Volunteers share love of bridge




“Are you already trumping? Dude, what a waste! I should have put my ace first!” exclaimed Jessica Chan, a senior at La Jolla High School.

Branded as an elitist game played among elder businessmen and politicians, watching 18-year-olds play bridge is about as strange as watching your grandmother skateboard. But that’s exactly what happened. (The 18-year-olds playing bridge, that is.)

Six members of the La Jolla and Beach Unit of the American Contract Bridge League volunteered their time to teach bridge for two weeks to students at La Jolla High School, ending last Friday.

“We feel we have an obligation to teach the game to younger people. We want to encourage them to play later in life,” said Ron Ignelzi, president of the local ACBL group.

With the average age of a bridge player being 62, according to member Rick Simpson, the game will die out if it is not taught to younger generations.

The volunteers taught the card game to four AP statistics classes of juniors and seniors, 114 students in all. At the end of the two weeks, there were tournaments and trophies for the winners and free T-shirts for everyone.

The buzz of questions and discussion filled the classrooms (“I want to keep it running, right?” “I can tell this is a bad hand already,” “What is doubling?” “Hold up! I called the wrong suit by accident!”) as the volunteers circled the room to guide the younger players whose desks were grouped in fours.

Greg Kinsel, one of the teachers at La Jolla High hosting the volunteers, was very enthusiastic about the volunteers and the way the probability the students had learned was being applied.

“At first I was like the kids ... I was like, that’s an old people’s game ... but it’s awesome,” he said. “It’s an awful nice thing to do for the community. They’re into it. They’re pulled into it.”

Each class began with a 10-minute lecture on a new dimension of the game taught by Randy Fandem, a certified bridge teacher who used to teach the game at Cambridge, and the rest of the period the students were free to play. Each student was also given a free book on how to play for reference.

“There’s still tricky stuff like bidding, but we’re getting the hang of it,” said Nadeaja Shaheed, a senior in Jessica Wills’ class.

Many of her classmates were in agreement, saying they felt like they were getting a grasp of the game but there are always new things to learn.

That seems to be the nature of the game, though. As Rick Simpson, one of the volunteers, puts it: “It’s a game you never master, it’s a game you’re always learning. ... We don’t play bridge, we play at bridge.”

And fun? Are they having fun? Many agreed it was fun, though it can be frustrating with all the complicated rules. Angie Calvelli, a senior, joked about her opponent and his partner: “He only thinks it’s fun when they win.”

This is the second year the volunteers have taught this program at La Jolla High. A part of the unit also teaches in Chula Vista, and they hope to start a summer program this year.

La Jolla High School graduate Maleeka Marsden will be a junior at Colorado College in the fall.