There’s a reason why Eisenhower and his generals were passionate about this most cerebral pastime.
On the night of Nov. 7, 1942, as allied forces in Operation Torch headed for the North African coast, commanding Gen. Dwight Eisenhower waited anxiously. It was foggy, and news of the invasion was slow to arrive. To pass the time, Ike and three associates played bridge.
The game was an important part of Ike’s life—throughout the war, in the White House and in retirement. In those years many American leaders were passionate bridge players: One of the men at Eisenhower’s table that night was Gen. Alfred Gruenther, later NATO Commander and for many years president of the World Bridge Federation. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles bragged about his mastery of the game, and his department long conducted a world-wide bridge tournament in embassies and consulates.
You’ll often hear that chess is the ultimate model for geopolitics, indeed for war itself. In the 1963 hit movie “From Russia With Love,” James Bond is menaced by the brilliant Soviet chess master Tov Kronsteen (clearly modeled on Boris Spassky).
But Eisenhower knew better. No board game can replicate the conditions of the battlefield or the maneuvers of geostrategy, for one simple reason: All of the pieces are visible on the table. Card games are better models because vital information is always concealed by the “fog of war” and the deception of opponents. Most of the time a bridge player sees only one-quarter of the cards, and some of the information he might gather from them is false.
Bridge is largely about communication, and every message a player sends—by bidding or playing a significant card—is broadcast to the player’s partner and his opponents. Frequently a player will have to decide whether he would rather tell the truth to his partner (thereby informing his opponents) or deceive the enemy (thus running the risk of seriously fooling his ally across the table).
Nothing like this exists in even the greatest board games. They permit some feints, to be sure, but not outright lies. Great bridge players are great liars—as are brilliant military leaders and diplomats and politicians. To take the most celebrated recent example, Deng Xiaoping, the man who transformed modern China, was an avid bridge player who had a private railroad car for his games.
The difficulty of weighing truth and lies is one reason that computers don’t win at bridge, whereas at the highest level of chess they do very well. IBM’s “Deep Blue” defeated grandmaster Garry Kasparov in a six-game match in 1997, but bridge is simply too tough for the machines.
Bridge may also be too tough for contemporary Americans. The bridge-playing population is shrinking and aging. In Eisenhower’s time, close to half of American families had at least one active bridge player; as of 10 years ago, a mere 3 million played at least once a week, and their average age was 51. Kibitz at a national bridge championship or a local club game and you’ll be impressed by the white hair and the number of wheel chairs and oxygen tanks.
Another measure: When Operation Torch landed, there were several bridge books on the best-seller list. Nowadays bridge books are printed in small numbers by specialized publishers. Poker books do somewhat better, but no writer’s celebrity approaches that of Ely Culbertson or Charles Goren, the high-profile bridge authors in the past century.
The shrinking population of American bridge players goes hand in hand with other evidence of declining mental discipline, including shortening attention spans and decreases in book readership. You can’t be a winning card player unless you can concentrate for several hours, and mastery of the game takes years. Neither is bridge a solo activity; you need a partner with whom you must reach very detailed agreements about myriad situations. All this is good for the mind: Bridge provides stimulation that can help players retain their mental toughness and stave off dementia.
Eisenhower and Gruenther would be disturbed by the declining popularity of bridge, knowing that it is a quintessential American game, developed in its modern form in the 1920s largely on board the Vagrant, Harold Vanderbilt’s yacht. American players continue to win in international competition, but they are mostly professionals. Insofar as they have day jobs, they are often stock or options traders, not business leaders, diplomats or military officers.
It might be helpful to introduce bridge instruction and competition to high schools and colleges, as has been done with chess. Bridge lovers like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett would surely approve and could sponsor programs and tournaments for young players, with suitable rewards*
It’s not surprising to learn that the greatest thinker of modern times, Niccolò Machiavelli, was a card player, nor that his masterpiece, “The Prince,” remains essential reading for our Special Forces’ officers. A prince, Machiavelli wrote, should be “faithful to his word, guileless” but “his disposition should be such that, if he needs to be the opposite, he knows how.” That’s a lesson you can only learn from kings and jacks, not kings and rooks. By: Michael Ladeen
* It should be noted that both Bill Gates and Warren Buffet did try to create a National Bridge Teaching program by contributing $1 Million to a Foundation which unfortunately failed to make significant progress toward this end. Nevertheless there are several independent organizations in states like Nevada, Georgia and California that with cooperation from the American Contract Bridge League have been quite successful at administering after school learning and playing bridge programs. In Nevada, Reno Youth Bridge Inc., a non-profit organization, administers after-school Bridge teaching and intramural competition and has been quite successful since its founding in 2008. GSB
June 15, 2015: Back in 2008, Tyler Hart, a student at the Davidson Academy, joined the Reno Youth Bridge’ after school activity learning and playing the game of Bridge. For the next 8 years, he used Bridge as a means to exercise his mind for problem solving, His instructor told him that studies had shown that in a 3 year research study led by Christopher Shaw PHD. of Carlinville, Illinois, learning and playing Bridge actually had enhanced the academic achievement and relative acceleration in test scores of a sample group of students in his math classes. Tyler began in earnest to learn and compete in tournaments sponsored by Reno Youth Bridge, Inc.
As a member of the Davidson Bridge Team, he developed problem solving skills that helped him and his team win the 2012 Washoe County School District Intramural Team Game Championship Tournament held at the John Asguagas’ Resort Hotel in Sparks, NV. Blessed with his family’s support and a financial grant from Reno Youth Bridge, he competed in the 2013 ACBL Nationals at Atlanta, Georgia. His instructor, David Weinberg, a Director of Reno Youth Bridge, served as Tyler’s Chaperone for his trip to Atlanta as well as provide daily practice online at Bridgebase.com. While uncertain that Bridge made the difference in achieving a perfect score on his SAT and ACT College exams, Tyler credits his learning and playing Bridge, the most popular card game in the World, as contributing to his overall ability for critical thinking .Learn More
May 30, 2015: Taking advantage of her high school’s early end of the Spring Semester and with the cooperation of Instructors and Directors of RYB, Sarah Macharg piled up an insurmountable lead in the Reno Youth Bridge Achievement Program’s race easily winning the $1000 College Tuition competition for the second year in a row. RYBAP black points are won for effort to attend the classes, play in all the RYB tournaments, play online with an instructor, faculty representative or a Board member. RYB Silver points are awarded for demonstrated skill by winning or placing high up in the rankings at one or more of the Three Major Tournaments sponsored by Reno Youth Bridge each year. Sarah took advantage of the Davidson Academy’s early end of their Spring semester by spending the last ten days of May earning over 110 black points to add to her previous total of 123 points in the standings as of May 21st. This effort along with the with the cooperation of several teachers, instructors or Board Members is enough to give Sarah more than a 100 point advantage in the standings so even though she will not be able to participate in the Year End Pairs Championship on Saturday, she will still be assured of receiving the RYBAP $1000 College Tuition Scholarship. Sarah took 3 of the Weekend Quizzes relating to the Two Over One Bidding System instruction being provided all students by a former RYB Director in which she earned 15 black points plus 9 Silver points for correct answers. She also won 12 black and silver points combined playing in an ACBL sanctioned Club game with her instructor. But her largest number of points, 59 1/2 were won playing one hundred and 39 boards online with her Class’ instructor. An award of .45 black point is chalked up for each hand played and it takes an average of about 5-7 minutes to play each hand even when playing against Robots where the speed of decision making is instant. With comments by the instructor following many of the hands, the average time to play 133 hands would probably be about 18 hours so you can see that Sarah and her instructors spent a lot of time online playing to earn these numbers of points. Dan Green, RYB President says that he and other Instructors have offered to play with any of the students on line to assist them in learning and benefitting from receiving the black points available but few if any other than Sarah took advantage of these offers. Sarah is one of the more experienced youths registered as a member of the Reno Youth Bridge program and was a member of the team that won the RYB-WCSD Silver Cup in the March 21st Team game Tournament held at the Reno Bridge Center. She often plays in ACBL Sanctioned games and has had considerable success in earning master points when she does play in those events. In addition to having a high number of black points, Sarah finished second in ranking for accumulating Silver points. The top 8 students earning Silver points will have a chance to receive a modest subsidy for their expenses to attend the 2015 Summer Youth National Tournament in Chicago.Learn More
Reno Youth Bridge has announced that their Year-end Pairs Championship Tournament is scheduled to be held at the Reno Bridge Center at 2850 Wrondel Way on June 30, 2015. The winners or high place finishers are sure to have a good chance to win the $1000 College Championship which is awarded to the student accumulating the most RYBAP achievement points for the past school year. Dan Green, President and Kathy Lane Chairman will direct the tournament with the assistance of Board Members and RYB Instructors and WCSD Faculty Representatives. Students will check in for registration at 9:30AM and the competition will begin at 10:00AM. Lunch is scheduled to be served following the tournament at the Award ceremony and the students will be available to be picked up at 2:30PM. This Tournament is the final of three major events held during the 2014-2015 school year. Interested students may continue to learn and play the game during the summer on Bridge Base Online with instructors Dan Green and Bud Brewer. For those interested, they should send an Email to Dan or Bud at their: patdangreen@ATT.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. to indicate their interest and learn of the time and days that the sessions will be available. Of course regular ACBL tournament session are available daily at the Reno Bridge Club and RYB students will have the opportunity to play at these venues free of charge.
Thirty three students from various high schools and middle schools met at the John Asquagas’ Golden Nugget Hotel on Saturday January 21st to compete for the right to display the RYB-WCSD Silver Cup Trophy at their school for the next year. The Team of Sarah MacHarg, and Jessica Fuchs, from The Davidson Academy and Reno High School respectively along with Vitas Gedvila and Larson Riviera from Billinghurst Middle School emerged the winners of this Washoe County School District Intramural Duplicate Bridge Team contest in the High School Division. After a fierce battle among seven four man teams and one five man team, second place went to the team from McQueen High School, Sidney Inouye, Jesse Allison, Emma Miller, and Ruth Lynam. Third place, also from McQueen High School was earned by the five man team of Chris Lin, Raelynn Delacruz, Nathan Ly, Jimmy Cheng, Kailee Betts. In the Middle School Division, the competition was won by: Morgan Thiedt, Alyssa LaFountain, Hannah Hartley, Kit DiCarlo.
This is the second year in a row that the Silver Cup was won by a team headed by the partnership of Sarah MacHarg and Sidney Inouye. Also returning to lead his team in the quest for the Middle School Division was Morgan Thiedt, from Deapoli Middle School.Learn More
WSCD BRIDGE CLUBS COMPETE IN SPRING TEAM GAME
February 13, 2015:High School and Middle School Bridge Teams are scheduled to meet in an intramural competition for the WCSD-RYB Silver cup on March 21st at the Golden Nugget in Sparks. This event, played in a duplicate bridge team game format, will offer student team members of their school Bridge Club the opportunity to win the right to display the RYB-WCSD Silver Cup for the next year. The Silver Cup is perpetual trophy awarded to the school represented by the winning team.
The Spring Team Game Tournament is one of three major intramural tournaments sponsored by Reno Youth Bridge, Inc., a non-profit company which provides the Washoe County high schools and middle schools instruction to learn and play the game of bridge. Volunteer associate bridge experts from the Reno Unit of the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) serve as instructors for the WCSD after school activity bridge clubs. Organized in 2008 as a pilot effort to bring the benefits of learning and playing bridge to the students of WCSD, the activity has registered membership of over 300 high school and middle school students in the most recent school year.
Once a most popular social activity here in the United States with over 20 million people playing the game regularly, in recent years, participation has declined due largely to the growth of video games, television and professional sports. Concurrently, graduation rates for WCSD high school students has also declined especially for minorities. The Directors of Reno Youth Bridge, having learned of this decline in graduation rates, decided to try and do something about it. They were stimulated by the reading of a 3 year research study by Doctor Christopher Shaw of Carlin, Illinois. The report contained data that showed academic enhancement and acceleration in relative test scores in the subjects of math, reading, science and social studies when compared against those of the test group who did not learn and play bridge. The test scores over a three year period showed a rate of acceleration of as much as 40% higher among those in the test group who learned and played bridge.