Bridge and its benefits

Bridge provides both mental stimulation and social engagement

Why do people play bridge?

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.

Henry Ford

First and foremost, people play because they enjoy it. Playing bridge is a fun activity which you can enjoy with friends and family of any age, anywhere in the world. All you need is a pack of cards, a table, and some like-minded people. Bridge players love the mental challenge. Each game played will offer a unique challenge of problems and solutions. Every single deal is different; every deal poses a new problem and the challenge of finding the solution is a great source of enjoyment - even more so if you find the answer!

The American Jazz composer Duke Ellington famously said, “a problem is your chance to do your best", and it won’t come as a surprise to know that bridge players soon develop special skills in problem solving! It’s frustrating for players when they don’t rise to the challenge, but tremendous when they are successful – whether through finding great technical play, by outwitting their opponents, or by co-operating really well to achieve success with their partner. Secondly, bridge is an excellent social game and can be played by everyone - players can meet new people, make new friends, take on new challenges and learn the game through the many bridge clubs and teachers. Like participating in any sport - be it a 'physical sport', or a 'mind sport' - playing bridge is good for you mentally and physiologically. Finally, you can play bridge anywhere! You can play locally and nationally; there are open, women’s and mixed; senior and junior events throughout the year. Next time it could be you! There is so much potential to play this wonderful game!

Research on the Positive effect on wellbeing

Recent research has found that playing bridge has a statistically significant positive effect on wellbeing. Researchers at Stirling University, in conjunction with English Bridge Education and Development, as part of their ongoing work on the health and wellbeing benefits of playing bridge, undertook a survey of over 7,000 people, most of whom were bridge players. A majority of respondents indicated that playing bridge brought benefits to them personally in the form of the game having a competitive element, facilitating socialising with friends, and – most commonly – being mentally stimulating and deriving enjoyment from the activity. This contributed to a greater sense of wellbeing than average – comparison was possible with data from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging.

  • McDonnell, D., Punch, S. and Small, C. (2017) Individual Wellbeing and Bridge: An Empirical Analysis, Aylesbury: English Bridge Education & Development (EBED), a summary; the full report

Research at the University of Leipzig also showed that “people who came up with ‘wellbeing’ strategies that involved other people were more satisfied with their lives one year later…(than) people who came up with strategies that did not explicitly involve others”. Playing card games with others is cited as an example of an activity which some of those in the former category has taken up (link)

The Educational Advantages of Bridge

The study commissioned by the EBU at St. Paul 's School in Manchester clearly shows a positive development of the young people involved. This study concentrated more on social skill development, rather than improvements of a purely academic nature. Experience shows that bridge teaches:

  • Sorting into groups For young children the idea of grouping items is central to early learning in mathematics. In Mini Bridge and bridge cards have to be sorted into the four suits (Image removed.,Image removed.Image removed.,Image removed. which, in turn, have a hierarchy and then into ranks within suits. This requires knowledge of the ranks (ace, king, queen and jack rank above 10, 9... 3, 2).
  • Aids to numeracy Counting points In Mini Bridge , adding the point count of the partnership hands to decide whether to try for part-score or game Counting suits as the cards are played. This is a very difficult concept for all but the best bridge players. At an elementary level it is only practical to count one suit (usually the trump suit) Calculating the score after each hand has been played.
  • Probability There is opportunity to use probability at all levels of the game Knowledge of how cards split (with 5 cards out the likely split of 3-2 is 68%, 4-1 split is 28%, 5-0 split is 4%) Knowledge that a finesse is an evens chance, in the absence of other information.
  • Deduction Know from the allocation of points in Mini Bridge or by listening to the auction of opponents in bridge that one line of play may be superior over another Deduce that a finesse is a better line of play by using the opponents auction, even though numerically it may appear inferior.
  • Rule following Bidding and playing in turn Knowing that the absolute rule of card play is to follow suit when you can Keeping a `poker face' and not letting your emotions give away vital information.
  • Developing Strategy Planning the play of the hand before playing a card to the first trick by using a SWOT analysis. In bridge this takes the form of Strengths: Counting your top winners Weaknesses: How many tricks you are short of your target Opportunities: Which suits offer the prospect of generating the additional tricks you need Threats: What can your opponents do to thwart your plans; what steps can you take to avoid danger Learning that in the bidding you must plan the way you will describe your hand.
  • Team Building Unlike chess, which is a single player game, bridge is a partnership game You have to work as a team understanding that bidding is a dialogue between partners aiming to reach the best contract Understanding that defence is a partnership activity.
  • Mental capacity Bridge requires concentration. You have to think about what you are doing, who bid what and who played which card It requires great mental stamina. At the highest international level you need to be able to play for 8 hours a day for up to a fortnight. The equivalent of 2 marathons a day for 2 weeks.

Bridge and Older People

It has been proven that undertaking some form of activity that tests mental agility on a daily basis helps to protect our older population from dementia and Alzheimer’s. There is also a body of research which demonstrates that social interaction amongst the elderly can stave off cognitive decline. Although not a cure for dementia, there is evidence that playing bridge can contribute to helping to keep the brain healthy

  • “A Nov. 2000 study by a University of California, Berkeley researcher, Marian Cleeves Diamond, found that playing contract bridge leaves people with higher numbers of immune cells. "Contract bridge was ideal for what we were after," she said. "It is the closest activity to a challenging card-sorting task that also contains multiple factors that should stimulate the dorsolateral cortex. Bridge players plan ahead, they use working memory, they deal with sequencing, initiation and numerous other higher order functions with which the dorsolateral cortex is involved."
    Diamond, M. C. 2003. Bridge and its effect on the immune system. University of California, Berkeley
  • “Seniors who regularly engaged in pastimes that stretched their minds… lowered their risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and other dementias by as much as 75 percent, compared with those who didn't exercise their minds….Verghese's team also solved a chicken-and-egg problem… Do mental activities really prevent dementia, or does dementia cause people to lose interest in mental activities? By screening out anyone who might have had dementia at the outset from their analysis, the researchers showed that leisure activities influenced dementia in their study, and not the other way around.”
    Washington Post, 2003 reporting on; Verghese, J. 2003. The effects of mind games on Alzheimer’s and dementia. Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx. USA
  • Social Disengagement and Incident Cognitive Decline in Community-Dwelling Elderly Persons - Accessible through Annals of Internal Medicine, American College of Physicians. http://www.annals.org/cgi/content/abstract/131/3/165

    Association of Daily Intellectual Activities With Lower Risk of Incident Dementia Among Older Chinese Adults - JAMA Psychiatry, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/articleabstract/2681169?resultClick=1