05. Bridge: It’s rise & fall . . . & rise??

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Until I came across David Scott’s doctoral dissertation analyzing adult “play groups” I had no idea what led to the decline in bridge. For years back then I didn’t realize it had even gone into a decline. Turned out the fall of bridge was an unexpected consequence of all that turmoil on campus–and Betty Friedan–back in the early 60s. Who knew? Not me.

In his writings, Scott lists factors that contributed to the rise–and fall–of bridge.

Reasons for the rise of contract bridge in the late 20s and 30s:

1. Colleges and universities were extremely important to the “social diffusion” of bridge beginning in the 20s when more and more women began to go to college. Knowing how to play bridge was almost a necessary “social grace” for dorm and sorority life, and serious competitive bridge clubs were part of every college campus.

2. Economics. The Great Depression back in the 30s gave bridge a tremendous boost, becoming  the low-cost way to entertain for upper and middle class America.

3. Two celebrities gave a name and face to bridge: Ely Culbertson in the 20s and 30s; Charles Goren after WWII who picked up where Ely left off.

4. The popularity of card games in general. All kinds of card play were popular, with bridge as the Cadillac in terms of skills required (if you played competitively) and social status (the upper class choice when entertaining).

And four reasons for its fall:

1. Campus turmoil in the 60s and attitude that anything one’s parents did had to be rejected
2. The image of bridge. When  the college kids left, bridge became increasingly a game for the older and old–no longer valued as a social skill.
3. No celebrity names; no institutional (American Contract Bridge League-ACBL)  support for social bridge
4. Television overwhelmed all other at-home family activities

Will bridge rise again?

The ACBL rallied in the 70s to respond to the enormous hit bridge took on the college campus during the 60s. There’s no doubt ACBL bridge, the bridge of tournaments and duplicate, will survive because it has an organizational structure to see that it does.

Sociable bridge is another matter. There’s no advocate for sociable bridge. For Ely Culbertson back in the 20s and 30s, it was about his ego–he wanted to America’s bridge teacher, pre-empt the bridge establishment and get rich.

Sociable bridge needs some kind of support group to advocate for its return, for boomers to take it up and pass it on to their kids as used to happen until the 60s.

That’s what Bridge Table Chronicles is about.

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