Bridge at the 2018 Asian Games: A sport, or not a sport?

The card game’s oldest competitor in Jakarta reveals its wide-ranging benefits

Kong Te Yang is 85 years old and doesn’t run, kick or jump… but is competing at the Asian Games.

Kong is a world-class bridge player. That’s right, the ancient card game made its debut at the 2018 Asian Games, alongside paragliding, skateboarding, jet ski, sport climbing and Esports.

But the Filipino is far from an anomaly as an elder bridge competitor in Jakarta.

Two of his rivals are 81-year-old Lee Hung Fong (the richest man in Indonesia according to Forbes who won bronze), and Michael Bambang Hartono who is 78.

Can bridge be considered a sport?

Whether bridge can be considered a sport or not is a hot topic.

Kong’s hopes people will open their minds to a game that tests strength of mind, rather than body.

“I suggest (that people) be broader in spirit and broader in mind, because the mind can eventually see our humanity and the limits of our physical strengths,” Kong told Reuters.

Secretary of the World Bridge Federation Simon Fellus, who wrote his degree thesis on bridge, argued that the role of luck could dictate whether it is considered a sport or not.

“There isn’t much luck involved. In bridge the aspect of the fortune is at a minimum level, while in all the other card games it is very important.”

Bridge enjoys a global playing base and infrastructure comparable to any traditional sport, Peter Stockdale, Communications Manager of the English Bridge Union told the Olympic Channel.

_“It is not just something that people play at home, it’s a world game with all the attributes that the same physical games have.

“The recognition in the Asian Games means that other continental organizations may look to include it in the future. Involvement in the Olympic Games may be a long way of but it’s certainly not impossible.”_

The World Bridge Federation is recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and adheres to Anti-Doping Rules, as approved by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Competitions tend to be very long affairs – sometimes played over six hours or more – and subsequently there are certain forbidden stimulants.

Over 200 players from 14 nations are competing in Jakarta for the honour of becoming the first Asian Games bridge champion.

Bridge’s benefits

Bridge is seen by many as an effective tool to improve mental ability.

In the same way that you’ve to train your muscles to do any physical sport, there’s an element of brain training and practice that you have to develop to be good at bridge,” Stockdale told Olympic Channel.

Fellus echoed this sentiment, highlighting in particular the game’s benefit to older players.

“Doing mental activities has been shown to help delay dementia and other illnesses.”

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The basic premise (source: Asiangames2018.com)

Bridge is a team game played between two teams of two. Partners sit opposite each other and social interaction is key.

A session of bridge consists of several deals (also called hands or boards). A hand is dealt, the bidding (or auction) proceeds to a conclusion and then the hand is played. Finally, the hand's result is scored.

The aim of a single deal is to achieve the highest score with given cards. The score is affected by two principal factors: the number of tricks bid in the auction, and the number of tricks taken during play.

Elder Olympians

As you may have figured out my now, age is no barrier to playing bridge.

However it is also not necessarily a barrier to being an Olympian either.

Here are some of the Olympic Games’ oldest participants.

Oscar Swahn - Has the honour of being the oldest ever Olympian. The Swedish shooter first won Olympic gold aged 60 and his last came at the 1920 Olympics at the ripe age of 72.

Sybil Queenie Newall -The English archer is still the oldest female gold medal winner. She became Olympic champion at the 1908 London Olympic Games aged 53.

Lorna Johnstone – is the oldest woman to participate at any Olympic Games. Johnstone was 70 when she competed at Munich 1972 in the equestrian event.

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