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SF bridge club offers lessons

by Sari Staver

A gay married couple who met and fell in love at the Castro bridge club Quick Tricks three decades ago are about to begin their eighth year teaching bridge lessons at the club, located in Ellard Hall at Most Holy Redeemer Church, 110 Diamond Street.

On January 22, David Fielder and John Corey will begin the first of 15 lessons teaching the basics of bridge, a card game played by an estimated 25 million Americans. The lessons are suitable for both beginners and players who want to brush up on their skills.

The first two lessons are free; the rest are $10 each, payable before each class. The club, organized in 1978, has offered the lessons annually for more than 25 years, with various top players from the club rotating in to coordinate the class.

Fielder, a 67-year-old retired theater manager, said the class is based on the nationally recognized method called Easy Bridge, and is offered in a way that allows people to feel comfortable and enjoy the game.

"Bridge can be a difficult game," he said. "But we offer the basics in easy steps so that people don't feel overwhelmed."

Corey, 58, a staff attorney with the California Supreme Court, met Fielder for the first time two decades ago, when they played at Quick Tricks with other partners.

"For me it was love at first sight," said Corey, who holds the title of Silver Life Master, which means he has accumulated 1,000 Master Points, signifying the number of competitive games and tournaments he has won.

Fielder, who plays more often since he retired, is a "Ruby Life Master," with some 1,500 Master Points. He said modestly, "John is really a better player than I am."

The two married on June 28, 2013, after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the state's Proposition 8 same-sex marriage ban.

Fielder and Corey are each enthusiastic boosters of the game of bridge.

In graduate school at the University of Virginia, Corey began playing duplicate at bridge clubs so when he moved to San Francisco in the 1990s, he went to Quick Tricks hoping to meet a bridge partner.

"I met all these wonderful people," recalled Corey, "including David, of course."

Before he got together with Corey, Fielder traveled around the country, with bridge partners from Quick Tricks, to compete in tournaments. In recent years, the couple made a tradition of going to a regional tournament in Hawaii in January.

Ellen Salwen, a 70-year-old psychologist, took lessons at Quick Tricks a few years ago, and has been playing regularly ever since. Salwen, a straight ally, said, "David was simultaneously entertaining and knowledgeable."

Salwen, who watched her parents "fight over the bridge table," played in college and was encouraged by a friend to return to the game. "I decided it was a good way to improve my mind and my memory," she said.

"Bridge attracts an interesting group of people," Salwen added. "When I'm there, it's my vacation and a wonderful break from daily life. I don't know if my game is improving but I don't really care. It's just fun. The people at Quick Tricks are a generous and forgiving group of people."

Longtime club manager Kim Fanady, a 57-year-old attorney in private practice, said Quick Tricks is "the best club in the Bay Area."

"We have the best players and we concentrate on making sure everyone feels welcome and has a good time, first and foremost," she wrote in an email.

Bridge pro Vicki Lerner, 61, who plays and teaches bridge for a living, has been to clubs around the world. Lerner agrees with Fanady about the club.

"No question. Quick Tricks is the best," said Lerner, a straight ally.

Lerner, the only regular player at Quick Tricks who holds the title Platinum Life Master, representing an accumulation of over 11,500 Master Points, said that in addition to a "friendly, nice crowd," the club offers the most competitive games outside of national tournaments. A former paralegal, Lerner began working full-time as a bridge pro at the suggestion of many players who she helped casually.

Lerner, who learned the game at age 8 from her parents and hasn't stopped playing since, worries that the next generation of players may not make up for the overwhelming number of players in their 80s and 90s.

"The kids all seem to be using their thumbs on a small screen" rather than playing bridge, she said, referring to smartphones and other electronic devices.

The crowd at Quick Tricks reflects that trend, with gray and silver being the most prominent hair colors.

The crowd typically ranges in age from 19 to 90 and includes people with a wide variety of backgrounds, including attorneys as well as teachers, doctors, nurses, and business owners. There's one man who is a longtime executive in the pornography industry and another who worked as an exotic dancer.

While the tech industry is under-represented at Quick Tricks, two exceptions are start up CEO Zack Karlsson, 40, and his fiancé, software engineer Derek Shockey, 34.

Karlsson, a 20-year veteran of the gaming industry, said the couple play a variety of games with friends at least several times a month. After learning bridge as a way to connect with his future mother-in-law, Karlsson has become a devoted fan.

"It's intellectually stimulating and by far the most difficult game I have ever played," he said.

As far as playing at Quick Tricks, Karlsson said the club is "a great social outlet for gay men and has been an opportunity for me to meet people in my community who have lived through the genocide of a generation and hear their stories. I'd encourage anyone to give it a try."

For more information on Quick Tricks or the Easy Bridge lessons, visit www.quicktricks.org. Bridge games are every Monday night, at 6:45 pm, and cost $6 per person. If you don't have a partner but would like to play, contact the club's partnership coordinator, Bruce Osterweil at BruceO.Bridge@gmail.com.

Full disclosure: Reporter Sari Staver took Easy Bridge lessons nine years ago and has been an occasional player at the club since then.

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