What's bridge like in Saudi Arabia?

"Bridge is alive and thriving in Saudi Arabia."
That's the word from Eleanor Sherwyn who directs games and teaches in Dhahran. She, her husband Ray and her son Christophe are in Vancouver after making the 9000- mile trip.

Bridge in Saudi Arabia -- who takes the classes and who plays? Mostly Westerners, although there are some Arabs. But Saudi men don't take lessons from women. Eleanor tells the story of the only Saudi man who ever came to her lessons.

"He always sat with his back to me. And every time I made a point, he would turn to my husband, who was sitting next to him, and ask, 'What did she say?' My husband had to repeat everything I said because he wasn't willing to hear it from me."

Did he finish the course? "No. It was too complicated. He dropped out after three lessons."

Bridge is big in Dhahran. "We have five clubs," said Eleanor. "I direct one of them. Some of my players are Lebanese -- they pick up bridge very fast. They play a game called belotte, which is a lot like bridge. The bidding is different -- much less complicated --but the play is the same. So all they have to do is learn the bidding."

The family has been in Saudi Arabia for 10 years. Eleanor teaches at the high school level, and Ray is a chemical engineer for Saudi Aramco. She's been teaching bridge (Audrey Grant's teaching books) for six years. "I have taught more than 500 people to play bridge -- and I estimate that 475 of them have opted for social bridge." She has Star Teacher rating.

It isn't easy to become a Life Master in Saudi Arabia. Eleanor and Christophe make an annual trip to North America, and Eleanor gets to play in one NABC per year. She has 280 points and is hoping to earn her gold card while here in Vancouver. Ray took up bridge two and a half years ago and still has a long way to go for Life Masterhood.

Does Christophe, who is 16, also play? "A little. I think I have .02 masterpoints. But I can't escape bridge. When I come from school, they're playing bridge. Then I go skating for a few hours, and when I get home they're still playing bridge. I have to sit on the bridge table to get anything for dinner!"

He's a caddy at this tournament, and he loves being a caddy. "I started caddying a couple of years ago, and I love it. It's a wonderful way to meet people, and I like people." He and his mother are going to be in the United States for a couple of months this summer, and he's looking forward to working at San Antonio and a couple of regionals.

It takes 36 hours to get from Dhahran to Vancouver -- 18 hours in the air and 18 hours in airports. The Sherwyns went from Dhahran to Bahrain to Amsterdam to Seattle to Vancouver - to play in the Vanderbilt.

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