The European Maccabi Games (EMG2015) will take place from July 27th – August 5th, 2015 in Berlin (Germany). This important Jewish sports event will take place in Germany for the first time in its history. Bridge is one of the 20 sports included in this event and Sabine Auken will be the bridge patron. So I took this opportunity to interview Sabine about Maccabi Games and Bridge.
Laura Camponeschi: The European Maccabi Games are a Jewish sports event. To the best of our knowledge, you’re not Jewish. How and why did you get involved in Maccabi?
Sabine Auken: In sports the color of your hair or your skin doesn’t matter, your religious beliefs, your political opinion, your sexual orientation don’t matter. What matters is how fast you are, how high or far you jump, throw or cast, how much weight you lift, how well you fight, how well thought-out your strategy is, how well you play.
For as long as I have played bridge there has always been an unproportionately high number of Jewish players among the very top. I believe their success derives from certain values that are deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition and culture. It is exciting several of them will come together in Berlin this summer and display this talent. When I was asked to be the patron for the bridge competition, I didn’t hesitate for a second. It was a big honor and I viewed it as a wonderful opportunity to promote both the game of bridge and the Maccabi Games. I honestly fail to see the significance of my religious beliefs for that decision.
LC: In 1999 you were interviewed by Marc Smith in the book “World Class”. In the paragraph “The Future”, you said that becoming member of the Olympic movement would have enormously developed Bridge. We entered, but hidden into the enclosure of the mind games, therefore out of the spotlight. In the same interview, you also said: “But there is one major problem… We have to find a way to make bridge a spectator sport”. Now: Maccabi Games are Olympic-like events, as Commonwealth, Pan Americans, etc, but they are one of a kind because Bridge is being played the same time and place as the other sports. Might this be a development opportunity for bridge? What do you think about this?
SA: Sadly there will not be as many countries participating in the bridge competition in Berlin as I would have liked to. When I contacted several players around the world trying to motivate them to participate at the Maccabi Games, I discovered that in a number of countries bridge is not a member of the national Maccabi organization. And even where bridge is a member it typically is not a high-priority discipline. That means whatever funds are available to send athletes to the Maccabi Games often go to other disciplines first and bridge is left out. Seen in that light I would not expect the Maccabi Games this summer to be a big development opportunity for bridge, but I would be absolutely delighted if I am wrong.
LC: What distinguishes the European Maccabi Games from other sports competitions is the Jewish rule “rachmanus” (compassion and sportsmanship). On the contrary, don’t you think that high level competitive bridge is getting more and more aggressive, leaving little space for sportsmanship?
SA:It is true that generally the bidding in high level competitive bridge is becoming more and more aggressive. Make life as difficult as possible for your opponents, don’t give them a free run, is the name of the game. In my view however agressive style and sportsmanship are totally unrelated and thus not mutually exclusive. I have witnessed many fine examples of sportsmanship in the past and I am certain I will see many more in the future.
LC: Do you have any advice for the EMG2015 participants?
SA: Don’t ever think you cannot win. Even when the odds are against you, remember: everyone loves an underdog!
LC: What makes bridge special, compared to other mind games? Do you play other mind games?
SA: I do not play any other mind games. To me the unlimited number of possibilities and situations is totally unique. I may be wrong, but I cannot imagine any other mind game can come close to it.
LC: Is bridge a game or rather a sport?
SA: While the brain is not considered a muscle, pound for pound it requires more energy than any other part of the body. In which sport are athletes required to perform for 10 hours every day one or two weeks in a row? I do not believe there are many disciplines besides bridge, maybe with the exception of certain extreme sports. So yes, bridge is definitely a sport, it is even extreme.
LC: You broke up with your former partner Daniela von Armin and currently you prefer playing in the open category with Roy Welland. What made you move from Women to Open? Did playing in a different category with a new partner change your bridge style?
SA: Women’s events are restricted events in as much as only women are allowed to participate. In Open events everybody can participate. If one wants to play against the very best and try to become as good as one can get, one cannot hope to achieve that by playing in restricted events. I have dreamt of competing in Open events for a very long time and would have taken the step much earlier, if it hadn’t been made so extremely difficult, if not impossible, by my personal life situation.
Roy and I play a totally different system from what I played before and I enjoy it tremendously. Roy often has some unique and even controversial views regarding his approach to the game. I do not always agree with him, but he definitely has opened my eyes to many new facets and possibilities. Playing with Roy is extremely enjoyable. Even if it is not always successful, there is never a dull moment.
LC: In 2006 you published a book, which is now a classic for all bridge lovers, “I love this game”. My question is, 10 years later, do you still love it?
SA: Finally an easy question! Yes, I do!
LC: Sabine, you have basically won everything one could possibly win in bridge: is there something missing or a dream you’d like to come true?
SA: I am far, far away from winning everything one could possibly win in bridge. So I will keep on trying, it’s just so much fun. At the last European Championships our team qualified for the Bermuda Bowl in India later this year. That was a dream come true! Doing well at the Bermuda Bowl would be another dream come true. Winning a medal there is a dream I don’t even dare to dream…