Tucked inside a Towson office park, about 40 duplicate bridge players enter the light blue walls of the Valley Bridge Club to test their wits in the partners' card game.
Since founder Patricia Wilson started organizing games in her Towson home in 1965, players have gathered to play competitive, duplicate bridge for national points at various locations throughout Baltimore County.
In its latest spot on Cromwell Bridge Road, players pay by the game to attend three-and-a-half hour games hosted at the club at least six days a week.
But after 57 years of organizing nationally sanctioned games, the Towson club will close June 28.
Wilson is retiring at 85 and the lease on the building is expiring. Though she said she still plans to host private lessons, Wilson said a fall in the winter has kept her from being as active as she was before.
"Many faithful friends and patrons have held the game together," Wilson said. "I didn't want to retire, but I'm very happy that I have had these partners to keep us together."
Bridge, a four-person card game played by two sets of partners using a standard 52-card deck, "is probably the most competitive card game you have," said Dan Storch, marketing director of the American Contract Bridge League, a sanctioning body.
Partners bid, without money, on the strength of their hands with the goal of winning tricks, or rounds. In duplicate bridge, the same hands are played at every table, making the game less about luck and more about skill, according to the league.
"People say it's the chess of cards. It's a game that you will never fully dominate," Storch said. "There's always more that you can learn, but it's also a social game."
About 3,000 ACBL bridge clubs run 1,100 tournaments each year, Storch said. Clubs can be organized out of homes, in community centers and in standalone facilities, such as Valley Bridge.
Wilson moved to Baltimore in 1953 with her husband, Edward Wilson, who died in 2009. She'd learned the game a few years before from a sister-in-law, she said. After having her first daughter, she started a weekly social game at her home before establishing a nationally sanctioned club in 1965.
Wilson said she decided to move both lessons and games to the now-closed Longley's Restaurant after neighbors complained about the lack of parking near her home on game days.
From there, the accomplished tournament player started to spread her expertise when it was requested, including at the Roland Park Women's Club, the Baltimore Country Club and the Bykota Senior Center.
From 1988 to 2011, Wilson also oversaw the Hunt Valley Regional, the largest regional tournament in the mid-Atlantic district where almost 3,000 tables of bridge were played at the annual tournament.
"Even though she's 85 the one thing she'll tell you is she's sharp because of bridge," Wilson's daughter, Natalie Beese Phelan, said. "I'm so mad I don't know how to play because a lot of my lady friends do play. She's taught at so many clubs, she's directed them and taught them and it's just pretty amazing what she's done."
Bridge partners Mike Outerson, of Phoenix, and Toni Rosenblatt, of Cockeysville, first met Wilson in the 1960s.
Rosenblatt, 76, signed up for Wilson's lessons at the Towson Recreation Council.
"I wanted to find out what bridge was really about," Rosenblatt said. "I've always loved games and bridge is kinetic. It's like snowflakes. No two hands are ever alike."
Outerson, 81, was invited to a 12-table game at Wilson's home, that he recalls was so crowded people were set up in the bathroom.
The club will host a luncheon and game in Wilson's honor at 12 p.m. June 28 at Valley Bridge Club, 1001 Cromwell Bridge Road, Suite 110. About 50 people have already signed up to bring a dish for the day, but more are expected and encouraged to attend.
"It's going to be the end of an era for her," Outerson said.