By Sam Prickett
Last summer, Hoover resident Roy Martin traveled to Las Vegas for the 2019 Summer North American Bridge Championship. He came home with the trophy — something he attributes to a lifelong love of the game instilled in him by his family.
To some, the game of bridge might seem like an anachronism. It doesn’t hold the cultural relevance it did in the 1940s, for instance, when 44% of American households had at least one active bridge player. Now, the average age of a competitive bridge player is 71. While the game has seen a recent rise in popularity in the U.K. and China, that resurgence hasn’t happened in America yet.
The love of bridge has been strong in Martin’s family for generations, though. His grandmother, Eula, played for fun, “just with friends around the dinner table,” he said. She taught her three children how to play.
“And so I learned when I was really young, probably 4 or 5 years old,” Martin said. “It was very addictive.”
When he returned home from college, Martin and his father started going to the Birmingham Duplicate Bridge Club, where they would play as partners.
“It was a fun way to spend time with my dad,” Martin said. “There’s just fun memories, and the club has always been really awesome and generous.”
The father-son team eventually qualified for a national tournament, and while they didn’t win, the experience was too fun not to pursue again, Martin said.
“We were just hooked from then on.”
But his father, Guy, wasn’t available to travel to Las Vegas last summer, which meant that Martin had to play with a different partner, Denny Cahan, whom he met in Atlanta during another tournament.
“That was tough for me, because obviously my dad is my favorite partner,” Martin said. “But Denny’s a very nice guy, and I could tell instantly when I met him that he was a very skilled player … . I would’ve loved to win my first national tournament with my dad, but winning it (at all) was cool, and Denny is a great partner.”
Having a great partner is so important, Martin said, because bridge is a deeply psychological game.
“They say bridge and chess are the two great intellectual games, but I would say there’s more psychology in bridge because you have two opponents and a partner,” he said. In a tournament setting, for example, team members have to agree on a bidding strategy, which can include coded “artificial” bids.
Steep Learning Curve
Martin acknowledges the game is complicated to learn.
“The only problem with it is that it’s got a high barrier to entry,” he said. “But once you take off, you’ll never regret it … . Every single hand is different, and it’s something you never really get bored of because there’s a challenge on every single hand, trying to maximize what you’re doing. It’s something you never ever fully figure out. You’re always improving; it’s just a constant challenge.”
For those who are looking to tackle that learning curve, the Birmingham Duplicate Bridge Club, located in Hoover, offers many resources to novice or first-time players.
“I would say that it’s thriving,” Martin said. “You certainly have some older people there, but there are some younger people too. All sorts of walks of life are represented. If you’ve never played bridge a day in your life, they have ‘easy bridge,’ where you can learn to play in a day. There are a lot of people there to help you learn bridge, and most of them are volunteers who give a lot of their time and effort to make things successful.”
Martin also encourages younger people to consider playing bridge, adding that there are more incentives to playing the game than just fun.
“There have been lots of studies that show, especially for younger people, how good bridge is for math skills,” he said. “There are a ton of transferable skills, just in terms of counting and making deductions and inferences. All of these can help people in school. If you add bridge to your curriculum, you’re just by nature going to do better with your academics.”
“A lot of people play poker and video games now, which have kind of replaced bridge,” he continued. “There are so many more things to do. But bridge is superaddictive. It’s the most fun game I’ve ever played, and I’ve played tons of video games. I’ve lived in Vegas and played poker, and it’s great too. But bridge is just so much more complex and fun, no matter your age level. It’s just a fantastic game.”