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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Into Something Sexier Than Chess

Enough of this chess business, with its pale introverts hunched over in silent rooms. The new Russia calls for something more social, more sexy, more '90s. Something like bridge, for example. Only 21 years ago, the Soviet Sports Committee tacked on a clause to the Moral Code of the Communist System declaring bridge "a bourgeois perversion," but these days a growing number of Russians are promoting the cerebral card game as the country's next craze. And at the fifth annual Worldwide Simultaneous Bridge Tournament, upward of 100 people had nothing good to say about The Other Game. "Chess is not for me," said Maria Vyshinskaya, who works as a laboratory assistant at a medical academy. "Bridge taps in so strongly to your emotions," she explained. "It's much more dynamic." "Chess is so individual," said Leonid Karetnikov, president of the All-Russian Bridge Association and the country's only professional player. "Bridge encourages closeness. It reveals character." "Bridge is more logical than chess," said Volodya Ivanov, a translator. "Also, it's a happier game." Last Friday night, some of Russia's most committed bridzhisty piled into theSeventh Heaven restaurant atop the Ostankino television tower to participate in the tournament. They joined about 100,000 bridge players in other towers in other world capitals in a much-hyped tournament sponsored by the Japanese technology firm Epson. In tournament bridge, each member of the four-person team is dealt a standard hand, and scores are compared at the end of each section. At 7 P.M. Moscow time, the games began. From their dizzying perch above the city, the teams synchronized their watches, picked up identical hands and set about beating the French, the Italians, the Japanese and the Americans. Except for the sound of players picking up and discarding -- and one player who was expelled for public drunkenness -- the game went on for four hours in dead silence. At the end of the round, the Russian champions were Svetlana Zenkevich and Sergei Fityalov, and as of Wednesday the international results had not been compiled. For most players, though, the tournament was less a serious competition than public relations for -- in the words of Alexander Sukhorukov, publisher of Bridge in Russia magazine -- the "bridge movement." Bridge is more than just a game -- it's a "school of life," a mindset that could be a survival skill for Russians, he said."My goal as a bridge promoter is to introduce bridge to the Russian mind," he said. "Because I think that bridge has a great deal to do with Western thought and Western civilization." According to Sukhorukov, bridge originated in Russia. Originally known in the West as "Russian whist," bridge spread through the influence of Siberian traders, but only now is the tradition returning to Russian territory. "It's all right there in the Encyclopedia Brittanica," he added. "But who knows. Maybe it came from Siberian traders, maybe it came from the stars. Maybe it came from some kind of god." Wherever it came from, the consensus at the tournament was that bridge is good news for modern Russia. Not only that, but the game could also turn out to facilitate international relations. "If we all played bridge, there would not be so many political problems," Karetnikov said. "I have already verified this." Karetnikov ended up cardless in Milan once, he explained, and night was falling. He rushed from store to store looking for a cashier who spoke English. "And what do you know, the guy turned out to be a bridge player," Karetnikov recalled, grinning. "He invited me home and dealt me into a game." "He told me, 'If you had just been a Russian, or just a bridge player, that would have been one thing. But a Russian bridge player! I couldn't resist,'" Karetnikov said. "Just an Italian guy. Bridge solved all our problems."