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'It draws you in': Newmarket-based bridge club keeps minds sharp

The Aurora Bridge Club, which meets three times a week in Newmarket, is hoping to attract new members to the 'exciting' and somewhat complex card game
Anna Kennedy, president of the Aurora Bridge Club.

Despite the name, the Aurora Bridge Club meets in Newmarket three times a week to play the complex card game. 

The club began in Aurora and had been meeting in the old public library there, however, when it was torn down, space wasn't provided to the club in the new library that was built, according to current club president Anna Kennedy. The club moved into the basement of a building in downtown Aurora but when the rent got too high, they put an ad in the paper seeking new space. 

That's how the Aurora Bridge Club came to be located at the Newmarket Veterans Association on Millard Avenue. 

Kennedy has been with the club for about 12 years now. She originally learned how to play bridge in the '70s but stopped playing to raise her family. She started looking for bridge clubs after she retired. 

"When I retired from nursing, I decided I have to do something, I’m not going to sit at home,” she said. 

Since then Kennedy has become very dedicated to bridge. 

“It’s become a part of my life right now,” she said. 

The game is played in pairs, with four people at one table. Ultimately, you want to make the best hand with the cards dealt. The game involves a lot of strategy and skill. 

While it used to involve dealing by hand and keeping score with pen and paper, the game has evolved technically. Now the Aurora Bridge Club uses computer software and special machine that automatically deals the cards into the boards. There are also remote counters for keeping score and a big screen that shows how you're ranked. 

"This is not something you can learn in an hour," Kennedy said of the game. She said it takes about five weeks to really get bridge and even after that, you are always learning knew skills and strategies. 

“I haven’t stopped learning how to play bridge, even as a life master, I’m still learning and I think that’s what’s so nice, that’s what hooks people about bridge,” she said. 

The club is part of the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL), which is an international organization of bridge clubs that sanctions bridge games, providing rules, policies and keeps track of player achievement through a points system. Based on the number of points Kennedy has, she is classified as a life master of bridge. 

As part of the ACBL, the club's games are a lot more structured than other games such as the weekly one played at the Newmarket Seniors' Gathering Place, but there is still a big social element, Kennedy said. The group will have special lunches, Christmas parties and holds fundraising games a couple of times a year. 

One of the fundraisers is for the Newmarket Food Pantry, in an effort to support the local community. 

Another fundraising game the club held this past June was in support of Alzheimer's research. She said the cause is closely tied to their game as research has found that playing could be beneficial when it comes to preventing dementia and mental decline. This is due to the math skills, strategy, and socialization involved. 

“These are the things that keep the mind active, keeps it bright, keeps it sharp,” Kennedy said. 

The Aurora Bridge Club has members aged in their 80s and past members who played through to their mid-90s. However, this also presents a challenge for the club, as 95 per cent of its members are seniors. It is now in the position of trying to attract a younger crowd to the game. 

Kennedy said bridge may be seen as an old person's game because seniors have the time available to play it and put effort into it, but she said it can be appealing to young people too. 

"Very young people get hooked on this game. This game is exciting and it draws you in,” she said. 

Prior to the pandemic, the club used to go into schools in Newmarket and teach kids there how to play. Kennedy said she would like to see the club do that again so more kids can learn about bridge and benefit from the skills it teaches. 

“It teaches them how to have a partner and how to respect your partner and how to play with a partner whereas most games you’re playing your own skill. Here you have to cooperate,” she said. 

The club is also planning free learning sessions to get more beginners out. This is all in an effort to boost membership, which has drastically decreased over the years. While the Aurora Bridge Club used to have 250 members, now it's around 60. 

As a membership-owned club, Kennedy said they need more players to survive. Membership costs $10 per year and each game is $5. This covers the rent of the room at the Newmarket Veterans Association, fees involved in running the club, and the cost of coffee and refreshments served at the games. 

Visitors are always welcome, with beginners games on Thursdays especially. More information can be found on the club's website.

To people who are interested or even those who don't really know what bridge is about but want to learn more, Kennedy said "“come and try it, come and watch.”