TRUCKEE — Over the low hum of chatter, the sound of a deck of cards being shuffled and dealt at various tables of fours could be heard, with players collecting and focusing on their 13-card hand before bidding and playing got under way.
This scene took place Friday morning at the back of the Northwoods Clubhouse, where 20 people, or 10 pairs of partners, gathered to play the trick-taking card game bridge.
“I’ve been here for over 23 years, and I couldn’t find a partner 23 years ago,” said Kathleen Semrad, a Northstar resident. “Now, I could play five days of the week.”
In recent years, she said she has noticed that bridge’s popularity in the region has grown significantly, crediting its growth to the aging baby boom generation.
“They have time to play and enjoy the challenge and stimulation of the game,” Semrad said of the game, which takes about three hours to play. “They are either coming back to it and updating their skills or interested in learning the game.”
David Rowe of Truckee, who has been playing bridge for 50 years, said while he never took a break from the game, he’s been playing more than he ever has in the past eight years.
“I was raising a family and working, and didn’t have much time for it (before),” he said, prior to the start of Friday’s Tahoe Donner Bridge Club game.
Sharilyn Nelson, a Tahoe Donner resident, started the Tahoe Donner Bridge Club around 1998 after moving to the area in 1995 and noticing “there’s no bridge in the mountains,” she said.
When the club was first started, only four people, or one table, participated, whereas today, the club’s semimonthly Friday morning game draws on average 20 people, or five tables, Nelson said. Yet, if all members of the club played at the same time, she said, there would be 12 tables participating.
“It’s been fun to see it grow like that,” Nelson said.
More than a game
“Bridge is like life,” said Pat Callahan of Sierra Meadows, who started playing bridge in high school in the early 50s. “It’s never follows the rules.”
When asked to elaborate, she added, “There’s a set of rules for bridge — for bidding and then some of them (for) play — but it also has an element of luck involved in it because you don’t always get the cards that exactly follows those rules. So you have to make decisions.”
Most agreed that good bridge players are analytical, good with numbers, and have a good memory and instincts. Yet, it was also agreed that it is a game that can rarely, if ever, be mastered.
“(It’s) a continuous learning process,” said Diane Rowe, David’s wife. “People devise new systems, and all of a sudden, everything changes in the game.”
Thereby, keeping its players on their toes.
“It’s a good way to keep our brains fit,” said Semrad, who started playing the game in 1990. “It’s (a) very stimulating, challenging game, so it’s good as we get older to try to maintain our brain ability.”
It’s also a good game for newcomers to the area, Semrad said.
“We had people be integrated into the area by finding a bridge group,” she said.
People like Marilyn Elgas, who moved to Truckee from Phoenix five years ago for family.
“This is the most welcoming group here,” she said, referring to the Tahoe Donner Bridge Club. “The minute I came here, everyone was so welcoming and so kind.”
Not only did the club help Elgas meet people, it also provided a “network” for her, where she could get recommendations for doctors, hairdressers and nail technicians in the area from club members, she said.
It’s that social aspect of bridge along with the challenge of it that Susan Ritchie, former principal of Glenshire Elementary School, said she likes about the game.
“The nice thing about bridge in Truckee is you can choose to become as much of an expert player as you want to be,” she said. “If you just want to play social party bridge, there’s plenty of people here that are happy to do that. If you want to really get into it and hone your skills and get better and better, there’s a place for that, too.”