Happy to play mind games
Students Louis Lee Lam and Sam Tseng Tsz-chuen may look like magicians when handling a pack of playing cards. Yet the duo are among millions of people who are devoted to one of the world's most popular 'mind games' - bridge.
Despite its global appeal, bridge's popularity among Hong Kong's teenagers faces strong competition from other activities. 'There's no doubt now that fewer schools are sending teams to play in competitions,' says Sam, 16, a Form Four student at Diocesan Boys' School, in Mong Kok.
'There are many leisure activities at schools and many students don't have the patience to learn how to play bridge.
'I used to instruct a lot of younger schoolmates, but now I don't do it as much. But luckily there are still some beginners wanting to learn the game.'
Bridge - also called contract bridge - is a tactical game of chance using a standard pack of 52 cards. You need a partner to play; in face-to-face games, partners usually sit opposite each other as they try to win sets or 'tricks' of cards. If you have two more teammates, they can play at the same time at another table. People also play bridge online, using 'virtual tables'.
A player's position at a table is identified by one of the points of the compass - North, East, South and West. In each game, you need to:
deal 13 cards - placed face down - randomly to players;
bid on the number of tricks that each partnership thinks it can win;
display the cards, one by one, and;
calculate the final score, by comparing the total number of tricks actually won with the number given during the bidding stage.
To complete a game, you may need to play either eight, 16 or 32 different rounds of cards, depending on the type of tournament.
Although bridge players don't use a racquet, or move around during the game, it is considered a competitive sport. The International Olympic Committee has granted bridge (and chess) Recognised International Sports Federations status, but it has yet to accept either of the 'mind sports' into the official Olympic programme.
The Hong Kong Contract Bridge Association is an official member of the Sports Federation & Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China.
Louis, 18, a Form Six student at Kwun Tong Maryknoll College, has been a member of Hong Kong's youth team for two years. He was taught bridge by his older schoolmates in Form One, and loves to come up with the best ways to win the game.
Louis, who will compete at this month's 14th World Youth Team Championships in Shanghai, says experienced players rarely show emotion during games. 'If they do, they might offer a clue to their opponents and help them work out a winning strategy,' he says. 'We also don't speak when we play; all bids are marked on paper and pushed to the centre of the table.'
Audiences - just as much as players - have to obey the rules of bridge, he says. 'Spectators are only allowed to watch one pair's hand in each round and mustn't show any reaction when behind the players. Players have the right to ask the audience to leave; they can also declare they don't want spectators sitting behind them before the game starts.'
Sam, who will lead his school team from September, chairs the committee running the Secondary School Bridge League, an inter-school competition formed by bridge lovers. 'My uncle taught me to play bridge when I was only six or seven, and I learned the sport systematically when I was in Form One,' he says.
He and Louis will play in the league's annual Rose Bowl competition tomorrow at the Diocesan Boys' School's auditorium. Admission is free, if you wish to see them play.
For details, go to https://sites.google.com/site/secondaryschoolbridge/