It has been a fixture of Belper’s social life for more than half a century, and next month will bring a new opportunity to join the town’s booming bridge club.
Starting on Friday April 21, the club is hosting a beginners’ course in the card game - which offers a stern test of memory, tactics, probabilities and communication skills.
Course tutor Ian Roxburgh, 69, said: “It’s the ultimate game. Once you take it up you’ll find you will never stop learning. Every hand and every situation is different.
“I just love it, and I get a real buzz out of introducing it to other people, and seeing them develop that same love.”
It is the third time the course has run in the last two years, in which time the club has recruited around 40 new members.
Club secretary Mick Hepworth, 75, said: “We felt that numbers were dropping, and it would be a good idea to bring in some new faces.
“We have players here still going strong into their 80s and 90s, but the lessons have brought quite a few younger people to the table too.”
The club now totals more than 100 members, with the regular Friday night meetings hosting on average ten tables.
For the uninitiated, bridge is a game played by four people in two teams, with pairs attempting to win an agreed number of tricks in each round.
In many respects the basics will be familiar to anyone who has played the more common whist, from which bridge evolved at the end of the 19th century.
The game has a reputation for being fiendishly complicated, but Ian says there are easy routes in. He said: “Some people will play for 40 years and still find something to learn, but it’s like a language - the more words you pick up, the further you can go.”
Mick agrees: “I don’t think anyone finds it easy, it’s a complex game but that makes it endlessly fascinating, even the best never know what’s going to happen.
“The key is thinking logically, trusting your partner and communicating precisely. It’s a very sociable game.”
Coming from a card-playing family, Ian cannot remember a time in his life when there was not a deck close to hand.
Mick meanwhile, picked up the game after being invited to join a club at university.
Most new players come to the Belper group after trying a couple of hands on holiday, seeking a new social scene, or simply out of curiosity.
While the fundamentals of bridge can be picked up quite easily, Ian says it will generally take 12-18 months to reach a reasonable club standard.
Ian said: “Some take a competitive approach and want to join the local leagues, but others are content to enjoy the social aspect. We help everyone find their way to a happy level.”
Mick adds: “It’s much better to ease yourself in. If you sat down at a game having never played before, you’d be completely lost.
“The learner sessions and coaching from members will get you up and running.”
Ian’s approach to teaching draws on his long career training careers service teams.
The first time he led a lesson at his other club in Allestree, he was thrown in at the deep end as a late stand-in.
Since then, he has built on English Bridge Union guides to devise simple lessons and learning aids.
He said: “I get people learning by actually playing through game scenarios, while me and my volunteers ask questions and talk as you go.
“It’s a system where even at the end of the first session, you’ll be able to play the game.
For the first seven or eight weeks Ian will set homework, sending people home with specially prepared packs of cards, to support what has been done in class.
He also offers tailored support to help players through missed lessons, or if they are struggling to master a particular skill.
He said: “When I went on my first course there was a lady who had to have the difference between hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs explained to her - it can be that extreme.
“Someone else has maybe played a bit of Snap with their grandson, others have played a bit of bridge at home and want more formal coaching.
“It doesn’t matter where you start from, we’ll just work a little harder to get everyone on the same page.”
Learners can sign up for the course in a pair or individually, as club volunteers are always on hand to ensure everyone has a partner.
Ian said: “More often, once people find partners and other teams they get on with, they will start setting up their own games at home.
“A lot of learners who come on the course move quickly into our intermediate group which runs in the next room, so everyone knows each other.
“Then they eventually step up to our main club nights, there’s a very natural conveyor belt effect.”
The beginners’ sessions will run every Friday afternoon, 2pm-4pm. Each class costs £2, including coffee and occasionally biscuits and cakes.
For further information, contact Ian on 01332 550882 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
To find out more about the club, visit http://bridgewebs.com/belper.