Online Subterfuge Convulses The Noble Card Game Of Bridge:

It’s one of the greatest games ever invented”. When the Amerícan mystery-comedy author Louis Sachar made this remark, he wasn’t referring to football, rugby, tennis or any of the international sports with mass-media coverage. His passion is for bridge, which he admits to playing at least three or four times a week. This enthusiasm is shared by global personalities such as the business magnate and philanthropist, Warren Buffet and the Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates. Indeed, Buffet once declared in Forbes magazine that he wouldn’t mind being in jail if he had three cellmates who were decent players and who were willing to play it continuously for 24 hours a day.

 

BILL GATES PLAYING BRIDGE

The English playwright and novelist, W. Somerset Maughan, considered bridge to be “the most entertaining and intelligent card game so far devised”. The British wartime Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, the former US President Dwight Eisenhower, the Egyptian actor Omar Sharif (famous for his roles in “Dr Zhivago” and “Lawrence of Arabia”) and India’s independence leader Mahatma Gandhi were apparently all bridge aficionados. As bridgebase.com has pointed out, probably the best-known game outside the “closed world of bridge” was the one between the villain Hugo Drax and James Bond (with Roger Moore as 007) in the film “Moonraker”. For Sharif, “it prevents the rust forming in your mind” and according to a study by the Berkeley campus of the University of California (states “pinterest.com”) it “measurably strengthens the immune system”.

MYRTLE BENNETT PHOTO 1929

Not all assessments of bridge, however, have been quite so favourable. The British-American player, Alan Truscott, who wrote the daily bridge column for the New York Times for 41 years, observed that it “unfortunately attracts a substantial number of anti-social people” and the Daily Express contributor, Simon Edge, has noted that the previously dignified parlour game “has incited murder and counts billionaires and playboys among its devotees”. Edge cites the example of Mrs Myrtle Bennett of Kansas City, USA, who in September 1929 shot her husband after a furious argument erupted between them when she accused him of being “ a useless bridge player”. The jury in the subsequent court case, which caused a sensation at the time, acquitted her of murder on the basis that it had been “an accident”.

A Sunday Times editorial on 30th May, accompanying an article by two of its journalists, Nicholas Hellen and Shanti Das, about the boom in online bridge cheating during the pandemic, concluded that “there has always been something brutal about bridge. What seems at first sight to be a genteel diversion for the leisured bourgeoisie hides a ruthless battle for supremacy”.

Ed Caesar, a contributor to the “Independent”, has estimated that 200 million people play bridge world-wide, with around 30,000 of these being members of the English Bridge Union. The newspaper has also highlighted the debate over whether bridge should be classified as a sport. The difficulty, it has emphasised, arises from the perceived lack of physical exertion, even though at international level it is “an extreme test of concentration, stamina and mental deduction”. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) and then HM Revenue & Customs have ruled that it’s not a sport, which means that in England VAT has to be added to the cost of entry fees for competitions.

Nonetheless, bridge is recognised as a sport by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), as are other activities such as chess, tug of war, cheerleading, flying discs (“Frisbees”) and the martial art of “wushu”. The European Bridge League (EBL), formed in Copenhagen in 1947, now consists of 46 National Bridge Organisations, which in turn are members of the World Bridge Federation (WBF), along with affiliates from the USA and South America. In what “bridgemaniac.com” has depicted as a coup for bridge, it appeared at the Asian Games for the first time in 2018: 217 players from 14 nations competed in six categories, with China emerging as leaders with 3 golds, 1 silver and 2 bronze medals.The WBF has announced with regret the cancellation of the 2021 World Championships, due to the pandemic, but the EBL’s 19th European Champions Cup will take place in Pezinok, Slovakia, from 11-13th November as scheduled.

The Sunday Times report by Hellen and Das focused on the fact that bridge is a card game for four people who play as two pairs and that crucially only each individual should be able to see their own cards during the bidding. However, this rule has proved much easier to circumvent online, with the result that investigations by the EBU into cheating allegations have shot up from one a year to 50: “So far 25 people – including seven couples – have been suspended for 18 months to five years for unfair or dishonest play”.

This is not the first time, though, this has happened. In September 2015, as was reported by the Daily Mail correspondent, Neil Sears, it was construed as being “improper communication” when two Italian world title winners placed their cards horizontally or vertically to indicate to the other whether they had a good hand.

Filed under: Society, Sports | Posted on July 3rd, 2021 by Colin D Gordon

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