Bridge club members play duplicate bridge on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010 at the Belmont Chrisian Church. (photo by Jeff Cooper/ Salina Journal) | Buy Journal Photos


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Louise Haworth contemplates her next move while playing bridge on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2010 at Belmont Christian Church. Haworth belongs to four bridge clubs that meet throughout the week. (photo by Jeff Cooper/ Salina Journal)




Jo Dean (left) jokes with Helen Graves during a bridge game at the Belmont Christian Church on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010. “For us, it’s all about the camaraderie,” said Dean. (photo by Jeff Cooper/ Salina Journal)


A bridge player holds a hand of cards during a duplicate bridge game at Belmont Chrisian Church on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010. (photo by Jeff Cooper/ Salina Journal)

A bridge to friendship


8/22/2010
By GARY DEMUTH | Salina Journal

In 1929, a Kansas City woman named Myrtle Bennett became furious at her husband, Jack, during a game of bridge. It seems Jack made a series of bad bids during the game, causing the couple to lose valuable points.

So Myrtle retrieved a handgun and, in front of another bridge-playing couple, shot her husband to death.

Luckily for Myrtle, the jury at her subsequent trial was sympathetic to Myrtle’s plight — they ended up acquitting the woman of murder charges, ruling her husband’s death accidental despite having four bullets fired at him, two of which found their target.

The blame for the shooting appeared to rest on the victim, a bad bridge player who paid the ultimate price for his ineptitude. Or as Eli Culbertson, the man most responsible for popularizing bridge during the 1920s and 1930s, said of Jack Bennett: “He flirted with death as people so frequently do when they fail to have a plan either in the game of bridge or the game of life.”

Fortunately, in 60 years of bridge playing Salinan Louise Haworth has never felt an urge to plug her partners for making bad bids.

Haworth, 82, started playing bridge in 1949 while attending the University of Kansas. While serious about bridge, Haworth is even more serious about the social outlet the game provides.

“It’s been my social life,” she said. “In 1949, my husband and I would go to someone’s house, bring a cake, and that was our entertainment. Even after 60 years, the game never gets old.”

Haworth, 82, has been part of a bridge club that meets each Wednesday afternoon at Belmont Boulevard Christian Church, 2508 Belmont. She also belongs to three other bridge clubs in town that meet at various times during the week.

Even Buffett, Gates play

For nearly a century, bridge has been one of the most popular card games ever invented. The American Contract Bridge League claims about 160,000 members and estimates that more than 25 million Americans know how to play the game.

The level of play has ranged from couples and small groups gathering for informal social games to those playing on a tournament level, which can include 100 tables or more.

Among today’s most passionate bridge aficionados are billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, who jointly have funded a program to teach bridge to teenagers in schools.

The Internet also has been a boon to today’s bridge players — the ACBL estimated that more than 4.1 million Americans now play bridge online. Bridge Base Online, a site partially owned by Gates, estimated that 100,000 computers log onto the site daily. Gates and Buffett themselves are known to play online at times.

It’s a social game

Yet despite the recent popularity of Internet Bridge, for many players, the majority of whom are age 60 and above, bridge is as much a social event as a competitive game.

“So many people love to play bridge on the computer now, but we do it here for friendship,” said Jo Dean, 84, a member of the Belmont bridge club. “For us, it’s all about the camaraderie.”

Bridge is a challenging game that takes a good memory, decent math skills and a nose for strategy, and once learned can easily become a lifetime obsession, said Assaria resident Mary Carlson, who plays with the Belmont group and six other bridge groups in the area.

“My grandmother played it, my mother played it, everyone in my family played bridge,” she said. “I’d work at home in the morning and play bridge in the afternoon. It’s a challenging game, and I always enjoyed the people I played with.”

At a typical gathering of the Belmont bridge club, about 12 women sit at three tables and play a version of the game called duplicate bridge.

Some basic rules

In a nutshell, basic bridge (also known as rubber bridge) consists of cards dealt to four players, who play in partnerships against each other.

The object of the game is to win tricks, which is done by laying down cards from each player in rotation.

Before play begins, a particular suit may be designated the trump suit, in which any card in that particular suit beats any card of another suit. Players must, if able, play a card of the suit led.

In duplicate bridge, the main form of competitive bridge, the same hand is played more than once at multiple tables, and points are assessed by comparing the results. The hands played are kept in metal or plastic containers, called boards, that are passed between tables.

Haworth, who recently had a series of strokes, said playing bridge has helped with her recovery.

“Every hand is a challenge that makes you think and tests your memory,” she said.

Salinan Phyllis Nicholson, who has been involved in bridge clubs since the 1960s, said she’s read just about every bridge book published in the last several decades. She’s also been a bridge instructor, club director and a life master, a designation awarded to bridge players who have received 300 or more bridge tournament points.

“You get points for winning games and local tournaments,” said Nicholson, whose next goal is to become a gold life master with 2,500 points.

Bridge is often thought of as the game of an older generation, and although the majority of players are seniors, more young people are learning the game and playing tournaments and on Internet teams, Nicholson said.

“It’s not an easy game to learn, but people who get involved never quit studying the game,” she said.

There were people like me

In Salina, ACBL sanctioned games take place on Monday nights and Tuesday afternoons at the Elks Club. Dozens of other bridge clubs meet each week at homes, churches, restaurants and clubs in the area, and many members play in multiple clubs.

“A lot of people have been in groups for a long time, some more than 40 years, and have played through thick and thin,” Nicholson said. “For me, as someone who has moved around a lot, it was a way of meeting people in a new town. In a bridge club I felt welcome and felt there were a lot of people like me.”

For Bill Knox, bridge has given him the competitive outlet once filled by the game of golf, which he said he is unable to physically play anymore.

“Bridge has taken the place of the mental stimulation of golf,” said Knox, who plays tournament games at the Salina Elks Club and in Wichita and Hutchinson. “The relationship of golf and bridge are similar. I like the competition of bridge and playing in tournaments, especially when I’m somewhat a novice playing against people who have been playing 40, 50 years or more.”

International competition

Salinan Marilyn Holgerson is a bridge player who enjoys playing on the Internet. To her, the international flavor of the game makes it more stimulating.

Holgerson has had bridge partners from China, Japan, India, England, Canada, Iceland and the Netherlands. Communication has never been an issue, she said.

“You don’t have to speak the same language, but bridge terms are all in English and most of them communicate in English,” she said. “It’s something that brings everyone together and is not political or prejudicial.”

Have to use your head

As with Knox, bridge has taken the place of another competitive sport for Holgerson — in her case, tennis.

“I was an avid tennis player, and a lot of the same terms we used for winning in tennis can be used for bridge, like trust your partner and don’t change a winning game,” she said.

For Holgerson, bridge is one of the best brain-building activities around and has become essential to keeping her aging brain stimulated.

“I like that it’s active instead of passive entertainment,” she said. “My body won’t play tennis anymore, so I have to use my head now.”

nReporter Gary Demuth can be reached at 822-1405 or by e-mail at [email protected]






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