Regular play suits them fine

Bridge: Enjoying a hand almost daily keeps members of an Anne Arundel club on their toes.


August 17, 2004|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"To be sure you have a `full deck' later in life," says the slogan on the wall of the Severna Park Bridge Club, "play bridge."

That theory has been taken to heart by many of the club's 200 members for the past 43 years. Several hours a day, Monday through Saturday, members gather in the spacious clubroom at the rear of Benfield Village Shopping Center to enjoy a brain-boosting game of duplicate bridge and the camaraderie of fellow card players.

"I try to make our club like the old Cheers," says Pam Schaffer of Annapolis, who bought the club four years ago when her husband retired from the Navy. Besides loving the game, Schaffer says, she wanted to keep the club open so that "all those old friends would have a place to play" after the previous owner retired to Ocean City.

"I offer what I call `the three secrets to happiness': something to love, something to do and something to look forward to," she says.

All this happiness comes at bargain prices: There is no membership fee, and a player can drop by for a game of bridge at a cost of only $6.

There may be other benefits, too. A recent study found that participation in cognitively stimulating activity, such as playing cards and working crossword puzzles, is linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Among the daily bridge players is Florence Roberts, 92, who introduced duplicate bridge to Severna Park in 1961 when she organized the first games in the area at the then-new Chartwell Country Club.

"At my age, I'm not able to do a lot of physical things," says Roberts, who has lived in Severna Park for more than 60 years, "so I can go and play duplicate and use my mind. Thank heavens, I still have that."

"Duplicate is much more challenging than social bridge," she says. "You play against the whole field."

In both bridge variations, a table of four is split into two sets of partners. In social bridge, through bidding and then playing hands, each partnership tries to gain the most points. But in duplicate bridge, each table is dealt the same hands and partnerships vie against others in the room who have played that hand.

At the end of a session, players gather around as Schaffer enters the scores into the computer and calculates the day's winners and duplicate masterpoints -- earned when scores are matched against other players at the same skill level.

Masterpoints earned by players who are members of the American Contract Bridge League are submitted to the national organization. Three club members -- Zeke Letellier of Crofton, Jennifer Koonce of Odenton and Ron Spath of Severna Park, who have earned thousands of masterpoints among them -- are listed among the top 500 duplicate bridge players in this year's national Barry Crane Masterpoints race.

That's an impressive achievement considering the number of ACBL duplicate players, Spath says. The organization's Web site lists its membership at 170,000 players.

Kitty Smith of Severna Park has been playing in the bridge club since she and her husband, Brady, attended Roberts' first game 43 years ago. After playing duplicate bridge just once, she says, "I was hooked."

How hooked? A neighbor, observing Smith's regular departure from home at the same time each day on her way to play bridge, wondered what kind of job Smith had.

Club members, who have become close friends over the years, share interests beyond the bridge table. They contribute to a holiday charity, make sure assisted-living residents have a ride to bridge, and donate reams of paper. There are 13 tables of bridge with four players each, and a score sheet is printed for each person. After the scores have been displayed for a month, the club donates the used paper to childcare centers.

With so many players and so many games, the playing cards need to be replaced every three months. The used decks are distributed to veterans' hospitals and organizations.

Thursday is everyone's favorite day at bridge club. That's when Wanda Allen, who has two hobbies -- bridge and cooking -- prepares lunch for the club.

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