No friends at  the bridge table?

Hello, ladies. Let us hope that 2021 brings us back to the bridge tables, eating our fish and bidding our little hearts out. In the meantime, here’s a little memory for us.

No thing of beauty a bridge table, but whether covered in an elegant cloth in someone’s home or left bare in a local restaurant, it invites conversation and competition among players. Small bowls of Cheez-its or M&Ms encourage players to snack as they think. Two decks of pretty cards sit waiting for hands to shuffle them. The tallies and score sheets lie beside a pen. Everyone hopes for first place, but only the Fates know at the beginning. Once the stage is set, the drama begins. I’ve changed the names to protect the guilty.

“I haven’t had good cards in so long that I think I’ll just quit,” moans Sally. “I’ve been last the last three times I’ve played. That gets old after a while.”

“Well, you know, luck seems to go in cycles,” Cathy replies. “Maybe your luck will change today.”

“I doubt it,” Sally says, reaching for a cheese cracker and popping it into her bright red mouth. “We’ll see,” she replies, taking a sip of her $1.99 coffee.

All eight players check their tallies to see where to sit, some surreptitiously rearranging the first hand. After the first hand, Fate arranges seating. Everyone slides into her seat and spreads the cards out across the table to determine who deals first. Each player draws a card from those on the table. The one holding the highest card deals. The game begins and everyone falls silent as the intense thinking begins.

Maggie deals the cards quickly and efficiently until she accidentally throws the last one on the floor. It’s only a 2 of clubs so the owner picks it up and goes about her business, merely nodding at Maggie’s apology.

As a new player, I found the bidding process frightening. The game requires thinking and knowledge of the expansive rules, neither of which I excelled at. I still don’t, for that matter, but I’m much better than I used to be. Bidding simply means that a player and her partner bid or estimate the number of tricks (groups of 4 cards) they think they can take during the course of the game. Each player must study her hand to determine the number and the suit to bid. The partner answers, but the tricky part consists of telling the partner what she needs to know without breaking protocol—almost like speaking a language that belongs solely to the game. Even now as less a novice, I find that the bridge language often escapes me and I struggle to stay in the game with the sharks—i.e. the folks who’ve been playing their whole lives or at least a lot longer than I have.

The game is fascinating, intriguing, mesmerizing. One never knows what will turn up in her hand on the next deal. It could be the best hand of a lifetime or the worst, but it for certain will be different from the last.

And the ladies playing, mostly former teachers, are Baxley’s retirees. Their thumbs rest on the pulse of Baxley, and they know what’s going on, usually discussing it thoroughly between hands. However, let me emphasize that the conversation is not gossip, far from it. None of the ladies are vicious except during the game.

On many occasions I’ve heard various ladies reiterate that there are no friends at the bridge table. My husband refers to one of my bridge groups as the Bridge Biddies. I’m not sure how accurate the name is, but once the game starts, every player is on her own. Otherwise, they are all willing to help each other or anyone else who needs it, to say a word of prayer, or to donate a few dollars to someone or some cause. A finer group of ladies I’ve never met and I’m honored to count them all amongst my friends. I play bridge not just for the fun of the game, but also for the camaraderie. I will admit what a President-Trump word will fall occasionally from soft lips when the fickle cards misbehave, but it’s all just another part of the game. After all, Luck is no lady!