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Kicking It around the bridge table

There is an indomitable truth that two things that can be discussed ad nauseum without repercussion: wine and bridge.

It has long been accepted that anyone may comment about wine albeit they are tasting it, sipping it, or merely drinking it, without recourse. Nothing said can be held against them.

The same can be said about bridge. Volumes have been written since 1935 about how to play this fascinating game. Every party bridge player knows a few conventions like how to count the points in your hand, or how to open the bidding, and how to respond to partners' bids. These steps are called conventions.

The two forms of bridge are contact and duplicate bridge. Both use a deck of 52 cards that are usually slimmer than say poker cards; although any deck can be shuffled and dealt one at a time in front of each of the four players or two pairs sitting in either compass position of north/south or east/west.

That is where the similarities stop.

For one thing, in duplicate bridge, the cards are not reshuffled after each hand is played. Instead, each hand is inserted into a slot on a numbered board to be passed from table to table for the other pairs to play sitting in that same direction.

I firmly believe duplicate bridge is a fairer game than contract. Haven’t you noticed how some people get the best cards? It happens all the time in contract bridge which is also called party bridge. If you aren’t getting any of the high winning cards, you cannot possibly go home with the coin.

It’s a different set up for duplicate bridge. The win goes to the pair that plays each hand for the best result, regardless of points. Duplicate bridge levels the playing field because all pairs sitting the same direction play the same hands during the session.

Here’s how it works. If a pair bids and makes their game, they get the plus score, however, if another pair sitting their direction doesn’t, then the opponents are rewarded. It’s the only game I know when a weak hand can win due to misplay.

To over-simplify the process, each deck has 40 high card points. Ace is four points, King is three, Queen is two, and Jack is one. Multiply that by the four suits, ranked from high to low it’s spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs. Extra points are added for voids, two in a suit (doubletons), one in a suit (singleton). Three, two, one respectfully.

Contract bridge is not regulated except by good manners whereas duplicate ups the ante and is also governed by a director and backed by a national organization. The director sets up the tables, assigns seats, table markers, and ensures bidding guidelines are followed, and posts the results. The American Contract Bridge League tracks the points for which we pay an annual fee and get a monthly magazine.

It is not necessary to join the ACBL to play at local club games. There is an $8 session fee or as low as $5 for new players at my twice-monthly games.

Locally our game is played mostly by retired, senior adults. But…I’d like to change that. Over the Thanksgiving break I’ll be attending the NABC to get my teacher’s accreditation in Austin, Texas to become an instructor.

Currently, I have two monthly games. They are usually the second and fourth Thursday of each month. Though the holidays and traveling to meet my new twin great-grandsons have changed the November schedule. Dates and times are posted at the Inland Bridge Club home website at or I can be reached via my email below.

Like golf, you needn’t be a world class player to enjoy it. It keeps the mind working on all cylinders and has a very social benefit for attendees. It is my firm belief that duplicate bridge is the quintessential card game.

Unlike other sports that rely on physical agility or strength, the charm of duplicate bridge is to watch an 80-year-old-twinkly-eyed-grandma with a cane out finesse a stronger athletic opponent and win the hand. While winning may not be everything, it is still part of the fun and why we play.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, it is a lot better with wine.

Elizabeth Youngman-Westphal can be reached at [email protected].


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