Is bridge worth learning

Apparently by chess standards I’m an old fart and becoming elite is impossible unless you start young or something. But I heard from some old people that you can totally start bridge as an old person and make it to the top due to things old people are good at like teamwork or whatever.

Is that true or are those guys blowing smoke

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What do you mean by elite? Become one of the top 1% of bridge players in the US? Yes, certainly, though it would not be easy. Top 1%? Considerably less likely? Represent the US in an international team championship? Most if not all of those players would have started before 30.

Many remain strong to ages which would be very old by my impression of chess standards.

I guess just the US would count. Is it possible without PEDs?

My impression is that PEDs are rarely used in bridge and rarely tested for. It’s far from clear to me which if any would be effective.

Here is an article of a rare instance when a top player was suspended for failing a drug test Geir Helgemo, world’s No. 1 bridge player, suspended for doping

It says he was the world’s number 1 in the world at them time. I’m not sure there is a single ranking system for bridge experts, but he would be near the top in most rankings by experts.

He is 52 now (born 1970). I don’t know when he started, but per wikipedia he was having great results in Norway as early as 1990 (age 20) and won a premier US national championship in 1998 at age 28 (then successfully defended that on in 1999). There are numerous national championship events in the US every year, but by my subjective ratings that particular one is one of the three hardest to win.

In bridge, every important title is won by pairs, not individuals, so you must play with a strong partner. The most important (IMO) events are for teams of 4-6 players so you need at least 3 strong teammates. Some players hire partners or teammates in hopes of improving their rankings.

I think it would be easier to get to the top in bridge than chess. In bridge there are just 13 turns of play by each player, and as you go along you acquire information about the hands and deduce how things will end. And like a chess player the sooner you can anticipate things early on and make the best plays, the more success you will have.
In the end though a youthful start is the key. I knew about bridge when I was young but didn’t really start playing regularly until I was 25. I can confidently say I am probably in the top 2% of all bridge players in the US now and regularly do well in local games and tournaments. But if there are 150,000 bridge players that means as many as 3,000 at my level or better. If you’re going to be a bridge pro you have to get closer to the top 300. So I have played against many bridge pros and sometimes I come out on top, but in longer match I am at a disadvantage. I would have a 0% chance of beating tiger woods at 3 holes of golf or a game against a tennis pro, but I might have a 25%+ chance of beating pros at a 6-board match.
For the person that is willing to study and develop a partnership with an equally talented individual and play regularly, you certainly could rise to the top half of the game in just a couple years. The most important thing you can have is a good memory to remember what all your bids mean, and what cards have been played so you figure out how to take the most tricks every time.

I learned bridge with a few of my cousins so we could play with my grandma on her birthday. She liked that. But i already forget most of it.

It’s my sense that you can become pretty good at bridge at any age without giving up your day job. See Omar Sharif who I think clearly devoted most of his efforts to cinematic endeavors through the early part of his life. The first mention of bridge in Sharif’s Wikipedia article was at age 32. He was on the Egyptian National Team so he obviously started playing earlier but still that seems like a late bloomer.

Bridge is much different than other competitive events. For me the most striking difference is that you and your partner need to share your playbook with your opponents through a system summary form. Added to that if your opponents don’t understand one of your bids then they can ask for an explanation and you have to comply. Personally I’d find this disclosure process distasteful.

I don’t think that financial rewards for bridge players are all that great. I don’t see anything about cash prizes in tournament announcements that I’ve seen, it’s all about Master Points. I’m sure that there is prize money at the higher levels but from the looks of things only a relative few would win prizes.

Amazon’s top 20 “bridge books” are a mix of beginner offerings, score sheets, multi-game books and even poker and cribbage books. It’s my estimate that Amazon’s bestselling bridge titles are selling about 10,000 to 20,000 copies a year. If you earn respect as a bridge player you can probably get your own bridge book published but with those sales volumes it wouldn’t make you rich.

So in the end the answer to your question comes down to what is it that you want? I’d see this as potentially an opportunity to be the big fish in a relatively small pond. There are a lot of bridge players but I’m sure that most are relatively casual. If you have the right temperament and find a partner that you can work well with then potentially you could become among the best even starting late.

If you are one of those people who have to be the best at everything you do or fuck it, then forget Bridge.

It’s a fun game for an intellectual social gathering.
Or, for my mom, a way to pick up some fun cash.

There are very few cash tournaments in the US. More overseas, but still most are not. My impression is that for very few pros is cash prizes from tournament organizers an important source of income. Instead they are paid by rich clients who want them as partners or teammates, so that the client does well, winning titles and/or master points. I think some of the best pros can be paid on the order of $15,000 per week plus expenses. Possibly even more.

Stream Euchre on twitch while making ASM noises. Assuming your goal is revenue streams.

If your goal is to be the best at something, then move to a world with fewer people in it.

I’m learning how to play bridge. Thing is, I know no one in real life who plays, so I guess I’ll just have to play online.

Learning online would be really tough, because it would be really helpful to have someone to discuss your thought process with, presumably your partner. Many bridge clubs have lesson programs, at a cost of course, which might be helpful. Books are also critical, IMO, to make much progress. That’s especially true about bidding progress, but also try for cardplay progress.
One obvious question: why are you learning, if you know no one IRL who plays?

Iunno, to learn a new thing? I enjoy learning, especially so for obscure or dying art kinds of things, and it seems like something I would find challenging.

I hope it is not a dying thing, but perhaps it is. Much of the time at the club where I most often play, most of the players are over 60.

A great deal of my knowledge came from reading MANY, MANY bridge books. Also playing way too much in college.

IMO you couldn’t learn much just by playing online, in part because you do not necessarily even see what choices should be made, while you may be able to tell whether a choice worked that doesn’t mean it was the best choice. But good luck with it.

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Bridge is a complex but fascinating game. Getting started playing is not too difficult, but improving is a lifetime endeavor I go to numerous tournaments each year and my team has a 1-1 record against Bill Gates and his pro-team :slight_smile: You can also pay your entry fee and play against the best players in the world, if you’re up to it. Sometimes you beat them, too! But I’m getting ahead of myself as there are different games for different skill levels…

First of all there is the auction where people take turns bidding to name the trump suit and number of tricks. But it’s also a language, in a way. There are rewards for contracting higher numbers of tricks, so you need to figure out how strong your hands are, and what trump suit if any there should be.

Second, the scoring factors into it. Sometimes you want to go down (not make your contract) because in doing so you’ll be better off than when your opponents make their contract. Understanding the scoring is crucial to evaluating competitive decisions.

Third, and most importantly, the play of the hand. How do you take the most tricks as declarer or as defender? How should you use spot cards to signal information to partner? Can you take in all the information from partner and the auction to work out what is going on?

A good start would probably be to acquire the club series book by Audrey Grant. If you like what you see you can move up to diamond, heart, and spade books. As an actuary you can self study and decide if you want to move on. There are older versions, suggest you get the newer spiral bound version, probably about $15 plus shipping.

I would snap up this 3-book combo actually.


Maybe I’ll look into a class after I get the hang of the basic rules. But most of them meet during the daytime on weekdays, which is not really ideal.

And maybe I’ll hate it. I don’t like chess…

What I don’t like about chess is all the rote opening memorization. Puke.
Every bridge hand is different and presents a totally new problem. Bridge is also a bit more social. After the Saturday afternoon game I hang out with a handful of people and discuss the problems we faced.

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You should also consider what books may be available from your local library. Can’t beat the price.

Obviously chess and bridge are completely different mechanically, and loving one doesn’t prove much about the other. Two very fundamental differences though:

  1. Chess is a game of perfect information. You know exactly the current position of the board. Bridge is not. At the start of the hand you only know your own 13 cards (and that each other player has 13). As play progresses, you know what bids are made and cards are played. From those, you try to draw conclusions about the still-hidden cards to make the best bids and plays.

  2. Chess you have no partner. Bridge you have a partner. So part of the challenge is to use your bids and card plays to help your partner make the best bids and plays. (A very simple play example: if I am leading to the very first trick, and I have the Q and J of the suit I choose to lead (but have neither K or A), and want to lead one of them, if everyone could see all the cards it would make not any difference which I lead. But no one can see, so with most partners the agreement will be to lead the Q (the higher), and then partner will think I have the Q and J well, and choose his future plays accordingly.) The opponents would also know I have the J but not A or K, but usually it’s more important to help partner even if you also help opponents. By the way, in bridge secret agreements are not allowed. If partner knows you have agreed to lead Q from Q and J, opponents should have that same knowledge (far too complicated to discuss here how opponents should have the same knowledge).

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Apparently the bidding system I am learning is SAYC. I don’t know if this is the most common or not, or most intuitive, but there it is.

SAYC would be pretty common, probably more common than anything else in the US, but far from universal. By far most US players would primarily bid in accordance with SAYC, but most would have some slight variations.

SAYC has the advantage that it is very natural, so usually when you are bidding a suit it suggests that is your longest suit. But it does have some important exceptions. Perhaps the most important: transfers over NT. If you partner opens 1NT and you want to show hearts, you bid diamonds. WTF? One reason is because the first person on your side to bid hearts will be declarer if your side gets the contracts in hearts, and it will usually be better if that’s the 1 NT hand. Another important reason is that it turns out to be better (more efficient) to start with 2 diamonds for potentially exploring a range of contracts. Almost universally in the US, good players use 2D and 2H responses to 1NT as transfers to hearts and spades respectively.

One certainly can’t call a 2D response showing hearts as intuitive. The old Charles Goren bidding books I learned from were far more intuitive.

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