A game of tactics and etiquette in battle

I have to own up to something. Up until now I’ve visited many groups in Wetherby U3A as a result of either a passing interest of mine or an invitation from a member or the Leader of the Group, writes Caroline Green of Wetherby U3A.

My husband has recently taken up Bridge, a game he has not played since his university days (a mere 50 years ago), which is why I asked if I could go along. He has never been a card player at home, always avoiding requests from me to have a game of cards.

Bridge is everything other card games are not. It is a battleground. Jean Thompson welcomed me to the group session at the Bridge Club in Wetherby on Monday morning, explaining that Monday morning is a Teach and Play session; Thursday afternoon is Play and Learn. Teaching for beginners usually starts in September.

The Bridge Club is tucked away behind the row of shops on Crossley Street in Wetherby. It’s a fantastic venue; light, bright, airy, welcoming and great facilities. When I asked how the U3A Bridge Group had started, Jean told me that she was a bridge player, but not a teacher, so when she saw a two-page list of U3A members wanting to learn bridge, she didn’t panic, she approached the Bridge Club instead.

They offered to send her on a Teaching Course and arranged for the two U3A Sessions and so the U3A Bridge Group was born. Jean is joined by Ralph Cornfield for the sessions, and together they ensure that newcomers to the game are thoroughly versed in the etiquette and speed of play.

Usually I’ve been able to join in with the U3A sessions I’ve visited, be it mah jong, craft, singing or racketball. The introduction to this group was something different. I very quickly realised that there was no way I could just pop in and learn in one session, particularly when Jean used words like ‘battle’ to describe the bidding process.

I sat with the beginners and watched while the cards were dealt and laid down on the table so that instructions could be followed and translated into action. Games were structured and prepared by Jean. She talked through the process carefully explaining the points, trumps, bidding, stoppers, suits, overcall, opener and five card major. When they started talking about North, South, East and West and marginal points for gain it all sounded more like cycling. Jean and Ralph Cornfield worked together to support the beginners and oversee the more experienced players. All this language and preparation and still not a card played. No wonder Jean used words like Battle and Survival – this was War!

It’s not all about beginners of course; the U3A Group also caters for more experienced players, some of whom also belong to the Bridge Club. They play in the upper part of the room, choose their partners, record who is playing with and against whom, and only then does play commence. I hadn’t realised that the game is in two distinct parts; bidding and playing. The bidding is considered and tactical and etiquette is followed to the letter. Everything changes when they are close to game. Cards are played quite quickly, so that people don’t forget what’s gone ahead. There’s very little conversation during a game, as the cards are doing the talking. There’s definitely a code that’s followed. Everyone knows exactly what’s expected of them - no elbows on the table in this game! There’s coffee and chat and catching up and then it’s back to the game again.

Ralph plays competitively at the Bridge Club and shares his enthusiasm with the U3A beginners and improvers throughout the year. Jean stressed that running the U3A Bridge Group is very much a team effort, with Angie Browning in Admin, Jean and Ralph in Group work and Play Sessions, and added support from former U3A students, now Wetherby Bridge Club members.

Over coffee I chatted with some of the players who talked about how bridge has enabled them to make new friends and discover things about themselves they didn’t know; like competitiveness and the thrill of winning. Without exception everyone was enjoying themselves; hugely. I could see the draw of the game, something I’d always thought was not quite my cup of tea, was really quite appealing.