The newly established national youth bridge team is counting down the days until July 8, when the European Youth Bridge Team Championships start in Slovakia. Between classes, homework and tutorials, the team has been making the time to practice over Skype, to be ready for the big showdown.
“We're talking about four Year 1 high school students, a second-year student and a senior, who are located in Athens, Kalamata and Agrinio,” says Marina Lantzouni, a biology teacher in the southern Peloponnese town of Kalamata and a member of the committee of the Greek youth bridge federation.
Lantzouni teaches bridge as one of the school's extracurricular activities. “We started with 45 students and now we're down to 30,” she says. This tends to be the case with this game, the experts say. “You either love it and get hooked or you stop,” says the mother of four, a member of the Greek national bridge team and an active proponent in boosting the game's reputation in the country.
Other than initiating children into this intellectually stimulating game, Lantzouni also hopes to break down stereotypes. “I get complaints from some of my students saying their fellow pupils are calling them ‘card sharps’ and ‘gamblers,’” she says, smiling. “We've also had problems with the grown-ups as some members of the local club say they don't feel it's fair to play against minors.”
Lantzouni says that many old-fashioned ideas, such as that bridge is for fancy folk, continue to prevail. “Like chess, bridge is an intellectual game that is recognized by the General Secretariat of Sport, and is also the most popular card game in the world,” she says.
Lantzouni started learning bridge before going to university. “I visited a club when I enrolled at university in Thessaloniki but everyone was so much older than me that I became disheartened and stopped,” she says.
There's been no giving up since and now Lantzouni has helped create a sizable group of young players in Kalamata who play on Sunday afternoons against the adults of the local bridge club – the first in Greece to be established outside the major cities.
“Age doesn't matter in bridge. The players are divided into six categories depending only on their performance,” she explains.