When Edy Krauss moved here from New York City in 2012, she knew she wanted to be part of the local bridge scene, so she joined the Bridge Club of Ithaca. She had originally learned to play in Manhattan in the early 1970s. “Moving to a new city, It was the perfect place to meet people and be social,” said Krauss.
Shortly after relocating here, Krauss became the club manager. When the club met at Clinton Street Plaza, she could walk there from her apartment downtown, set up games and handle other tasks.
Bridge uses a standard 52-card deck and is played by four players in two sets of partners who sit opposite each other. The players bid in auctions around taking contracts.
Currently, at its new Ithaca location at Cayuga View, 16 Cinema Drive, near the Triphammer Marketplace, contract bridge games are played in-person on Monday and Thursday mornings, and remotely using the Bridge Base Online (BBO) website on Tuesday evenings. In-person cost is $7, payable at the door. The Ithaca club typically has between seventy and ninety members, with a typical daytime game of eight or nine tables of four. The club requires all players to have received a Covid vaccine and masks are required during in-person play.
The club has a rotating set of captains who come in, set up, collect fees, and lock up. The club is run entirely by volunteers, including directors who have to pass a special course.
The club is a member of the American Contract Bridge League, which is the governing body for contract bridge nationwide, plus Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda. ACBL is a member of the World Bridge Federation. The organization sanctions games and local clubs and regional events, certifies teachers and directors, conducts championships, tracks performance, and provides play oversight. New York clubs join Pennsylvania and New Jersey to make up District 4. The Ithaca club is part of a unit that includes Rochester, Syracuse, Binghamton, and Utica.
Based on demand, the club may resume playing online on Sundays. The club also offers occasional, informal Friday morning social play and instructions for those who want to learn more, including beginners. Part of Krauss’ role is to generate interest, which she does via encouraging emails. “Alexa says it’s going to snow today so it’s a good time to play bridge,” she’ll email to members. In the winter, snowbirds will join the Ithaca club online from a warmer climate to meet up with familiar players.
Decades of Bridge
While the exact date of founding is unclear, the Bridge Club of Ithaca goes back at least to the early 1960s. “There are several players that have been playing at the club for probably 25+ years,” said Roselyn Teukolsky, another club member. She and others said the club ramped up in the 1960s when bridge star Henry Bethe was at Cornell. According to Teukolsky, “The Players were younger in those days, there were fewer distractions.”
The club has called various venues home over the decades, including at Cornell, the former Ithaca Youth Bureau building in Stewart Park, and Clinton Street Plaza.
Teukolsky started playing bridge in Johannesburg, South Africa when she was in college. She met her husband, Saul, through bridge and they continue to be partners in bridge and marriage nearly sixty years later. They joined the Bridge Club of Ithaca shortly after moving here in the 1970s, regularly playing local, regional, and national tournaments, including in Washington DC, Kansas City and Anaheim, CA. “It’s a privilege to play with the best at the national tournaments,” she said.
Teukolsky and other long-time players overlapped for some years with bridge star Henry Bethe, son of Cornell Physics Professor and Nobel Laureate Hans Bethe. Henry started playing bridge in Ithaca and Cornell. He went on to win many national bridge championships, obtaining the status of ACBL Grand Life Master in 2006. Bethe also represented the US at the international senior’s tournament. Several cite Henry Bethe as one of the reasons there is a strong club here.
Another member, Rick Hurd, also has a long history with the game, starting as a teenager when his parents taught all of his siblings to play. Along with his wife, Ellie O’Connor, he has played socially off and on over the years but now devotes more time to bridge, including playing remotely from Tallahassee, Florida during the winter. Except for during the Covid pandemic, Hurd and O’Connor play regularly in national tournaments. “There’s no other sport where lower-level players can match against such senior players,” Hurd said.
New Members Welcome
The club does welcome beginners although it helps to have some experience with the game. Teukolsky explained that it’s fairly easy to play introductory bridge but that, to play well, you choose a higher level of complexity and detail.
“It keeps my mind sharp,” Krauss said. “It’s good for your mental health. Whenever I meet someone new, I always ask ‘do you play bridge?’” she said.
The game involves a lot of memory and concentration. “If you visit the club, the thing that would strike you is the silence during the games,” Teukolsky said. “It’s a marvelous activity, an incredibly deep cognitive exercise.”
Hurd says it is less about the luck of the draw and more about your bidding ability. “It’s way more interesting than any other card game,” he says.
“Playing at the club is an oasis of communal activity, meeting friends, competing against them, and keeping our brains young,” said Teukolsky.
For more information, visit https://sites.google.com/site/ithacabridge/