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Editor's Note: Due to an editorial error, the following column is rerunning in its entirety.

What prompted me to write this article was a letter that appeared in this month's "Bridge Bulletin," the official magazine of the American Contract Bridge League. The letter, sent some 35 years ago by a friend's mother when she found out that her daughter was learning how to play duplicate bridge, details in a very heartfelt and poignant way the many returns the game can bring to us.

The letter's recipient, now a "senior citizen" living alone with her books, TV and handicrafts, describes how fortunate she feels that she just happened to come across duplicate bridge so many years ago and how that happy circumstance has filled a large void in her life so many years later. Sometimes it's the little things in life that turn out to be the biggest things.

I'm just a little bit older than the oldest Baby Boomer. I remember, "The Day the Music Died," and all the tears I shed when I learned that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson were killed in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, in 1959. I was a classmate of Bobby Vee at Fargo Central High School when promoters asked him to help fill in at a concert scheduled in Moorhead, Minn., the following evening. The rest, as you know if you're of age, is history, not for me but for him!

When I graduated high school, I went to North Dakota State University just up the street from where we lived. Back then, college seemed to be what everybody did. Not only was it the path of least resistance, but it kept you from being drafted -- the Vietnam War just starting to heat up back then.

Why does any of this matter? It's funny how, in the twists and turns of life, the importance of things changes. I never regretted going to college. It led to a teaching degree, and all the liberal arts classes I took broadened my worldview. I also have to blame my education for my fascination with the "World's Greatest Card Game," duplicate bridge. Little did I know at the time the ripple effect this would have for my life.

To a boy, we flocked to the student union between classes -- sometimes skipping classes, me included -- where we bought a cup of coffee and cut the decks. Playing ping pong, eating bison burgers and playing bridge were my main extracurricular activities. We started carrying a pack of cards stuffed between our textbooks to the cafeteria. This was a quantum leap forward for our game. Up until then, we'd played with what had apparently been left behind by the class of 1896 -- bent, yellowing things, disgusting to the touch, stained with bison burger grease and coffee spatters.

It was here that I first learned how to finesse. What an eyeopener that was! One of the first "conventions" I learned was that the diamond 7, under certain circumstances, is known as the "Beer Card." I also became amazingly adept at shuffling -- a skill that has done wonders for my manual dexterity to this day. Lucky for you, we use boards these days and I can't show you how wonderful I am manipulating cards.

Bridge had to run concurrently with classes, therefore the game never ended. We played like a colony of ants with some turnover every 45 minutes. In an average day, perhaps 20 to 30 of us put in a few hands between The 19th Century Novel and the History of Western Civilization. While we waited for our turn, we would kibbutz. I remember one day a new guy came in and watched us play. After a bit, space opened up and he was the only one there. After much persuasion, we got him to play. As luck would have it, he was the dealer. He bid four clubs. How odd, we thought! Second hand doubled and the bid came back to him. After a considerable wait, he bid four diamonds. Second hand doubled and it was his turn again. He bid four hearts. We knew then we had made a huge mistake letting him play.

Again a double and for the third time, the bid was passed back to him. We were all staring at him by this time -- same way in similar settings. You can look at all the black and white photos of players from the '60s. How young they all looked. College campuses were where bridge was learned in those days. It was where young people like the ACBL yearns to engage today took up the game if they hadn't already learned it at home.

All this leads to an interesting juxtaposition in life, based on an activity of little consequence back then. I have always tried to instill the view that bridge is a metaphor for life, its lessons have a wider and loftier application than points and tournaments. Yes, I write about upcoming tournaments, but here I'd like to stress the value of bridge, the secret of its greatness, and all the pleasure it can give you in your "Golden Years."

I am one of the lucky ones. Bridge back then was part of our "social" curriculum. New generations have their computers, mobile phones and digital music. The last time I saw some of my college friends, they were still playing bridge. It's really kind of remarkable; what was just something to do back then is now one of the most important things in my life. My point -- if you haven't already considered taking duplicate bridge lessons and joining our bridge club, please reconsider. Yes, you can play chatty, social bridge with friends over lunch and a cup of tea -- and I am not knocking it -- but please don't be afraid to go one step further, and join us at the club for a friendly game of duplicate bridge.

Hope to see you soon at one of our games.

• • •

Robert Gromatka is the Bella Vista bridge tournament chairman. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 01/02/2019

Print Headline: Bridge and the value of a college education

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