Bridging the gap

Microsoft founder Bill Gates and investment guru Warren Buffett, both avid bridge players, launched a youth bridge program in 2005 to teach the next generation about the logic, math and communication skills demanded by the game. Though not as affluent as those two American moguls, a pair of Nashville residents are also preaching the benefits of bridge to people of all ages in their community.

Carl Zehner and his partner Leo Lindsay have been teaching bridge to Nashville residents for over 20 years. The couple, who have been together for 31 years, first started the Party School of Bridge to share their love of the game and meet fellow community members.

"When we lived in Knoxville, we had regular games," Zehner said. "We probably played for over ten years. Then we moved to Nashville in 1987 and started the bridge games soon after that."

Bridge is a card game played by four players in two competing partnerships using a standard deck of 52 playing cards, with partners sitting opposite each other around a table. Players must have a firm grasp on how to speak the secret code of bridge in order to communicate with their partners.

The game requires a series of strategic moves and a sharp memory, but Zehner insists that potential members are in for a real treat once they learn the trade.

"If a person is willing to learn, it's really quite fun," he said. "It's not so hard to pick up the game if someone enjoys it."

Zehner, who manages the Harpeth Antique Mall in Franklin, had been an avid card player since childhood, and his enthusiasm is expressed through his teaching. After a few years of weekly games, he decided to organize a number of participants who were interested in having regular meetings. A new format was soon born.

Players are now placed in one of five active groups in the Nashville area. Each group, consisting of twelve players, meets once a month, and the members host on a rotating basis. They enjoy dinner and drinks, and then settle in for three 45-minute games that determine the individual winner of the evening. A small prize, often one with an odd origin, is given to the champion.

The men who participate in the bridge range in age from mid-20s to early-80s, and the monthly bridge nights offer them the opportunity to socialize with members of their community and form lasting friendships.

"You're able to associate with people who you normally would've never met," Lindsay said. "It's really nice to have conversations with the other players."

Zehner adds, "The members come from all walks of life. It's interesting to see how everyone interacts, but everyone seems to fit in."

The group welcomes rookie card players as well. For a four-week stretch each winter, Zehner and Lindsey host beginners on Sunday afternoons for bridge lessons. On the final Sunday, they invite alumni of these classes to participate in a winner-takes-all tournament. The competition is fierce yet friendly.

"We even have a couple guys who come in from out of state for the tournament," Zehner said. "It's always a great time to see everybody together and play."

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