Above: Helen Browdy enjoys a game at the Bridge Club of Atlanta. Photos by Phil Mosier

When you think of card games, poker might leap to mind, but for many people, bridge is the game of choice. It’s a game that’s competitive and can really draw a person in, as it did Sam Marks.

Sam Marks
Courtesy of Sam Marks

Marks, a Druid Hills area resident, has been playing bridge for 30 of his 53 years. About 10 years ago, he was earning his living through trading stocks “…and I hated it,” he said. Then his friend Patty Tucker asked him to volunteer to help her teach people to play the game of bridge, and he was hooked.

Tucker had been playing bridge herself since 1965, when she was just 11 years old. She’s won countless championships and has been inducted into the Georgia Bridge Hall of Fame. She offers classes and workshops at several locations, including Dunwoody and Atlanta.

Tucker’s request had a lasting effect on Marks. “I had a blast —I absolutely loved it,” he said. “I asked Patty if there was any demand for bridge teachers, and she told me that she had so many students that she had to turn people away. Right then and there, I changed my career.”

As a bridge teacher, Marks offered classes throughout the city in places such as Dunwoody United Methodist Church and Temple Sinai in Sandy Springs. But something was missing.

Virginia Saul playing with her bridge partner Helen Browdy

“About five years ago, I realized that we needed a place to play bridge in the city of Atlanta,” Marks said. “At the time, there were places to play in Roswell and Alpharetta, but nowhere inside the Perimeter.”

In July of 2012, he started the Bridge Club of Atlanta, and today bridge games are held seven days a week at the Fountain Oaks Shopping Center on Roswell Road in Atlanta. The club has grown to the point that about 100 to 120 players show up on any given day.

The Bridge Club of Atlanta is now the 20th largest in North America, according to the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL). The ACBL supports 3,200 bridge clubs and runs well over 1,000 tournaments each year. It’s also the organization responsible for issuing master points, which players earn by winning at bridge.

The game of bridge, also called contract bridge, is usually played by four people, in two competing partnerships, and uses a standard 52-card deck of cards. Teams bid on how many rounds of cards, called tricks, that they think they’ll win.

Mary Jane Childs and (behind) Marty
Laubmann

Duplicate bridge, the most widely used variation of contract bridge, requires that the same bridge deal, or specific arrangement of cards, is played at every table, so the element of chance is reduced and a player’s skill is better demonstrated.

Marty Nathan clearly remembers the day he began playing bridge—New Year’s Eve 1959 — and he’s been involved with the Bridge Club of Atlanta as a director and teacher since it began. “I tell my students, ‘I’ve been playing since I was 13 — that’s over 55 years — and I’m still learning the game.’ I don’t think they believe me until after they’ve played awhile,” he said.

Marty Nathan, the Open Director, watches Peggy Tienken play bridge.

Nathan is quick to clarify that the Bridge Club of Atlanta isn’t technically a club. There’s no membership fee and anyone can drop in, pay the session fee of $11 and play.

“It’s a common misconception, probably because of the word ‘club’, though ‘bridge club’ is the common term used,” Nathan said. “No one has to join and everyone is welcome.”

The ACBL website claims that about 25 million Americans over the age of 18 know how to play bridge, but it’s particularly popular among older people. As USA Today reported in 2005, bridge enthusiasts include such notables as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

“We do tend to have an older crowd, usually in the 50s to 70s age range, and many of our players are recently retired or empty-nesters who have the time to devote to bridge,” Marks said. “We also get some people and couples who were active in ALTA [Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association]. They’re looking for something that still satisfies their competitive spirit while being a bit less physically demanding.”

Buckhead resident Anne Ballard is a perfect example. The 68-year-old says that she began taking bridge lessons around 2003 and played with friends about once a week. “At that time, I was still playing tennis competitively so there wasn’t much time for bridge,” she said.

Joe Aylward plays as Arlene Conway, the Novice Director, watches.

Still, she’d been playing bridge seriously since 2008, when she took up duplicate bridge. Then, in 2012, back surgery slowed down Ballard’s tennis play. “And now bridge has taken over, she said. “I love competition. Bridge is perfect for the older athlete and a wonderful way to use your brain.”

According to the AARP website, a University of California Berkeley study done in 2000 found strong evidence that bridge uses an area of the brain known to stimulate the immune system. Since the game requires visualization, sequencing and memory skills, researchers also suggest that it helps keep the mind sharp.

“Not only does bridge keep the mind active, it’s a social activity so it builds community and fosters supportive friendships,” Marks said.

Ballard seconds that, saying that the club is very friendly and comfortable. “It’s a great way to meet new people and make new friends,” she said. “Many lasting friendships are made at the bridge table. We even travel together to tournaments all over. This year, four of us went to San Miguel, Mexico to a tournament, and we’re going on a bridge cruise in November.”

Marty Laubmann at the Bridge Club of Atlanta

For Nathan, bridge is all about the competition, the striving to get a little better each time.

“Bridge is a sensational game. Novices can play it and some people play it just for the fun, with little regard to the score or where they finish,” Nathan said. “But it’s also a game where one can work to get better. Others just care for the social aspect. It can be a game for everyone.”

 

Bridge Club of Atlanta

  • Fountain Oaks Shopping Center, 4920 Roswell Rd. #33, Atlanta 30342
  • Games are offered Monday-Thursday and Saturday beginning at 12 p.m. On Friday, the games begin at 11:30 a.m., and on Sunday, at 1:30 p.m. Session fee is $11.
  • New beginner classes will start Monday, Sept. 11 at Bridge Club of Atlanta. Classes are offered for all skill levels, from beginners and intermediates to advanced players.
  • For more info, visit bridgeclubatlanta.com or contact Sam Marks at sam@sammarksbridge.com, 678-812-4324.

Where to Play

For a full listing of bridge clubs and duplicate bridge clubs (DBC) in Georgia, and throughout the U.S., visit the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) website, acbl.org.

Alpharetta

Alpharetta DBC & Cumming DBC — alpharettadbc.org

Atlanta

Atlanta DBC — atlantaduplicatebridgeclub.com

Bridge Club of Atlanta — bridgeclubatlanta.com

Midtown Bridge Club — midtownbridge30309@gmail.com

Duluth

AAC DBC — cynthiadtanner@gmail.com

Gainesville

Lanierland DBD — lanierlanddbc.com

Kennesaw

Kennesaw Bridge Club — bridge4jr@gmail.com

Marietta

Ruff’N Sluff Bridge Club — ruffnsluffbridgeclub.com

Roswell

Roswell DBC — billsbridge.com

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