Thoughts about the world's greatest game

Perhaps the best one-sentence description of how bridge players feel about their game is playwright George S. Kaufman's parody of a famous remark: "I'd rather be South than be President." But what causes that feeling? The Bridge World magazine asked bridge players to describe briefly their main reasons for playing bridge, and the most important rewards they obtained from the game. The greatly varied submissions are printed here, along with excerpts from the book, "Classic Bridge Quotes" for which we are grateful to Jared Johson, bridge editor of The Denver Post, for permission to reprint this material.

The Rewards of Bridge

"Every Hand an Adventure" is what bridge is all about. It is the ultimate in intellectual competition. As you learn more, ever-increasing vistas unfold for your experimentation and enjoyment. Once you try it, you'll never give it up.
- Bob Lipsitz

As people develop and grow they search out challenges suitable to their current situation. Some never outgrow video games, but those who seek the highest level of mental stimulation move on to activities such as bridge.
- Mike Lawrence

Bridge is the most entertaining and intelligent card game the wit of man has so far devised.
- W. Somerset Maugham

Bridge is such a sensational game that I wouldn't mind being in jail if I had three cellmates who were decent players and who were willing to keep the game going 24 hours a day.
- Warren Buffett

I am still learning. I will never get it all.
- Al Lochli

Because every hand is different, the intellectual challenge of bridge never ceases. Besides, and more importantly, my father often noted that, "If you don't play bridge, you'll have a miserable old age." Since that time is getting closer, this is no time for my interest in bridge to lag or diminish.
- Rudy Boschwitz

Many games provide fun, but bridge grips you. It exercises your mind. Your mind can rust, you know, but bridge prevents the rust from forming.
- Omar Sharif

Bridge is simultaneously fascinating and fun. In pursuit of winning you meet the elusiveness of perfection and the perverseness of chance. In preparation, you have the opportunity to develop and refine your system as linguistic science.
- Michael Neuschatz

Playing bridge reflects intelligence. It's one of the really great pleasures of life. Anybody who's missing bridge is missing so much in life.
- Malcolm Forbes

Proficiency in whist [a forerunner of bridge] implies capacity for success in all these more important undertakings where mind struggles with mind.
- Edgar Allan Poe

What distinguishes bridge from the many other games combining luck and skill? Part of the answer is teamwork. An apt comparison is with basketball. There, players may engage in contests of skill limited in dimension: three-point shooting, slam-dunking, one-on-one, HORSE, and so on. But what makes basketball distinctive, and the most fun to play or watch, are the team interactions: moving without the ball, setting screens and passing on offense; switching and boxing out on defense; using court sense and maintaining court balance.
   So it is with bridge. There will be opportunities for three-point shots and slam dunks, but complete bridge players are also forever helping their partners and receiving information in return. Playing good bridge is like throwing an outlet pass, running downcourt, getting open, and receiving the ball back in perfect position to score. Other games are just plain HORSE.
- Danny Kleinman

No matter where I go, I can always make new friends at the bridge table.
- Martina Navratilova

Bridge presents all the challenges we know of. It is a human game, yet it is an intellectual game. If I sit down to play, I am likely to run into some sort of situation that I've never seen before.
- Edgar Kaplan

Other items mentioned by correspondents included:

For example, accomplished bridge players seem to be adept at computer programming and equity trading; computer service corporations and financial institutions sometimes advertise for bridge players.

People who play bridge well automatically gain a certain amount of respect as capable performers. It is even more common that those who fail to improve at the game will not be taken seriously by others in their profession.

Just as muscles will atrophy when not used regularly, so will brain power deteriorate when not maintained with stimulation. Most people attempt to achieve this exercise in pleasant activities, such as reading novels or attacking crossword puzzles. Bridge offers an exciting way to partake in mental exercise.

Meeting people with common interests and spending time enjoyably is the single most frequently mentioned reward from playing bridge. Now that games are available on the Internet, it is becoming easier to overcome the traditional organizational obstacles.

The Other Side of Bridge

Of course, like most activities, playing bridge can have its downside too. People can be cruel, and in some company newcomers or inexperienced players might need a thick skin (or the fortitude to look for a different group to play with). A famous playwright once expressed his opinion of partner's skills by asking when that unfortunate had learned to play. "I know it was today," the writer explained, "but what time today?" When George Plimpton, who was renowned for dabbling in a wide variety of activities with experts--his first book was Paper Lion, in which he described his attempt to practice with professional football players--, tried to survive a bridge game with masters, he became so flustered that he could not even distribute the cards correctly. "Look, the #$@^$!@* doesn't even know how to deal" offered one of the group. Even experts are subject to criticism, sometimes lighthearted and sometimes not. Once, when his opponents in a world-championship match took an unusually long time to act, the late Lee Hazen remarked, "I was a young man when this deal began."

Traditionally, the stereotypical characteristic of bridge players is their monomaniacal dedication to the game. A well-known cartoon by Webster shows a fire-fighter on a ladder at a window from which heavy smoke is pouring. A voice from inside the room asks that someone not directly involved in the game be taken first. No doubt there are "bridge widows" much as there are "golf widows," but the term is not heard much, perhaps because women are as likely to become fascinated by bridge as are men. Alfred Sheinwold, who wrote extensively about bridge throughout his lifetime, when asked whether men or women were better players, answered "both." This was not merely a diplomatic exit from a potentially embarrassing situation; it was the truth. By way of explanation, Sheinwold noted that at the very highest levels most of the best players are men; they dominate championship events that are open to both sexes. But at all other levels women are more successful. In particular, most wives play better than their husbands (though very few husbands would admit it, or even believe it).

Our Favorite True Bridge Story

Bridge clubs rarely do any business during morning working hours, and those that open as early as lunchtime have few games going until later in the afternoon. On one particular day, a New York club had only four players, thus only one table in play, at the noontime hour. The four contestants were quite companionable and enjoyed their game. However, at one point, one of the four, a young woman, looked at her watch and announced, "I'm sorry to have to break up this very pleasant game, but I'm getting married in half an hour."

The Therapeutic Value Of Bridge

The first portion of this article is based on an essay by Erle Stanley Gardner.

As society changes, it generates new problems and then, sometimes, their solutions. Much of this cycle has to do with speed. Messages once delivered by runners, then the pony express, then the telegraph, now flash around the globe over the Internet. People have moved by foot, by horse, by automobile; longer distances were covered by boat or train, now by airplane. Business machines have achieved calculation, data entry and correction, printing and copying at ever increasing speeds. Almost everything today has been speeded up so much compared to earlier times, and the increases have come so quickly, that it is difficult for most people to relax.

Few people caught up in a world that moves at a pace for which their earlier life has left them unprepared can simply forget their problems. They appear too pressing, too urgent, too important. To avoid the negative effects of continually living with stress, it is critical to find alternative activities that will fully occupy the mind. Ordinary pursuits that lack intellectual power and mental action will not do; they will not provide the punch needed to move one's consciousness to another environment. Those who cannot find satisfactory ways to provide a break from their usual state of mental stress may be forced to seek refuge in dangerous alternatives, such as sleeping pills.

What form of activity can serve safely as therapy for the strains of modern life? It must be something that is exciting and intriguing enough to drive ordinary problems out of one's mind. It must focus attention. It must be totally engrossing. If you can find such an activity, you will have a key to unlock the secret of mental repose. The more and the more deeply you think, the more you will be exposed to the high pressures of dealing with the speeding world, and the more you need an alternative that has fascinations deep enough to distract you.

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What characteristics must a satisfactory distraction have? Of course, it must be something that you find interesting. But to achieve the level of control over your brain needed for good results, it must also be intellectually stimulating and rewarding: difficult enough to be challenging, yet not so hard to master that you are unable to achieve the reward of making observable progress; complex enough to offer new mental worlds to conquer from whatever level you have already reached, but with no obstructions to progress caused by the need for special talents (such as athletic ability); possessing sufficient variety that you will never fear that the intrigue of the subject will be exhausted.

There are very few activities that offer all these critical attributes. Bridge is one of them.

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In his best-selling book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie describes the dangers of unconstrained worry to health and happiness. That book was originally published during the 1940's. Since then, many scientific experiments and statistical surveys have confirmed what was then only a narrowly-believed theory: that mental state can have a major impact on well being, and that a complete approach to medical care must take a patient's thought processes into account. Carnegie lists six ways to "break the worry habit before it breaks you." The first of these is to distract yourself with something else. It is therapeutic to provde yourself with an alternative activity that occupies your attention sufficiently to prevent your mind's continually focussing fruitlessly on sources of worry.


Our learning center web pages are dedicated to teaching the game of bridge. There are lessons for first-time players, as well as for those at the elementary and intermediate levels. You can find the appropriate section, and proceed through the lessons.

BEGINNER: Learn how to play bridge if you have never played before. The beginner lessons here are designed for those who know little or nothing about the game.

ELEMENTARY: If you understand the basics of the game, and are ready to proceed further.

INTERMEDIATE: Here is a collection of intermediate-level problems in bidding, declarer play, and defense for you to practice and improve your game.