I took up the game of bridge after I retired eight years ago. My wife Mauri ordered me to find something to do to occupy my time. The game is so fascinating and addictive that my once-a-week diversion is now an all-consuming five to six times weekly obsession. I have in addition made a lot of new friends and bridge had taken me to tournaments in Hawaii, Bermuda, and Las Vegas.

North Jersey is a hotbed of bridge activity. You don't have to be an expert to play. There are lots of places where a novice can learn to play, and there are also many games for beginners.

Where can you start? One good place is at Essex Bridge Center (www.essexbridgecenter.com) on Route 10 in Livingston. This is the largest bridge club in the U.S., with over 14,000 tables in 2008. They in addition have lessons almost daily, at very reasonable prices. They offered a thirteen-lesson course this past Fall at eight dollars a lesson, with the first eight lessons free. Don't worry about a partner. They'll line you up with someone at your level. And don't worry that you'll be the most inexperienced person there. You won't be.

Bridge is a great social game in which you can get together with three friends and spend a pleasurable afternoon or evening together. This is called "rubber bridge". However, once you've learned to play bridge, you'll want to "up" your game and play "duplicate bridge". This is a game in which the same hands are played at every table in the room, and the results are tabulated at the end of the evening. The winners are the ones who do the best on the largest number of hands. The top finishers are awarded "master points", which are duly recorded with the national organization, and there are various levels one can achieve; Sectional Master, Regional Master, and so on up to the coveted "Life Master".

One can find a schedule of duplicate games by accessing the state website (www.njbl.net), which lists all the games in the state. Essex Bridge Center has afternoon and evening games almost every day. They typically draw twenty-plus tables in the Open game and six to ten tables in the Novice game. The cost to play in the Open sections is ten dollars a session, and a session usually lasts about three and a half hours. You'll play twenty-seven hands. The Novice section costs eight dollars and you'll usually play twenty-one hands.

The second largest bridge club in the local area is the Bridgewater Bridge Club on Rt. 28 in Somerset County. They have nine sessions weekly and usually draw a large crowd. They have both Novice and Open games, and offer free lessons.

Plaza Bridge Center in West Orange has eleven sessions weekly, but draws a much smaller crowd. Plaza also offers a supervised beginner game on Monday.

There are several other popular games in the area. Deidre Devlin's game on Mondays and Fridays at Congregational Church in Short Hills usually averages fifteen tables and is a very friendly game. Deidre will also line "newbies" up with a partner.

The Clark Bridge Club is located in the Willow Grove Presbyterian Church in Scotch Plains. Marge Jann plays Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and usually draws about a dozen tables.

There are many smaller games in the area, and all of these have limited schedules. It is best to check the NJBL website for specifics.

For people who want to take private lessons, there are many qualified bridge teachers in the area. You can locate a teacher by going to the website of the American Contract Bridge League (www.acbl.org). Click on "Find a Teacher", enter your state, and a list of ACBL-certified teachers will come up, along with their home town.

So, it doesn't make any difference whether you are a beginner or an experienced tournament player. There will be a game for you. Bridge is a lifetime game. It can be played by people from ten years old to ninety plus. It's a great mental activity. Studies have shown that bridge players have much higher blood flow in their brain than non-bridge players (I'm not making this up). So if you're interested in meeting new people and learning a mentally stimulating lifetime game, consider bridge.