This article summarises several arguments in favour of our decision to introduce the Mind Sport, Bridge, in a significant/ meaningful way to participants on our GenWise Summer Program - Early Explorer (2019), since we strongly believe students (and adults) will stand to benefit, leaving aside the magic and joy they will experience...
The mention of this very word creates excitement and a yearning, bordering on a strong magnetic pull towards itself, for many people around the world... only, the average age of all Bridge players in North America is 70+! When I participate in local tournaments from time to time, we are always greeted and treated as "young" players (though we are nearly 50 years of age!), with a lot of time to get better at the game!
The Americal Contract Bridge League (ACBL) and the World Bridge Federation (WBF), as also the Bridge Federation of India are taking significant steps towards introducing this game, to children.
Why Should Children Learn to Play Bridge?
My summary view is that if it is acceptable for children to play Chess, it should be at least as acceptable to play Bridge. Here are some of the reasons that I have culled from secondary research, as well as my personal experience:
1. Bridge is a Sport!
The World Bridge Federation (WBF) is recognised by the International Olympic Committee. The WBF, together with FIDE (Chess), FMJD (Draught ) and IGF (Go) is founder member of IMSA (International Mind Sports Association) and is recognised by FISU (International University Sport Federation) and UNESCO (United Nation Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation).
Indian parents (and consequently, children) are still fascinated with/ by Cricket, and more recently, Badminton, thanks to world-beaters such as the World #1 Indian Cricket Team, IPL, and the likes of individual starts such as Kohli, Srikanth Kidambi and Sindhu.
As far as Mind Sports go, Chess is clearly perceived as the most cerebral game appropriate for children, while card games are meant for family fun during summer vacations... we need to start changing that in India, thanks to the many reasons on this blog post!
As an aside did you know that we recently had another 12-year-old Grandmaster in Chess from one school in Chennai - which boasts 4 Grandmasters to date!! And while we are here, please do take the time to read about 8-year old Anshul Bhatt, winner of the prestigious Joan Gerard Youth Awards at the World Youth Bridge Championships held at Lyon, France (2017). Not to mention the Gold Medal and two Bronze Medals for India, in the recently concluded Asian Games (2018), where Bridge was included for the very first time.
2. Boost to the Immune System
Marian Diamond was a pioneering scientist and educator who is considered one of the founders of modern neuroscience. She and her team were the first to publish evidence that the brain can change with experience and improve with enrichment, what is now called neuroplasticity.
In 2000, while at UC Berkeley, Diamond chose to study bridge players from an Orinda, Calif., women's bridge club because bridge is a game likely to stimulate an area of the brain - the dorsolateral cortex - that she suspected influenced the immune system.
Based on her previous work, and that of others, Diamond interpreted the findings as strong evidence that an area of the brain involved in playing bridge stimulates the immune system, in particular the thymus gland that produces white blood cells called T cells, or T lymphocytes.
3. Bucket-load of Soft Skills
A 2014 research performed by Tor Vergata (Rome) scientists (Becchetti, Fiaschetti, Marini) proved that Bridge players, due to their superior team play habits, are more likely to adopt cooperative behavior. Bridge is essentially a Partnership game. Trust, Communication, and Patience are essential attributes to winning at Bridge.
Listening, etiquette, concentration, dealing with winning and losing and many other social skills can be enhanced by playing Bridge. It is also a great way to make new friends from around the world! Imagine bumping into Warren Buffett at one of the many tournaments he plays in...
4. Significant +ve Impact on Test Scores
Children who play Bridge perform significantly better on standardised tests, compared to their non-playing counterparts.
Recent research by Dr Christopher Shaw on a group of 5th graders, all of similar academic ability to begin with, and noticed a 40% improvement in test scores on Science, 25% in Math, and 23% in Social Sciences - relative to their non-Bridge playing classmates, on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITSB).
Duplicate Bridge is a game of mathematics - the game is an effective and fun vehicle for introducing concepts such as Probability, Percentage, Inferential Reasoning and Proof, and Value Assessment to young children.
5. Opportunity to turn Pro
Chennai had the great fortune of hosting the 42nd World Bridge Championship in 2015. Most of the world's top players were playing. Over coffee, I met someone in the USA Team B, who I was told takes home nearly US$800,000 a year, doing the things he loves doing - playing Bridge globally!
I also read about good 16-year-olds in the US who make US$3000 per week, playing Bridge. While the money is admittedly much better in the Western world, we are increasingly part of the global world, and the opportunities are only going up. (It is quite another matter that on a recent Experiential Learning program we conducted for an International School in Chennai, nearly 30% of the batch of students were foreign nationals!)
6. Your Glory Days are always Ahead of You!
Unlike other physical/ contact sports, Mind Sports always tend to take you further from an age perspective. Benito Garozzo, #2 in the world overall ranking in 2017, is 91 today. In 2013, he won the Silver Medal at the European Open Championships...
Imagine learning a game intensely, and not having to drop it off the moment you get to college or the workplace!
Summing up, there is a lot going for introducing Bridge to the many gifted and talented children in India. Several schools across North America and Europe are increasingly introducing Bridge to their students. This trend is catching up in India as well, thanks to efforts of educators like Amaresh and others - the Bombay Scottish schools and the Bombay International School offer have ongoing programs, led by Amaresh. Tireless efforts on part of the members and the leadership of the Tamil Nadu Bridge Association (TNBA), that I am part of, are also noteworthy. TNBA is conducting a 7 week Summer Program for learning to play Bridge, based in Chennai.
Our effort during the Summer of 2019, is yet another small step.
Bridge, at GSS-Early Explorer (2019)
Amaresh Deshpande, one of our mentors, is a leading facilitator for Bridge teaching in India. Amaresh has kindly agreed to introduce Bridge to participants of the GSS Early Explorer program this summer, in Bangalore. He will do this by introducing key playing techniques, as well as through a kid-friendly board game created by him, Hool, which is now recognised as one of the more effective ways of getting children introduced to Bridge.
We will have sessions every evening, culminating in a mini-tournament of sorts for our participating students!
My Background in Bridge
I am a moderately-skilled Bridge player (though my partner does have a less generous view of my abilities!) who spends nearly 2-3 hours a day, playing Bridge online, while playing the occasional (2-3 times a quarter) face-to-face social bridge, thanks to us living 30+ km from city centre. 2018 was a reasonable year for our Bridge partnership, where we won a couple of tournaments, as also just failed to make a cut to the final selection round, for an opportunity to represent India in Mixed-Pairs events.