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Fred Gitelman
Fred Gitelman. Photo by ACBL and Ron Tacchi

60 Seconds With Fred Gitelman

Canada's bridge champion is trying to save the game from falling off a demographic cliff

If you’re serious about bridge, then you know Fred Gitelman. His Bridge Base Online is the largest bridge website in the world, and, this October, the Toronto-born player and his U.S. team won the World Bridge Championship. Gitelman, who majored in cognitive science and artificial intelligence at U of T for three years, talks to Lisa Bryn Rundle.

When did you first discover bridge?
When I was a teenager. It’s a beautiful game. Every time you deal the cards, there’s a completely new problem to solve. People have said golf is like that: every time you play, there are shots you haven’t faced before and that makes the game more interesting.

How did you end up making bridge your profession?

My wife deserves credit for that. She convinced me that starting a software company and developing bridge software might actually work. Most people thought that what we were doing was really stupid. Nobody even knew the Internet existed at that time. PCs were not household things.

Some articles use the word sport, some use the word game – which is it for you?

It’s not an important distinction for me. There was a movement to get bridge into the Olympic Games. That’s when they started calling it a sport. I thought it was ridiculous. I played on the Canadian team when it was a demonstration sport in Salt Lake City and we won the gold medal, so that was kind of exciting.

Does bridge need rebranding?
Absolutely. Bridge has this image of being a game that one’s grandmother plays. Unless something changes, in 20 years the game is going to fall off a demographic cliff. Teaching people to play through the Internet is more appealing for young people: they can download some software and play against other computer players. I’d really like to see the software that we write help make the game more popular among a younger generation.

Poker seems to have a high profile right now. Is there a sense of competition there?

I don’t think so. But bridge players have been impressed by what poker has achieved. And there has been some influx of poker players who want to try something more challenging.

I don’t mean to belittle poker in any way. But technically bridge is harder. Psychologically, there’s more to poker.

What was the World Bridge Championship like for you?
It was a lifelong dream come true, so very exciting. But it was also extremely intense. You play eight hours a day, for two weeks. You’re just sitting there thinking and thinking and thinking.

Does one key moment stand out for you?
My partner and I made a grand slam very close to the end. Our opponents were universally considered to be the best ever. It’s like playing against Michael Jordan and getting a slam dunk with two seconds left.

Is it true you have coached Bill Gates in bridge?
That’s not the term I would use. I’ve become friends with Bill Gates; we play sometimes, and he’ll ask me for advice.

So is he any good?
I would say if he’d spent anywhere near as much time as I have on bridge, he would be an A1 player. But he has a very busy life.

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  1. 11 Responses to “ 60 Seconds With Fred Gitelman ”

  2. dave thomson says:

    After I retired -- and after not playing bridge for 30 years -- I discovered Internet bridge, and now play at Bridge Base Online. It's too bad that I skipped math class so often while learning bridge that I failed Honours Science at U of T. My skill level is also much less spectacular than Fred's.

  3. Nam says:

    Fred is the best: bridge, manners, ethics. We on Bridge Base Online are ALL very proud of him, and so fortunate to have this great site to play on. WAY TO GO FRED :)

  4. Michael R. Goul says:

    My parents started me at an early age. I taught my first beginner bridge class when I was a senior in high school and started directing while in college. After a long absence from the game, my son called me one evening and told me that I had to go out and buy a computer because they were playing duplicate bridge on the Internet. It has been a wonderful and exciting trip into full retirement now at age 70. Thank you, Fred, for your learn to play bridge 1 & 2 and the BBO.

    Michael in Pensacola

  5. Janette Wiater says:

    I discovered bridge nine years ago and I downloaded Bridge Baron 2000. In spite of the fact that I have a good teacher in my country, my practice online helped me a lot. I am grateful for being able to play online with good players all over the world. I want to thank Mr. Gitelman for his great Bridge online.

    Janette Wiater
    Montevideo, Uruguay

  6. Stu Casper says:

    We online bridge players owe Fred Gitelman a lot. BridgeBase Online is a wonderful website for learning and for playing the great game of bridge. I am on it daily and have a great time.

  7. dorothy furman says:

    It is a pleasure to know that nice guys can finish first. Fred has been the most available and kindest person whenever a problem has occurred. Such a treat to watch him, and others, play. Thank you, Fred and Sherri, for this wonderful site.

  8. Cameron French says:

    Fred has helped lift the game of bridge from obscurity to mainstream. He is a credit to the game and of course our country. What I love most about him, is he remains a warm, funny, down-to-earth person, seemingly bereft of the ego that is so prevalent in our game. If not a bridge expert, he should be in the diplomatic corps. He is an ambassador of the game.

  9. Terri says:

    Fred, Thank you so much. I love BBO! It has opened a new world of bridge for me. I can't imagine not having BBO. God bless you and you team of people who make it possible.

  10. Barbara says:

    BBO is very popular in Poland, and thanks to Mr. Krzysztof Ziewacz, who spends half his life promoting Bridge among teenagers, my 13-year-old son now plays on BBO every day. Thank you and best greetings from Zakopane in the Tatra Mountains, Poland.

  11. Ukko says:

    Nice read with short, crisp views. BBO has brought me back to the game I played earlier as a teenager and then again when I studied in France. Thanks!

  12. Godfrey Oakley says:

    Thanks, Fred, for BBO. My mother taught me to play bridge. She is now 85, and she and I live 500 miles apart but we play BBO. She and I just love it. Thanks for making it possible.