This is the 8th RBS Coutts Friendly Bridge Tournament, a pro-am event supported by the BPCC, hence my participation. I'm playing in a pair with one of the world's best bridge players, Tom Townsend (above), a World International Master. Having played bridge since my teenage years but only as a casual player, seeing the game at such an elevated level was amazing.
It was intense to the point where I felt as nervous as though I were making a presentation of the year's financial results to the board. Tom was tolerant of my numerous slip-ups and good-natured throughout. His story was extremely interesting. He is a professional bridge player, earning his money from playing the game and writing about it. Unlike poker, there's no prize money in bridge. It is all about honour, about being the best. Tom and his regular partner are paid by extremely wealthy enthusiasts to partner them in international tournaments. Last week, for example, he was playing in the US Summer Nationals in Reno. He finds poker intrinsically boring compared to bridge, where the 52 cards that form the four hands can come in such a myriad of permutations that each one holds a quite different challenge.
What does it take to reach success at this level of bridge? Obviously getting in your 10,000 hours as early as possible. Total focus. Educational background: Cambridge. "Maths?" I asked. "Classics", replies Tom. Language is as important as maths, if not more, in bridge, he says. And, what made most people playing on Monday night different from the people we usually play bridge with socially - utter competitiveness, the will to win.
And why was Tom in Warsaw? He has a Polish girlfriend!
Poland is, according to Tom, one of the stronger bridge nations. Moni tells me that at her school many of her classmates play bridge, and take it seriously (to the detriment of their studies).