Kurt Hegre / The Fresno Bee
Estee Strombotne concentrates on her next move at The Fresno Bridge Club.
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Bridge club nurtures players of all skill levels
Participants are invited to compete and make friends.
By Paula Lloyd / The Fresno Bee
06/21/07 04:40:40

If you want to play a game of chance, try craps, T. Bruce Smith says as he holds a fistful of cards close to his chest. "Craps is luck," he says.

But bridge, now there's a game that requires skill, says Smith, who's playing a round of duplicate bridge with three other players at the Fresno Bridge Club's storefront meeting hall.

The club, which formed more than 60 years ago, gives bridge players of all skill levels a place to find a foursome for a friendly game any day of the week. The club also gives lessons.

Not only is bridge a game of skill, it's also a companionable, competitive game that can take a lifetime to learn. And it's good for your health, says Bert Rettner, who with Monique Irion and Margie Kenyon completes the foursome at Smith's table.

"Medically speaking, physical exercise enhances your life, prevents disease and helps your immune system," says Rettner, 77, a retired doctor.

"You have to exercise your body and your mind."

Rettner began playing bridge in medical school in the early 1960s.

"My wife had a beginning bridge book. I got tired of reading medical books, so I picked it up. It was a diversion."

It's not hard to learn enough bridge to start playing, Kenyon says.

But it's a game with many layers. "You're never done learning," she adds.

Irion likes that the Fresno Bridge Club includes beginners to expert-level players. "Everyone can find their peers," she says.

But bridge is like any other hobby, Irion says: "Either you're hooked and you love it, or you don't like it."

What the club members are playing is duplicate bridge, in which each hand is played at least twice by different players.

It's a more competitive game than party bridge, usually played by four people around a kitchen table or a card table in the living room.

The Fresno Bridge Club started about 63 years ago with games played in private homes, American Legion posts, card clubs and the Hotel California before affiliating with the American Contract Bridge League, longtime member Richard Meffley says.

The club's building near Clinton and Fresno avenues holds about 20 square tables.

The meeting room includes a kitchen, and snacks are served. At each game table, a small low table sits beside each chair and gives players a place to put a glass of iced tea or a snack.

Mary Lloyd, 77, finishes a game at another table and walks toward the kitchen.

She was blessed with beginner's luck when she started playing bridge while in college.

"I started getting these charmed hands," she says.

Lloyd comes to the Fresno Bridge Club's center three days a week.

"It's competitive, and it's individualized," she says. "You can have bad cards, but you can still do well if you play your cards right. Even if you have a bad day, tomorrow will be better."

And that makes bridge a lot like life, Rettner says: "It's making the most of what you've got."

The reporter can be reached at plloyd@fresnobee.com or at (559) 441-6756.
Another player checks her cards.  Club members ensure participants are matched at the right skill level.  Lessons also are available.
Kurt Hegre / The Fresno Bee
Another player checks her cards. Club members ensure participants are matched at the right skill level. Lessons also are available.

The tables are crowded at the Fresno Bridge Club.  The club began about 63 years ago with games played in private homes, American Legion posts and other locations.
Kurt Hegre / The Fresno Bee
The tables are crowded at the Fresno Bridge Club. The club began about 63 years ago with games played in private homes, American Legion posts and other locations.