Bridge: A MindSport for All

Connects People, Challenges Minds

The University of Stirling and Prof Samantha Punch, an international bridge player herself, launched the global
(BAMSA) campaign in 2019 to promote the benefits of mind-sports, using the card game bridge as a key case study. One of the goals is to encourage more people of all ages to engage in traditional leisure pursuits and mind-sports such as bridge in order to attract a fresh generation of players.

BAMSA is working on an intergenerational approach to getting more bridge into schools, universities, work-places and community centres. BAMSA will produce research findings to be used collaboratively with bridge organisations to:

  • Transform the image of bridge
  • Increase participation
  • Enhance the sustainability of the mind-sport.

Bridge as a partnership game of incomplete information is ideal for developing analytical thinking and strategic planning as well as fostering life skills such as empathy and cooperation. In today’s digitally focused but socially isolated world, bridge can help to combat loneliness by enabling a sense of connection and belonging. The sociology of bridge projects include an exploration of the link between bridge and well-being, transferable life skills, intergenerationality, health and social benefits, gender inequalities, youth participation and digital approaches.

Given that the sociology of mind-sports is an emerging new field, BAMSA is raising research funds via various routes including a Crowdfund campaign where players, bridge clubs and organisations are donating (see https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/u5c0e5e7810869). Fundraising endeavours included a unique Pro-Am bridge experience where amateurs could play with world champions and expert players from USA, Ireland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Bulgaria and the UK as well as James Mates (ITV newsreader) and the Presidents of the World Bridge Federation (WBF) and the European Bridge League (EBL).

Prof Punch says: “We are delighted that the bridge community came together to fundraise for this innovative research. Our initial findings show that bridge is an endlessly fascinating, challenging and meaningful mind-sport which has positive lifelong impacts on well-being and healthy ageing. Most people don’t realise that bridge is such an exciting, unique and ever-evolving card game for players of all ages.”

Click on the two minute video link below to see what world champions at the Pro-Am (professionals playing with amateurs) event say about why bridge is such a great mind-sport to learn and play:

https://youtu.be/SIKfWioojWQ  – What makes bridge brilliant?

Victoria Coren Mitchell (host of BBC2’s Only Connect) who attended the Pro-Am event said:

I’ve been playing bridge since I was a small child – sporadically, enthusiastically and badly. Having said that, I never shout at my partner, which I believe all the experts will tell you is the main skill. Bridge is a really wonderful game, rich with twists and complexities that requires a modicum of effort but definitely rewards it. Like poker (which I’m better at) it is a coded conversation, a formal dance of a game, constantly stimulating and intriguing. Especially if you’re good at remembering which suit is trumps.

Given that this research funding has been generated from within the bridge community, the BAMSA team is striving to balance the relationship and commitment they have to funders, to the institution, the broader discipline, and the pursuit of knowledge, as well as to those individuals, communities and organisations that they are researching. The tensions involved in navigating a complex network of stakeholder relationships and responsibilities between and across each of these different spaces is particularly interesting in the context of developing a new academic field. Furthermore, mind-sports not only tend to be undervalued in many societal settings compared with physical sports, but it is also unclear where they fit academically between leisure studies and sports studies.

Thus, the work of Bridge: A MindSport for All offers insights and raises questions about the opportunities and barriers involved in addressing societal challenges through the mind-sport and leisure activity of bridge. Yet BAMSA also faces the task of convincing both society and academia of the value of taking bridge seriously and seeing beyond stereotypical assumptions about the game, see:  https://discoversociety.org/2019/12/04/taking-bridge-seriously/

Current work includes a study of the impact of Covid-19 on the global bridge community (Dr Miriam Snellgrove), the dynamics of elite bridge (Zoe Russell), growth and sustainability of the global bridge community (Camilla Barnett) and a PhD exploring the process of learning and transitions from learner to player (Kevin Judge). Miriam, Zoe, Kevin and Sam all presented at the LSA conference in July 2019 and were hoping to present in Manchester, but now postponed to LSA 2021. Also, please note that the University of Stirling will be hosting an international bridge and mind-sports conference 30 June and 1 July 2021 called: Bridging Academia, Policy and Practice – all welcome!

BAMSA would also welcome sociological or interdisciplinary PhD applications in any of the above areas relating to bridge or other mind-sports. For more information about the BAMSA projects see:  https://keepbridgealive.bridgecloud.com/about/bridge-a-mindsport-for-all

Twitter: @soc_of_bridge

Contact: Samantha Punch, s.v.punch@stir.ac.uk or Miriam Snellgrove, miriamsnellgrove2@stir.ac.uk from the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Stirling

If you are tempted to give bridge a go, you could check out online tutorials: https://www.newtricksbridge.club/learn (or contact Sam Punch for other online resources or online lessons for beginners)

Something to amuse the family during, and coming out of, lockdown perhaps? Being at home together or connected virtually might be an opportunity to take up a new leisure challenge with your children or other family members.

Bridge: the only mind-sport where a computer has never beaten a human

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