‘Bridge can get unfriendly very quickly’
As you might expect, I spend a lot of my weekends playing bridge. That is perfect, in some ways. About 15 weekends a year I’ll be away from my home in Herefordshire and my wife, Diana, playing in competitions around Britain. I’ll be abroad for a few further weekends, too – this year I’ve travelled to Turkey, Belgium, the United States (three times) and as you read this I’ll be heading to Bali for the World Championships.
I don’t like travelling much but once I arrive, I look forward to playing. In Bali all the teams will have won heats in their countries so you usually get the best players, but there are always some surprises. There is a fair element of luck in bridge so you can’t ever be certain that the team who should win will do so. The best players in the world are in the US, for instance, but their attending team this year happens to be a long way from their strongest. That gives everyone hope.
I know most people taking part because I’ve been running into them on the world bridge circuit for almost 40 years. It’s generally a friendly environment, but there is a greater competitive element than usual because we’re playing for our countries, as well as ourselves.
Things can get unfriendly very quickly if someone does something that another person doesn’t like. You get considerable displays of bad temper, and I’m afraid to say I’m as guilty of it as the next person. If I think I’ve been wronged, I feel a great sense of umbrage and want to tell the world that I’ve been slighted. Bridge is a passionate game, in many ways, and anger always bubbles away under the surface like a volcano.
At the Bali championships we’ll play three matches a day, which amounts to about 10 or 12 hours every day for two weeks. The judges like to test more than simple bridge ability so they make the games a test of endurance as well. I suppose they believe that if you play for long enough, the element of luck will even itself out. That isn’t true, of course, but you do feel a greater sense of kudos if you play for a longer time.
Bridge has changed a great deal since I first started playing as a teenager. My mum and dad were very keen players, but they wouldn’t let me start until I had my O-level results because they thought it would distract me from performing well in my exams.
My results were a catastrophe – I’m not sure whether that was me trying to get back at them or lack of ability – so they thought “to hell with it, we’ll teach you”.
I started playing in competitions with my dad when I was about 17. I grew up in Yorkshire, and the beauty of where we lived was that you could play the Wakefield club on a Monday, Dewsbury on Tuesday, Huddersfield on Wednesday, Leeds on Thursday and Bradford on a Friday. You can see why they didn’t want me to learn the game too early.
Dad and I played well together for a while – he was a talented but ill-disciplined player, and not a very good partner. We had our first big win at
Herbal tea or stiff drink? Peppermint tea, I think, or maybe a really strong glass of wine. Fish and chips followed by chocolate éclairs.
Player you most admire? Benito Garozzo, founder of the great Italian teams of the Fifties and Sixties, who only recently lost in the final of a major European championship in his eighties. He was the founding father of how the game developed.
Most memorable game? The first time I ever won the Gold Cup in 1983. We met one great team after another and proceeded to beat them all.
What are you listening to? This is very old fogeyish but I prefer the music of the Seventies and Eighties compared with modern – a lot of it passes me by. My car My record collection
Justified, the television series Cricket When my plane lands niche game, but now, thanks to the internet, it’s regaining a bit of impetus. At the recent Gold Cup event, we had a “crowd” of 3,500 people watching online, a vast improvement on the five or six who would usually be able to watch around the table.
Dress codes have tightened up too, which is a very good thing. I wrote an article for the Telegraph in 2007 about the terrible standards of clothing in bridge and it seemed to hit a nerve. I still wouldn’t say we are sartorial elegance personified now, but at least you don’t get those horrible people in T-shirts with sweat all down them, who raise their arms and the smell completely knocks you out. Now if we can just get rid of the sandals-with-no-socks look and stop exposing all those gnarled horrible feet, we’ll almost be there.
There have been times when I’ve been absolutely fed up with bridge. There’s only so much of it you can stand, and you become really stale if you play too much. Diana doesn’t play, thankfully. She wanted me to teach her years ago but I sidestepped it, and I’m very glad I did. She’s got to know the game fairly well anyway from typing up so many of my Telegraph columns.
They’ve been my full-time job since 1994, when the then-editor, Max Hastings, asked me to increase my initial contribution from one column a week to six. Then, two years later, Dominic Lawson rang me and said his Aunt Mildred wanted me to write for the Sunday Telegraph as well, and it’s been 364 days a year since then. I wasn’t going to turn down the chance to multiply my salary by three or four times, of course, but trying to think of seven hands a week is a much more difficult assignment than coming up with one. It becomes more and more of an art form.
In one simple column you can make up to 300 or 400 mistakes, so I have to check every single card and make sure the bidding is completely accurate. It takes a lot of care and attention, which is the boring side – the artistic bit is much more interesting.
I tend to do the columns in the morning and keep my afternoons free for other things. I still do some basic accountancy for a few friends of mine and I’m quite successful at sports betting – cricket and golf are my main fare. Other than that I play a few rounds of golf myself, but life’s mostly about keeping the wife happy.
We love walking together up behind our house, where it’s hilly without being mountainous and you can get wonderful views over the Malverns and the Brecon Beacons. We regularly trot up and down those on weekends and, if I’m not away, we always do a great big Sunday lunch with half a dozen or so of our lovely neighbours when we come down.
Tony Forrester will be representing England with his partner, David Gold, in the Bridge World Championships in Bali, Indonesia, from September 16-29. See ebu.co.uk for more details.
Wild card: Tony Forrester loves walking in the Brecon Beacons, top right