If you can’t get enough of bridge, or are curious about the popular card game, then head down to the Bridge Place at the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center, in Providence.
You don’t have to know much about the game, and you’re never too old to learn how to play, according to the Bridge Place’s director and teacher, Barton Buffington, 76.
Buffington is a board member of Rhode Island’s Unit 145 of the American Contract Bridge League, the national governing body, as well as being an ACBL-certified teacher and an enthusiastic bridge advocate.
In an email interview with The Jewish Voice, Buffington touted the game’s universal appeal and its benefits for seniors. Here are excerpts:
Q. How often does the group meet and how many people regularly attend?
A. Attendance varies. Tuesdays, 25-35 people; Fridays, 15-20. Monday and Wednesday classes [are] not well attended at this time. [There are] two games on Mondays: open and 0-20 master points [new players or ones with fewer than 20 master points].
Q. Is it open to anyone? Where are most folks from?
A. The group is open to all players and students from Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Q. When did the group form and why?
A. [The] origin of the organization [was in] the 1940s. [The goal was] to establish a duplicate bridge group in Rhode Island.
Q. What motivates people to play bridge on a regular basis?
A. Competition, keeping sharp mentally, social aspects, fun.
Q. Bridge has been called a game for everyone and all ages. Why? What’s the age range of the Bridge Place?
A. All ages. A group has been formed recently at the Wheeler School. Age range at the Bridge Place is about 50-100. In some places, Atlanta specifically, there is an active youth program.
Q. What role do you think bridge plays in keeping people’s minds sharp and feeling young?
A. One thing about bridge is that you don’t have to be an athlete to play. This has been a promotional feature in schools, where many extracurricular activities are sports related. This caters to a certain element. Bridge can be played by anyone. Of course, like anything else, abilities vary.
Studies have shown that playing bridge has a positive effect on mental acuity. In a duplicate game, constant mental effort is required. [It’s an] excellent workout for that muscle.
Q. Bridge is said to help people develop strategies for competition. It’s also said to have improved math and reasoning abilities among elementary students. Why do you think that is?
A. Bridge requires thinking about probability, counting, choosing from among alternative lines of play, strategies. In fact, the more you play and learn, the more of these factors become known to you, and the more choices you have to make. As my students progress, I start to tell them, “every card matters.”
Keeping in mind that one plays at least 24 hands in a session, that’s 312 cards in about 210 minutes. See how playing regularly establishes mental stamina?
Q. Can you talk about the benefits of playing bridge regularly for seniors?
A. I’ve mentioned a number of benefits to seniors. Also, there are players who have played together for 50-60 years, and have formed relationships outside of bridge. Some of the really devoted players have their dance card filled out, playing with (for example): Joan on Monday, Tom on Tuesday, Mary on Wednesday, Sue on Thursday, Richard on Friday, Carolyn on Saturday, off on Sunday. The really, really devoted have: Joan, Monday afternoon; Sue, Monday night; Sam, Tuesday morning; Linda, Tuesday afternoon, etc. Then, afterward they go to a chosen home for drinks. How sociable can you get?
Q. Anything else you’d like to add about the game or the Bridge Place?
A. Another thing about bridge is that the weaker players on occasion, beat the best players. In other games, this does not happen. For example, I would never beat Roger Federer in tennis. Maybe not even win a point. I have, however, beaten some very good bridge players, players much better than I.
LARRY KESSLER is a freelance writer who can be reached at email@example.com.