The American Contract Bridge League (ACBL), the world's largest bridge organization, has seen a fivefold increase in the number of tables being played online since social distancing became the norm.
"It's a godsend during this pandemic,” says Helen Gensler, who is in her 80s and lives in Tucson, Arizona. Using the website Trickster Cards, she plays two scheduled card games a week with friends — using video and audio — and sometimes plays additional games spontaneously with strangers or a robot. “It's good for the brain, good for relaxation, and certainly takes my mind off a lot of the problems going on,” Gensler says.
Traditional bridge games pit teams of two players against each other, and bridge groups will often have several games going at once, switching up teams and players.
Playing bridge has been shown to improve reasoning skills and both long- and short-term memory. In fact, research from the Mayo Clinic in 2017 indicated that bridge — with about 750 trillion possible hands — can help people avoid mental decline before the onset of dementia. On top of that, an older study out of the University of California, Berkeley, found strong evidence that an area in the brain that's used when playing bridge stimulates the immune system.
Taking your bridge group online not only allows you to stay connected with friends and replicate face-to-face tournaments, it creates opportunities to connect with players from all over the world.
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There's no need to put on hold your quest to attain the rank of “Life Master” now that the ACBL is allowing clubs the opportunity to award the same type of “masterpoints” online that used to be offered only at face-to-face tournaments. Those masterpoints are the ACBL's way of tracking players’ progress through the bridge rankings.
Compete against people you know
Before the pandemic, players could choose their partners on Bridge Base Online, but not their opponents. Players these days can compete with friends as well as strangers, creating an environment that may feel more familiar and safe, particularly for those new to the game.
Embrace the convenience
Stephanie Threlkeld, education and communications manager for the ACBL, looks forward to the return of face-to-face play but appreciates being able to boot up her computer to play a little bridge in her kitchen without having to drive to a game elsewhere. “And if my partner is playing a card I don't like, I can yell at my computer, and nobody can hear me,” she says.
Learn from the pros
The ACBL and their clubs have added both recorded and live online tutorials — for practice and play — to their website. Another instructional site for players of all skill levels is Karen's Bridge Library.
Find a tutor
New to bridge? Marlene Walther, a former teacher, helps novice bridge players learn the game “in five easy lessons” at ateacherfirst.com.
Beginners “are bombarded with information that often feels like learning a new language,” says Walther, a qualified ACBL bridge teacher in Niagara-on-the-Lake, in Ontario, Canada. “I am very careful to introduce one concept at a time. I would compare learning to play bridge to starting to move a tank. The initial surge to get it moving is huge; after that, it should roll along quite smoothly with only little bumps here and there."
Ways To Play Board Games Online
Even the most nostalgic board games are finding new life through apps and websites, many of them morphing from timeless to trendy with contemporary features that add new twists, like a “quick mode” version of Monopoly that lets you finish faster than ever.
Board Game Arena
Chess. Checkers. Clue. More than 175 games from yesterday and today have been adapted for real-time or turn-based online play (when players don't need to be online at the same time) by Board Game Arena. The company, based in Paris, tries to release one new digital game a week and has seen an estimated 200 percent jump in new subscribers since COVID-19 hit. Board Game Arena has seen a “rush from retired people coming to play with their friends and family,” says Ian Parovel, the company's art director. Games are free and by subscription.
This classic game can be played online using traditional rules or by spicing things up with customized house rules. Interact with friends and other players or use voice chat services through Ubisoft. Compete for special medals and for spots on global and weekly leaderboards.
Swap the paper dollars and miniature metal pieces for an animated 3D city from Marmalade Game Studio, which offers a digital gameboard for mobile phones and tablets. This version of the fast-paced property-trading board game has single and multiplayer modes, and customized game options.
Simply tilt your computer screen during a Zoom call to showcase a traditional gameboard for all players — local or distant — to see. This works well with games such as Boggle, Scrabble and Yahtzee, as long as the person with the gameboard doesn't mind moving game pieces for all players (and no cheating!).