THE English Bridge Union states that bridge is one of the most popular leisure activities in Britain, and that about 300,000 people play it regularly. I am one of those people.
Like whist, from which it is derived, bridge is a card game played by four players around a card table, and in which the players opposite each other are partners. After the cards are dealt, and before they are played, there is an auction in which the players try to outbid each other, specifying how many tricks they will win, using a suit of their choice as trumps, or without a trump suit. The game can be played at all levels, and is enjoyable right from the start.
To learn how to play, it is advisable to begin with lessons. Through the internet or a library you can find out whether there are any adult education colleges in your area that offer bridge classes, or get details of local clubs. A club may offer lessons for beginners, or can put you in contact with a teacher. You may decide to learn with your partner or with a friend, but, if not, you may find other learners at your class with whom you could play.
To supplement lessons there is a bewildering array of books to buy, and your teacher should be able to recommend a few titles. There are also magazines, of which perhaps the most popular is the free magazine Bridge, published by Mr Bridge. This includes details of bridge holidays and software.
You can indulge in your passion at a country retreat, or on a cruise, and you can also, rather less expensively, practise the game on your computer with a virtual partner and opponents.
Once you have mastered the basics, you could either join a club or play socially. Clubs have a small annual subscription, and you then pay between £2.50 and £7 for each three-hour session. At clubs, you can play so-called duplicate bridge, which is the most popular variant of the game. For this, it is best to have a regular partner.
In duplicate, a number of games are played simultaneously, at different tables, and during the course of the session all the tables play the same pre-dealt hands. This removes the element of luck from the game, and it is possible to win even if you are playing with unfavourable cards.
Bridge requires an investment of time, but it brings considerable rewards. The game involves close concentration, tactics, psychology, statistics, outwitting your opponents, and co-operation with partners. The number of hands that can be dealt is astronomically large, and yet it is possible to characterise hands into different types and use this as a basis for the auction.
There are many conventions and rules to be learnt, but these rules need to be bent or even broken at times. The game is always exciting, and can be fiercely competitive, but it is important to treat the other players with respect and kindness; so good players must have well-developed interpersonal skills.
Above all, bridge is a very social game, and is an excellent way of making new friends of all ages and backgrounds.