Strong Suit

Cards on the comeback trail

By Susan Kelly

Bridge is having a moment.

I know this because when I turned 50, my mother said, “If you don’t learn how to play bridge, you’re not going to have anything to do when you’re 70.” (Actually, she may have said, “You’re not going to have any friends when you’re 70,” which seems more likely.)  My mother grew up in a family so devoted to bridge that one Christmas I gave my grandfather an automatic card shuffling gadget from the Miles Kimball catalog. My grandmother taught me to “bridge” cards when shuffling, to impress all my friends at camp. In college, I watched sorority sisters play gut bridge, cross-legged on the floor between ashtrays and bottles of Tab.

Despite all this exposure to bridge, the only game I like is Scrabble — “And I’ll pay for your lessons,” my mother added.


Bridge is so hot right now that churches are offering lessons to lure —
I mean encourage — young people into the fold. Well, at least Charlotte churches are. What would Jesus do? He’d do Third in hand, high as you can. Strength before length, definitely.

Like every hobby, interest, or pursuit, any gathering of bridge players has its echelons of skills, plus PIAs and KIAs. No, not a car, but Know-It-Alls and Pains-In-the-…. Keisters. I have fiends, I mean friends, who go to Gatlinburg, Tennessee and exist on protein bars to play bridge 14 hours a day with 2,999 other duplicate devotees. Gatlinburg! That’s where you went to get married in a rush, last time I checked. Now it’s become a destination for card sharks seeking to become “life members” in an obscure organization. I’ve seen pictures taken covertly of participants at these events, and I’m here to tell you: Fanaticism is not pretty.

I prefer social bridge, which is less competitive, chattier, and includes snacks. Before bridge, I used to plan days with a two-hour free zone around going to see a movie by myself. Now, I get up a bridge game, with sesame sticks in place of my smuggled Sugar Daddy. After 5 o’clock or so, social bridge also includes alcohol, and soon after that, bridge morphs into dridge (drinking + bridge). It’s amazing how fast the importance of conventions and counting fades.

Naturally, where there’s a trend, there’s an industry not far behind. From bidding boxes — God forbid we should have to remember what we bid — to cutesy cocktail napkins, and needlepointed, monogrammed, lined-with-satin bridge table covers. I found a set of glasses decorated with spades and hearts and so forth in a vintage shop not long ago and pounced on them like Betty Draper in Mad Men, or that awful woman in The Help. This is what I’ve become.

That there is no bridge emoji is grievous unto me.

Bridge has its own lingo and etiquette, too. Point the “made” deck toward the next dealer. It’s illegal to inform someone whether they’re “on the board” or “in their hand.” It’s also illegal to “cut thin to win.”  “Wish tricks” are for amateurs. Coveting the rings and/or manicure of your partner is in poor taste.

It’s true: I made that one up.

The best reason for jumping on the bridge bandwagon is that, like crossword puzzles and replacing the metal fillings in your teeth, playing bridge supposedly staves off dementia. This theory, however, doesn’t exactly jibe with word from the retirement home that players are putting a napkin on their head to remind them of who dealt last. Still, Warren Buffett has said that, “I wouldn’t mind going to jail if I had three cellmates who played bridge,” and who are you to argue with a billionaire? Your deal.  OH

In a former life, Susan Kelly published five novels, won some awards, did some teaching, and made a lot of speeches. These days, she’s freelancing and making up for all that time she spent indoors writing novels.

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