9 facts about contract bridge – the Asian Games medal event that counts Warren Buffet and Bill Gates among its fans

Bridge is a card game played using a standard deck, and is a favourite pastime for seniors and Wall Street investors alike.

The sport that won Team Singapore its third gold at the 18th Asian Games has created confusion on social media. Some netizens wonder what it is, while others question how it could possibly be considered a medal-worthy sport.

We break it down into nine easy facts:

1. It’s a playing card game for four people.

Four players are split into two teams of two, and teams play against each other for 13 rounds. Each player is dealt 13 cards, and plays one card per round. The most powerful card in every round (comparing them by suit and rank) wins the round.

Before a game, each pair indicates how many rounds they think they can win. Then they bid to give cards of one suit winning power over other suits. The pair that won the bid must win the number of rounds promised, or they lose the game.

Different points are given for winning different rounds. The more games a team wins, the more points they lose or gain when they lose or win subsequent games.

2. Though it’s not athletic, bridge is considered a “mind sport”.

Alongside chess, the intense mental acrobatics, strategy and calculation needed to win at a bridge game accords it the status of a ‘mind sport’ by the International Olympic Committee.

Though it’s not technically an Olympic medal event, bridge is still an Asian Games medal event because of a tradition of including board games – such as go, a Korean board game, and xiangqi, a Chinese strategy game – in the event lineup.

3. It was invented by an American on a cruise.

Bridge started as spin-off from a 17th century English card game called whist. The  gameplay of modern contract bridge was invented by American Harold Vanderbilt while idle on a cruise ship in 1925.

4. It’s got a reputation as an “old people’s game”.

Bridge is one of the most popular card games in the world, especially among the elderly. Much like the Chinese game of mah jong, bridge keeps the mind mentally active, and playing it is said to prevent dementia and depression.

Case in point: a significant number of bridge players at the Asian Games were 60 to 80 years old.

5. It’s a silent game: partners can’t look at each other, and no talking is allowed.

According to the rulebook from the Asian Games website, contract bridge partners must avoid eye contact to prevent teams from accusing one another of communicating secretly. This is because the challenge of bridge is for players to form strategies without knowing what their partner will do.

Even during bidding, partners can only communicate through writing messages.

6. There’s a ‘dummy player’ every round.

Every round, one player from the pair that won the bid will put their cards face up on the table. Their partner plays both hands. 

7.There’s a penalty if players take too long to finish their game.

Players don’t get to take their sweet time when choosing cards to play. For every 5 minutes the game exceeds a pre-set time limit, each pair get points deducted.

8. Fans of the game include Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and most of Wall Street.

Gates and Buffet are reportedly “chummy” from playing the game together for years, and they’re not alone. According to Time, the game is immensely popular among investors – we even ranked Wall Street’s best bridge players in this handy list.

9. We have the game (and not the POTUS) to thank for the phrase: “play your trump card”.

This is thanks to the game’s bidding system – cards from the winning suit, called trump cards, beat even the most powerful cards from other suits.