Feature: It’s never too soon to learn to play bridge

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What is the attraction of playing bridge? With clubs in the Hastings area boasting thriving membership levels, reporter Hannah Collisson went along to discover why so many people enjoy the game.

A COMPETITION, a social event, a mental workout, and for a lucky few, perhaps even a way to find love.

There is much more to the game than meets the eye, and some would argue the time is right for a revival.

Bridge is a card game from the same family that includes whist. It is played in a team of two, and points are scored for winning tricks. Each hand comprises 13 cards, which results in a huge number of possible combinations.

Bridge has a somewhat outdated reputation as a slow-paced game played in the home, but the version of the game played in the clubs, duplicate bridge, is fast-moving and can be highly competitive.

In the Hastings area bridge clubs are thriving. Should a person wish to do so it is possible to play at a club every day of the week, if not more than once a day. Bridge club members do tend to be those with plenty of free time in which to hone their skills and this does mean that a large number of bridge players are retired.

Bruce Carrison, club secretary of St Leonards Bridge Club, is passionate about what he refers to as a sport. A Judo black belt, Bruce, 59, is not one to shy away from a challenge.

“Bridge is for anyone with good problem-solving skills and who wants a challenge. Good numeracy skills also help.”

He wants to encourage newcomers to the game to join the club, and depending on the level of interest plans to run groups for complete beginners and improvers later this year and in early 2012.

Bruce has himself been playing bridge since he was in his 20s, but is a relative newcomer to duplicate bridge having joined the long-established St Leonards Bridge Club three years ago.

The rush of the game has ensured his continuing involvement in the club, which meets at St Mary Magdalen Church Hall, Church Road, St Leonards. Along with his bridge partner Louise Smith, Bruce scooped a win at the Brighton Congress in 2010, an annual bridge meeting.

Advances in technology have not passed the game by. Scores are recorded electronically, and it is possible online for a player to see how they rank against other players from all over the country. The hands of cards can also be computer generated, which makes for an even more interesting game.

Of course the social aspect of bridge clubs is just as important as the competition. Bruce knows this only too well, having met his partner Christine Bond, the club treasurer, through the St Leonards club two-and-a-half years ago. In his own words: ‘love blossomed over the bridge table’.

Catsfield Village Hall is home to weekly duplicate bridge sessions run by Barbara Herold of the East Sussex Bridge Club.

The hum of friendly conversation in the hall tells a story of friendships formed through shared interests. Although it is common for people to stick to the same bridge partnerships, the nature of the game means that there is plenty of interaction.

Barbara has been at the helm of the East Sussex Bridge Club since 2007, when she took over the running of the club from her husband following his death.

The club hosts three sessions a week in Cooden and Catsfield.

“We are always looking for new members and we are seen as a friendly club,” she said.

“If people are wondering whether to take up bridge, I would encourage them to give it a try and take a few lessons. The thing is that a lot of people leave it too late. The sooner you start learning, the better you will be.”

“You never get to a point where you stop learning, with bridge. That is part of the challenge.”

The game is finding a following among the under 25s, an age group that does not fit the stereotype of a bridge player. Younger players have a noticeable presence at the English Bridge Union annual meetings.

And holding the torch for the under 25s in St Leonards, is 15-year-old Stephen Kennedy, who attends the St Leonards Bridge Club, and is an avid player. He is to take a course to enable him to run bridge sessions as a director.

So if as Bruce Carrison says: ‘bridge is the ultimate problem to solve’, perhaps it is only a matter of time before more people rise to the challenge.

More information on the St Leonards Bridge Club visit www.bridgewebs.com/stleonards/ or call 01424 436876 and for the East Sussex Bridge Club visit www.eastsussexbridgeclub.co.uk or call 01424 422118.