A bridge of opportunities
The game of bridge has become popular with seniors as it tests their memory and they get to meet like-minded seniors.
BY: Eleanor Yap
Sixty-four-year-old Zain Moledina started playing the game of bridge (also called contract bridge) when he was 10. He was living in Hong Kong at the time with his parents and one day, his father’s friends were playing bridge. They needed a fourth player and one of them asked him to play. Said Moledina: “I told him I didn’t know the game but he was insistent and told me I had watched the game numerous times and I should know that the highest card wins.” It was more than just that though, he laughed.
He ended up playing and admitted he made numerous errors. But that whole experience made him determined to understand and master the game. He went on to play bridge at the Indian Recreation Club competition where he came in second place. However, when he came back to Singapore at the age of 16, bridge had to take a backseat as Moledina focused on his studies.
In 1975, he would hang out with an army friend who ran a warehouse and during lunchtime, he would teach his friend and some others how to play bridge. However, it didn’t go any further till 1999 when one of his friends that he played bridge with, asked him to organise a game for his boss, who also enjoyed playing the game and was coming in from the US. And in 2000, together with his ex-wife, started a bridge section at the Singapore Recreational Club, which today boasts over 50 members.
These days, you can find the father of two playing in at least two major tournaments and several smaller ones a year, and has won numerous medals. He is also a qualified bridge director – “this just means I know the rules of the game”. The retiree is passionate about the game that he runs two blogs on bridge, including the largest collection of bridge jokes in the world!
An Olympic sport
Bridge is played with a standard deck of 52 cards and involves four players in two competing partnerships, with partners sitting opposite each other around the table. It is about remembering and counting the cards, communication as well as strategy. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are well known in bridge circles.
Moledina explained that bridge is an Olympic sport which many may be unaware. “This doesn’t mean it is played at the Olympics, just like golf and chess. However, bridge is a sport that was actually played at the SEA Games in Indonesia recently where Singapore won several golds.
He added: “It is also a misconception that because you play with cards, it is like poker or blackjack. Bridge has nothing to do with that and it is technically not a gambling game. All the universities and many junior colleges have bridge clubs and hopefully, one day secondary schools will do so too. The schools and parents are probably nervous about the existing perception.” He added that even though the Singapore Bridge Youth team came in third in the world behind US and Italy, and all of its players are homegrown, the sport doesn’t receive much publicity and is looked upon as an “orphan sport”.
Gaining in popularity
Moledina was playing at the Active Ageing Contract Bridge Open Pairs Tournament 2014 in September jointly organised by the People’s Association Active Ageing Council and Geylang West CC Bridge Club, and is part of the Active Mind Games Festival. The annual event is open to anyone age 50 and above, and participants do not have to be members from the Geylang West CC Bridge Club or other CC bridge clubs. Incidentally, Moledina came in first.
Attesting to the popularity of the game, 84 players registered this year, an increase of 24 from last year, including the oldest, 94-year-old Captain Ho Weng Toh, a former World War II bomber pilot. Shared the convener for the Geylang West CC Bridge Club (one of the biggest CC bridge clubs with the most seniors), Lau Lee Chin, 66, “The game of bridge is very popular to seniors as they bond through the game. Some even go travelling together.” She shared that last year, there were 110 members and that has since grown to 150 members.
However, the “director” of the tournament, Carlton Parker, 74, shared that it could be even more popular but it isn’t. “That is partly a language issue I suppose. The game is invariably played in English, although you can do so with a very limited vocabulary.” He shared bridge is very popular in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
“Seniors and retired people have the time, for one thing. Also, it’s not a strenuous activity. Basically you sit at a table and then get up and walk around every 15 to 20 minutes. The attraction is the challenge, and it’s a continuing one; no matter how good you get, you can still get better,” said Parker.
He added another perk to the game is the social interaction between your partner at the table and also having friends playing in the games. “You wonder how they are doing in the room and you get to catch up with people you haven’t seen for a while during the tea break,” said Parker. “There are almost no barriers to taking part in this activity. If you can sit in a chair and hold and see your cards, you can play bridge.”
Passionate about the game
Another senior who just can’t get enough of bridge is 75-year-old ex-librarian Jenny Soh. She attended a bridge course when she was in her 50s but didn’t have time to play. Once she retired and this gave her more time, she decided to learn about it and slowly, she became good at it.
Today, she teaches bridge on a voluntary-basis to seniors at her home and at various places for six hours a week. “I have students who don’t know the cards and so I have to start from the beginning. After two years, they become quite good.” Out of the 30 she has taught so far, the oldest was a 77-year-old woman. However, she noticed men weren’t interested in the game. “Bridge is good for seniors as it is a mental exercise and it requires a lot of memory work.”
Unlike Moledina, Soh sticks to social bridge and tournaments like the Active Ageing Contract Bridge Open Pairs Tournament 2014. And the mother of two and grandmother of two also plays bridge online, three to four hours in the mornings, and once a week with the NUSS SConnect group.