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Bridge: Aging with finesse

By Joe Gschwendtner

Like to keep good company? Stay sharp intellectually? Lower Alzheimer’s risk? Have something in common with Warren Buffett? What if you could become a life master of something? Improve your self-discipline. Speak another language? Live longer? All you need is 52 cards, a pencil, paper, and three friends and you’re ready to play Bridge. Was it only that simple?

Bridge evolved in the 19th century from the 16th century Russian game of whist, a trick-taking game. What was “biritch” to fellow Russians became “bridge” to the English. The contract bridge we play today takes its name from the process by which players enter a bidding auction to declare trump and the total number of tricks to win the next contest.

The game is lively and social when enjoyed among friends and family. More serious bridge players play club duplicate, which through match play, compares their score against others who have played that hand. “Masters points” are awarded on a scale ranging from junior master to grand life master. If one is digitally inclined, there is no end to the games constantly available on the Internet.

Cerebral in countless ways, the game is a workout for the brain. Playing well requires planning ahead, making strategy, and using logic. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have advised that it’s all about managing risk. Yet the social element is equally important: communicating effectively with your partner and interacting with opponents.

Yeshiva University studies have shown that, like chess, bridge players have significantly lower risks of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. A University of California study reports that contract bridge players have higher numbers of immune cells.

Regrettably, the average bridge player’s age is in the mid 60’s. It seems that what is good for seniors has little appeal to youth. And this is understandable. It takes hours and hours of study and practice to learn the game and real patience. This, in a world where entertainment is on demand in hip pocket or purse. Our culture has changed to the point that a heavy investment in time is far more than most are willing to give.

Perhaps Warren Buffett is the best pitchman. He’s often said that “bridge is such a sensational game … he wouldn’t mind being in jail with three cellmates playing 24 hours a day.” Is it just possible bridge skills have made Warren what he is? Why not find out for yourself …



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