For many local card sharps, the Etobicoke Bridge Centre at the Olympium is a home away from home – it’s where they come to think critically, interact socially, sharpen their skills, and test their mettle against some of the best local players.
That’s why it’s so important to the centre’s owner, Steve Overholt, that the Etobicoke Bridge Centre (EBC) itself find a new home in central Etobicoke come this summer, when the Etobicoke Olympium is set to close its doors for 12 months of renovations in preparation for the 2015 Pan Am Games.
With the yearlong closure beginning July 1 looming, both EBC and fellow American Contract Bridge League franchisee Lee’s Bridge Etobicoke are looking for a temporary space their players can gather and call home in the interim. Because for many of those players, bridge isn’t just a game, it’s a lifestyle.
“It’s a tough, complex game, but that’s what keeps people coming back. You can play it badly pretty quickly, but if you want to be a good bridge player, you have to put in a lot of time,” Overholt said Monday during EBC’s popular, open duplicate bridge game in the Etobicoke Olympium’s lounge – one of four sanctioned games the centre runs each week.
“Bridge is a slow, long learn, but it’s ultimately incredibly rewarding – and addictive. People get very passionate about bridge and take it very seriously. If you say to them, ‘it’s just a game,’ you might be surprised by the answer they give you.”
While EBC has long been a longtime fixture in Etobicoke, running out of the Olympium for the last 30-plus years, it’s only been in the last three – since Overholt, a retired teacher, took over the centre – that a full teaching program for beginners has been offered.
For relative newcomers to the game like Theresa Bryson, Janet Zwarick and Sandra Chivers, the teaching element was a much-appreciated addition to the centre.
“I’m a perpetual beginner,” Bryson laughed Monday, shortly before Monday’s lesson began. “I’m learning that there’s so many layers to the game, that you have to just keep learning.”
And key to retaining all that learning, added Zwarick, is playing as much as possible: “You have to play. If you come to these classes and you don’t play, it’s like sitting in a classroom being told how to drive a car, but never getting a hold of a steering wheel and actually driving – only it’s a lot easier to learn to drive a car than it is to play bridge.”
While Overholt led nearly 20 students in lessons on one side of the Olympium lounge on Monday afternoon, on the other side of the lounge – in what the ladies jokingly referred to as the ‘shark’s pen’ – nearly 60 much more experienced players partook in Etobicoke’s largest open (no membership required) duplicate bridge game.
Among them, former Canadian Bridge Champion David Colbert, who won the esteemed title back in 1993.
For Colbert, the EBC games keep his game in shape in preparation for the six or seven tournaments he regularly travels to each year across the continent. Next week, he’ll head to Florida for a tournament. In April, the competition will bring him to Tennessee.
“I’ve been playing since 1976,” he said, noting that he began playing bridge competitively as a university student, at a game hosted regularly at the University of Toronto’s Hart House. “I was hooked by the competition of it – the exactness and the level of depth. It’s an equalizing game, a tough game, and an infinite game to learn. Even I still make mistakes.”
With so many players – from beginners to masters – relying on the centre for their weekly bridge fix, Overholt said he’s anxious to find a new home to settle into.
The EBC runs Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoons, so rental space is required from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on those days, plus from 6 to 11 p.m. on Tuesday nights to accommodate Lee’s Bridge.
Overholt said the centre’s ideal location would be 3,000 square feet of accessible and affordable space located in central Etobicoke, with parking to accommodate for about 75 to 80 cars. Anyone with suitable space interested in renting to both bridge clubs is asked to contact Steve Overholt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 647-897-6179.
As the game of bridge itself, Overholt couldn’t help but extoll the virtues of “the chess of card games.”
“Bridge is great gymnastics for the mind. I cannot think of anything better for your mind than bridge, because it pretty much has everything you could want – deduction, reasoning, analysis, problem solving,” he said, encouraging those interested in learning the game to sign up for EBC’s lessons. “Every hand is an adventure. You can spend as much time as you want getting better at bridge, because you’re always learning.”
For more information about the EBC, its learning program and its game schedule, go to www.etobicokebridge.com