Donald Trump has played his presidential campaign card to build a wall to keep people out but for Ken Carmichael the trump card is building bridge because it's inclusive and good for the mind and health.

So much so that Carmichael has no qualms about going to prison provided his cellmates are adept in playing their hands right.

"It doesn't matter where you are or what you're doing as long as you've got somebody to play bridge with you'll be very happy," he says of the card game that is the preserve of predominantly elderly people.

Why bridge?


"It's so competitive," says the 74-year-old retired livestock farmer from Poraiti who relished rivalry all his life in codes such as cycling, running, badminton and tennis.

"It's a competitive, creative game that you can play basically until the moment you die," says Carmichael of a card game whose origins can be traced back to the English nobility of the 16th century.

Some of the famous who played bridge include Bill Gates, Martina Navratilova, Omar Sharif and Warren Buffett.

The Taradale Bridge Club player, who also is affiliated to the Napier one, is part of a 19-member contingent jetting off to the week-long annual Gold Coast Bridge Congress in Queensland, Australia, starting on Saturday.

The junior, intermediate and open grade Taradale members will enter pairs and teams' events, sometimes with other club members including those from numerous other clubs from throughout New Zealand.

"It's wonderful for that. We have a lot of very old people but the very best, just like in bowls or in golf."

Bridge is a derivative of the ancient card game whist, which is an old British equivalent of "shhh", that demands silence from its players.

Carmichael describes bridge as "quite aggressive".


When the body starts deserting physically active people he believes the allure of bridge can become quite compelling to those who still yearn for nobility in rivalry.

"Did you know that very few people who play bridge ever get Alzheimer's?"

In almost three decades of shuffling and dealing a pack of cards to take tricks, Carmichael has only come across two bridge players who developed the chronic neurodegenerative disease that often leads to 70 per cent of dementia cases.

"The average age of bridge players in the region is well over 70 so it's [the two cases he's aware of] not a bad record."

Until August last year Carmichael was playing badminton three times a week and table tennis once a week.

"I suddenly got arthritis in my hips and I was so pleased to have bridge to go to."

The mental attitude of bridge players, he says, is very positive.

He knows of enthusiasts who work behind counters, such as pharmacies, GP clinics or retail stores, where those who engage in the game are always the half-glass full types.

"You know, we get down in the dumps sometimes like everyone else but, generally speaking, we have very positive mental attitudes."

Carmichael agrees, from the outside, bridge may come across as mental gymnastics to some.

"Yes but almost anybody who can, within reason, do simple sums can play because bridge is a pretty simple game even though it has it's complicated layers although anyone can learn to play it."

He says prospects do not have to be geniuses to play a game that has a propensity to cater for all walks of life.

Some tend to find their fix in a people-orientated bridge against computers.

"So it can be done but part of the challenge is playing against people because it's much nicer to play against real people than on a computer screen."

When Clive-born Carmichael left Levin, where he had moved to from Waipukurau, many players cautioned him that for someone in his 70s would find it very difficult to hook into the game in a new town.

His experience on arriving in Hawke's Bay posed no dramas whatsoever.

"It's a great way to meet people," says Carmichael who has been competing at the Gold Coast tourney for about two decades.

About 3000 players converge at the yawning, air-conditioned convention centre that greets the sun and surf from Broadbeach.

"Broadbeach is geared up for tourists so it's a nice place to go for a holiday although it's a silly time to go there this time of the year because it'; s so damn hot and wet.

"You have all these people in one huge room playing in their own grades with others of a similar ability and it's very well run."

Prizes range from $2000 to nominal $20 ones but he emphasises it's not like poker where gamblers play for big stakes.

In New Zealand, he says there's a national system that awards A, B and C points to offer people something to aspire to on a piece of paper.

Do players end up squabbling like those who do in many other forms of card games?

"Absolutely not at all because there re very definite rules although the most important rule in bridge is you must be polite to your opposition and polite to your partner, which is a paramount rule."

A laughing Carmichael says the odd player does spit the dummy but usually at themselves but to anyone else will mean a cold shoulder from the rest.

An ethical game, players must not get up to the sort of winking, rubbing of the nose or earlobes tricks.

Playing one's cards on time is imperative so no one can draw any inferences from that.

Ironically it was the rows in playing the card game, 500, which put his wife, Jenny, off bridge.

Carmichael finds those who play bridge often excel in 500.

"It teaches you to read the cards that are not in your hand."

Those who do not prevail in bridge at an elite level, he says, often go back to playing backgammon or chess because they have not forged a decent rapport with their playing partners.

The 225-member Taradale bridge club, which is based at the Taradale Club along Waharerangi Rd, Greenmeadows, is running free beginner lessons on Thursday afternoons from March 23 but if that doesn't suit the Napier club is running Monday evening lessons from May 8.

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