‘Bridge can get un­friendly very quickly’

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

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

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