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Do Bridge Players Live Longer?

Do Bridge Players Live Longer?

By In 44th World Bridge Teams Championships On 15th September 2019


A recent article posed the question ‘Do Chess Players Live Longer’. Given the exalted status of these two closely related mind sports, it is a topic that can readily be discussed about bridge players.

When I asked Herman to ‘review’ the matter, he immediately replied ‘No, it just seems that way’. Press Room manager Jan Swann said that there was evidence to suggest that mentally active people live longer.

That might be true, but lifestyle must also have a part to play. The legendary World Chess Champion Alexander Alekhine spent the latter part of his life in Lisbon and there is a story that feeling unwell he consulted a doctor who asked him how much he drank. When Alekhine admitted to consuming two bottles of brandy a day the doctor told him that if he wished to prolong his life he must stop drinking. Alekhine asked him ‘If I do, how much longer will I live?’ ‘Six months’ was the reply. ‘In that case, it isn’t worth it’. He died a few days later aged 53.

Coincidently, his greatest rival Capablanca died at the same age.

Former world champions Petrosian and Tal were both 55 when they died (the latter being a heavy drinker and smoker – my collection of photographs includes one of him playing table-tennis in the English seaside town of Hastings holding the bat in one hand and a cigarette in the other!). Bobby Fisher made it to 64. I haven’t had time to check on everyone, but Mikhail Botvinnik, at 84 might be the longest lived world chess champion.

You can contrast those immortals with some of their bridge counterparts. Giorgio Belladonna reached 72 but Benito Garozzo is still going strong at 92, two years younger than Pietro Forquet’s 94 not out. BobHamman was born in 1938, Bobby Wolff in 1932.
One obvious difference that exists between the two mediums is that top-class bridge players can remain at the top of the game for a much longer period – perhaps the most famous example being the World title won by Boris Schapiro at the age of 89.

In 2017, Francesca Canali wrote an article for the World Bridge Federation website, summarizing the most important studies about Bridge & Health. Besides cognitive abilities, Bridge was found to improve the immune sustem and to decrease the risk of dementia.

“A study published in 2003 by Verghese in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that senior citizens who play a board game may have a lower risk of dementia. Generally it is considered that participation in leisure activities has been associated with a lower risk of dementia. […]
In 2000, Marian Cleeves Diamond found out that playing Bridge stimulates the thymus gland, which produces white blood cells (T lymphocytes), thus enhancing the immune system.”

When these championships are concluded, it might be interesting to check out the ages of the winners!


About the Author

Mark Horton

Mark Horton British journalist and expert player, was Editor of Bridge Magazine 1995-2017 and now edits the free online publication A New Bridge Magazine. At one time, his business cards were inscribed: Have Cards will Travel, but following the death of his most famous sponsor, the Rabbi Leonard Helman, he has tended to concentrate on his writing exploits (in 2018 he had five books published!). Anyone wanting to discover how to lose at bridge on a regular basis (and pay for the privilege) should feel to contact him. He currently lives in Shrewsbury with his wife Liz.