Take It To The Bridge
Alex James on the many pleasure of the king of card games

Aren't casinos rotten? I mean, great to visit with good company, but there, where isn't? Woolies is potentially a scream. Take Caesar's Palace. You think you're going to feel like James Bond and then you end up being surrounded by ghastly lizards and tough nuts in a neon lit Ancient Greece. Fuckin' losers. It is absolutely certain, that is absolutely certain, that the more you play, the more you will lose. It must be the playing that people are willing to pay for and it's a pity because there are far better games than blackjack. Blackjack is a arsehole's game for people who drive cars with personalised number plates.

Although the origins of most are obscure, all card games tend to fall into two categories - those where you have to win tricks (whist, black maria, belote) and those where you try to make runs and groups of the same value (gin, rummy, canasta, poker). People really started playing cards after gas lighting was invented and before telly. Various games enjoyed enormous popularity at different times, and the national British card game is in fact cribbage, which seems to work well in December.

The ace of all card games, though, is bridge. It was invented in 1925 by Harold Vanderbilt while he was on a cruise. It is played by two opposing teams of two players using all 52 cards of a standard deck and is a whist-type game. It is the most sophisticated, subtle and posh game in the world. I have the same compulsion to play bridge today as I did to play football when I was twelve. I could happily go on all day and think of nothing else. The formality of the game, slightly annoying to begin with, soon becomes a source of comfort, a place, even. The strictly observed etiquette is all for the purpose of conviviality and making the game flow smoothly. You have a lot of common ground with other people who play. You can look your partner in the eye and tell them the truth in a secret language on an island of calm and it's you against them and nothing else matters.

Cards are a delicate but profound pleasure. Going to a bridge evening is like attending the AA , in that you get a total cross section of all kinds of dudes. The amount of laser thinking that has been applied to the game is stupefying. Foyles is jammed. A good bridge book would be a guide to bridge books.

It takes about as long to learn the rules of bridge as it does to learn the rules of chess and I'm not going to explain them here,but for how to play and for willing partners try msn/bridge or yahoo/games/bridge. Pretty soon you'll start saying things like this: "The club bi was artificial, asking for partners major. North's jump shift to four spades was conventional. Stayman showing opening control and Blackwood's five diamonds confirmed they had slam potential," or: "Making seven no trumps redoubled is better than a nosh in the bog."

There really is no better pension plan for our dotage.