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.
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.
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.
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.
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.