Carson City centenarian plays the cards she’s dealt
September 1, 2018
Thelma Nelson started playing bridge when she was 15 years old. Since then, she's taken only a few breaks from the game she loves.
"After I was married it was nine years before I played bridge," said Nelson.
Once she picked up the cards again she never stopped and now at 101 years old — soon to be 102 in October — Nelson plays twice, sometimes three times, a week, every week.
"You have to use your brain," said Nelson. "It's good for your mind and keeps you alert."
Nelson is a regular at the Carson City Senior Center's weekly Wednesday and monthly Saturday games of duplicate bridge.
"I started playing duplicate bridge in 1950," she said, at newcomer's game where she and her partner came in second.
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Duplicate is a competitive form of bridge in which the same hands are played successively by different partnerships.
The games at the senior center usually involve eight to 12 tables and can take up to three and a half hours to play, said Leona Pchelkin, president of the American Contract Bridge League-sanctioned group that oversees games in Carson City, Gardnerville, and parts of Lake Tahoe.
Pchelkin, and her husband Nick, get Nelson to and from her games each week.
Once she's there, though, her games are anything but routine because Nelson plays with different partners each week.
Last week, for example, she was partnered with Shelly Zimbler for just the second time in 10 years.
"I'll tell you about Thelma. She's not shy. She likes to bid," said Zimbler. "If you play with the same partner you get on the same wavelength. She plays with a lot of people."
Nelson is used to it.
"I directed bridge games for 46 years and when you're the director you don't make a date," said Nelson. "I play with a lot of partners. They are so friendly here, I play with whoever asks me."
As a teenager, Nelson watched her stepmother play bridge each week with friends. She convinced her brothers and her friend Jane to give it a try and they learned by playing.
"I was a life master when I took my first lesson," said Nelson, referring to the designation awarded by earning points in competitive bridge tournaments.
How did she know how to bid?
"I learned through osmosis," said Nelson.
She married in 1939 and raised three children in California, moving to Minden in 2004 to be close to her youngest daughter when her husband Henry passed away after 56 years of marriage. Nelson's other daughter lives in Wellington, her son lives in Banning, California, and she has seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
When she moved to the area, she immediately hooked up with the local bridge community and has been playing here ever since.
"I used to be good, but I've had a few stints in the hospital lately," said Nelson.
It was the one time her partner disagreed.
"She's outstanding," said Zimbler.