There’s no doubt about it both chess and bridge are very cerebral games. Though bridge is falling out of popularity when compared to chess which is growing in popularity, particularly in the developing world, does this mean that bridge is too hard or that chess is more of a challenge than bridge? Well, as it turns out – this may be a very hard question to answer.
Which is harder chess or bridge? It is probably easier to learn to play chess than bridge. It is harder still to learn the bidding language of bridge. Bridge can get somewhat more complicated because the players have to agree to certain parameters, which can change a player’s approach to the game. However, bridge has an element of luck which is not present in chess at all.
Weighing these factors it seems like chess and bridge are close to a tie on the “difficulty meter”. Many bridge players will insist that chess is clearly harder and many chess players vice-versa. There are then some good reasons that either game might be the harder. Here’s what you need to know about chess vs bridge.
The Variations Of Games: Bridge And Chess
When we talk about bridge, we are referring to a game which is more formally known as “contract bridge”. It is a game in which players compete to take “tricks” from each other. There are four players at the table and each player plays in a partnership with one other player facing opposite them on the table.
Bridge And The Two Variations
Though bridge is seeing something of a decline in popularity in recent years, perhaps because its image is associated with elderly players, it remains one of the most popular games in the world and certainly it is one of the most popular card games.
There are only really two variations of bridge and they are separated by only a single rule. The first is rubber bridge which is played casually and the second is duplicate bridge. Duplicate bridge simply specifies that the hands which are dealt must be re-dealt on other tables, this ensures that comparative scoring between tables is easy to carry out.
There are no other changes in the rules between these variants and the World Bridge Federation maintains both sets of rules and is responsible for organizing all major bridge tournaments.
Chess Has One Variation That Matters
Chess is managed by FIDE, the International Chess Federation, which as it is based in French-speaking Switzerland is always known by its French rather than English initials.
While there are many different variations of chess, they are typically played for their novelty value and most chess games are played according to FIDE rules.
This means that whether you wish to learn chess or bridge there is no real impediment to doing so and you will learn the standard variation of either of the games easily.
The Rules Of The Games: Bridge And Chess
The rules of bridge are not particularly complex, and you can certainly learn how to play in a day or tow, and this is similarly true with chess. Chess is probably slightly easier to learn the basics with but there’s not a huge amount of difference and you can learn to play either game reasonably quickly (though not as fast as say, checkers).
However, bridge has a second complication. It is a bidding game where the 2 players form a contract to win by X amount and they are scored based on the results around their contract.
It is the bidding side of the game which takes rather more learning than anything in chess particularly as different partners will communicate in different ways. This can take months to learn effectively.
Therefore, we’d say that bridge is the more difficult game to learn in the first instance even if the rules aren’t much more complex than in chess.
The Complications: Bridge Vs Chess
OK, so if the rules, pieces and variations aren’t so complicated what makes these games hard?
The Total Potential Games
There are more potential games of chess than there are of bridge. A lot more, chess’s more geometric nature means there are many more outcomes on the board than there are in a pack of dealt cards. Many orders of magnitude more.
That means if we were to define “difficulty” by how easy it is to memorize all possible moves, then chess would be the harder of the two games.
The Luck Factor
Like all card games, there is a strong element of luck in bridge. Sure, over an extended period of play, you would expect this luck to even out and for the player’s individual skill to become the deciding factor but on a single game of bridge? Luck may be the decisive factor no matter how talented the player or pair.
Chess, on the other hand, is a game of skill and only a game of skill. There is no luck to be found anywhere in the play. While players may say “I couldn’t believe my luck!” what they really mean is “I couldn’t believe how badly my opponent played!” and yes, even great players have their off days.
Therefore it can be argued that from a human perspective, bridge might be slightly easier than chess because the luck factor makes it more forgiving than chess is.
A Game Of Incomplete Information
If computers had emotions, they’d tell you that they were much happier playing chess than they were playing bridge. You see, while chess is theoretically more complex in terms of the number of potential outcomes than bridge – bridge has a different level of complexity: an information gap.
In chess, you can be absolutely certain what your opponent has at any point in time, all you have to do is look at the board. Their position, their past moves, etc. are all available for you to review whenever you like.
In bridge, nothing could be further from the truth, you have visibility of exactly ¼ of the information and if your partner’s communication is excellent, you may be able to discern a little more but no matter what you can’t have all the information.
This means that for computers chess is definitely an easier game to play than bridge.
Mastery Of Chess Vs Bridge
There is no doubt that mastering either chess or bridge is the work of a lifetime. What might surprise you though is how much easier it is for a weak bridge player to have a good game when compared to a chess player.
This is for two reasons, firstly, there is the element of luck at play but there is also the element of partnership. A strong bridge player can often carry a weaker player with them as long as they manage to build up some basic communication.
Chess, on the other hand, has no luck element and worse, it’s a solo game. If a chess player sits down with a much stronger player then the odds are they are going to lose over and over again without any respite. A weak bridge player, on the other hand, has no such assurance.
This makes it harder to judge the comparative difficulties of the game because though it is possible for a weak bridge player to win in bridge, it doesn’t necessarily follow that bridge has become “easy” for it.
The truth is that bridge is a game not just of skill on the board, but it also combines skill in communication, and, in addition, it combines a little luck into the game. It is much harder to make a judgement between the two and in the end, it’s probably just about even.