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Bridge to brains and buddies

Community: Locals gather weekly to play card game with multiple benefits

Posted: November 14, 2010 7:48 p.m.
Updated: November 15, 2010 4:55 a.m.
John Swanson holds a hand during a game of bridge. John Swanson holds a hand during a game of bridge.
John Swanson holds a hand during a game of bridge.
Players in the Senior Bridge Club meet at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center in Newhall on Tuesday. Players in the Senior Bridge Club meet at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center in Newhall on Tuesday.
Players in the Senior Bridge Club meet at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center in Newhall on Tuesday.
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The cavernous room is silent except for the slapping of cards and a few quiet commands.

“Transfer,” said Rand Pinsky, intensely eyeing his hand.

At his table, the remaining three players don’t look up, equally intent on their own cards.

Though it may seem like code to outsiders, these players are speaking the language of bridge, a complex card game that has fans all over the world.

On Tuesday nights, players from the Santa Clarita Valley and beyond come to show their skills and acquire points to move up the competitive ladder at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center.

Mira Rowe, of Newhall, and her husband, Hansford, play at the center every week.

“When we got married 10 years ago, Hansford told me, ‘You have to learn how to play bridge,’” Rowe said. “It’s exciting, challenging and really gives you a feeling of accomplishment.”

Rowe is not alone in her enthusiasm for the game, according to Pinsky, who runs the Valencia Bridge Studio, a division of the American Contract Bridge League.

“The ACBL is a national organization of duplicate bridge players that has 165,000 members throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. You can go to a bridge club any place in the U.S. and feel right at home,” Pinsky said. “The players in this group range from beginners to advanced players.”

This evening, there are more than 60 players present. The cost to play in this session, as well as a Thursday-morning tournament held at the Castaic Sports Complex, is $8. Players must also enroll as a member in the ACBL for $30 a year, which includes a monthly magazine with tips and tournament locations.

Played by four people in two competing partnerships and using a standard deck of 52 playing cards, duplicate bridge consists of several hands, or deals, which progress through four phases: dealing the cards, the auction, playing the hand and scoring the results.

Cards are dealt facedown, one at a time, in a clockwise fashion, starting with the dealer. Subsequently, each player makes a call to determine which partnership will contract to take the most number of tricks given a particular trump suitor. Once all 13 tricks are played, individual scores of the hands are accumulated and the overall game score determined.

Sound confusing? It was to Rowe in the beginning.

“It was an ordeal at first, it wasn’t easy. But after 100 hours, I was hooked,” she said.

For Tom Jones, of Canyon Country, bridge was second nature. His mother and father played the game in the 1940s, and Jones took it up while attending college. When he and his wife, Barbara, married in Chicago, one of their hobbies was to invite people over to play bridge.

Those were the days, according to Jones.

“Now everyone is on the damn computer,” he said. “Bridge is a very social game. It doesn’t seem that way, but when you play with the same people numerous times, eventually they become your circle of friends.”

The Jones and the Pinskys travel across the country as part of the ACBL, with tournaments scheduled for Louisville, Toronto and Seattle in 2011.

“These tournaments take place three times a year, last for over 10 ten days and we get 14,000 tables of bridge,” Pinsky said. “You choose what events you want to play in. Some are geared for more expert players, some are for intermediate or beginning players.”

Pinsky, who met his wife, Kathy, playing bridge, has a deal with her. Every time he wins an event, he has to buy Kathy a pair of shoes.

“She has a lot of shoes,” Pinsky said.

Win or lose, the Joneses enjoy the camaraderie of such events.

“We played in Missoula, Mont., where we didn’t know anyone, but we found a team to pair up with. You end up getting to know people and going out to dinner with them,” Jones said. “It’s a wonderful retirement kind of thing.”

There are also health benefits to bridge. Studies show that the mental stimulation provided by the game can significantly lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

A 2003 report published in the New England Journal of Medicine by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York followed 469 people over the age of 75, starting in 1980. Participants were measured by how often they partook in activities such as reading, walking, dancing and board games. There was a 74-percent lower risk for developing Alzheimer’s or dementia in those who played board games or certain card games such as bridge.

As Joseph Coyle, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Harvard Medical School who analyzed the study, said in a Washington Post article, “Using the mind actually causes rewiring of the brain, sprouting new synapses. It may even cause the generation of new neurons.”

Jones would agree.

“It’s very good from the standpoint of keeping mental acuity. It requires continual learning,”  he said. “You never think you’re good enough, even when you hit certain milestones.”

For more information on joining the Valencia Bridge Studio, contact Rand Pinsky at (661) 295-4644 or Kathyrand@earthlink.net. 

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