The Vancouver Bridge Club’s longest member, 95-year-old Bill Mauck, said he joined in 1956. He started playing the challenging card game even before that, when he was 10.
“It’s helped me mentally,” Mauck said. “I’m not as good as I used to be in bridge, but I’m still pretty good.”
The club has about 300 members, although they don’t all show up for games at the clubhouse in Vancouver’s Heights neighborhood. Mauck pins the average age at 80, which means the club is rapidly losing members. A poster at the clubhouse commemorates the 20 or so members who have died over the past year.
The club is recruiting new members with upcoming classes to show “kids” — that is, people in their working years — or anyone who is interested how to play the competitive card game.
“People don’t play cards anymore,” lamented Kathy Mather, 80, the club’s treasurer.
Bridge gained popularity in the 1930s, when 20 million in the United States played. These days, about 5 million Americans over 45 play at least a few times a year, with about 2 million of those playing at least once a month, according to a survey by the American Contract Bridge League.
The club wants to let people know they are missing out on fun — and benefits.
Playing card (or board) games boosts your brain, according to a 2014 study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Researchers found that the brains of people who frequently played games had greater volume in areas that are affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
Bridge is a great activity if you’re looking to stay socially and mentally active as you age, 91-year-old Janie Pearcy said.
“It keeps your mind sharp,” said Pearcy, who started playing in 1961 and has been a member of the Vancouver Bridge Club for 20 years. “We’re one very large family.”
Given that games last two-and-a-half hours, it’s hard for younger people in the thick of their careers and raising children to devote the time, Tim Rilling said. In his 60s, he’s one of the club’s younger members.
Bridge is a challenging game, right up there with the Chinese board game Go and chess, Rilling said. He serves as game director — sort of like the referee — for the club when he’s not playing. He augments his in-person play with online games, as many in the club do.
Bridge evolved from the 17th century card game whist. In bridge, two teams of player pairs sit across from each other at the same table in partnerships — north-south and east-west — and go through rounds of bidding followed by card play.
It’s too complicated to explain here, which is why the club is offering an eight-class series from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Jan. 3 through March 7. The lessons are $50 for the series or $10 each. (Call Connie Sayler at 971-678-3863 to register.)
Rebecca O’Donnell, a 70-year-old Hockinson resident, said she first took classes after she retired about seven years ago.
“I always knew I wanted to play. I get frustrated. I quit for a while, but I came back,” she said. “I do it for the mental stimulation.”
The classes meet at the clubhouse, where games convene on Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and one Sunday a month.
Before a recent 11 a.m. Wednesday game, bridge partners took their spots at tables as the room filled with chatter and the scent of coffee. A sign reminded members to welcome and introduce newcomers.
The Vancouver club doesn’t charge dues but a per-game fee of $7, which can be higher for special events. To accumulate points, you must join the American Contract Bridge League, which charges $49 a year for an individual membership.
“You get addicted to the points,” said 80-year-old Joy Fletcher, a retired teacher. She has been reaching out to retirement communities to try to recruit members.
“The elderly think, ‘Oh, I can’t do that.’ They’ve just got to be competitive, I guess,” she said. “They need things to do to keep their minds off aches and pains, while meeting new people and stimulating that brain.”