By Sportswriters Xue Yanwen and Yao Youming
TIANJIN, China, July 8 (Xinhua) -- Unlike other sports, most bridge players attending the ongoing China's 13th National Games are either seniors or children, with an astonishing age gap that both saddens and cheers up the country's bridge authorities.
The age gap results from the promotion strategy of the concerned parties in the country. To promote the sport of bridge in the mahjong playing country, the China Contract Bridge Association (CCBA) has been targeting on both the old and the young.
"Bridge playing is both entertaining for the seniors, and also inspiring for the young people. They can learn teamwork and see bigger pictures by playing the card game," said Yuan Yujie, an official with CCBA, explaining why they are pinning upon the two groups.
Judging from the number of participants in the Tianjin tournament, they have achieved progress, Yuan said, adding that more efforts are still needed to narrow the gap in popularizing the sport.
Bridge was once popular at college campuses during the 1980s and 1990s. And those college students, in their late 50s today, are still the most active group.
But the card game has lost its appeal among the young. Unlike those college students at that time who had few fun games and were assigned for their jobs by the state, students nowadays enjoy video games but face much more competition in the employment market.
In order to attract more players, the CCBA has set up bridge class as selective course at colleges, but the result was far from satisfying. Beginners need training for at least six months to compete in a tournament, yet 90 percent of the students abandon the course after one or two lessons.
"Many people are interested in bridge, but the threshold is as high as three stories. Most people are afraid to give it a go," said Wu Min, secretary of the bridge association in Tianjin, the port city and host of the 13th National Games.
"To help beginners cross over the threshold, we can take apart the three-story threshold and build some steps," Wu said.
To tear down the threshold, Wu invented the "mini bridge", which combines rules of classic trick-taking card game whist and rules of modern bridge. When he introduced the new game during preparation of the Tianjin tournament, many staff who had knew nothing about bridge mastered the rules within two hours. Some of them were even "addicted to the game," said Wu.
Wu also introduced his "mini" game to 35 colleges, and the dropout rate decreased from 90 percent to about 70 percent.
During the National Games, the Tianjin youth team proved to be unbeatable at home in the tournament, earning 186.54 vps in 11 rounds of competition and entering the semifinal of the youth group.
To attract younger players, northeast China's Liaoning Province takes a different approach.
"We try to reduce students' academic pressure by giving them preferential treatments of school admission examinations," said Wu Xia, secretary of the bridge association in Liaoning.
For example, student players who win a medal in the provincial competition or make to the final six in the national middle school student championships can be admitted by colleges with a lower score of entrance exam, she explained.
Liaoning fielded in four players who are under 12 years old in Tianjin. More than 2,000 middle and primary school students in the province take active parts in bridge game, according to Wu Xia.
To improve bridge coaching, the CCBA will formulate syllabus and courses, and provide proper training to teachers across the country, according to Yuan.
Yuan said that the association will also invite celebrities as ambassadors of bridge promotion campaigns.
Thanks to the efforts of all concerned people, more and more Chinese teams are competing in events across the world, which "makes me really proud," Yuan said.