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Crossing the bridge of trumps and tricks
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It is well-held theory that following the invention of paper in China about 2,000 years ago, card playing-around the world-quickly followed. And why not, some would say.

After all, people had plenty of spare time in the evenings as there were no computers, television sets, telephones, fax machines or cars.

And it was a great excuse to come together. Across Europe they would play in taverns, inns, at countryside homes, in royal palaces, in the mansions of the rich, or in the private rooms of the clergy.

China was no different. Chinese people love to play cards.

They still do.

And games like bridge, for example, which, although European in origin, have found a neat foothold here with players keen to test their skills at the mind-challenging game.

Shanghai is no exception and on the third Friday of every month, a group of dedicated players gather at the Shanghai Bankers Club in Pudong for their monthly duplicate bridge tournament.

"Unlike other parts of the world, there is no 'regular' organized bridge tournament in Shanghai," says Nancy Neumann, a managing partner of Hong Kong Executive Search which sponsors the event. "Here competitive bridge is geared more toward professional players."

Neumann, a member of the Hong Kong Bridge Association, says this prompted her to start the monthly gathering in January last year.

So on Friday night at the Banker's Club on the 52nd floor of the Bank of China Tower which offers impressive views of the Bund at night, players ranging in age from 20s to 70s will do battle.

Last month 16 enthusiasts played 24 hands over about three hours.

They tended to be intermediate- or advanced-level players but Neumann is keen for more people to get involved and her group is happy to teach interested beginners.

"It's been mostly Chinese players but some expats have played in the past year," she says, adding that the tournament organizer speaks English.

While it is a card game, bridge is regarded as a sport and locally is evolving from the social to competitive arena, says George Wong, coach of the Shanghai Professional Women's Bridge Team.

"You can enjoy bridge at all levels. At the competitive level, you're demanding of yourself. You don't want to make any mistake," Neumann says.

When they last met, her group which boasts experience ranging from 10 years to more than 50 years were deadly serious during card play. But they still managed to share plenty of laughs and socialize in between games.

Sofia Chok says she was ecstatic to find out the opportunity to play at the Banker's Club.

"I haven't missed a game here. It's not easy to find a competitive game. The more you play, the more you like to play," Chok says.

"Bridge is good training for your memory and logic," says Anthony Fong, who has more than 50 years of experience. "It's a game of high technique. You need to read about it, analyze it." Bridge was not always called bridge and many believe its origins can be traced back to the early 16th century and a game called "whist."

Whist, which derived from an even older game called Ruff and Honours, was played widely in the 18th and 19th centuries but evolved into modern-day bridge in the late 1800s. Around the 1890s bridge was introduced to the United States and players like Harold Vanderbilt became the pioneers and forerunners of the game.

In 1925 Vanderbilt introduced rules, principles, treatments and even a scoring table that exist today.

As for the name no one is quite sure. Some believe it may come from the Russian word biritch or britch, which apparently meant an announcer or heralder of some news or event.

One Website suggests the term comes from the Galata Bridge in Istanbul because in the late 1800s players would cross the bridge to play cards in local coffee houses.

These days the name does not really concern relative Chinese newcomers like Marbin Zhong who is in his late 20s. He's been playing for more than 10 years after picking up the game while studying at university.

"This is my favorite card game. It helps people to think. I think it's a good activity," Zhong says. "I play with friends and come here for more competitive play."

For more information, contact Crystal Gu at Hong Kong Executive Search on 6289-7676 or It costs 50 yuan (US$7) for members of the Shanghai Bankers Club and 80 yuan for non-members. Small prizes are awarded each month.

What is bridge?

Bridge is a card game

derived from whist involving four people or groups of four people, playing in pairs.

In the first case, the game is usually played in a rubber format and the winner is the pair that accumulates the greatest number of points (awarded according to certain rules) at the end of the rubber.

In the second case, or duplicate bridge, the same distribution of cards is played at all the tables and the winning pair is decided by comparing the results from each table.

The game itself is considered to be the most mentally stimulating card game ever conceived. The key is practice.

Key dates

1742: The first book devoted to whist appeared - "Edmond Hoyle's Short Treatise."

1857: The first game of duplicate whist was played in London. It was the forerunner of modern duplicate bridge.

1903: British civil servants in India developed the practice of bidding for the privilege of calling the trump suit.

1925: American multi-millionaire Harold S. Vanderbilt changes the course of bridge introducing new rules.

1931: Bridge books "The Culbertson Summary" and "Culbertson's Blue Book" were best-sellers.

1958: Charles Goren appeared on the cover of Time magazine and dubbed "The King of Aces." The story proclaims bridge the United States' No. 1 card game."

Terms to know

Auction: The bidding phase of bridge.

Balanced hand: A hand without voids and singletons. Shapes 4-3-3-3 or 4-4-3-2 are examples of balanced hands.

Convention: Bid which has a special meaning.

Honor: Any of the five highest cards in a suit: Ace, King, Queen, Jack and 10. The 10 is an honor card without point value.

Intermediate cards: 10 and 9 in any suit are called intermediate cards.

Suit: Any of the four sets of 13 playing cards - spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs.

Trick: The cards played and won in a single round.

Trumps: Any card in the contract suit.

(Shanghai Daily February 20, 2008)

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