A regular game suits them just fine

Bridge: Hands keep club's members on 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 U.S. 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.

"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. That's less than the price of seeing a movie at the theater, Schaffer points out.

There may be other benefits, too. A recent study found that participation in cognitively stimulating activities, such as playing cards and crossword puzzles, is linked with 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's 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," says Roberts. "You play against the whole field."

Proponents of duplicate bridge consider it much more competitive -- and fun -- than social bridge.

In both variations of the game, 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, players scores are matched against other players at their skill level.

That's a very impressive achievement considering the number of ACBL duplicate players, Spath says.

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? Smith says that a neighbor, observing her departure at the same time each day on her way to play, wondered what kind of job she had.

Club members, who have become close friends over the years, share interests beyond the bridge table. They contribute annually 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 used paper is donated to child care centers; the reverse side is perfect for coloring. Playing cards need to be replaced every three months, used decks are distributed to veterans' hospitals and organizations.

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

"Everybody is there on Thursday," says the director, adding that members are happy to pay the $1 fee for one of Allens gourmet meals.

Most players come to the bridge sessions with a partner, says Schaffer, but she can find one for a solo player if necessary.

"That's what I do in the evening," she says.

Newcomers are always welcome. Free refresher courses in bridge are offered at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday before the regular session at 2 p.m.

Free lessons are also offered at 9:15 a.m. on Tuesday and 9:30 a.m. on Friday. The regular morning sessions begin at 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. The Saturday session begins at noon; a Thursday evening session is at 7 p.m.

"If you play bridge," says Schaffer, "you'll never get Alzheimer's. It's good for people especially as they retire. It's such a wonderful game."

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