Like to play cards? Sooner or later, it's been my experience that real card lovers usually want to try their hand at bridge. The American Contract Bridge League calls it "the world's most challenging mental sport ... a game of skill, communication and infinite possibilities."

Four players, with partners sitting opposite each other, bid to describe their hands to decide on a contract, such as four hearts, which then becomes trump. The last person bidding plays to make the contract and wins or loses points depending on the outcome.

In social bridge groups where I've played, the most common complaint is of not getting "point cards" (aces, kings, queens and jacks) or uneven distribution, such as being void in a suit. If you never get a good hand, you can't take the bid and accumulate very many points.

However, duplicate bridge, where each partnership plays identical hands and is ranked according to how their score fares against the other players, most closely eliminates the "luck" factor. Players who place high in the standings earn master points during sanctioned games and tournaments.

Duplicate bridge for players with 899 master points or less is offered every Friday at 9:30 a.m. in the Danville Veterans Hall/Senior Center at 115 East Prospect Ave., through the Town of Danville Senior Services.

David Sterling, a certified ACBL director for many years, runs the weekly games. He is the former owner of the Small Fry Shop, a children's consignment store that was located in downtown Danville. It closed when he and his wife, Linda Stolow Sterling, moved to Auburn, but they've since returned to the San Ramon Valley.


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"Our game in Danville is a very friendly game," David said. "Everyone's polite and well-mannered. We have between five and 11 tables each week." The cost is $6 per person for Danville residents and $7 per person for nonresidents, he said.

David, who was born in Pittsburg and raised in Contra Costa County, said he's been playing bridge since he was 18. He was designated a Life Master in 1972 after earning 300 master points. He directed his first duplicate bridge games in Escondido, and later in Florida during the 1990s, before moving to Danville in 2001.

"I haven't played a lot of bridge in the last 15 years, but I always play a couple of tournaments a year," he said. "I earned most of my 2,000-plus master points playing in the Bay Area." He added that, since the early 1970s, he's played with a partner from Fremont. "It's a very old, established partnership."

I asked David what he thinks of bidding boxes, which took the place of voice bidding many years ago. "Everybody uses bid boxes now," he said. "I like seeing them on the table. You don't have to call for a rebid."

Ready to try duplicate bridge out? The first session of a duplicate bridge game for beginners is scheduled to start March 7 at 1 p.m. and will continue every Thursday at the Danville Veterans Hall/Senior Center, 115 East Prospect Avenue.

For those who have never played bridge or would like to learn more, Bridge Basics I, also at the Senior Center, is offered from 10 a.m. to noon Wednesdays between March 6 and April 24. Instructor Michael Gosnell will cover hand evaluation, opening bids and responses and the basics of declarer play and defense. Cost for Danville residents is $100 (nonresidents, $120). To register, visit the Danville website at www.danville.ca.gov or call 925-314-3490.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Contact Georgia Lambert at around- danville@yahoo.com.