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For the love of bridge

Ashland resident Don Provence has been playing bridge for more than 40 years, and even teaches it to others.

But that doesn&

t mean he feels he has completely mastered the game where players follow seemingly zantine rules and speak in inscrutable coded languages.

&

I think most bridge players would tell you they are still learning the game. Some pros would even say that. It&

s still challenging for me, no matter how much I play,&

he said. &

Things will arise where you just don&

t know what to do.&

Provence said he learned to play bridge at about the same time he began his 34-year career as a philosophy professor. He retired from San Francisco State University and settled in Ashland six years ago.

His second wife and her father and stepmother were bridge players and taught him the game. Bridge is a partnership game, with the east and west pair sitting opposite each other and playing against the north and south pair.

&

My wife was an excellent player. But we regularly lost because they were substantially better than we were,&

he recalled. &

We did have, as a result, good teachers from the beginning, so we didn&

t develop bad habits.&

— — Getting Started

— — Ashland bridge teacher Don Provence recommends reading — about bridge to learn the basics, and then finding a group of fellow novices — to play with and learn the game. Alternately, find an experienced person — who can teach the basics. The American Contract Bridge League offers free — lesson software on its Web site at www.acbl.org. The Web site also features — information on finding a local bridge club or a teacher and offers on-line — play.

Although Provence said there is not much of a relationship between bridge and philosophy other than that both employ logic and reasoning, he did use the game to exercise the minds of some of his philosophy students.

&

I used to teach my critical thinking class bridge. It gave them a common ground to look at good and bad reasoning in regard to that subject matter,&

he said. &

It was a rather odd use of bridge, but I found it to be useful. Some of my students didn&

t like it. They didn&

t like to learn all that and think too much.&

Provence said there was a time when bridge was fairly popular on college campuses, with students playing against each other in dormitories.

Today, Texas Hold &

145;Em, a form of poker, has swept campuses, with many college-age players going on to do well in major tournaments.

Provence said bridge is much more complex that poker, although the games do share some elements. However, bridge players rarely engage in bluffing &

a necessary skill for any respectable poker player.

&

If you bluff your opponents, you end up bluffing your partner,&

he said.

— — — Provence and his wife enjoy bridge because of the — skill required to play the game.

In past decades, children and young adults used to learn bridge in a family setting, Provence said.

&

Now I think that&

s less true. Even if the parents play, kids don&

t take it up. This is a long time to sit and it takes a lot of thinking to do it well,&

he said, noting that a typical bridge game takes about — 1/2 hours.

But go to any large bridge tournament, such as those held in Las Vegas where thousands of players fill the hall, and one can find young players, he said.

The national American Contract Bridge League is reaching out to a new generation of bridge players with a bridgeiscool.com link on its Web site home page. There, enthusiasts can download a &

Bridge is cool&

poster to hang in school cafeterias, student union buildings and computer centers, according to the Web site.

Despite the downturn in the number of young players, Provence said he doesn&

t believe bridge will fade away.

It remains popular among retirees, with many Ashlanders playing the game. People are still learning to play bridge, albeit at an older age, he said.

Provence&

s upcoming bridge class offered through the Southern Oregon Learning in Retirement program is full.

&

A lot of people, when they retire, will play even if they haven&

t played before. It keeps them thinking and in contact with other people because of the social aspect,&

he said. &

It&

s hard to see what the drawback is &

if you have the time.&

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.