For 89-year-old Darlene Breeden, card playing started in her youth.
“I grew up in a card-playing family, and I remember playing cards at a very early age,” she recalls.
Her father taught her to play little casino when she was 6 years old. Then it was pitch and five hundred (her favorite) and sheepshead with her brother. When her grandparents visited, large card games would ensue in the evenings that involved her father, stepmother, aunts and even the children. She remembers helping to prepare for card-playing dates with other ladies that her mother would host in their home.
“Just about any kind of game you can name, I have played,” Breeden says. “Bridge is about the only card game I don’t play.”
Card and game playing often begins in youth for many like Breeden. For others, it’s a way to tax the mind and socialize upon retirement.
Regardless of the reason, there are card and game clubs for all interests and skill levels in the Des Moines metro area. There are the regular “party” card games hosted at retirees’ homes where ladies get together and chit-chat about recipes and grandchildren, and then there is the more competitive play for serious card sharks.
Beaverdale residents find fellow card players at senior center
Several times a week, a dozen or so seniors gather at the Northwest Community Center in Beaverdale to play cards and other games that range from hand and foot, to pennies from heaven, to bridge.
Breeden, who lives in Beaverdale, is part of that group, as is Marilyn Lancaster, another Beaverdale resident. The two are part of a regular group that gets together and plays several times a week.
Breeden played cards into her adulthood. She was part of a group that regularly rotated card game hosting. Games consisted of canasta, rummy and kings in the corner.
“Wherever we went, we played cards,” she recalls.
She taught her own children to play various games as well. Cribbage has been a favorite to play at her daughter’s house.
Breeden now plays cards three times a week at the senior center with her regular group.
“We enjoy ourselves, and we laugh, and we talk,” she says. “We just have a good time playing.
“It’s a good pastime,” she adds. “It keeps you sharp and keeps your mind working, and it keeps you on the ball.”
The card playing is much more light-hearted than it was back in the days when Breeden played with her father, who she says was a serious card player.
“It’s something that I’ve done all of my life,” she says. “I enjoy winning, but I know you have to lose. It’s the challenge of playing cards.”
Woman joins card-playing group to meet new acquaintances
Marilyn Lancaster moved to a Beaverdale apartment in Des Moines about two years ago. She soon found herself at the senior center, where she is most days to socialize with others.
Since then, she’s joined Breeden’s card group, started playing dominoes and playing and calling bingo games.
“I wanted to make friends because I’m new to the area,” Lancaster says.
Lancaster picked up card playing in adulthood. She was familiar with hand and foot and pennies from heaven before she joined the senior center card games. She says she enjoys the social interaction that comes from playing cards.
“We talk with each other, and we’ve become close friends,” Lancaster says of her card-playing group. “I’ve met a few girls there by playing cards with them and have gone on a trip with them.”
Bridge playing starts in youth, continues through retirement
David Burt grew up in a card-playing household. It was one of the family’s forms of entertainment because he grew up in a time when there wasn’t much television watching. Burt remembers Sunday afternoons after church at his grandfather’s when he would play cribbage for his allowance.
Burt’s parents taught him how to play bridge before he went to college as a young man. Once he arrived at college, he hooked up with new friends who also enjoyed the game and started playing regularly and reading about it.
He admits, with a laugh, he focused more attention on bridge than he should have in college. He continued playing bridge once he went in to the U.S. Army.
Later in the 1970s and 1980s, Burt joined the Des Moines Area Bridge Club Unit 216, a group of about 400 competitive bridge players. They play what is called duplicate bridge, which has slightly different scoring and rules than “party” bridge of all levels. Games are played every day, and lessons are available at the bridge center, 10190 Hickman Road in Clive. Those who play party bridge still need to take lessons because of the differences between it and duplicate bridge.
When Burt’s children were born, he gave up the game for a while, then rejoined the bridge club when he retired about two years ago. He says the game has changed some since he first played at the club, so he attends classes weekly and plays once a week.
“There are a lot of people who know a lot more about it than I do,” Burt says. “It’s just a lot of fun. It’s challenging.”
Burt still enjoys playing cribbage with his friends. He also is part of a foursome that gets together at each other’s houses every two weeks to play party bridge. Two of the gentlemen are ones he played with in college. Burt also shared his love of cards with his children, whom he regularly plays spades with.
Card playing has turned into tournament travel for Des Moines man
Doug Stark and his brother, Dave, had a group of friends in high school who were all interested in learning to play bridge. So in 1968, the group got together, read books and taught themselves how to play the game. The Starks’ mother provided duplicate bridge lessons.
“I’m pretty much self-taught,” Doug Stark says. “It took a long time.”
Doug Stark took an immediate liking to the game and has played ever since, some years more than others. He received his life masters several years ago.
“It’s a lifelong game,” he says.
The Stark brothers have been going to tournaments since the 1970s. Doug joined the bridge club when it started. He’s driven to tournaments in Chicago and Minneapolis, and recently traveled to Dallas to play in the Spring 2014 North American Bridge Championships.
It’s been at tournaments that the Stark brothers have played against a handful of the game’s famous players. Dave Stark has played against Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Doug has played against retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and award-winning actor Omar Sharif.
Doug Stark occasionally plays poker with friends but says bridge is his favorite card game. He plays at the bridge house once a week. He’s one of the more serious players who chooses to focus on the challenge of the game rather than socializing.
He says the draw of duplicate bridge is that it’s purely skills, no luck, because each player receives the same cards to play.
“It’s good for the mind, and it keeps you active,” Doug Stark says. “It does you a lot of good when you get older.”