Jacksonville bridge club builds friendly competition

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published December 23, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated December 21, 2012 at 10:26 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Curt Youngblood

Judy Chapman considers her hand while playing bridge with the Jacksonville Duplicate Bridge Club at the Martin Street Youth Center in Jacksonville. Duplicate bridge gives many teams the ability to compete against each other by rotating the same hands of cards through various tables.

— The Martin Street Youth Center typically serves a younger, louder crowd, but on Wednesday mornings, the place stays pretty quiet.

For long stretches, the only sounds are cards being flipped onto tabletops and quiet recognition of a good play.

From 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. each Wednesday, members of the Jacksonville Duplicate Bridge Club break out the tables and work to refine their skills.

“You can learn the rules in a day or a week, but to master the game takes a lifetime,” club member Dick Chapman said. “I know of world-class players who still say they learn something every time they sit down at the table.”

Chapman has been playing bridge since 1962, when his Aunt Millie insisted that he couldn’t go to college without learning how to play the game. He’s been playing duplicate bridge seriously for the past 10 years.

“There’s a real generational gap when it comes to bridge,” Chapman said. “Thirty, 40 or 50 years ago, young people played this game all the time. … Now the typical person is retired or doesn’t have children in the house anymore. We don’t get too many 20-year-olds coming to learn, and we regret that.”

In an average week, about 30 players gather in the center. Club members began meeting at the center, 201 Martin St., six years ago after they had to move from their previous location.

No one can quite remember when the group first started meeting. General consensus settles on more than 20 years ago, but it’s likely closer to 30. The majority of players are women, and members estimate that the average age is hovering around 75.

“There’s nothing more humbling than being brought down by a 92-year-old woman,” Chapman said.

Chapman believes the game has benefits for older players, including keeping the mind sharp and helping delay the onset of dementia.

Duplicate bridge, as Chapman puts it, takes some of the luck out of the traditional game. In duplicate bridge, the same deal is played by each table, with the final score based on which pair played that given hand the best. At the end of a round, the cards are placed in a special tray that keeps the hands separate, and trays and players rotate tables until they have played every tray. When a round ends, those at the table compare their scores with those who played the hand previously.

Wynona Jebb has been playing the game for only two years, but she caught on quickly. She plays because she likes the strategy involved in the partner game and the conventions behind betting.

Though many members of the club have been playing for decades, newer players like Jebb shouldn’t be intimidated to join a club, Chapman said.

“People think that if they go from playing socially to joining a club, it’s like they’re being thrown into a lion’s den, but it’s not true,” Chapman said.

Members of the club don’t play for any sort of money. Instead, they earn “masterpoints,” which are tracked through the American Contract Bridge League. Points are translated into certain titles, ranging from Rookie to Grand Life Master. The titles are essentially bragging rights, and a way to know how strong your opponent is.

As the games went on into the afternoon on Wednesday, members refilled coffee cups and chatted quietly about holiday plans. Boxes of cakes and cookies were at the ready, although the spread was much more impressive, Jebb said, for the holiday party earlier in December.

The club meets only once a week, but the group celebrates everyone’s birthday. Members have quickly grown supportive of each other and welcome anyone interested in playing the game.

Participants described the play at the Jacksonville club as a friendly rivalry.

“Clubs exist to foster a little competition,” Chapman said. “We play with a little more focus on the game itself. Though we’re very friendly, … we’re deadly serious about it.”

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

Associate Features Editor Emily Van Zandt can be reached at .

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