At my age ,the new things in life are usually bad. Physicals are different and what’s new involves body parts best left undisturbed. I go to CVS a lot. I know orthopedists and dermatologists. I listen to Josh Groban and watch Colin Firth movies.
But in the mix of the new, Lori and I discovered one good thing: bridge. The seeds of this hobby were planted two years ago at the Bridge Studio, near the Windmill Shopping Center at 95th Street and Metcalf Avenue.
Soon after we learned the basics, we came to understand something else. The game brings with it people who share one trait: They are interesting.
The first confirmation of this truism was our bridge instructor, Lee Goodman, who owns the Bride Studio. A one-time estate planning lawyer, he fills the room with eager pupils and then strikes a delicate balance between instruction and entertainment. We took the beginner class, then a more advanced class.
Goodman then unleashed his newbies to a world where “no trump” is not political commentary.
Lori and I started to play both with friends and those who were about to become friends. The demographics tend to fit the stereotype: widowed 75-year-old mother of four, grandmother of fifteen who smiles broadly just before she crushes you.
Likewise, the men tend to be retired executives who, in their younger years, wore the uniform and fought in the wars that are now featured on the History Channel. They have a “been there, done that” look to them, but would never tell you even if you asked. Modesty is a trait of this generation.
These are my kind of people.
Bridge games function in two worlds. Social bridge and something called duplicate bridge.
“Social bridge is just for fun” local bridge coach Kathy Rolfe told me. “Social bridge partners tend to talk about their hands while bidding and playing them.”
I’ve seen this myself. My mother-in-law will describe hands in terms reserved for masterpieces displayed at the Nelson. “Oh, that’s beautiful” she would say when her partner lays down three aces and two kings.
Social bridge can include things like bridge marathons. “I occasionally run one in the fall or spring at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Lee's Summit,” Rolfe told me.
There are social bridge groups that I’ve joined at the Blue Valley recreation facility on 151st Street. They play on Mondays from 6-8. Our church, Cure of Ars, recently organized a similar group for men. I play. It’s fun.
Contrasted against this distinct culture is duplicate bridge.
For the uniformed, let me explain duplicate bridge this way. You’ve probably heard about Pokemon Go, right? You may know this, but those nerds walking around are chasing imaginary figures, which they fight and then capture. Turns out, there are all competing worldwide for something called combat points. Duplicate bridge is like that, except the players compete for something called master points. You get ranked worldwide without standing in the park at midnight.
In duplicate bridge, you and your partner play a couple card hands and then move to another table, with another pair of opponents. It’s like a cross between speed dating and Sudoku but with a partner. And it’s competitive — by the end everyone will have played with the same set of cards. How you compare to others determines your score, leading to master points.
The arbiter who supervises this competition is called the “director.” The director is all powerful. If there is a dispute, the director gets involved and settles disagreements.
So last month when Lori and I were in Colorado, we decided to join a duplicate bridge group in Frisco. It was a Monday afternoon and we walked in to find about 100 people all enthused to win master points. The women had names like Rosemary, Marilyn, Alice, Ginger and men like Dick, Larry, and Howard.
Normally in a place like this your first reaction is to crack one-liners about broken blinkers, the Good Feet store, or Fibercon. Mine was different. I surveyed the assembled, leaned over to Lori and whispered “We’re going to get killed.”
The coordinator was a delightful woman, Jilane Savignano, who had relocated to Colorado from Michigan after a lifetime of teaching. “I started taking bridge lessons and got hooked,” she said.
The games began.
Our first couple of opponents were very friendly. It felt like social bridge. We moved to our second and then third table and it was clear at least one of our opponents was chasing Pokemon points. It wouldn’t be quite accurate to call him grumpy. Let me put it this way — if the Rally Mantis landed on his table, he’d reach for Raid.
No matter. Immediately Lori and I drew a strong combined hand, started bidding and then it happened. I bid no trump and Lori employed a technique called a “transfer” — something created to improve your partner’s bidding … and winning.
And then it happened. The man raised his voice and said it. “Director!”
To us, it had the feel of someone yelling “cheater.” Actually, strike the word “feel.”
In a second, 98 people looked up from their cards and turned to us. All the blood drained from the faces of the two kids in the room. The director listened and dismissed the situation, we won the hand handily, played two more hands and then moved on to the next table.
On the drive back to the condo, Lori called her mom and recounted it all. They laughed heartily.
We got home and later looked up our score on the web site. My prediction of an early bridge death was prophetic. Except for that one hand. And that’s what will bring us back. And to see our new friends.
Matt Keenan publishes the first and third Wednesday’s of each month. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: MDKeenan2, or visit his blog: www.matthewkeenan.com. His book “Call Me Dad, Not Dude, the Sequel” is available at Amazon.