World of bridge rocked by unsportsmanlike conduct

Texting at the card table is becoming a major annoyance. Picture: Toby Williams
Texting at the card table is becoming a major annoyance. Picture: Toby Williams
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THE sedate world of bridge has been rocked by the revelation that unruly behaviour at the card table has forced organisers of the game to issue etiquette lessons to curb unsportsmanlike conduct.

Infractions including loud and aggressive behaviour, hectoring less experienced players, using offensive language, gloating, hesitation, impatience, emotional outbursts and texting at the card table have all been reported to officials of the card game’s governing body.

With bridge sessions often lasting up to three or four hours, players say that feelings can run high in the highly competitive game with participants politely “psyching out” opponents at different tables. The teamwork element of pairs can also break down, ­especially if one’s partner appears to be taking an in­ordinate amount of time to reach a decision.

The situation has deteriorated to such an extent, the Scottish Bridge Union (SBU), which oversees Scotland’s 160 bridge clubs, has launched the “Better Behaviour at Bridge” campaign.

Liz McGowan, chairwoman of the SBU’s laws and ethics committee admitted that behaviour at the table has worsened in recent years. She claimed the unsporting antics of established players was putting off newcomers.

“A number of people taking early retirement in their fifties and sixties are deciding to take up bridge. Previous generations started much younger, perhaps when at university. This means newcomers tend to be older and find it more difficult to pick up the game. They want a nice enjoyable game and are put off by those who have been playing longer,” she said.

McGowan, also The Scotsman’s bridge columnist, said the SBU had launched their etiquette campaign after a consultation by its director revealed some people were deterred from taking part in competitions because of perceived rudeness in the game.

“You do get some John McEnroes in the bridge world who insist on their rights and are not considerate of other people and how things should go,” she said.

In a message to all clubs McGowan said: “One perceived reason for falling numbers in our clubs and events is that newcomers are intimidated: perhaps by unfamiliarity with the demands of a tournament – or could it be the behaviour of more experienced players? We should all be familiar with Law 74: Conduct and etiquette. Let us each examine our conscience and ask: could we do more to help others enjoy our game?”

One club that is tackling the issue is the New Melville Bridge Club in Corstorphine, Edinburgh, which has more than 300 members. In its April newsletter, chairman Alan Goodman said: “The ultimate aim is to be able to enjoy the game without feeling threatened or apprehensive about what they can or cannot do at the table. People need reminding that they need to act ethically because there are elements of the game which involve lots of interaction between the you and your partner.

“Players really need to be whiter than white, but there are occasional incidents, perhaps swearing, and instances of a husband and wife sitting opposite each other and being critical of each other. It is not widespread though it happens from time to time and it does put a lot of people off joining. But we certainly don’t want new members to feel intimidated, bullied or frightened of doing anything wrong.”

Duncan Stewart, secretary of the Cairngorm Bridge Club in Aviemore, whose 50 members are mostly retired, said poor behaviour was caused by the passion generated by the game. “It’s exciting and challenging like any game such as rugby or cricket. If people get excited they forget the rules. It’s no different to rows on the golf course,” said Stewart, a retired entrepreneur.

The legendary “Mr Bridge”, editor of Mr Bridge magazine and the eponymous website, said: “I don’t think all the carry on is putting people off. But bridge is an absolute throbbing sensation of a game which people get absolutely passionate about. I think there have been two murders in America and I’ve heard of someone pinning their opponent up against the wall then banging his head off it.”

Last month Michael Elinescu, 61, and Entscho Wladow, 71, both distinguished German doctors and bridge world champions, were stripped of their gold medals for exchanging signals through coughing.

In Britain the average age of bridge players is the mid-sixties, with the majority retired professionals such as lawyers, teachers and doctors.