The World Bridge Championships is currently on in Chennai, and I suggest that you drop in this weekend if you are looking for some sporty good fun for around 4 to 5 minutes after which you will mostly fall asleep.
Let us face it, quite unlike, say, cricket or football, bridge can never be a mass spectator sport. And that is because, let us face it again, it is not a sport to begin with. But, on the other hand, if golf, playing which you could technically expend less energy than when you are operating the phone, could be a sport, anything could be. Golf is the only sport in the world whose video game version is physically more taxing than the real one.
But perhaps to counter the lack of action in bridge, the organizers are holding the event at the ITC Grand Chola, which offers plenty of excitement, in that this seems to be the first elaborately constructed maze doing duty as a five-star hotel. Statistically, I’d think, you have a higher chance of getting lost inside this hotel than in the Appalachian Trail. No, I am not exaggerating. On the hotel elevator, the number you have to press to reach the first floor is — some kind of Vedic maths may be at work here — ‘30’. The hotel, for the record, has 15 floors only.
Getting back to bridge, one of the reasons why it is not popular at a mass level is that it has rules that look to be formulated by M/S. Duckworth and Lewis on a night of hard drugs that had been preceded by a day of binge beer drinking. Just sample this: “At notrump play, to clear a suit is to force out, by continued leads of the suit, adversely held high cards so that the remainder of the cards in that suit are winners.” I quote this despite the very real fear that some of you may stop reading this piece any further.
The game, in its conception, though is simple. You need a standard deck of 52 cards, a minimum of four players, who will team as a pair each and are called North, South, East and West, making bridge the first-ever vaastu-compliant sport.
There are different varieties of bridge, the most well-known one being contract bridge. Others are not popular because one of them is called — probably as a hat-tip to the one at the Usman Road — ‘duplicate bridge’ (Not many use it).
Once the cards are dealt, the game is set in motion with the players making open ‘bids’ on the ‘tricks’ their team will win. If a team wins all the 13 ‘tricks’ possible then it is said to have won the ‘Grand Slam’, because the most realistic equivalent to it in another sport is a player winning four marquee tennis tournaments over the course of one full year against a mind-numbing variety of opponents on different conditions and a variety of surfaces. (I know it is from bridge that the term Grand Slam went to tennis. But heck, why is bridge still retaining it? I mean the real parallel of bridge’s grand slam in tennis could be a player winning a set 6-0 in a match).
There has been a big clamour in bridge circles for making it an Olympic sport. I too feel that there is a strong case for it to be included, if not in the next summer Olympics, then at least in the next — why not? — winter Olympics, wherein players could be asked to compete in cold, harsh conditions, when the temperature on the AC is turned to sub-zero.
Having aspirations for Olympic participation, bridge administrators are pretty vigilant and there is even a stringent anti-doping policy in place for the sport. Among the prohibited substances, I guess, is: Beer (while playing).
At the world championships, I asked one of the players as to what needs to be done to promote bridge, he felt that the misconception that it is a game of chance should be erased. ‘Far from it, a lot of skill is needed here. Quite unlike chess, which can be analysed even by those watching , this is something that keeps everyone, including the players, guessing. Nobody is sure as to what will happen and there is surprise at every turn’.
For all I know, he could also have been talking about finding his way through at the Grand Chola.