A bridge family

Israelis, old and young, have been playing the ‘card sport’ since 1949.

Students and pupils participate in a large-scale bridge competition. (photo credit: ISRAELI BRIDGE FEDERATION)
Students and pupils participate in a large-scale bridge competition.
Tel Aviv resident Ron Segev is on a mission to inform the Israeli public that the game of bridge, despite its reputation, is in fact not a game strictly for the elderly.
Segev spreads his message through bridge clubs, national and international competitions, and playing with friends of all ages throughout Israel. This is not to say he doesn’t play with those 60 and over; in fact, it’s how he earns the majority of his income.
In Israel, the trick-taking card game – which usually consists of four players in two competing partnerships – has an impressive number of player clubs, which host games on a regular basis. The clubs are often members of the Israeli Bridge Federation, which was established in 1949 and funds programming and brings bridge players together – as many players stay within a small circle of friends and aren’t exposed to the social aspect of the game that clubs can offer.
The 80 clubs throughout the country are working on engaging a new audience to join the sport. School clubs are showing the younger generation that the game is an exciting and stimulating activity for kids as well.
Segev, 29, was first introduced to bridge in an after-school program. “The program head really pushed us to succeed in the game,” he explains. “I was mainly attracted to it at first because I am a very competitive person. I couldn’t just stop playing.”
After excelling at his after-school club, with the encouragement of his mentor and teacher, Segev began competing in national competitions. “It wasn’t that I would always win or anything, but I was very dedicated.”
In 2006, Segev was part of the Israeli team that won the distinction of World Schools Team at the 11th World Youth Team Championship in Bangkok, Thailand.
“I was actually a soldier at the time,” Segev recounts.
“The championship was during the Second Lebanon War, but the IDF gave us special permission to go and represent Israel at the games.”
He and various partners and groups have since competed and placed high in other international and national championships.
Today, Segev is active in teaching both young and old groups, in schools and clubs; he also gives private lessons and is a member of the Israeli Bridge Federation.
Israeli Bridge Federation chairman Modi Kenigsberg notes that Israel is world-renowned for its strong bridge players; younger players like Segev are not all that rare. “Israel is considered to have some of the strongest teams in the world, which have won many championships,” Kenigsberg says. “Our federation consists of talented players of all ages.”
In October, the Israeli team won a gold medal at the 14th Red Bull World Bridge Series in Sanya, China; in December, an Israeli pair won a gold medal at the Sportaccord World Mind Games in Beijing, as well as a gold in the team event.
Segev and Kenigsberg agree that it is the Israeli spirit which makes the Israeli teams so successful.
“Its the warrior in us... our passion, our hotheadedness...that makes us great in competitive sports,” Segev says.
He adds that in the many competitions in which he represented Israel abroad, he could see the difference between the Israeli teams and those of the other countries. “Israelis are much more energetic, to say the least,” Segev says with a smile.
Bridge has many advantages when taught to the younger generation, and there are currently about 1,000 students learning it in schools throughout the country. The game is encouraged for youth because it improves memory and logic; is helpful in team-building; and equips them with tools to make strides in oth-er subjects as well – with pupils evincing a 20-percent improvement in grades and test scores after taking up bridge, according to the federation.
Segev says that in his experience, teaching 60-and-overs is easier, as it isn’t necessary to spend half the lesson reminding them to sit down or be quiet. But children also provide an interesting teaching experience, due to the abilities of a younger mind.
“Kids learn differently than the older crowd, and it is amazing to see how much playing helps a student who faces learning challenges,” Segev enthuses.
Kenigsberg concurs. “The students have to be cooperative because it’s a team. They have to be polite, they have to sit down and concentrate, and that gives them tools to do other things as well. It’s even more challenging than chess, because playing chess you are alone – one against one. In bridge, you play team against a team, and have to be much more considerate and cooperative.”
Kenigsberg, who has been playing for 40 years, says he and his wife enjoy playing, as do his children and grandchildren; they love being part of the “Israeli bridge family.”
“There are 6,500 members of the federation in Israel, with about 80 branches throughout the country,” details Kenigsberg, noting that the federation charges a fee to become a member, used strictly to fund programming. An estimated 1,000 others play at home and not in clubs, but he encourages those people to reach out to the federation and get involved. The game’s social aspect is what draws in many players, especially the elderly.
In February, the Israeli Bridge Federation will host the 49th annual Israel Bridge Festival, with 10,000 participants from around the world. The six-day event will take place at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds and is open to both new and experienced players.