What a hand: Bridge club members share friendship, camaraderie

Published on Wednesday, 28 May 2014 00:15 - Written by Jacque Hilburn-Simmons, Contributing Writer

Tyler bridge enthusiast Emily Leake, 75, played cards as a teenager because it was trendy, never boring and kept her in the social loop.

Decades later, she still enjoys the challenge of a friendly game of duplicate bridge, alongside dozens of others who gather twice weekly at the Tyler Senior Center to put their mathematical wits and wills to the test of scoring big.

“I started playing when I went to college, in 1956,” Mrs. Leake said. “All the girls played bridge back then. It’s really a fascinating game — you never have the same hand twice.”

That’s quite a feat, considering some members of Mrs. Leak’s group, Tyler Duplicate Bridge, have been playing together for more than 40 years.

“Once you start playing, you want to play every day,” said Mrs. Leake, who has been directing the club for the past 41 years.

One might assume playing the same game over and over, with the same people, might grow stale, but apparently not.

“You become real good friends,” Mrs. Leake said. “You do things together and go to each other’s houses .… It’s like an extended family. It’s interesting … your friendship leaves the table when you’re playing.”

Duplicate players gather Monday and Wednesday afternoons for about four hours, enough to play about 27 hands.

Tyler Duplicate Bridge functions under guidelines administered by the American Contract Bridge League, a national organization. Players accumulate points, which are tallied locally and then submitted electronically to the league.

It costs about $6 a game to join in. People who want to learn the game are invited to contact the club, 903-592-0640, to learn about the availability of beginner classes.

Mrs. Leake, assisted by 20-year supporter Mamie Johnson, says relationships developed around the card table are life-long.

Jackie Kimberley, 82, of Tyler, a 41-year club member, agreed.

She’s has been playing the game for more than 60 years. She started as a newlywed and found that she enjoyed the mental challenge of the pastime, ultimately entering tournaments to play against the pros.

“You didn’t beat the pros very often, but when you did, it was sure fun,” Ms. Kimberley said with a chuckle. “A lot of us take it pretty seriously. I always hate it when I miss playing and I can’t wait to get back.”

Rules of the game have changed little over the years, but some aspects of bidding and score-keeping are different: Bids can be made with printed cards instead of through verbal commands, allowing people who are hard of hearing or have difficulties speaking to participate. And small, handheld table computers help keep track of points.

Also, some people have started playing bridge over the Internet, allowing them to enjoy the game from the comforts of home.

One thing that hasn’t changed about the game, which enjoys an international following, is the math.

Players have to constantly add and subtract in their minds to keep up with the action.

“It’s addictive,” said Nina Worthington, 85, of Tyler, also introduced to the game in college. “It’s never boring and every hand is a challenge. I just love it.”

Club members participate in summer and fall tournaments, which can attract upwards of 600 players.

Tyler Senior Center Supervisor Kay Odom said she never tires of seeing the club in action.

“Sometimes they have the most serious looks on their faces and when you ask them if they are having fun, they always smile and say, ‘Oh yes, I’m having a great time,’” she said. “When she (Mrs. Leake) rings the bell and the game starts, that’s when the brain aerobics begins.”