh says, “It’s good to have a poker face. You don’t want to let them see you sweat.”
The intermediate players on this particular Thursday morning were there to get better as Trobaugh gave them all the same pre-dealt hands and then talked them through strategy after they had made their bids and played their hands.
The name duplicate bridge indicates everyone has the same hand, which allows for comparative scoring. The American Contract Bridge League keeps up with all the scores and successful players get recognition in some level of mastery.
The students in the morning teaching session were retirees, or at least at retirement age, including Debbie and Stu Graham who count their years as partners with their wedding anniversaries.
“We played with (Debbie’s) parents when we first got married,” Stu Graham says.
Now, they play each Tuesday afternoon and at Trobaugh’s classes. Those are the regular games, and there are others.
“I love to play bridge, and I want to get better at it,” Debbie Graham says.
Few competitive games have the camaraderie of bridge.
“One of the great things about bridge is everybody is pretty smart,” she says. “I’m just thrilled to have met so many wonderful people.”
People who come from out of town to play said the Golden Isles club has the nicest play and is the most hospitable, she says.
Reemi Wiggins was Trobaugh’s boss when he first got into banking. She was the head teller then, and he retired from banking in human resources. She has long been retired herself and took up the game just 10 years ago with partner Virginia “Bootsie” Wiggins. She goes by Bootsie because when she started playing she was sometimes one of three Virginias at the same table so she and another took up their nicknames.
“We play for fun. We’re not going to live long enough to be life masters,” Wiggins said of a level of attainment players strive for,” Jennings says.
“My daughter calls this my ‘work job.’ This is better than looking at four walls.”
Indeed. Instead she looks at four suits, and when everyone had finished playing their hands, the chatter started at individual tables as smiling players recounted why they played their hands as they did.
Then they listened as Trobaugh went through possible strategies.
“I bet some of you wished I had given you a clue this was a cross-trumping hand,” he says after one.
And later, “It’s tempting to go ahead and finesse the queen.”
“Finesse” is a term he uses often. He also talks about ambiguity and uses other terms never heard in draw poker such as, “West has a perfect takeout double.”
Partners are north-south on one side, east-west on the other. In duplicate bridge, the north-south gets a board with the pre-set hand, and when the hand is finished, the board is passed to another table. The north-south partners stay put while the east-west partners rotate from table to table.
That’s the subject of an inside joke.
A woman goes to the doctor. The doctors asks, “What do you do for mental exercise?”
“I play bridge,” she answers.
“That’s excellent,” the doctor says.
“What do you do for physical exercise?”
“I play east-west,” she responds.
Only bridge players would get that.
Those who play the game are in the good company of some Americans who have accomplished much since the game became popular in the 1930s. Among current players are Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Radiohead. Dwight D. Eisenhower played as did Omar Sharif.
Sharif did more than play. He wrote a syndicated column on bridge for years and played until his death. It’s said that he was very unhappy during he filming of “Lawrence of Arabia” because, while on the desert location for 18 months, he couldn’t play bridge.
There is, of course, a book called “Bridge for Dummies.” Others with more studious titles fitting the game’s complexity, but perhaps the most popular ever was one by Charles Henry Goren who changed the way bridge was played.
If his “Winning Bridge Made Easy: A Simplified Self-Teaching Method of Contract Bidding Combining All the Principals of the Culbertson System with the ... and Conforming with the Standardized Code” was indeed simple, as promised, it still took 102 pages to explain his methods.
That book and others he authored on the subject are thought to have sold 10 million copies. And, like Sharif, he wrote a column. His was Goren on Bridge and appeared in most American newspapers.
Trobaugh had a textbook for his class, “2 Over 1 Game Force,” by Audrey Grant and Eric Rodwell, and his students brought it to class.
As he set up another hand, Trobaugh mentioned GF3.
“Game Force 3 means it’s not out of any book. It’s out of Ken’s head for your amazement and entertainment,” he says.
The players smiled and began examining the cards they had been dealt, another hand in their lives of bridge.