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Bridging the age gap

Local group introduces Silicon Valley youth to the card game bridge

Kids these days get their kicks from digital media and video games, which has some people worried about the tabletop games of the past. That's why fans of bridge are making a concerted effort to get younger generations interested in their favorite card game.

That effort to bring new blood into an old game has started strong in the Bay Area. Last Friday, Silicon Valley Youth Bridge -- a nonprofit that hosts free events to teach bridge to kids -- celebrated its first year anniversary. Since its inception last year, the group has hosted events and after-school programs and introduced bridge to 211 kids.

Silicon Valley Youth Bridge had humble beginnings when it debuted at Stanford Splash last year, according to the Cheryl Haines, the marketing chair for the group.

"When we began in May last year, we had nothing," Haines said.

Though the American Contract Bridge League has a broad, national program to get kids into the card game, Haines said they had to come up with their local group name and logo, and do outreach to the community through events like pizza parties. All the events are the work of volunteers and free to attendees.

The events attract far more than just a one-dimensional group of chess club members or kids whose grandparents forced them to play cards. Hanes said both boys and girls with varying ethnic and social backgrounds all show up to play the game.

"These are not just math nerds, it's a very diverse group," Haines said.

The Youth Bridge program does focus on a specific age group for participants, however, aiming to bring in middle school-aged kids between fifth and eighth grades. The group decided that high school kids are too busy and likely won't play if they haven't already been introduced to bridge. On the other hand, the game might be too complicated or difficult for elementary school kids.

And with complicated strategies, auctioning, bidding, calling, tricks, dummies, opening leads and a slough of other card-game jargon, it's no wonder bridge has a reputation for being difficult to learn. The American Contract Bridge League puts out its own "Learn to Play Bridge" software and textbooks, and Silicon Valley Youth Bridge has its own method to teach the game with a difficulty curve.

Bridge also has a reputation for being a game that only old people play, and it's not without some truth. Haines said at 53 years old, she is frequently the youngest person in the room. It's also a very time-consuming hobby that makes it difficult to play on a tight schedule. But just because old people play it doesn't make it a game for old people.

"It's a great game, and they seem to like it once they've been exposed to it," Haines said.

On top of being fun, Haines boasts that bridge also has a lot of benefits for the kids who play it. She said the game requires the use of logical and analytical skills as well as teamwork, and the Youth Bridge website cites a correlation between bridge players and higher test scores in reading, math and science.

In a guide to teach new players the game, former competitive bridge player Marty Nathan wrote that the average age of American Contract Bridge League members is 60 years old, and that bridge players have "lost" the next generation to newer forms of entertainment.

"If you and I are going to have bridge opponents 20 years from now, we'd better start developing them now. If we lose this generation, we'll lose the game as well," Nathan said in the guide.

This summer, Silicon Valley Youth Bridge will host a summer camp for kids ages 10 to 17 to play bridge during weekday afternoons. The camp is the first event the Youth Bridge has charged for -- $150 per person -- and they will be offering scholarships through the program.

For more information about the program and upcoming events, visit the Youth Bridge website at www.siliconvalleyyouthbridge.org.

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