John Gulliver: An afternoon crash course into how to play bridge

'It would be jolly good if we could get some new people'

Tuesday, 24th May

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Hilary Roodyn, right, with players at the Munro House Bridge Club – ‘It keeps your mind alert’

I WAS given a crash course in one of the world’s most testing and yet popular card games at the Munro House Bridge Club, Hampstead, on Friday.

The group, who certainly know their Reverse Benji from their Chicago and Duplicate, are looking for players to join their very pleasant and welcoming weekly sessions.

Camden’s most famous bridge club is, of course, the Acol in West End Lane, West Hampstead. Tournaments and lessons also take place each week in the old Hampstead Town Hall. But the group in Munro House are more focused on the social side of the game and appealing to members from all walks of life.

Hilary Roodyn, who lived in Hampstead for most of her life, told me: “Some people think bridge is all Somerset Maugham and that kind of thing, but here it’s not really like that. It’s not really about class or nationality.”

Ms Roodyn, “well into 80s”, is a sculptor who grew up in Maresfield Gardens and later lived in Sandy Road by Golders Hill Park. From a Jewish family, her mother and father were both in the rag trade while her husband was a brilliant academic.

She told me: “I was widowed very young and I remember at that time someone said to me now ‘it’s golf or bridge’. I am left-wing so I didn’t really see myself playing golf, although I did play bridge in a golf club for a while.”

“The great thing about bridge is that it keeps your mind alert, as every hand is a problem. You find yourself in very different atmospheres that you would normally be in and that’s part of why it is so enjoyable. There’s one group I play with, and it’s [the conversation] is all to do with dressing and handbags, which isn’t really me either – but it’s all so interesting. There are no age barriers – we did have one whipper-snapper in here for a while.”

She added: “It was very crummy here at one time, but now we have a lovely new room. There’s lots of light. It’s heated. We have two loos, which are very important, and a lovely kitchen.”

Enid Flynn, who lives in South Hampstead, said: “I learned when I was at sixth form at Willesden County. I remember there was an influx from other secondary moderns and the new girls knew how to play bridge. In our free lessons, when the teacher wasn’t watching, we’d play bridge. It was completely frowned upon. Maybe because it was gambling.”

The group, who usually have four or five tables playing, occasionally keep it interesting by playing “tuppence a 100 points”.

Norma Silverstein, whose aunt was a bridge teacher “but wouldn’t teach me”, said: “There was one couple who came here once and said they wouldn’t play again because of the gambling – it was against their principles.”

Other members spoke about how they had not been able to play with friends and relatives after they became very elderly, or died, and it had been comforting to find a new group to socialise with.

New players must, however, have an understanding of how to play the game to a decent standard before turning up. Lessons are available from the U3A at Hampstead Town Hall, Belsize Park.

Ms Roodyn said: “You can drop in any time between 1-5pm and leave when you like, although you wouldn’t leave in the middle of a session as that would be excessively rude. It would be jolly good if we could get some new people. But you do need to know what you are doing before, otherwise it would be absurd.”

The entrance to Munro House club, open 1-5 on Fridays, is off Perrin’s Lane but Ms Roodyn advises calling her first on 020 8346 6566.

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