Petaluma club builds bridge in Rivertown

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It’s as the saying goes: where there’s a will, there’s a way.

And the will of Petaluma’s bridge community was evident when an estimated 100 avid players gathered in Karen Weissberg’s Petaluma home to support the creation of the city’s first American Contract Bridge League last year.

Previously, local players had journeyed to the Bridge Gallery in Santa Rosa or the recreation center in Terra Linda to participate in sanctioned games and earn “masterpoints,” which are awarded for winning and placing in club and tournament competitions. Veteran players felt it was time for Petaluma to have its own official club to give members to option to accrue points and gauge their standing against their teammates, but no one knew where to begin.

“My friends elected me to be at the helm (of the movement),” Weissberg said. “I had an injury to my shoulder so it wasn’t until July when we sat down with Kathy Vention, owner of the Bridge Gallery, and asked her ‘how do we start?”

To get off the ground, Weissberg had to obtain a business license and recognition as an establishment from the American Contract Bridge League, among other tasks. She also assumed the role of the “director on duty” during the games so they would be counted in the American League. When it came to addressing the technicalities, Weissberg’s friends stepped up and ensured the club would function smoothly.

In October, several months after the meeting in Weissberg’s home, Petaluma’s first sanctioned American Contract Bridge League club took up residence in the city’s Elks Lodge, and the club members have been playing for gold and silver ever since.

To clarify: the club doesn’t play for money. But they do play for points: gold, silver, platinum, red and black, which are added up as part of the league’s master ranking system. While members of the Petaluma Bridge Club aren’t required to register as members of the league, doing so allows them to accrue these points.

While this could encourage fierce competition within the club, one of the Petaluma club’s founding members, Jan Lee, said it attracts a mix of casual and competitive players.

“Many people enjoy bridge primarily as a social, fun event. Others like the idea of a greater challenge, which can be both fun and socially rewarding as well as an opportunity to have a concrete record of one’s progress,” Lee said.

Bridge is often praised for its intellectual stimulation and combative effects on short-term memory loss. The game is played in groups of four and requires players to bid how many cards they can take on in a deal.

Another more competitive form, duplicate bridge, eliminates the factor of luck by giving all members the same hand of cards. Points are awarded based on how well a pair can play the hand against the other groups. Bridge in all forms requires visualization, sequencing, and quick thinking. As it turns out, it’s not necessary to have a lifetime of experience to feel these effects.

“I was a latecomer to bridge and didn’t take my first lesson until after retirement. It is such a fine game. It challenges the brain to whatever extent one wishes,” Lee said.

Another founding member of the Petaluma’s new club, Irma Ashley, shares a similar opinion.

“If you want to keep your mind sharp at any age...play competitive,” she said.

Ashley has been playing bridge since she was in college, and since then has taken part in a number of league-sanctioned clubs everywhere she’s lived. Now settled in Petaluma, she’s happy to see how the Petaluma Bridge Club has nurtured this community in town.

The club has moved from the Elks Lodge to the Petaluma Senior Center, and now meets two days a week, with a gathering at 12:15 p.m. on Mondays and at 11 a.m. Saturdays, and Weissberg estimates that around 50 regulars attend the weekly meetings.

Though bridge can get competitive, she pointed out the amicable nature of the local group, which has become a key community resource.

“It’s the nature of Petaluma — we’re a very friendly town,” she said. “I think it’s important to have community type activities such as bridge.”

(Community editor Hannah Beausang contributed to this report. Contact Ella Ban at argus@arguscourier.com)

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