Bridge players from Arab and European countries joined their Egyptian counterparts to take part in one of Egypt’s largest annual bridge tournaments. Players from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, Italy, Syria, Greece, Poland, Turkey and the UAE came to Alexandria Sporting Club (ASC) to play bridge in one of the strongest and most lucrative competitions in the Middle East and Africa.
The tournament, which was held from 28 November to 3 December, had a big impact with its LE1 million in prize money. It ended with stunning final results for the Egyptians who were keen to maintain their position in the world and top the charts in the first 10 rankings in all three categories: open pair, mixed pairs and open teams.
The queen of the festival was earned gracefully by Niva Ahmed and the title of king was presented to Walid Al-Ahmadi who topped the list for the highest points earned by players.
“It was a very intense tournament,” Ahmed, who won several awards in all categories in the festival, said. “We played more than eight hours a day for six consecutive days. Bridge is always fun but of course it needs lots of concentration with our partners.”
“People miss Alexandria and wanted to come to see this beautiful city. Plus, the tournament is the biggest with its prizes and its participation level,” said Christine Audiche, a player in the Egyptian Bridge Federation who won first place in the mixed pairs category.
Audiche paired with the top Egyptian player Al-Ahmadi to win first place in mixed pairs after beating some of the best players in the world.
In bridge, partnership is crucial in mixed pairs as one must choose teammates carefully. They should coordinate with one another, understand one another and most importantly play with the same rules they set for each other.
It was not the first time for Audiche to win the mixed pairs category. She won the ‘The Queen of the Festival’ twice in the Cairo International Bridge Festival. Audiche learned from her husband how to play bridge after she found him hooked by this irresistible mental mind game. Though the game is time consuming as some can last from three to five hours, Audiche always tries to find time for her family and two boys.
Although many tournaments are held in various parts in Egypt, Audiche believes that bridge is undermined in Egypt in terms of its popularity. “Social media and electronics have affected the bridge game. Now you can find many mental online games in which you can just log in and play. While bridge needs studying, finding partnerships, needs time and effort to work on your performance, people do not have the tolerance to do all these matters.
“We are not fully aware of the concept of card games in Egypt. Many people are not aware of its importance in developing the mental, the social and the psychological development of one’s skills. In many countries, the game is being taught in schools and junior competitions are held everywhere,” she added.
Though the game is not popular in Egypt it is very common in, as one example, Poland where it is being taught in schools and universities. Many junior competitions are held in Poland as families see the value of learning and playing together the card game as it engages people to become more sociable and interactive.
Januaz Gawecki, from Poland, was among the team members who won several top awards in the Alexandria Bridge Festival. It was Gawecki’s second time in Egypt and first in Alexandria.
Though he loved the city, he disliked its overcrowded nature and its unusual traffic jams. He loved the weather in comparison to icy Poland at this time of the year.
Gawecki took the open championship in Poland several years ago. But these days it is difficult for him to win the top seed in Poland “because the level of bridge in Poland is very high as many young people play it and so they raised the bar for all of us”, he said.
Such tournaments not only bring international players to the country but also bridge the cultural and the social gap among nations. Gawecki said such tournaments made him become acquainted with many Arab and African players whom he became friends with. “I find people here very friendly and very generous as well,” he told Al-Ahram Weekly.
The Alexandria Bridge Festival came right after Egypt’s national League competition for the year 2022-2023 with the Ahly (2) national team winning this year’s league. Preceded by Ahly (2) and Maadi clubs, Alexandria Sporting Club came third after a strong showing.
Khaled Al-Beltagi, president of the festival and head of the Bridge Committee in ASC, said: “We are organising an international tournament which had stopped in 2016 and this year we are resuming with big prizes. It is the largest in Africa.
“Thanks to the sponsor’s, the prizes are the most lucrative among all the tournaments in the Middle East. In addition, the festival twinned with Saudi Bridge and so they managed to make the best possible tournament and experience for all players,” Al-Beltagi told the Weekly.
“ASC is famous for its highest profile in the bridge game. We are one of the oldest clubs in Egypt and we have a long history in winning local and international competitions. This is why we felt it is our duty to hold a large festival and to return back to the community what bridge has given us,” he added.
The Alexandria Bridge festival also attracted many Arab players who were keen to join the three-category competition and enjoy the lovely surroundings of the city. Besides the tournament, there was a social and a culture tour of the city, including visiting the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the Catacombs, the Auto Club and many other sightseeing landmarks of the coastal city.
“We have come from distressed Lebanon because of its economic and political turmoil. The tournament made us feel at home. We are welcomed heartily by everyone. Everything is perfect,” Marielle Hitti, a Lebanese player, said.
Hitti enjoyed the tournament city tours organised for all international players. Concerning the game, she enjoys the interactive environment the game bestows upon its players. “It is a game which I find very challenging and mind playing. I do not mind losing as long as I am playing what I love.
“Bridge is like adrenaline. It is my passion. I read a lot about bridge. I have to study a lot and learn more about how the game is being played and developed worldwide,” she said.
Hitte teaches young players the card game in Lebanon where she is keen to pass her passion on to the young generation. “The younger you learn bridge, the better you become as a player,” she added.
Hani Dagher shares the passion of bridge with Hitte. Falling in love with cards from the age of three, the Egyptian physician has been playing bridge for more than 40 years.
Dagher won fifth place in open teams, seventh in open pairs and ninth place in mixed pairs in Alexandria. Dagher has played in four Bridge World Cups, three Olympics and more than 10 African and Asian tournaments.
Dagher said bridge is about language; in fact, he is writing a book about the language of bridge. “It is a book that introduces new methods about transfer and bidding. I hope it can contribute new things to the bridge card game.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 December, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.