- Associated Press - Saturday, August 22, 2015

WAUSAU, Wis. (AP) - After 50 years of playing bridge - honing card skills, learning to read people and focusing a competitive streak -Wausau’s Marge Jones has become one of the card game’s most accomplished players: a Gold Life Master.

It’s a lofty spot that’s bestowed by the American Contract Bridge League. Like learning the game of bridge itself, becoming a Gold Life Master is not a simple endeavor. It’s based on points accumulated through time in ACBL-sanctioned league games and tournaments, and required Jones to play high-quality competitors who, like Jones, have proven themselves in the game.

“It’s not easy to achieve,” Jones said. “It’s a complicated process.”

Jones is proud of reaching the milestone, which came after she and three other team members battled to first place at the Nebraska Regional Bridge Tournament held at the end of July in Council Bluffs, Iowa. For her, the rank represents the time, passion and study she has devoted to the game since she first started to learn in the mid-1960s, Wausau Daily Herald Media (https://wdhne.ws/1E7y2dg ) reported.

The card game has taken her across the United States and the world. She taught bridge in the Wausau area and on cruise ships. She’s been the game’s nonstop advocate. And, in some ways, she said, she’s just beginning.

“It’s a game of lifelong learning,” Jones said. “You never know it all.”

Jones does not like to give her age, but she’s a grandmother and retiree from the teaching and human resources professions. She’s spritely in spirit and appearance with a penchant for wearing hats. “I don’t know why. I just like them,” she said.

She also can’t say exactly why bridge has held such a fascination for her for so long. “It’s just a good game,” she said. “I like the competition of it. And you always are learning how you could have played it better.”

Press her, and you find that Jones is attracted to bridge precisely because it’s off-putting to so many people. Jones chose to play bridge, to paraphrase President John F. Kennedy, “not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.”

Jones loves the sheer complexity of the game. “You don’t learn the game in one night,” Jones said. “You don’t learn it in a week.”

Bridge is a four-player game in which two teams of two play against each other. It has two phases: the bidding, in which teams predict how well they will do, and the play, in which they work to make their predictions come true. There are specific ways that partners can communicate with each other within the rules, and a big part of the game, Jones said, is learning to “read” partners.

So in a typical game, Jones’ mind is working on several tracks: She’s looking at her cards, and planning how they can be used in a strategic way; she’s looking at her partner and looking at the cards he’s playing, trying to ensure that his plans mesh with hers; and then she’s thinking and reacting to the play itself. It’s all fluid and changing as each card is laid down.

It requires concentration and focus, intellectual heavy-lifting that Jones loves.

“It keeps you sharp,” Jones said.

The games aren’t conducive to conversation, but the times around them, especially after, are. That’s when people talk about hands, and go over strategies and teach each other. It’s a kind of forge, and one in which Jones has developed lifelong friendships. Those relationships helped fuel the bridge-playing passion.

“She’s a very social person,” said John Jones, Marge’s husband.

Resource Center in Wausau. (Photo: T’xer Zhon Kha/Daily Herald Media)

John plays bridge, but he can’t match Marge in the game. “One or two hands, and I’m out,” he said.

Ultimately, Marge’s competitive fire is what stokes it all. She loves the challenge of the game, loves the people who play it. But winning drives it all.

“I don’t have to win to have a good time,” Marge said. “But winning makes it better.”

John thinks bridge has been the perfect outlet for Marge’s personality - which values learning, growing and competing. What would she have done all those years without bridge as an outlet?

“Probably chasing me around with a baseball bat,” John said with a half-smile.

As for Marge, she doesn’t plan to give up the game anytime soon. There’s plenty of ground for her to gain: She has four more master rankings to achieve: Diamond, Emerald, Platinum and Grand Life.

___

Information from: Wausau Daily Herald Media, https://www.wausaudailyherald.com


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