06. Bridge: Would you teach a pre-schooler to play bridge?

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Back in the 70s, when her son John was seven years old in second grade, his mom got a call from his teacher. John had not done his homework, was putting his head down on the desk and falling asleep, and when she asked if he was ill, his answer was “No, my grandma is visiting from Tennessee and I have to stay up late and play bridge with her.” 

Chris–that mom–recalled that story in the discussion that followed when I was invited to talk to a group at the senior center about life at 90. Of course I touted the benefits of bridge as part of being a happy nonagenarian. One woman raised point how hard bridge was supposed to be to learn and so Chris of Cocoa Beach recalled story of her mom who taught all her children to play bridge before they entered school!  So how hard could it be?

Chris continued–Grandma was visiting and they’d been staying up a bit late playing bridge that week. Her mom had taught John to play bridge while a pre-schooler when he spent a vacation with her, just as she’d taught Chris herself to play bridge before starting school.

Today, that teacher, hearing the mom’s story, would probably be required by school policy to report John’s parents for counseling on proper parenting. Back then, the teacher was amused, kind of doubted the story because she herself was struggling with bridge lessons at the time, and thought it worth repeating to Mom.

Chris remembered her mom teaching her to play pinochle first and that it was all very gradual–learning new information and transitioning to bridge as they played. Her mom just believed in kids learning to play bridge before starting school–helped them with their school studies.

I remember reading somewhere that in those Upstairs Downstairs English country houses, servants taught the children of the house to play whist “downstairs” while their parents “upstairs” played the more fashionable bridge-whist or auction bridge.  It does sound more logical to start with whist (ancestor of bridge) than pinochle as a natural lead-in to the more complicated bidding game of bridge.

But even before that, I suppose one could use War (every kid can play War) not only the rank of cards, but add the rank of suits to it.  When two players draw the same number card, the rank of the suit would determine who wins. Once learned, one could go on to simple addition and the standard 4, 3, 2, 1 evaluation of a picture cards.

Today the bridge establishment seemingly promotes bridge only as a game for competitive duplicate players–even in their Bridge in Schools program. In the 40s the game was a  family-centered tradition and grew exponentially out of that. Today, instead of deploring the “old lady image” that bridge-playing grandmas give the game, the bridge establishment should be running and publicizing “Each One Teach One” programs for old ladies and young children.

Chris’s Grandma produced a family of bridge players unto the third generation. John and both brothers (all engineers) still play and there’s a grand niece who plays tournament bridge. As to Grandma herself, she went right on playing bridge until a few months before she died at 95.



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