Archive for June, 2017

For all the bridge players in China

I got taken to task by Paul Marston recently for quoting in the last APBF Bulletin in Seoul the number 32M bridge players in China, which he thought to be pure fantasy.

Certainly if you look around there are some wild figures out there. Judy Kay-Wolff in a blog post earlier this year states that ‘TODAY there are over 200,000,000 children learning and playing bridge in China. That is NOT A MISPRINT … OVER 200,000,000 IN CHINA …’

Unfortunately Judy gives no indication as to the source of this figure and as I write, I hope for a response to a query I left.

Both China and Indonesia mobilise youth in bridge in a way that maybe without parallel. But one would need these countries to have no more than hundreds of young players for this to be true.

I noticed a comment by Dunga Lui who is a young Chinese bridge player on Bridge Winners a while back to the effect that in China ‘no school has bridge as a REGULAR curriculum, they have it as an elective activity after regular school time (about 3-5pm Monday to Friday.) Also, not 70 schools having bridge that many in Beijing, it’s about 20 or so I think.’

I might add that some exclusive schools may have hundreds of students playing, but that isn’t going to get us very far on the way to 200M.

I wondered if I could extract more information from him about the situation there. He kindly suggested the following could be relied upon in broad terms.

1. CCBA(China Contract Bridge Association) has 90,000 registration members.

2. China has less than 1,000 PRO players, and most of them have another part time job.

3. Our National Championships (like CHN NABC) normally have 1,200 tables TOTAL (Compare to NABC about 10,000 tables).

4. We have quite a few regionals (about 30), each would have about 70 teams to attend. But we don’t have many clubs, so PROs only find job in regionals and nationals.

5. Roughly estimated, China has about 1.5 million people who know how to play bridge and 30,000 active competition players.

6. The youth bridge in China is growing well in recent years; in some provinces we have and education department or physical department of bureau supporting bridge elective classes in middle schools and primary schools as I mentioned in other threads. Also CCBA holds lectures more than twice a months in different universities.

7. Children’s bridge centralizes in metropolis such as Beijing and Shanghai, you can understand that because people there are well educated they like their child to learn new things. Beijing has 2,000 children playing bridge (under 15) while Shanghai is better which has 6,000. Other cities they have less.

8. Now there is a good bridge soft company in China named Synrey (it has a international version you can find in app store) which has more than 200,000 register users and 20,000 active daily users.

That last comment follows on from the problems that were faced in 2014 with the online viewing of the world championships hosted in China, as discussed on Bridge Winners (and no doubt elsewhere) at the time. By the sound of it the WBF made an unholy alliance. It’s a digression from the topic at hand, but worth recording. At the time Westerners were wondering why they weren’t able to view properly online the world championships despite the WBF’s arrangement.

Ourgame is a comprehensive online card games company, it does not make money/keep market by bridge which is just such a small piece of cake, but bridge has its unique world impact such as international events. So they spend money on bridge, buy the decency, and then with the satisfaction of government, they could make more money by their relations.

Base on that logic, they have finished their job. In regard to bridge and audience? They do not even care about bridge.

Once one looks past registered numbers of players in bridge, it is all but impossible to determine what’s happening behind that public scene. I will mention, not for the millionth time, that ‘bridge’ is so generic it’s a disastrous name. A simple way of getting some idea of the number of chess players in the world is to extrapolate from the number of chess sets (online sales, for example) whereas in bridge there is no possibility of such a thing. However many households own a deck of cards, no conclusion can be drawn about numbers of bridge players.

Although I understood Paul’s indignation, nonetheless it bothers me to draw the conclusions he has from at best tenuous information. After all, it is true that important men at the top of China going back many years were bridge fans and if they decided on a mobilisation at a grass roots level, it would surely happen. From this point of view, it strikes me that it is entirely possible that a large number of people in China suddenly became bridge players.

I followed up with Patrick Choy who recalls that in a meeting with LI Tie Ying, then Vice Premier and a keen player, he advised that in China there were 400M card players in China, with an estimate of 10% being bridge players.

Later on, I did enquire into the basis of the 10% of the 400 card players. On the mountainous West side of the country, card games is the main activities which helped the farmers to enjoy their past time, particularly in the community centres. Since the late eighties, bridge was introduced nation wide to junior, high schools and universities. Furthermore along the developing coastal area, all major corporations normally formed their own bridge clubs employing professionals to play for the corporations in Sectional/ Regional/ National Championship.

The Chinese Bridge Association did not have a register of the community and school/ university bridge player. They only have a register of players who played in the Regional/ National championship. There were however estimated numbers of community and schools/ universities played as reported from the provincial and municipal bridge organization. During the past two decades, I and the WBF Presidents have the pleasure of visiting the schools and community centers and I have always been impressed by the intensity of bridge activities. At the end I inclined to believe the 10% of card players guesstimate, but as a safely margin I put a 20% discount.

To this we have to add the observation that computer/video games are now in a state of dominance. This is a sudden transformation across the world over the last decade or so. The change is probably most dramatic in countries like China, Japan and Korea with extremely strong intellectual games cultures which are being decimated.

For example, Korea has lost millions of Go (Baduk) players to these games and now whole generations of children grow up in a milieu which could not be more different from that provided by the culture of Go.  There are still a couple of hundred professional Go players in Seoul (meaning living on prize money, I believe, not scratching out a living as ‘professionals’ do in bridge) and there is a 24 hour TV channel for the game. The TV channel’s studios are in a four storey building which is just for Baduk. There are clubs everywhere, but a Westerner wouldn’t be a chance to find one which is partly why I questioned Marston’s conclusion that there weren’t any bridge clubs in Shanghai (to speak of) simply because he hadn’t seen any.

No doubt the same has happened to bridge. Patrick Choy says that over the last decade ‘The population of card players have been sharply decreasing. Surprisingly, in my visit with Gianarrigo to China right before the Seoul Championship the Chinese Bridge Association’s guesstimate is it maybe less than 10 million bridge players. I have planned to visit China in July to review this situation.’

I’m guessing that this is only noticeable in China (maybe Indonesia?) because so many people there play bridge. As only a tiny handful of people play in the rest of the world, and as they are mostly old, this is not an impact bridge will notice. Elsewhere kids aren’t playing video games instead of bridge because they never played bridge in the first place. Indeed, if bridge continues to market itself as a game for old people, I wonder if there is a future where people who have spent their younger years glued to screens doing instant reflex gaming, will find a non-reflex game attractive as their reflex skills deteriorate.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Patrick Choy and Dunga Lui for sharing their observations about bridge in China.





June 21, 2017 at 7:29 pm Leave a comment

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