Game of a lifetime at TC Bridge Center

John Westrom (center) started playing bridge in 1949. He continues to play regularly at the Twin City Bridge Center at age 91.
John Westrom (center) started playing bridge in 1949. He continues to play regularly at the Twin City Bridge Center at age 91.

It’s noon on a Wednesday, and every table is full at the Twin City Bridge Center at 6020 Nicollet Ave.

“Just wait,” said Teri Blu, the center’s co-owner. “It will be so quiet, you can hear a pin drop.”

Serious card players might visit four times a week to play bridge, where a single game typically lasts three-and-a-half hours. There are games every day of the week, often two or three of them.

Participants play to earn “masterpoints,” and the numbers accumulate over a player’s lifetime.

“Once you start winning these things, it’s like gold,” said Joe Koester.

The year’s top 100 players are posted on the bulletin board near the entry. Some players in Windom have earned more than 10,000 master points.

“To get there, you’ve got to play a lot,” said Scott Lutgens. “This is a very competitive game. They’ve got some very good bridge players here.”

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The game of bridge involves partners, bids and taking tricks.

“Really good bridge players, after the bidding is done, can pretty much tell what’s in every player’s hand without looking,” Lutgens said.

Bridge_8Longtime club members estimate the Bridge Center is approaching 50 years in operation. It’s relocated to different locations on Nicollet over the years, and the current building (a former post office) has served as its home since the early 70s.

“Bridge in its basic form is the ultimate exercise in deductive reasoning,” said Evan Sachs. “The mind remains athletically active, and you develop friendships that last a lifetime.”

Arnie Holmberg learned bridge in the military while stationed in China, where one guy taught three others how to play.

“It was something to do over there,” he said.

Sachs said he remembers sitting next to his father at age eight while he played bridge. He was immediately bitten by the game.

“You get some brilliant people playing the game, and you get some not-so-brilliant people,” Sachs said.

“That’s me,” joked Jim Daughton.

“All of us in this room probably majored in bridge in college,” Sachs said.

People who played in college that are returning to the game in retirement find that much has changed, according to Blu.

“Bidding has become much more aggressive,” she said.

That’s why the center offers classes, as the “duplicate” version of the bridge they play tends to be more modern.

There are newcomer games, “chat bridge” sessions where people talk through prior games, games with free soup on Mondays, and mini-lessons that run prior to some of the games.

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Attendance has remained steady over the decades, though the owners see the crowd aging a bit as time passes. Night games aren’t as popular as they once were. And the numbers thin out a bit in winter, when snowbirds head south for the winter and play at crowded bridge clubs in Florida, other Sun Belt states and even Mexico.

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Bridge players have worked to recruit younger members, however. The University of Minnesota Honors Program offers students the chance to learn bridge to hone skills like memory, communication and strategy.

But for the moment, there are plenty of local players to keep the game competitive — a tournament at the Bridge Center this month was packed with more than 60 tables.

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