Wilton Senior Center welcomes new bridge instructor

Wilton resident and longtime bridge player Michael Hess is the Wilton Senior Center’s new bridge instructor.

A bridge player of 40 years and teacher of more than 30, Hess became the senior center’s new instructor in early September. He also has been teaching bridge classes at Rolling Hills Country Club since 2015.

Hess said it takes about three to six months to learn to play bridge “reasonably well” and years and years to become “a true expert.”

In that sense, Hess said, “bridge is to card games as chess is to board games.”

“Most people consider chess to be the toughest game with a lot of intricate moves to be made and strategy and tactics,” he said. “Bridge is exactly the same way.”

Bridge is an intricate game of skill, chance and strategy.

“It’s a mentally stimulating game,” said Hess. “A lot of people play because they like the game, but also because they want to keep their minds active as they get older.”

At the senior center, the game is played in groups of four — two pairs of partners.

“Everyone is dealt 13 cards,” said Hess. “You then look at the cards and evaluate — usually based on the numbers of aces, kings and queens in your hand — between yourself and your partner.”

The game begins with bidding and setting contracts, said Hess, during which “one side contracts to take a certain number of what are called ‘tricks’ out of the 13 cards they’re dealt.”

“If someone on the other team bids four of hearts with hearts as trump, my side would have to take 10 tricks out of 13 by winning 10 tricks with hearts as trump,” said Hess.

“The reason for 10 is because you always add six to the number of the bid, so if we bid six clubs, that means we have to take 12 out of 13 tricks with clubs as trump.”

Contracts in bridge have different names, said Hess.

“If you contract to take 12 tricks — like six clubs or six hearts —that’s called a ‘small slam,’” he said. “If you contract to take all 13 tricks, that’s called a ‘grand slam.’”

After bidding, the cards are played.

The pair with the highest bid are known as the “declarers” and the pair with the lower bid are called “defenders.”

“The higher you bid and make, the more rewards you get,” said Hess.

“The defenders do everything they can to try to set the contract to prevent you from fulfilling your contract, and the declarer does everything he or she can do in order to make the contact that was set up.”

Because of its intricacy, Hess said, “people who get involved with bridge — if they stick with it for a few months — usually end up falling in love with it.”

Teaching the game

Hess has won pair and team events at various levels, including Connecticut’s Unit 126 pairs title. He also earned more than 2,000 master points and became a Ruby Life Master earlier this year.

“I think it’s fair to compare Ruby Life Master to a fourth-level black belt in karate,” said Hess.

“In bridge, serious tournament players aim for a title called Life Master, which has various levels beyond that — Life Master, then Bronze Life Master, Silver Life Master and Ruby Life Master.”

Hess said part of his motivation to teach bridge is his Ruby Life Master ranking.

“I read a long time ago that Level 3 and 4 black belts in karate are not supposed to just luxuriate in having reached that level, but they’re also supposed to teach, and I thought that was kind of cool,” he said.

“Although I’ve always liked teaching, I think I’m further motivated because I’ve reached that level [Ruby Life Master] and I want to share that knowledge with the broader bridge community.”

Hess said he has two duties as the Wilton Senior Center’s bridge instructor.

“One is to teach the game to new students who have never played before or experienced students who have played but who maybe are interested in a little bit of advanced thinking and improvements to their game,” said Hess.

“The other one is supervised play, and that means I just make myself available when I’m not teaching during a session. I make myself available to answer their bridge questions, of which many come up.”

Fridays at the senior center, Hess teaches bridge for beginners from noon to 1:30, and intermediate players from 1:30 to 3:30. On Wednesdays, he supervises bridge games from 10 to noon.

The Wilton Senior Center is in the Comstock Community Center at 180 School Road.