Bridge club adding card-carrying membersWhen you sit down at a bridge table, you never know who you’ll meet. Deng Xiaoping was a bridgeaholic. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are bridge partners when they aren’t making billions.
“Bridge is a mind sport -- it makes people think hard and act strategically,” says Kwon Yung-il, president of the Korean Bridge Association.
It’s 1:30 p.m on a Saturday at a Lutheran church in Hannam-dong, and more than 40 people have gathered at 10 tables to play bridge. About threequarters of the players are women, most of them middle-aged and dressed elegantly. To start play, one of the women stands up and gives brief instructions. The room falls silent and the players concentrate intently while placing cards on the table. From time to time, there is a murmur when someone at a table bids. After six hands, players rotate to another table. The hall buzzes with a blend of contained excitement and disappointment. A session at the church usually lasts three hours.
Bridge has always been considered a complex game. “Of course, the first two to three months of learning are quite arduous, but once you get the hang of it, you become addicted,” says Han Hong-seop, a senior adviser at Danam Group, an information technology firm that sponsors Korea’s only big bridge tournament, the Danam Cup. The tournament was established two years ago, and was held in May this year. Mr. Han has played bridge for 25 years, and his wife is directing today’s games.
Yuliya Dobrynina, a Russian native, is playing at the church this day. Ms. Dobrynina, who has been playing bridge for three years, says she is still fascinated by it. “I find bridge to be quite rewarding because I’m always up against very witty and intelligent people.”
When Ms. Dobynina started sitting in with the Korea Bridge Association group, she says that numerous foreigners showed up regularly. “But now many foreigners play at home because they find Korean women to be too competitive.”
The public relations director of the bridge organization, Yoo Kyung-won, says, “Bridge is a hobby that requires time and effort; but because of the investment that goes into it, it becomes more riveting.”
Ms. Yoo hopes that bridge becomes as popular among children as baduk (go) is. “Bridge teaches cooperation and manners,” she says. “Even in China, bridge has become a key afterschool activity. Kids’ bridge with easier rules can be taught, too.”
But bridge hasn’t really taken off in Korea, where many people mistakenly equate it with poker. “Many people are under the misconception that bridge is like gambling,” says Mrs. Kwon. “We never bet, although prizes are given when we have sponsored contests.”
When bridge first came to Korea more than 50 years ago, it was mainly played at U.S. Army bases or by foreign diplomats at their residences. Korean diplomats who had lived abroad and learned the game also began to play at home as a social hobby.
In 1993, the local bridge association was founded by Mrs. Kwon and two other fans of the game, Min Il-mee and Han Myung-jin. Retired ambassadors’ wives helped recruit more players. Now, members meet on a regular basis and are trying to set up a permanent place for their games.
So there may be hope for bridge in Korea -- in fact, a department store, Shinsegae, offers bridge classes taught by master players.
The association now has 347 members divided into 14 subgroups. The members can find a game of bridge every day of the week. Regular meetings are held at the Seoul Club, near the Shilla hotel in central Seoul, at 7 p.m. every Thursday.
For more information, visit the association’s Web site at www.kcbl.org or call (02) 3445-3847.
by Choi Jie-ho