Singapore springs a surprise at Asian Bridge Championships

Singapore springs a surprise at Asian Bridge Championships
The Singapore team prevailed against veterans and took the gold in a surprise upset against heavyweight Indonesia in the Open category.

THEY were the dark horses of the tournament, with no coach, a team with members averaging just 30 years old and an indifferent past record.

But Singapore emerged tops at the second Asian Bridge Championships that ended on Sunday, winning two golds in the Open and Under-20 categories.

The Singapore Open Team defeated heavyweight Indonesia, which had earlier led the qualifying rounds. The quadrennial competition featured 58 teams from Asia to Australasia.

Singapore's Open Team stood out for its youthfulness in a field of veterans averaging about 45 years old, said team captain Poon Hua, 33. The gold was also a surprise as the team was 11th in the previous contest in 2010.

"We never gave up. In the past four years, we continued our weekly practice sessions online, as well as continued to gain exposure at international events," said Mr Poon, a compliance controller.

The six team members, who all hold day jobs, played online at least three nights a week, often against teams from Europe and America where skill levels are higher, said junior college teacher Loo Choon Chou, 32.

"Within our team we'd train twice a week after office hours, but we also train with players from other countries on the weekends," said Mr Loo. The Internet helped them hone their skills in the absence of a formal training programme, he added.

Singapore's Youth Team also caused an upset when they beat host country and top seed China. It was a sweet win given that it was the first international contest for the team of six full-time national servicemen.

As Asian champions, the Youth Team will get to participate in the 15th World Youth Teams Championships in Turkey this August.

The Singapore Contract Bridge Association hopes the wins will draw more to the sport. It hopes to attract players through secondary schools, which are traditionally resistant to bridge clubs. There are about 1,000 active bridge players here, it estimated.

"Bridge is not gambling - it's a strategic, mental game," said an association spokesman, noting that bridge and chess are the only two "mind sports" recognised by the International Olympic Committee. "Unfortunately schools assume that because you are using cards, it's somehow associated with gambling."

It is a sport where Singapore can punch above its weight, said Mr Poon. "Singaporeans don't have the best physiques in the world, but I'm sure we have some of the best brains," he quipped.

This article was first published on June 26, 2014.
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