“Well, when we’re on vacation I play cards with my grandchildren,” attorney Edward “Ted” Martin admits. An avid Bridge player, Martin has enjoyed cards since he was young. “My parents liked to play, I played as a teenager and I played in college,” he says.
In fact, the monthly Bridge games that he and his wife enjoy with his cousins have been going on for “four decades or so.” And, he has a weekly Bridge game with friends. “We have fun, but you try to do well, make your contract, upset the opponent. It matters if you win,” he adds.
Martin isn’t alone. New Orleanians have always liked their cards. The Picayune had barely started publication in 1837 when playing cards were advertised for sale at a downtown store, and cards were probably being dealt here when the city was just a gleam in Bienville’s eye.
Most card players start young. Judy LaBorde remembers her parents taking all the kids to a friend’s house for an evening of Bourée – a favorite betting card game from French Louisiana. “Everybody would bring food: gumbo and potato salad. What a big treat it was!” Even when some players had lost everything, they stayed in the game: “They just called it ‘being in poverty’ so you could keep betting even when you couldn’t match the pot.”
Cards are a portable amusement.
LaBorde recalls her cousins, who rented a camp at Little Woods, set out the crab nets and taught her to play 21. “I learned how to bluff,” she says.
Adelaide Benjamin remembers riding a train to a football game at Louisiana State University as a child with her father and his friends. The men played gin rummy the entire time. “Pop told me they complimented me afterwards because I didn’t turn a hair at their language,” she says.
Cards are a way to keep up with your friends. Mizie Licciardi regularly plays piano with bands, including the Last Straws, but her free time is most often spent at the card table – not the fold-up old fashioned kind but, “a little round table that’s always there, I don’t have to get it out of the closet.” She grew up playing with her sisters. “We like a game called 31, but I also play barbu and we love onze (French for 11).” Where does she get her playing cards? “Usually at K-Mart or Walgreen’s, we like the jumbo size.”
Andrée Herrington learned the game from her father and regularly plays Bridge. She also has a monthly Bridge game with a women’s group, Aces and Spaces, a long-lasting assembly of women from different neighborhoods. Herrington likes the Christmas custom of card group members finding special gifts for each other: “the limit is $5, but we’ll look all year for the right thing.”
Once a week Herrington plays at the Wes Busby Bridge Center, 2709 Edenborn Ave. in Metairie, home of the Louisiana Bridge Association. The center is named for the late Wes Busby, longtime Sewerage and Water Board engineer and Bridge player. There, the game is Contract Bridge.
The Times-Picayune’s first column mentioning Contract Bridge appeared in 1927, and columnist Milton C. Work noted that the game “has now passed its first birthday.”
Nearly 90 years later it’s still going strong.
John Lowenstein once worked at the Louisiana State Department of Insurance, but he found his real vocation at the card table. He teaches Bridge, specifically Contract Bridge and the competitive level called Duplicate Bridge. “It’s the most challenging, humbling and rewarding card game out there,” Lowenstein says.
“Once you get the taste of a win, you want to keep going. Players realize they have to study conventions, they have to read books in order to be competitive,” Lowenstein insists. “And, as much as you learn, you will not master it, you will just keep growing.”
In Duplicate Bridge, tables of four will play the same hands dealt to other tables. Depending on how well each pair of players does, players might earn points in certain game situations. The competition at higher levels, for master points, can be fierce.
As Lowenstein explains, “Some people play Bridge because it’s so much fun, they get to be with their friends, they have great conversations. But, when I’m playing competitively, I don’t want to talk at all.”
“Afterwards, I’m very sociable,” he smiles.