A chat with... Joan Bergen and Meredith Dunne, Bridge builds a bond

Photo of Erin Kayata

DARIEN — Joan Bergen and Meredith Dunne met around 10 years ago at a bridge class at a mutual friend’s home.

“She had to twist my arm to do it,” said Dunne, a longtime Darien resident. “I thought bridge was for old people.”

But both women now say they can’t get enough of the trick-taking card game. Starting out playing with friends, they’ve now graduated to playing competitively at tournaments, as well as teaching bridge classes at the Darien Community Association for the past five years. They’ve not only become close bridge partners but dear friends.

“The friendship started at the bridge table, but it’s extended,” said Bergen, who recently moved to Rowayton after living in Darien for many years.

Through their classes, Dunne’s idea of bridge being for old ladies quickly dissolved. The women said their fellow bridge partners, many of them women whose children have left home, have become constants in their lives.

“It’s crazy good fun, even though there’s this misconception it’s little, old ladies staring at cards,” Bergen said. “It’s not that.”

“It looks like that, but it’s not,” said Dunne.

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Learn to Play

For more information on bridge classes at the Darien Community Association visit dariendca.org/activities-programs/bridge-classes.

“It’s a lot of laughter, a lot of socializing,” Bergen added.

The women have formed close bonds with many of them and find when they’re out in town, they constantly run into people they know from bridge. And it’s no surprise. Both women said bridge has really taken off in town since they’ve started playing. Many of the country clubs in town offer bridge games and lessons and many people have started hiring private instructors to learn the game.

“It’s fun, because you can take it to a higher level or you can use it as a social game,” Dunne said. “It can be what you want it to be.”

Bergen and Dunne both teach some of those lessons at the DCA. They have a class of students and move up with them as they go through Bridge 1-8. The women teach the two-hour classes using a combination of computer programs, bridge books and research. One of the most rewarding parts, they said, is seeing their student’s enthusiasm for the game grow.

“It’s fun to see them get hooked,” Dunne said.

Dunne and Bergen have also been the students getting hooked. Now they compete in bridge tournaments, including with their old instructor at a national bridge tournament in Washington D.C.

“It was a huge compliment to have someone you hold in high esteem want to partner,” Bergen said.

The women started competing two years after being introduced to the game, their instructor encouraged them to take part in a tournament. Unbeknownst to them, they were up against some of the best bridge players in the world. After not doing so well, the two were motivated to join more tournaments and improve their skills. Now the two go to tournaments and team events to learn new moves and within the past year, have both become Bridge Life Masters, a distinction given by earning a certain number of points in bridge tournaments.

Despite ten years of experience, the two women said they’re constantly learning more tricks, whether it’s from playing in tournaments, research or attending seminars. After their tournaments, the women go over the mistakes they made and ask their old instructor, Karen Barrett, for advice. This constant ability to improve is part of the appeal for them and many other players.

“What keeps people coming back is it’s never the same thing twice,” Dunne said. “It sounds cheesy, but it’s like life. Things keep coming up.”

But another part of the game’s appeal is the time it takes to play a game and the community involved. The women play duplicate bridge, a more complicated type of the game used in competitions and club play. The games can take three to four hours and can be the perfect fit for women like Dunne and Bergen whose children are now adults and are searching for hobbies that are both challenging and a way to meet new people.

“You’re looking to learn new things and fill up time,” Bergen said. “I found my way into a terrific group of women.”

“It’s easier when your kids are through school,” Dunne added. “Now, we’re at the stage where all that is over and you can be you.”

Also the appeal is the friendships made along the way. Though both women play with other partners, they pair together often and have developed a strong partnership and friendship.

“We have mutual admiration for each other’s playing,” Bergen said. “We have respect for each other and we’re good friends. We just have fun with it.”

ekayata@hearstmediact.com; @erin_kayata