8 Reasons to Play Bridge
by Pamela Granovetter

I hope my reasons appeal to you and that you will consider learning to play bridge. I promise you, you won't be sorry!

1. Everyone is concerned about health and well-being. Hundreds of books and magazine articles have been published about dieting, nutrition, emotional well-being, spiritual fulfillment, self-confidence, financial security, etc. But what about the well-being of one's intellect? That's obscure, but surely as important as one's cholesterol level! There was an article in the September, 2003 issue of the American Contract Bridge League's publication, the "Bridge Bulletin," which quotes studies that extol the power of "brain-boosting" leisure activities. Such activities (including bridge, which is a mental sport requiring the exercise of memory, concentration, logic, psychology, and a little math) are associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease. Bridge, and games like it (such as chess), show a "74% reduced risk in those playing four or more days [a week], compared to those who played weekly, less or never," says Joe Verghese, MD, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. I don't know if brain-boosting activities are also related to financial success, but as it happens playing bridge and financial success definitely have a correlation. The two wealthiest Americans (according to Forbes magazine), Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, play, and so do many Wall Street CEO's and traders, Congressmen, college professors, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and computer mavens.

2. Unfortunately, it's possible to be in tip-top shape in all the areas mentioned above, and still suffer from the ineffable anguish of loneliness. Even a person with a "full" life can feel lonely. Bridge is a very social game. For one thing, four people are required to play. If you're involved in competitive bridge, there are dozens or even hundreds of other players sitting with you in the same room (be it physical or virtual). In competition, you change opponents after every few deals. There is no limit to the people you meet, and the people are friendly (although it's a good idea to have a thick skin, because some bridge players get emotional when things go wrong and take it out on their partners!). Players like to discuss the hands after the game (this is called the "post-mortem"), so even a person without social skills can enjoy a cup of coffee with a group of other people, and contribute his two cents about why you should play the ace of spades instead of the queen.

3. Bridge players don't care about how rich, smart, attractive, successful, or popular you are. Your background, your race, your politics, and your social standing are totally irrelevant. Feature writers for Bridge Today Magazine over the years have included Zia Mahmood, a star player from Pakistan; Kathie Wei Sender, a multiple world champion from China (who, by the way, was able to help open up American trade with China because the Premier and other leading figures in the Chinese government at that time were all keen bridge players!); Omar Sharif (the movie star from Egypt); as well as writers from Israel, England, Scotland, Sweden, Poland, Australia, Canada, and even Croatia! (English, by the way, is the official language of bridge, which explains why our writers from non-English speaking countries have no trouble providing us with material.)

To illustrate how unifying bridge is, my husband and I are Lubavitcher Jews who moved from upstate New York to Israel 10 years ago. Our office manager of more than a decade is a fundamentalist Christian who lives in Georgia. Our computer tech lives in Montreal and we don't even know his religion or politics. Our business partners are from Silicon Valley and Ontario, our writers live all over the world, and our bridge partners are from New York City and Vermont. Even age doesn't matter. I am 50 and my husband is 52, but our close bridge friends and partners include people in their sixties, seventies and eighties.

4. You can enjoy bridge actively or passively. My 75-year-old father, for example, doesn't play at all but he reads the daily bridge column in his newspaper. My 81-year-old mother-in-law plays just about every single day at a bridge club or at her home or the homes of her friends. Most serious players compete in at least two or three duplicate games every week, plus a few out-of-town tournaments. Three times a year there are North American Bridge Championships held in major American cities such as New Orleans, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. The first major competition of the day doesn't begin until 1 p.m., so players can enjoy some sight-seeing in the mornings. Games for players at every level are available. You can play three sessions a day, or two, or one, or you can take a day off for touring or kibitzing. For non-active players, there are several magazines, dozens of daily, weekly, or monthly bridge columns, plus hundreds of bridge books to read.

5. I think the most wonderful thing about bridge is that you can play it in your home. You don't have to leave the children with baby-sitters. If you're immobile or ill, G-d forbid, you can have this amazing hobby which takes you "out on the town" without leaving home. In addition, if you play bridge at home, you don't have to spend a fortune to have a good time. Some computer tournaments, such as those on Bridgebase.com, are totally free, while one of the most popular virtual bridge club, OKbridge, costs only $99 per year. Our web site offers a membership which includes daily columns, a monthly e-magazine, lessons, and a ton of exclusive bridge material for less than $5 per month. That's a great deal cheaper than buying even one bridge book per month, or playing in one duplicate game! Actually, if you're on a very tight budget, you don't have to spend any money at all. You can play in your home with friends, or at one of the free bridge clubs online, and you can read the daily column in your newspaper or access free columns on our web site or others like it.

6. Literature is replete with allusions to bridge. If you learn to play bridge, you'll finally know what they're talking about! For example:

"Time's Witness" by Michael Malone, published by Sourcebooks, Inc., 2002, p. 209:

"The eight of us guests remaining were then commanded by Edwina to play bridge. She picked me for her partner, and after I overrode some of her greedier swoops on the bid, we came out the winners, with $38.55. Well, I'm a good bridge player, despite a lack of practice opportunities other than the games in the newspaper. At any rate, Edwina was impressed...."

p. 299-300

"She [Edwina] said, 'Meaning, Cuthbert, I just hope you aren't going to waste your life - as you so bluntly implied I had wasted mine.'

"I said, 'I just hope you aren't ever going to bid four notrump with a singleton again.'"

In a way, this is the weakest reason to learn to play bridge, but I remember that watching people play bridge in the movies before I knew how to play drove me crazy. I wanted to know what was going on when a character would say, "I bid four spades" or whatever.

7. Bridge is a healthy way to channel one's competitive urge. I think feeling competitive is part of normal human nature, but when there is no healthy outlet for it, many of us feel competitive in non-constructive ways (such as "keeping up with the Jones's"). Bridge, like life, isn't totally fair. Sometimes a less talented player will best an expert thanks to good luck or even accident. You can't imagine the thrill of defeating a player you know is better than you are.

This possibility doesn't exist much in the non-bridge world, and it nourishes the competitive drive in a healthy way because you can be competitive and humble at the same time (even if you best an expert on a hand, you still know how you play compared to how he plays!). In addition, you can be an ordinary person and play against the best players in the world at a championship tournament! In the early stages of a championship, just about anyone who is at all competent can enter, so you get to compete against the experts even as you're learning. You will almost surely lose the match, but it's possible, and even likely, that you'll have at least one good " result" (score on a single bridge hand) against your expert opponent in a session. By the way, the experts tend to be generous. If an expert has a bad result against a weaker player, he or she will usually give the weaker player a compliment. In addition, most experts are willing to answer questions from ordinary players. Imagine being able to go up to Tiger Woods and ask him to explain what's wrong with your golf swing! It would never happen, but famous expert bridge players will cheerfully answer a stranger who wants to know why three notrump is the right bid on the last hand.

8. The game itself is a great deal of fun! Playing bridge provides you with something challenging to think about instead of worrying about terrorism, the ecology, yourself, etc. As an intellectual pursuit, it takes you outside of yourself and your worries. Bridge is amazingly absorbing and the time passes incredibly quickly while you're playing (unless you are having a dreadful game or you dislike your partner). In addition, bridge is very deep. You can play for years and years and go from level to level, learn more and more, and find the challenge of becoming a good player inexhaustible. Most bridge players stick with this game for life (whether actively or passively) because, to paraphrase Rogers and Hart, once you have found it, you never let it go.

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