In our high speed, age-segmented world, it sometimes seems everyone in Lake Highlands lives inside a personal bubble. If there is time left after our PTAs, churches or families, it is quickly absorbed by Web surfing, large-screen TVs, devotion to sports teams, or Wii-fit. After all that, it’s a wonder anyone in our neighborhood has time to play bridge.

(Fact: Bill Gates plays bridge. Warren Buffet, too. If you fancy a friendly game with either of them someday, the time to learn is now. Keep reading.)

After a quick search around town, it turns out there’s a lot of shuffling and dealing going on out there — party bridge, duplicate bridge, day bridge, night bridge. Men play bridge and so do women.

Consider the Greater Dallas Men’s Duplicate Bridge Club, started by Steve Welwood in 1958. Welwood, an SMU alum, lamented that his fraternity buddies didn’t seem to get together enough after graduation. He started the club hoping it would keep the group together. Forty years later, Welwood is the only original member still participating.

Club member and Lake Highlands resident John Cole explained the concept of duplicate bridge: Players rotate between tables and play the same hands already played by the previous foursome. Because each game does not require a new deal, luck (either good or bad) is not as decisive as skill in the final score.

“We have 12 men, and three tables,” Mr. Cole says. “Each person hosts once a month, and we keep individual scores all year.”
 
At the end of the year, the two players who come in first and second win engraved trophies.

Each member pays $1.50 per month, which in 1958 covered the cost of new cards, plus a stipend of $4 to the host for snacks. These days the unchanged dollar amount has become a joke, carved in tradition. Also part of the tradition is the role of wives, who provide the snacks and, if needed, may be drafted to play as a sub.

Senior groups also play at the Lake Highlands North Recreation Center. At 10 a.m., a group already was deeply engaged in their hands. A woman glanced up at me with a questioning expression.

I said, “Sorry, I thought you started at 10.”

“We do,” she says.

I checked my watch. The time was roughly 10:01.

At lunch break, I found the group relaxed and chatting, enjoying lunches they brought from home. Joe Shewski, the group’s president, talked about the Intermediate Bridge Group, as they call themselves.

“We play party bridge,” he says. The group formed decades ago and became so large that some of the more serious players wanted to play duplicate bridge. That group split and formed another club, which was playing concurrently in a separate room (a peek revealed they were just as large a group, with at least eight tables.)

Members of the Intermediate Bridge Group, make no mistake, play for fun.
 
“If you’re serious in here, you really don’t belong,” Shewski says.

The group is “open” — meaning it accepts new players — but there’s a waiting list. New members sometimes come from a pool of subs, called in when a regular member can’t make it. Perhaps the waiting list is one reason why.

Says Pam Engle: “You won’t find too many people below 80 here.”

Of course, the Intermediate Bridge Group isn’t the only game in town. Shewski also is president of a “closed” group that meets Wednesdays in the same recreation center. The atmosphere in that group is different, he says. 

“All of them are good, elite bridge players,” he says. 
If they lose a member, they have no difficulty recruiting a replacement.  They get together and choose from a pool of elite candidates.

Why are bridge players so dedicated to the game?

“It’s a challenge, good for the memory,” says Jean Antico, a member of the Intermediate Bridge Group. “And for the camaraderie. We see each other every week.”

“It’s like golf,” Pam Engle says. “You are never finished getting better.”

Kerry Cole — daughter of 79-year-old John Cole, who plays with the Greater Dallas men’s group — is a member of the boomer generation. 

“Bridge has so much strategy involved,” she says. “My generation is wanting to learn, but we can’t find other members our age who are available at the same time.”

In case you aren’t convinced yet, consider bridge romance.
“I met my wife playing bridge,” Joe Shewski says. 

It seems there’s another group playing in Lake Highlands called “Couples Bridge Group,” which meets at different homes monthly throughout the year. If a player loses a spouse, sometimes they partner up with another player.

Three years ago, Joe Shewski and Bonnie Einmann became partners so they could continue playing with the couples.

They were married Dec. 6, 2008, and are looking forward to their first wedding anniversary.