Bridging The Age Gap

21st January 2011

Heather Harris shows her hand

Grandparents are revolting. In a manner of speaking.

What was once the exclusive pastime of their generation has now been taken over by an influx of younger hands. Laying their cards on the table, the ‘silver set’ admit that it’s partly their own fault. As the 82 year old Bridge aficionado Ernie Thomson explains, “One Christmas I started teaching my grandchildren how to play Bridge and now they’re better than me!”

Bridge, that classic scene setting for many an Agatha Christie novel with Miss Marple holding the trump card, has suddenly replaced Poker as the hip new game of this millennium. Over 300,000 people in the UK now play this historic card game of skill and chance, following eminent enthusiasts such as Bill Gates, Omar Sharif and Martina Navratilova. And the way the demographics are changing, the young celebrity set may soon be ‘scoring their hands’ during X-Factor rehearsals.

As Matt Betts from the long-established English Bridge Union (EBU) told me, with pride, “The stereotype is changing. Last year England won silver in the World Youth Team Bridge Championships in Philadelphia”. (Perhaps the Olympic organisers could suggest that we replace the 100 Metres with a nice round of Bridge in 2012?…)

Already, University Students up and down the country are staying up chain-smoking late into the night huddled in their fours around a Bridge table.

“This year has been our most successful yet, with more regular players than ever,” Stuart King, Treasurer of the Bristol University Bridge Club, explained, adding, “and we’re small fry compared to the really thriving Clubs at Oxford and Cambridge”. Who knows… maybe in future years the rowers will lay down their oars and pick up a couple of packs of cards for their traditional Varsity match?

And after dropping off their youngsters at Nursery, Mums are no longer pulling on the lycra and heading for Pilates or downing enough caffeine to keep a rhino awake. Instead they’re turning to Bridge. Adult Education Institutes are adding more and more classes to their daytime and evening timetables to keep up with this parental demand.

Caroline Cain, accountant and mother, explains why. “So many of us professional women want to do something to use our brains while our children are small but don’t want to go back to work.”

There’s no guilt factor in taking up such a challenging and intellectual pursuit. “It’s sociable too. I was fed up with going to toddler groups to meet adults. Bridge is ideal as all you have to do ia chat with other people in your four or eight.”

Caroline lives in Sevenoaks in Kent – the county that is leading the way when it comes to bridging the age gap for this traditional ‘grey’ game.

Matt of the EBU explains “A year ago we started a new initiative aimed at introducing Bridge into Primary Schools after seeing American research which showed the links between bridge and improved test scores in children.”

Seeing my look of inadequacy, he did add that for Under Tens the game is Minibridge, a simplified version which encourages children’s Mathematics and English skills – without them realising it!

Pembury School in Tunbridge Wells was among the first to get their little ones to down put their conkers and pick up the pack instead. And last November, 16 pupils made history by literally taking on their ‘Peers’ at that bastion of conflict – the Houses of Parliament.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes, Lord Baker of Dorking and Lord Harrison of Chester were among the opposition team from the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Development of Bridge. (Who knew that such a body even existed?!)

After eight boards of Minibridge and a round of orange squash and biscuits, these youngsters proved that they were top of the class. The ‘Eight Lords A Weeping’ had to admit that they had clearly demonstrated that Bridge really is child’s play.

Speaking about the experience, their teacher Cindy Cole explained that, “whilst it was a fun day out, it had its serious side as it really proved how Minibridge is a great way of learning maths and logic, and one which is now being looked into at the highest level.”

David Adelman, the EBU’S Manchester Youth Officer, goes even further, “It offers dynamic brain training. Dealing with symbols on the cards requires focus and concentration, and playing with three other players helps develop personal confidence, communication skills, sociability. Success at the game is dependent on accurate data handling and on reliable counting.”

Which seems to complete the whole curriculum – add in a couple of handstands and the odd hymn or two and you’ve covered the entire school timetable.

But youngsters need to beware as Bridge in the classroom and youth community spreads. Grandparents are already plotting revenge. Classes in ‘Rapping for the over 70s’ will soon be available in a village hall near you…

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