Icame across a news item in a newspaper the other day about bad manners at the bridge table leading to a decline in the game’s popularity. Well, it’s true that bridge players can be brusque and impatient — hence the massive drive by bridge organisations worldwide to raise standards of behaviour — but I think this has been somewhat overdone.
A non-bridge-playing friend asked recently whether I ever play all day, as though somehow that would be too much and tedium would be bound to set in. But bridge is like a rash: the more you scratch it the more it itches. If I could, I’d play all day every day.
Most artists and writers are put out by bad reviews, but even more irritated by critics
who get things wrong — who simply don’t have the knowledge or insight to understand what they’re trying to do. The same can be true of commentators at high-level bridge tournaments: while some are themselves world-class players, others clearly aren’t on the same level as those they’re commenting on, which can lead to some pretty wonky assessments.
Never overlook the power of the pips. That’s been my mantra this week, having
read the analysis of a hand defended by Gunnar Hallberg and Andrew McIntosh during
last week’s prestigious Lederer tournament (which they went on to win). Pips is a slang term used to describe cards smaller than the Jack — also known as ‘spot cards’. Awareness of these cards is one of the things that sets apart experts from average players, who tend to focus exclusively on honour cards. Experts know that little cards can pack a punch too, or at least pave the way by helping to promote their seniors.
If ever you wanted proof that bridge is the most absorbing mental activity of them all,
you need only read Max Hastings’s new book, Nemesis: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45. There he reveals that between sorties, while preparing to meet the next wave of American B-29 formations, Japanese navy fighter pilots used to spend their time (and perhaps steady their nerves) playing bridge. As one former Japanese pilot told Hastings, ‘We played a lot of bridge. It was part of the whole ethos of the Imperial Japanese Navy, which tried so hard to emulate the Royal Navy.’
I know I said last week that I was rooting for the US team (which included my friend Zia Mahmood) in this year’s bridge world championships, but that didn’t stop me placing a £100 bet on the team they ended up playing in the finals, Norway.
I’ve been glued to the net this week, following the World Bridge Championships in
Shanghai. The championships consist of various events but the Big One is the Bermuda Bowl (so called because it was first hosted by Bermuda in 1950). This is the most coveted title in bridge, the one every top player wants to win.
I’ve often heard bridge lovers remark that what makes bridge so endlessly fascinating is that every hand is different: however often you play, you’ll never pick up the same hand twice.
If I could turn the clock back 50 or 60 years, my bridge would be considered far more impressive than it is today. Just as athletes are constantly setting new world records, bridge players are steadily pushing forward the frontiers of the game. It has evolved dramatically over the past few decades — just as I’m sure poker will do now it has exploded in popularity.
I've just spent the weekend taking part in the opening event - the Swiss Pairs - of the Brighton Congress. Despite not doing particularly well, I found it as exhilarating as ever, but I have one complaint. The organisers have arranged the week-long schedule so that the bridge doesn't begin before lunchtime.