Using Card and Board Games to Keep Minds Sharp (Excerpt)

By Amy Zipkin
Dec. 4, 2015

As people age, ways to keep the mind sharp are becoming one of their latest obsessions. A Brain Health Research study released in 2014 by AARP found that those questioned believed maintaining mental acuity (37 percent) was second only to a healthy heart (51 percent) in sustaining a healthy lifestyle.

While many older people are attracted to mind challenges and computer games, others like Mr. Wieder embrace competition in tried-and-true games like bridge, poker and chess.

The American Contract Bridge League, based in Horn Lake, Miss., estimates that 95 percent of its more than 167,000 members are over 55. About 12,000 new members join annually.

The United States Chess Federation, based in Crossville, Tenn., says its membership has grown to 85,000, from 75,000, in the last five years, and the number of those over 55 increased to 16,300 from 14,500. Membership rates range from $40 to $122.

And participation in the main World Series of Poker event in Las Vegas by those 50 and older increased to 4,193 players in 2015, from 2,707 players in 2009. Buy-ins to the various World Series of Poker competitions vary, from as little as $75 at satellite tournaments to as much as $10,000 for some competitions. Typically, the top 10 percent take home some winnings.

While tournament poker is limited to states where gambling is legal, like Nevada and New Jersey, an avid bridge player can play at some 3,300 local clubs or travel to three-day sectionals and seven-day regional events, all under the auspices of the American Contract Bridge League.

Wendeen H. Eolis, 71, founder of Eolis International Group in New York City, a legal recruiting and legal management consulting firm, was the first woman to finish in the money at the main event World Series of Poker, in 1986, and is considered a pioneer in bringing more women into the game. She has stepped away from the intensity of competing at the highest levels but is confident that the benefits endure. “Negotiation is a way of life,” she said.