If you judge by the numbers, the most popular program at the Vashon Senior Center is bridge.
Bridge players show up at the Center’s red brick building in the town’s business district on Monday and Tuesday evenings, Wednesday mornings and afternoons, and every other Friday evening. The number of players ranges from a single table of four on a Wednesday morning to as many as six or seven tables of four on a Friday night. At most of the games, players pay $3 -- half goes to the Senior Center and half goes for cards, score sheets and other bridge equipment.
“People play bridge because it’s fun and keeps you mentally alert,” says Jim Dam, manager of the Vashon Bridge Club. “It’s also a great way to make a lot of new friends.”
Dam, a retired Boeing engineer, directs the Friday games and a monthly Individual Game, in which players switch partners. Raynor Christianson, also a director sanctioned by the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL), runs the Tuesday evening game.
With the exception of Monday “party” bridge, in which players keep individual scores and compete for small prize money ($5 maximum), all games are duplicate bridge played in partnership. Over the course of the afternoon or evening, each pair will play the same hands. Hence, each partnership is competing against every other partnership in the room. The pair that plays the hands best -- by bidding and making more tricks or losing fewer bids – is the overall winner.
“Bridge on Vashon is old,” Dam says. “It’s been played here as long as anyone can remember.”
Besides four-day a week play at the Senior Center, there are also regular bridge games at the Eagles, the Vashon Country Club, and the Gold Beach Community Center.
ACBL-approved duplicate bridge began in earnest a decade ago after Daphne Purpus, an ACBL director and long-time bridge teacher and player moved to the island. Purpus registered a newly-created Vashon Bridge Club and reorganized the regular Friday games.
“There are two ways to ward off Alzheimer’s,” says Purpus, who continues to teach a free bridge class at 1 pm Wednesdays at the Center. “You can learn Mandarin Chinese or you can learn bridge. Bridge is a heck of a lot easier.”
While most of her students and most Vashon players are indeed retirees, Purpus, Christianson, who teaches an intermediate class, and Ellen Trout, who teaches a beginners’ class, emphasize that bridge is for everyone. Not long ago, an enthusiastic young woman new to the game got up and danced a jig when she and her partner bid and took all 13 tricks.
“What’s great about duplicate bridge,” says Dam, the Vashon club manager, “is that over the course of the game you might play 27 hands and, in a few of those hands, you’ll have some moments of real glory.”
Like many duplicate players, Dam studies the hands afterwards to see how other partnerships played them. He wants to figure out how he and his partner might have played them better.
For that purpose, the Vashon Bridge Club provides printouts of the hands as well as an online record on how each hand was played. The record shows what cards each player was dealt, what the partnership bid, and by how many tricks the partnership made or lost the bid. Anyone can see the results by Googling Vashon Bridge Club.
As the island’s population ages, Dam anticipates more bridge players. “It’s growing,” he says.