EUR student Tobias Polak (21) has become the new Dutch youth champion in bridge. Polak, studying econometrics at Erasmus University, and his bridge partner Tom van Overbeeke, placed first in the national bridge championships held in Utrecht. The pair are no strangers to success though, last year they placed 2nd in the World Championships held in Istanbul, a title which Polak is very proud of.

A strategic game which requires logic and analytical thinking, Polak says he enjoys the feeling of outwitting his opponents. “It’s like with chess, in the end you’re smarter than the other one in a sense”. The key to doing so he says, lies in understanding your partner. “Bridge is a game of trying to avoid making mistakes. The ones who make the fewest mistakes win.”

Older people only play bridge

The game is popular amongst older generations, but in Polak’s view it’s not the same. “People say ‘my grandma plays bridge’. I know they play bridge, but we say, they don’t play bridge.” Playing amongst the top international talent is certainly different to how he started playing with his grandmother seven years ago. “We train a lot, we have club evenings, like how a hockey team might have a weekly training, we have club evenings.”

Adding professional sporting commitments to an already hectic student schedule can prove challenging, “especially when you have tournaments in the weekends and exams afterwards” Polak added. Recognised with Topsport status at EUR, Polak hasn’t encountered many problems, as most of his bridge tournaments are held during the summer. “There is no official rules whether teachers should help students if they can’t make an exam, they wouldn’t have to provide another one, but usually it solves itself. If I have a workgroup I can’t attend, I just explain to the teachers and usually they’re like, oh fine, you play, cool!”

Erasmus alumni in bridge

In fact, many of the ‘bridgers’ he knows are Erasmus alumni, with backgrounds in statistics, economics, computer science and, like himself, econometrics. The bridge circuit is home to a number of high profile personalities, and playing in their teams is one way for players to make money. “Bill Gates for example, they buy teams. They hire five people and they play with one of them themselves. They play the tournaments with them because they want to win. For example, Jimmy Cain, the head of Bear Stearns before the crisis, he was playing bridge while his bank collapsed. He’s got his own bridge team, he plays once a week. I played on the internet against him, they buy the top players for their teams.”

Polak has a busy tournament season ahead, with competitions in Germany, Norway, Croatia and the USA. Perhaps it’s the trip to Norway for the European Championships which is the most exciting though. In the 2014 World Championships, it was the Norwegian team they faced in the finals and who eventually took out first place. Smiling, he adds, “we’ll take revenge I hope!” HK