I started a thread a few weeks ago about whether bridge should go green. In the fascinating discussion that ensued, all sorts of points were made that needed to be separated into other discussions. One of them was how to make bridge popular? Can it be made popular again, or is it doomed to be a game which was a craze for a short period of time and will never get close to that again. That question came back to me today....
At a grass roots level, what people do in their homes, Scrabble obviously beats bridge in the popularity stakes. Evidently over half of British homes have a Scrabble set, for example.
But I didn't realise how big and how seriously it is treated in some countries until I read this report in the WSJ: For World's Newest Scrabble Stars. Quoting from it:
'Across the developing world, more governments are funneling money and organization into the sport. In Pakistan, 700-plus people competed in last year’s national championship, which was televised live. A Gabonese man’s second-place finish in the French-language world championship sparked a national Scrabble league in that African state.
“It was a moment of pride,” said Gabon’s President Ali Bongo in an interview. “Incredible.”
Nigeria’s Scrabble ambitions date to the 1990s, when several local fans convinced the dictatorship of Gen. Sani Abacha to make the game an official sport, a designation that brings funding. Nigeria was ostracized from the world then. Scrabble offered one area where the country could redeem its image abroad.
Nowadays, the country of 187 million stages daylong tournaments in stadiums on an almost weekly basis, often with small prizes on the line. Dozens of Scrabble clubs scout high schools for talent, sometimes poaching players. Several of Nigeria’s 36 states have a Scrabble coach on the payrolls."
You have to love the dedicated approach, the hard work, the use of computers, going to bed instead of the pub the night before the big game.
(By the way, Slate then published a detailed refutation (or so was claimed) of some of the technical discussion of Scrabble in the WSJ article: Shorter Isn't Better.)
Bridge is behind the 8-ball in lots of ways compared with other games, but looking at the interest described here, one wonders why it isn't possible to tap into the attraction that Scrabble has. It has good educational/mental development potential. It's cheap at its most basic: deck of cards. So what's missing, what makes Scrabble the go to game in Africa? Why isn't it bridge?
Possibilities could include bridge's terrible reputation, better facilities for Scrabble online (presumably you can't cheat?), bridge is hard to pick up, Scrabble is a better visual game and Scrabble uses a ratings sytem.
Plus... it's free!