PALM HARBOR — In 1969, Alice Giamo had just moved to the Spanish Trails subdivision in Dunedin and was looking for a way to pass the time while her two children were at school.
She had always enjoyed playing bridge, so she gathered a group of her neighbors and they started a weekly bridge club.
Forty years later, they're still at it.
Every Wednesday morning, eight women gather at the Thirsty Marlin Grill and Bar for cards, coffee and conversation — not necessarily in that order.
"Over the years, this has become a very social group," said Giamo, 76. "It's not just about bridge."
On a recent Wednesday, topics of conversation ranged from politics and the economy to purses and sports. Someone mentioned a familiar phrase and two women broke out in song.
The Bridge Ladies, as the group is informally named, has 18 members but not all of them play every week. Most of the women are now in their 70s and 80s and many of them have been playing for 30 years or more.
Several of the original players are still involved, but age-related pain and illness sometimes keep them away.
"We have one woman who is on 24-hour oxygen and others who use canes and walkers, but they still come out to play," said Carol DeRoeck, 75, who has been playing bridge with the group for 30 years.
The card-playing ability varies, but the women agree that they come out more for the fun than the competition.
"We have good players and crummy players," said Pearl Engel, 85, who is affectionately known as "Pearly May" by the ladies.
"We don't play for blood," said Lucy Carter, who, at 88, is the oldest player. "We try not to be critical."
The stakes aren't high in their weekly card games.
Each player pays $1 at the beginning of the game. They play five to six rounds of bridge, alternating partners, and the winner takes home $5. Second place pays $3 and the loser takes home a pile of pennies, which are accumulated throughout the morning, when a player underbids.
They enjoy playing bridge for a number of reasons, but they all agree it helps keep them mentally sharp.
"This is a thinking man's game," Engel said. "And I need it more than ever these days."
Most of the women in the group are from Dunedin, but there are players from all over North Pinellas.
Although the group has played together for years, they are always seeking new members.
"Bridge players are a dying breed," DeRoeck said. "The young people are not taking it up."