Asian Games 2018: Jakarta & Palembang, Aug 18-Sept 2

Silence is golden for Singapore bridge team

Singapore's contract bridge team at the Asian Games (from left) Fong Kien Hoong, Desmond Oh, Loo Choon Chou, Zhang Yukun, Poon Hua and Kelvin Ong played their cards right to win the gold medal for the Republic.
Singapore's contract bridge team at the Asian Games (from left) Fong Kien Hoong, Desmond Oh, Loo Choon Chou, Zhang Yukun, Poon Hua and Kelvin Ong played their cards right to win the gold medal for the Republic.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Six-man outfit's focus on avoiding errors and applying pressure on HK opponents pays off

The stadiums, fields and sports halls of Jakarta have been ringing with the sound of cheers, shrieks and the occasional beating of drums during the Asian Games.

Except for two rooms at the Jakarta International Expo, where contract bridge - included at the Games for the first time - is silently under way.

The game is one that demands silence from its players, whose only form of communication with their partners and opponents is the cards they show on the table.

Each player is separated from his partner by a partition at their table, preventing them from communicating using facial expressions.

And the Singapore men's team - comprising Poon Hua, Loo Choon Chou, Zhang Yukun, Fong Kien Hoong, Desmond Oh and Kelvin Ong - played their cards right yesterday to defeat Hong Kong 107-52 in the final, winning the country's third gold of these Games.

Said Poon, who walked out of the room grinning after the final: "We are used to competing in a silent environment, so during the match we have to focus and try to avoid making any unforced errors while at the same time applying pressure on our opponents to (force) them to make decisions that we can capitalise on.

"There were some errors on our part but, in the end, we managed to pull through and kept gaining on every segment so that the opponents didn't have the chance to get back."

NO SWEAT, BUT IT'S SPORT

In terms of how you define sport, the competitiveness, sportsmanship and teamwork - the non-physical elements - bridge is a sport of the mind.

POON HUA , on why contract bridge is a sport despite its non-physical nature.

TO ERR IS FINE, TO FORGIVE DIVINE

I was trying to make sure that mistake didn't cost us the gold medal, so I redeemed myself. (In a partnership), you need to interact (with your partner) and you need to tolerate each other's mistakes.

FONG KIEN HOONG, Poon's bridge partner, on how a player should deal with unforced errors in the game.

Poon and Loo are the only two professional bridge players on the team.

Yesterday's final was conducted over three segments, each lasting slightly over two hours.

Singapore won 35 points to Hong Kong's 26 during the first segment, and extended their lead to 73-35 entering the third and final segment.

Poon, 37, revealed that their strategy had been to be cautious in their card play and avoid unforced errors such as bidding too high or too low.

At the same time, the Singapore players also sought to put pressure on their opponents by limiting the latter's options.

He added: "We hope this victory will (raise more awareness in Singapore) about the game, and that more people will come to enjoy it as much as we do."

The silence in the rooms may be deafening, but the players' minds are where all the noise takes place.

Zhang, 34, laughingly recalled a "silly mistake" he made during the first segment yesterday, after which he still had to remain silent instead of groaning in frustration.

"I was trying to make sure that mistake didn't cost us the gold medal, so I redeemed myself," added the teacher, whose bridge partner is Fong. "(In a partnership), you need to interact (with your partner) and you need to tolerate each other's mistakes."

Fong, 41, added: "Bridge is a game of logic so in both a partnership and a team, you need to be very logical in how you deal with every situation and it's also a test of our memories.

"We also need to put in hours of practice on card play to develop the card technique, and this usually takes years."

What about those who do not think bridge is a "real" sport, then?

All six, wearing their Team Singapore jackets and tracksuits, laughed. Said Poon: "In terms of how you define sport, the competitiveness, sportsmanship and teamwork - the non-physical elements - bridge is a sport of the mind.

"But, if you're looking for sweat and perspiration, then you may not always get it at a bridge table."

Still, there were beads of perspiration on Zhang's forehead.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2018, with the headline 'Silence is golden for S'pore bridge team'. Print Edition | Subscribe