Bridge a life-long pursuit for Lake Wildwood’s Helen Henning |

Bridge a life-long pursuit for Lake Wildwood’s Helen Henning

Helen Henning enjoys the friendly atmosphere at the Lake Wildwood Duplicate Bridge Club’s Tuesday games at the Community Center.
Photo by Jeff Heyser

Helen Henning is a competitive duplicate bridge player, so much so that a wrong bid or discard just might keep her up at night.

But this longtime player probably isn’t losing too much sleep as she closes in on the Diamond Life Master level of 5,000 points from the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL).

It shouldn’t take her much longer to reach her goal, given that she plays five times a week – including at the Lake Wildwood Duplicate Bridge Club’s in-person games on Tuesday afternoons at the Community Center. She also plays in the Lake Wildwood club’s three bridge games each week through Bridge Base Online (BBO) and in person at the Grange in Grass Valley on Wednesday mornings.

Helen learned to play bridge when she was 19, when her mother-in-law taught her and her two sisters-in-law. “One sister-in-law and I picked it up pretty quickly,” she says. “The other one, I guess her heart wasn’t really in it.”

Helen could not convince her husband Bill to join in, either, because he “didn’t want to play with a bunch of old people.”

While he favored games like trivia, she enjoyed playing social bridge with her parents and in-laws, and duplicate bridge when time allowed. Once she retired from a career as a program analyst for Safeway and then Vons, Helen began playing more duplicate bridge – which she says is hands-down the better game.

In social bridge, also called party or rubber bridge, the objective is for you and your partner to score more points than your two opponents. In duplicate bridge, several pairs play the exact same hands of cards and the goal is to do better than all the other tables. “I don’t like party bridge at all anymore. It’s not competitive enough. I love duplicate, but sometimes it doesn’t love me,” Helen says with a laugh.

As an example, she cited a recent online game she played with Bill Jones – another master-level player in the club. “We did just terrible, but we couldn’t help it,” she says woefully. “People came to our table and bid things other people didn’t bid, so we got bottom scores. And that’s frustrating.”

Helen also plays regularly with Marge Roe, Nancy Eubanks and Cathleen Mleko. With each partner, she has learned to adjust her bidding conventions so they are on the same page.

“You have to be compatible,” she notes. “You have to trust your partner.”

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