Bridge retains popularity with all ages

Bridge is quite a popular game in south Charlotte.

Hundreds of enthusiasts can be found testing their skills daily at the Charlotte Bridge Association and in churches, country clubs, restaurants, recreation centers and private homes. There are tournaments and traveling games, beach and mountain bridge retreats, and even cruises to attract the players.

"Bridge keeps us young socially - and mentally alert, " says Paul Mitchell, a bridge coordinator who plays what he calls "simple Goren" bridge.

Mitchell, 74, a retired chemical engineer and business owner, has conducted bridge classes at the Mooresville Recreation Center as well as the Morrison, Harris and Harris Express YMCAs, the Elon Recreation Center and most recently, the Shepherd's Center.

Many of his students played bridge years ago and learned the fundamentals through what is known as the Goren system. But when they returned to the bridge table years later, they found the language was that of The American Contract Bridge League system, which is a much more complicated method of play.

A large number of retirees, however, wanted to play bridge in a less competitive atmosphere. So Mitchell coordinates his game to provide a "simple Goren" style.

Bridge can be as easy or challenging as the player wants.

In basic bridge, hands are shuffled and dealt by the players. What used to be a challenging but easy-to-learn game, which was inspired by Charles Goren, has now taken on a new form under the name of duplicate bridge.

In duplicate, players learn conventions. More and more conventions are added year after year. A really good player learns as many as possible and plays them with the same partner game after game. In sanctioned duplicate bridge, the hands are computer generated.

All east/west pairs play the same hands. North/south partners play another set of identical hands - hence, the duplicate.

The goal for each partnership is to play the hand better than any of the other players. In the ACBL games, the best players are awarded master points.

The American Contract Bridge League is the national organization for the vast majority of duplicate bridge players. It issues the master points, which are used to rate the proficiency of club and tournament bridge players.

The ACBL produces a magazine and runs three national bridge tournaments a year, hundreds of regional tournaments and thousands of local tournaments where players can improve their skills and their ratings. The organization documents the results of major events to help players learn the latest bridge methods.

Charlie Babcock, a 65-year-old retired computer analyst, directs many of the ACBL sanctioned bridge games in this area, including games at the Charlotte Bridge Association in Dilworth, Raintree Country Club and South Mecklenburg Presbyterian Church.

As a director, Babcock is responsible for running the game. He handles director calls from players when a questionable play has been made. He monitors the clock to make sure the players move to the next table on time, and he also posts the scores.

A duplicate bridge director since 1972, Babcock has overseen games in various states.

"My grandfather started at the bridge clubs in Macon, Ga. ... , " said Babcock. "When I moved to New Jersey, I became associated with the Bergen Bridge Club and became a bridge bum in my early 20s."

June K. Noe is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for June? Email her at jknoe@carolina.rr.com.

Want to play?

Charlie Babcock: 704-975-8814; charliebabcock@gmail.com.

Charlotte Bridge Association: 704-333-9117.

Paul Mitchell: 704-246-7774; pmitchell20@hotmail.com.