Bridge helps build friendships for local players

Published 12:07 am Sunday, February 28, 2010

Perhaps Sophia Pertillo from “The Golden Girls” said it best.

“It is so great to play cards because you speak and change subject at will and the cards fill in the silences,” she said.

Natchez’s own set of card-playing golden girls vouches that Pertillo had it correct.

Email newsletter signup

Bridge is a complicated game for those who don’t play, but for those who do, it’s simply a relaxing time with friends.

One group of Natchez ladies has been playing bridge together, twice a month, for more than 20 years. The games typically last six hours and include lunch, coffee and a good mix of conversation and friendly banter.

“When we started our games always ended between 2 and 3 in the afternoon because that is when we all had to leave to pick up children from school,” Lynn Bradford said. “Now, all of our children are grown and out of school, but we still stop about 3.

“I guess it is just the habit of playing the same way all those years.”

Through the hours of bridge playing and chatting, friendships were developed that are deeper than wondering who has the best hand of cards.

“There are some groups of bridge players that are very serious,” said Missy Brown. “We are more of a just-for-fun group. We don’t take winning very seriously.”

Each month the hostess hosts a game at her house and then organizes a lunch game at a local restaurant.

“A lot of what we do centers around the food,” Deborah Martin said. “It is fun getting together, playing cards and talking, and there is always good food.”

Martin has been playing bridge for almost 30 years, but she has been playing card games in general for most of her life. She learned bridge from her parents after getting married.

Martin and her husband lived with her parents briefly while buying a house in Natchez. It was during that time, that Martin started playing bridge.

“There were no houses for sale in Natchez, so we lived with my parents in Vicksburg,” she said. “My husband lived in a hotel (in Natchez) during the week and then came to Vicksburg for the weekend. Every weekend, we played bridge.

“Once we bought a house and moved to Natchez, I found a group to play with here.”

And now she shares bonds with her bridge group that even her husband wouldn’t understand.

One spade, two hearts, three clubs, three notrump — the bidding system in bridge is like a secret code that only the best of friends are able to decipher.

“You are having a conversation with your playing partner,” Darlene Christian said. “You’re trying to tell her what you have and figure out what she has without telling the team you’re playing against.”

“You try to send physic messages to your partner. If you play enough with the same people, you can start reading their faces and know what kind of hand they have.”

The conversation flows easily, covering everything from updates on everyone’s children and families, mutual friends, grandchildren, favorite recipes and pets as the players play almost unconsciously.

Occasionally, the conversation overtakes the game.

“Wait, wait, who led that card,” Bradford asks. “Sometimes I forget to pay attention to the game.”

But since the group doesn’t take winning too seriously — the game winner only takes home $6 — they graciously catch Bradford up on the game. She plays her card, and the conversation continues.

“We’d never make it in a serious bridge group,” Killian said. “They’d get fed up with us, I’m afraid.”

But for the eight ladies in her group, the dynamic works perfectly.

“When I first got asked to play bridge all those years ago, I took a few lessons so I’d have some idea of what was going on and not make a fool of myself,” Bradford said. “Now, I look forward to playing, but probably still make a fool of myself sometimes.”

Friendships are commonly formed among bridge players. Bethany Overton, who has played bridge for more than 50 years, said its just natural to bond with your playing partner.

“For many of these groups that play week after week, the players become more like a support system than just bridge players,” she said. “Anyone you spend four or six hours with doing any activity, you are going to bond with.

“If you don’t bond with them in that time, its likely you won’t be playing with them very long.”

She said with bridge in particular, because of the bidding system and the need to communicate non-verbally with a partner, the bond of friendship makes for a better bridge player.

“After you play together for so long, you can read your partner’s body language and figure out if they have a good hand or nothing at all,” she said. “They may have a facial expression they make subconsciously that only you can pick up on, but it helps you know when to bid higher and when to stop.”