45. Sociable Bridge: Bridge is essentially British as I see it

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Even if it was an American–Vanderbilt–who created contract bridge. By lineage and history, I think of the game as essentially British. As I’ve written before in my book and blogs, whist–ancestor of bridge–was officially established in Britain in 1742 with Edmund (according to) Hoyle’s Short Treatise on Whist. A feature of upper class life in Britain, whist naturally crossed the Atlantic to the upper classes in the Colonies.

Whist evolved into bridge-whist some 150 years later,  and by 1897, it was the preferred game of expert players. In Britain, by 1902, Queen Alexandra and King Edward took up bridge-whist and gambled when they played. By 1904 that too spread to Britain’s former colony and had taken New York society by storm, described in a New York Times article of 1904, “Bridge, an American Mania. ”

Not long after that auction bridge emerged. Its origin is not altogether clear but  The New York Times Bridge Book–good enough for me–credits (once again) those ubiquitous Brits. Auction was, it says, “the brilliant idea of a few Brits in India” stationed in a remote Indian outpost.

An American, Cornelius Vanderbilt, gets the credit for creating contract bridge in 1925, but the new game quickly was taken up in Britain and Europe, probably due to the international social status of Vanderbilt.

What I remember  (I was born in 1920 you may recall) hearing of bridge as a teenager as part of society, and reading about in novels set in England, of country house weekends where bridge was played. I found a bridge caricature in an old Bridge World magazine showing a debutante waiting outside Buckingham Palace to be presented to the Queen. She’s playing bridge while she waits.

And I remember reading an article in one of those old, dog-eared magazines you find in laundromats–this was back when I lived in New Hampshire and I think the magazine was called Europe. It was a retrospective of the years Wallis Simpson and ex-King Edward lived in Paris. It old of the balls and parties they hosted in their home just outside the city with always a separate room set up for the bridge players after dinner who preferred cards to dancing.

The era I remember when learning to play bridge became a social plus–even necessity–was in the 50s on suburban Long Island.  Someone started a foursome and then somehow others in the same neighborhood who wanted to be included just decided to learn how to play! No angst. I don’t remember any talk of how difficult it would be — just get started.

We must have been God-awful bridge players at first, but who knew? Father Goren was our guide, and we had his printed bridge tablecloth to consult!


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