For some Shelby Countianseethis game trumps them all

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By Sally Sanderson Fay

It seems as if there is a bridge game every day of the week in Shelby County.


There is the Second Monday of the Month Bridge Club that used to meet on Wednesdays.

Then on Tuesdays and Fridays, there are Beginner Bridge players who want a more relaxed atmosphere and meet at the Family Activity Center at Clear Creek Park.

Another Tuesday group meets weekly at Kate’s Catering.

And you can’t forget about the second and fourth Thursday bridge group.

In fact there are more than 20 bridge groups active within the county, some with established members, some more serious than others but all with one shared element:

They are among the millions worldwide who enjoy this card game that can be traced from a Russian game in the 1700s.

They convene to pair up and try to win tricks from each other in a bidding and partnership process that can be simple as well as complex – and in a manner that might seem obsessive to some.

For instance, Barbara Scott belongs to five of these groups.

And though there isn’t a central clearinghouse of bridge club information and who plays where, player Anne Armstrong says, “If you play bridge, we will find you.”

Some of them even sated their fix with online bridge play, in which players from across the continents gather to play and share their strategy.

Sharon Hanking says she used to play with a lady from Scotland.


Different routes

Many of the bridge players in Shelby County came to the game via different paths. Fred Menear, for instance, was a gin rummy player, and when he moved to Shelby County, no one was playing gin rummy, so he learned bridge.

Don Stivers got interested by watching it on television and says it is similar to playing Rook.

Some learned in college, and some had patient tutors.

And during their years of playing, they all have shared a lot more than trumps and strategy, building friendships that have lasted for years.

Many have seen each other through deaths, divorces, births, weddings and illnesses.

It is the sisterhood and brotherhood of bridge that binds these players together.

And they are competitive, too.


It’s own language

Bridge has its own vocabulary. An Apricot Sundae is weak heart/diamond two suitor and is derived from it being a red, sticky, unappetizing mess.

There are several things you don’t want to do in bridge: You don’t want a Baby ­– that is two baby spades with no value.

Nor do you want to be a Dub or a Duffer – that means you aren’t up to par with your fellow bridge mates.

And, most of all you D.O.N.T. want to Disturb Opponents No Trump.

In party bridge, which is also called Rubber Bridge – there is no money or prizes to exchange hands (save for the one club that will remain nameless whose members let it slip they used to play for nickels).

The consensus among these bridge players is that you are constantly learning the game.

“I could never conqueror it – it conquered me,” Becky Flowers says.


Serious players

And then there is the other side of the spectrum of bridge, the really serious folks who play duplicate bridge, which is also known as contract bridge.

Several Shelby Countians have attained the status of Life Master from the American Contract Bridge League, which is located in Mississippi. They include Bob Logan, Howard Logan and Ben Matthews.

Though he started playing bridge in 1956, Matthews says it took him 20 years to understand the game.

In 1958 he began playing duplicate bridge and became a semiprofessional bridge player who has played with and against the best players in the world.  

“I didn’t play golf, hunt or fish,” he says. “I played bridge and had a very understanding wife.”

And in fact Matthews’ wife, Jean, also has competed in national bridge tournaments, but not to the extent of her husband.

 “It takes a mathematical mind to excel in bridge,” he says.

There must be something to that. Billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates play contract bridge and have used their philanthropy to teach bridge in schools.

Legend has it that Gates kept trying to convince Buffett that he needed a computer. Buffet didn’t budge – until his bridge partner alerted him to the fact that he could play bridge online.

Buffet now plays at least four hours a night online.

Matthews, who says he retired from competitive bridge play in 2008 and now spends his time collecting trains and gardening and keeping the congregation at Simpsonville United Methodist Church full of tomatoes and squash, hasn’t lost touch with the players in the county.

 “Other competitive players in the county include Carolyn Giltner and Bunny Carter,” Matthews says.

Says Giltner, “I’m old. I don’t remember anything – people’s names – but when it comes to bridge, I don’t forget a thing!”

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