EVER since I was old enough to notice bridge columns in national newspapers, I have wanted to learn the rules of the game.
Most card games can be learned by children, and the rules of chess, an intellectual game in its own right, can be explained in minutes.
But after spending an afternoon at High Salvington Bridge Club, I came away with huge respect for the intellectual challenges of the game.
When I enter the hall where club members play, in the new Durrington Community Centre, in New Road, there is an almost charged atmosphere of concentration, interrupted by infrequent bursts of quiet, friendly conversation.
Club chairman Alan Ireland is keen to point out, as are the club members, that High Salvington Bridge Club is a friendly place, where the mostly-retired contingent of people who play can enjoy a sociable game and meet friends.
In fact, he mentions an impending bridge trip to Tenerife he has planned with a friend he met whilst playing the game, and explains how many friends he has made through his hobby. But he also acknowledges the game can be fiercely competitive – particularly as bridge players play in pairs and games can be won or lost based on the decision of your partner.
“One couple disagreed so strongly about a game that when they returned home the wife shot him,” Alan tells me.
I am given a quick lesson on rubber bridge, but despite having plenty of experience with different card games, I was under no illusion by the time I left that I’d even touched the surface of the game. This was made clear when I heard from the players I spoke to that it was typical to take a course, many of which will last more than a year, before even playing the game. And before joining High Salvington Bridge Club, players are required to play three times to demonstrate their knowledge of the game. Patricia Creely, from Worthing, learned on a course for three years before starting the game.
She said: “It’s really no fun playing with someone who doesn’t have a clue what they’re doing. You owe it to your partner to know the game, which is one of the reasons most people take courses.”
Tony Horsley, 81, from Angmering, said it was the intellectual challenge of the game that appealed to him as a retired businessman.
He said: “When you retire it’s easy to find things to do that exercise you physically. But if you don’t give the mind things to do it disintegrates.
“That’s one of the reasons I enjoy playing bridge so much. It keeps the mind active.” His view was shared among players at the club, with the oldest being 95, many of whom had taken to playing the game in their ret-irement.
What was clear from the short time I spent at the club was that, retired or not, this was a group of people who would put most younger people to shame with their feats of mental agility.