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Teach bridge in schools says grand master

Gisborne bridge player Phil Beale, who has qualified as a grand master, believes the sport would benefit young people if it was taught in schools.

Beale, 63, recently reached the status of grand master — the first player from the Gisborne club to do so.

It puts him in the top 2 percent of the country’s players.

To qualify as a grand master a player must acquire 500 A points and 500 B points. This requires an exhaustive series of playing in tournaments against the country’s best players.

Typical of that would be the New Zealand pairs in which he, with regular partner Michelle England, has twice reached the finals amid a field of 400 highly skilled players — no mean achievement in this highly competitive sport.

The self-employed builder started playing bridge in 1985 but had about 10 years off in between before taking it back up seriously seven years ago.

He compares bridge to playing chess with cards but with a partner.

“Every hand is different,” he says. “The odds of picking up the same hand apparently are 156,000 to one. I reckon the odds of remembering it are about three million to one.”

It is the ultimate team game.

“I could not do it myself.”

He credits the support he has had from partners such as Gisborne player England.

The game is widely recognised as being as addictive as golf.

It has benefits for older people in preserving memory and enhancing mental skills.

With just over 100 members the Gisborne club is, per head of population, one of the biggest in New Zealand.

Established in 1961 it is over 50 years old and has members as old as 90.

Gisborne club players have had success in national tournaments.

Beale intends to carry on playing bridge because he enjoys it.

“Plus I think it is a great recreation because it makes you use your brain.

“I have always thought they should teach it in school. It teaches you maths, social skills and people skills such as not losing your cool or being a bully.

“It teaches you not to gamble. If you lie about your hand you will be punished. You are lying to your partner as well.

“It is an inference game. You listen to the bidding and that tells you how to lead and defend a contract.

“You can work out what your partner has in their hand without actually seeing it.”

Trusting your partner is an absolute must in the game.

“If you like playing cards I say it is the ultimate game,” says Beale.

“Once you start playing bridge you don’t really want to play any other game of cards.”

CHESS WITH CARDS: That is how Gisborne bridge player Phil Beale describes the card game in which he has qualified as a grand master. He would like to see the game played in schools as it enhances mental and memory skills. Picture by Liam Clayton