We have begun playing at a contract bridge club in Bridgewater and I am once again struck by the number of players in their late seventies and eighties. It was the same at the Scotch Plains bridge club where we used to play previously. There, two players were in their nineties and one of them even filled in as the director. In a larger context, it is true that bridge is not growing in popularity among the young but it also leads me to wonder if there is a connection between bridge and longevity. I think there is.
In our senior years, two of our biggest enemies are boredom and isolation. As we age, many of the recreational sports that we used to indulge in are no longer possible. With retirement, many of office friends fall off and it takes time and effort to develop new ones. It is difficult to find like-minded companions who live reasonably close by and have time for you. To maintain a lasting relationship, you need to have things in common and one of the best is contract bridge. Golf is good too, and I do know some golfers in their seventies, even one in his eighties, but they are exceptions. Not many people continue to play golf in their seventies. Besides, golf is expensive and does not suit most pockets. That is not the case with contract bridge.
Bridge can be played at home with friends or on-line. Online bridge is great , particularly for those who are home bound or otherwise restricted. They can play with people from all over the world or, if they wish, co-ordinate with their friends so that they can play at the same table. By playing online, they can even make lasting friendships with people from different countries. But, as good as the online experience is, it does offer the same warmth of human contact that live play does.
Social bridge played at home with friends is fine but duplicate bridge has the advantage of eliminating the element of luck. Since everybody is playing the same deals, you don’t care if you have a bad run of cards. Playing duplicate at home is good but playing it in a bridge club is better. There is an added competitiveness in club play which causes players to concentrate more and gets their juices flowing. The mental demands of bridge keep the mind sharp, something I have noticed in the eighty and ninety year old players we have encountered. Playing in bridge clubs also allows one to make lasting friends. Some of the pairs we know have been playing together for twenty years or more. Many of them play four or five times a week in different clubs sometimes and compete in sectional or regional tournaments where they can accumulate master points towards becoming Life Masters. One 89-year-old I know has a set regimen : In the mornings he works out at the gym, in the afternoons he plays duplicate bridge at the club and in the evenings he goes out to dinner with a lady friend, not always the same one. The guy is sharp as a tack and going up against him at the bridge table is a challenge.
Competition, mental workouts, social contacts , all of them important for those in their senior years. Is it any wonder that so many of them are active in bridge ? Is it perhaps what keeps them young?
Note to myself: Must play more bridge.