Centenarian Joan Smurthwaite from Melbourne is retiring from the card game bridge after eight decades of competitive play

It’s one of the most popular card games in the world and is about to lose one of its oldest, longest – and fiercest – competitors.

The game is called Bridge and the player is 106-year-old Joan Smurthwaite from Melbourne.

She officially retires Friday, eight decades after learning how to play the competitive strategy game.

The centenarian has played twice a week at Melbourne Bridge Club in Kew for around 30 years but has decided to ditch her cards for good.

“Lately life has become more challenging for me and I’m having a hard time getting around,” she told ABC Radio Melbourne.

“And I only think that though the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak.”

competition and friendships

Ms Smurthwaite said playing cards has always been a big part of her life.

It is played by four players in two pairs, with partners sitting across from each other on a table.

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Teams earn points for specific moves, and the players with the most points win.

Players compete for three hours at Melbourne Bridge Club, which runs multiple sessions per week.

“Your brain has to work well. There are so many conventions and rules in bridge,” said Mrs Smurthwaite.

Ms Smurthwaite learned to play in her 20s and developed her skills by reading books on the game and having ‘good playmates’.

She’s seen it change since her early days, when she said people played solo and “it wasn’t that popular”.

A woman blows out a 100th birthday cake surrounded by dozens of people
Ms Smurthwaite celebrates her 100th birthday with Melbourne Bridge Club.(Supplied: Ian Mansell)

But what keeps them coming back is the competitive nature of the game and the great friendships that have been formed along the way.

“My husband was a banker and we moved from city to city,” she said.

While she enjoyed her decades of games, the COVID pandemic and the club’s closure reduced her desire to compete.

“When the bridge club closed for two years, I seemed to have lost interest in playing,” she said.

“Happy” player

While Ms Smurthwaite insists she is “not a very good player”, Melbourne Bridge Club director Ian Mansell said she and her partner usually win.

“She was a very friendly and happy player,” he said.

A photo of a woman next to a cake shaped like "104"
Mrs Smurthwaite rings in her 104th birthday at the club.(Supplied: Ian Mansell)

Mr Mansell said she was one of several older players who had stopped playing.

The bridge club currently has about 250 members aged 30 to 100, up from 420 before the COVID pandemic.

The club holds meetings several times a week and strives to attract more participants of all ages.

Mr Mansell said Mrs Smurthwaite was missing.

“We have a large number of members and they keep playing, so we will survive without them,” he said.

“But the challenge, I think, will be a little less.”

“No problem” to leave the club

Mrs Smurthwaite insisted she would not play another game, even privately.

“There’s not a lot of private bridge play. It’s mostly in a club because it’s very competitive.”

A voracious reader, she looks forward to having more time for a novel.

“When the sun shines through the large windows and I look out at my garden with a good book, it’s as close to heaven as possible.”

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