By J.K. Devine
Photos by Scott Rogers
At age 13, Charles Pierson learned the card game bridge.
“When I was growing up, we didn’t have video games and cell0phones,” the general manager of Lanierland Duplicate Bridge Club said. “So, we all learned to play bridge.” Pierson explained the game appealed to him and others, because it’s a “trick-taking, brain game.”
Lisa DeCarlo, a member of Lanierland DBC, agreed.
“It’s a game that is a puzzle you learn through biding,” she said. “You can figure out every card of the 52 in a deck. And each hand is a puzzle you try to figure out.”
Based on its enrollment numbers, many agree would agree with that statement. Nationwide, the American Contract Bridge League has 167,000 registered members, according to the ACBL website. Between 400 and 500 people are members of the Lanierland club in Gainesville with an average of 200 active regulars, Pierson said.
Most bridge players are older than 50. In the Lanierland club, the average age is older than 65, Pierson said. In fact, his current partner will turn 89 years old in October.
“Our oldest member is a lady who is 95 and who is still playing the game well,” DeCarlo said. “I certainly would say we have older well-functioning adults playing at your club.”
The mental sharpness required to play is a benefit to the aging population of bridge players.
“There is medical evidence that playing bridge can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s,” Pierson said.
Researchers have discovered that mentally challenging games such as bridge are well suited for older people because the games offer intellectual and social stimulation on a routine basis. A study in 2000 at the University of California, Berkeley, found strong evidence that an area in the brain used in playing bridge stimulates the immune system. Researchers suggest it is because players must use memory, visualization and sequencing.
Pierson said he loves using his mental acumen to play bridge. “Defending is my favorite part of game,” he said. “And you need extensive agreements with your partner. That’s because he knows if I play a certain card, it means something specific.”
The socialization also benefits players by giving them people to connect with in the community.
“You get to know club members very well through the years,” DeCarlo said.
Pierson and DeCarlo, however, understand bridge is losing players as its members age. Luckily, DeCarlo and Ruth Bruner will try to encourage new interest in the game. In the fall, they will teach bridge at Brenau University Learning and Leisure Institute to introduce “the dying art,” DeCarlo said.
“It is the best card game. … It is a thought-provoking game,” she said. “You start at one level. And the more you learn, the more your playing changes.”
Founded in 1994 as a joint venture between Brenau and community leaders who were interested in establishing a lifelong learning program in the Gainesville and Hall County area, BULLI offers a wide range of courses in four categories — academics, the arts, self-improvement and health and wellness. Students take daytime classes for the joy of learning, according to the BULLI website.
The “Bridge Basics I: Beginning and Refresher Bridge” will be taught from 2:45–4:15 p.m. Wednesdays, starting in October. BULLI membership is required for all course registration. The membership fee for the 2018-19 academic year is $135.
To register, visit or mail to the BULLI House at 406 Academy St. between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. through Thursday, Aug. 30. You may also fax registration forms to 770-531-2054.
DeCarlo explained the bridge course is intended for either those who have never played or who have not done so for some time. The emphasis will be on the basics, such as learning to count points, basic bidding, defense and the play of the game. Playing time will be included in each class session.
DeCarlo is looking forward to learning how to teach the course with Bruner and sharing her expertise with others.
“Hopefully, we can branch out and teach different groups such as college students and younger people,” she said.
In the meantime, DeCarlo and Pierson will continue to play their hands at the Lanierland DBC at 3042 McEver Road SW, Suite B, in Gainesville.
“It gives your mind a challenge every day,” DeCarlo said. “It is a way to keep that brain functioning.”Lanierland Duplicate Bridge Club:
Location: 3042 McEver Road SW, Suite B, in Gainesville.
Phone number: 678-743-5036