Tycoon, octogenarians compete as bridge makes silent Asian Games debut

As most athletes display their physical prowess at the Asian Games, players in their 20s to 80s, including Indonesia’s richest man, are flexing their mental muscles in the game of bridge, which made its debut at the 2018 edition of the regional games.

Organizers and players hope that acquiring greater international exposure for bridge will help build a case for its inclusion in future Olympics.

In hushed rooms in a convention center in Jakarta, dozens of tables with four chairs each are spaced equally for teams of two players to face off in intense card games that typically last more than two hours.

The game consists of four «deals» which involve the cards being distributed, bid upon, the game being played, and then scored.

As no spectators are permitted inside the playing room, there is no cheering to be heard. Coaches, team members and spectators can all watch the progression of games via monitors in a room located away from the play. From the viewing area, the players’ cards and other information is displayed on monitors.

Among some 215 players in the bridge tournament is multibillionaire Michael Bambang Hartono, the oldest athlete on Indonesia’s team at 78. He is credited with having helped bring the sport into the Asian Games program, despite concerns that the card game is a form of gambling.

(Multibillionaire Bambang Hartono, 78, the oldest athlete on Indonesia’s bridge team at the Asian Games in Jakarta)

«We are very happy because to include bridge was not easy,» said Bert Toar Polii, 64, who is a member of the Indonesian team and also a deputy chairperson on the board committee of the Indonesian Bridge Association.

«Bridge was not only rejected by the Olympic Council of Asia but also from Indonesia as they considered bridge gambling. This was the major problem. But at the end, our efforts paid off with the help of World Bridge Federation president» Gianarrigo Rona, he said.

Polii partners Hartono in the tournament. The tycoon, who has played the game since he was 6 years old and is escorted by security guards at all times, suggested the mindset needed by bridge players is similar to that required in the world of business.

«The decision-making process between bridge and business is the same. First, you gather information and data. From data, you analyze and then you make a decision on the strategy for winning a game. It’s the same as business,» Hartono, who has his own dedicated VIP room at the venue, said.

Hartono, along with his brother Budi Hartono, topped Forbes Magazine’s list of Indonesia’s 50 richest people for the 10th straight year in 2018. The brothers own the Djarum clove cigarette company and BCA Bank and have a combined net worth of more than $ 34 billion.

As a chair of the supervisory board of the Indonesian Bridge Federation, he has received a gold medal award from the World Bridge Federation in recognition for playing a significant role in convincing the OCA to include bridge in the games.

While bridge has been recognized by the International Olympic Committee as a «mind sport» along with chess, it failed in its bid for inclusion at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

(Japan’s (2nd from L and far R) and Jordan’s mixed teams facing off in a round-robin bridge game)

«We are quite happy that it is added to the Asian Games as a sport. We certainly hope that bridge will be known globally, possibly for the Olympics» said Singaporean bridge player Loo Choon Chou, 35. «It’s a mental sport where you really have to use a lot of logic and lots of problem-solving skills but also partnership.»

«That’s the nice thing about bridge, there’s both human and the mental intellectual capacity (at work),» he said, adding, «I think it’s good that you can appreciate the game without the need to be physically fit.»

Kiran Nadar, 67, of India also hopes bridge’s Asian Games debut will pave the way to the Olympics.

«It’s mental stimulation, makes you think and it’s challenging,» Nadar said of the game she took up when she was 10 but only played seriously decades later.

At the Asian Games, the world’s second-biggest multisport event after the Olympics, Kong Te Yang of the Philippines is the oldest bridge player at 85 and Li Yuan Yeoh of Malaysia, who is 21, the youngest.

Bridge has tens of millions of fans around the world, including Bill Gates and other notables such as the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. It is played at tournaments but also at social events.

According to the World Bridge Federation, billionaire investor Warren Buffett said, «Bridge is such a sensational game that I wouldn’t mind being in jail if I had three cellmates who were decent players.»

All — Kyodo News+

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