Silicon Valley Youth Bridge

From Bridge to Law School

We sat huddled together, eagerly awaiting the results of the 2009 American Contract Bridge League Collegiate Tournament. Our journey started five months earlier when I recruited three of my friends at Claremont McKenna College to learn the card game of bridge and enter this competition. Since that initial meeting we trained twice a week, three hours a day. I assigned my teammates readings, homework assignments, and pop quizzes. This may have been a student led extracurricular activity, but it was nearly as rigorous as an academic course.

The moment of truth was at hand. We were placed in the West Coast bracket with Stanford, Berkeley, Cal Tech, UCLA, and Oklahoma and needed to finish no worse than second place to advance to the finals in Washington D.C. After a grueling day-long tournament, the results were in. The tournament director announced, “Stanford: 90, UCLA: 63, Claremont McKenna: 62…” We had failed to qualify by the closest of margins. Given our collective forty months of bridge experience, when the tournament started we would have been ecstatic with a third place finish. But at this moment, the disappointment of coming so close overpowered the triumph of how much we had improved.

I had learned how to play bridge a mere two years earlier, when I became enticed by its intellectual challenges and team concept. Although my grandparents try to take the credit for introducing me to bridge, it wasn’t until my freshman year college roommate taught me how to play that I became fascinated by it. Bridge is unique among intellectual games in that at its core, bridge is a game about people. Not only do bridge players need to be able to read their opponents much like poker players, but since bridge is a team game, serious players spend hundreds of hours working with their partners to ensure they can communicate effectively in the sophisticated coded language of bridge. It should come as no surprise that so many lawyers are drawn to the game of bridge, as the same skills required for success at practicing law, namely analytical skills, pattern recognition, and visualization, are also required for success at bridge. Moreover, like bridge, law has a distinct human component. The practice of law requires strong interpersonal skills, whether it’s interacting with clients or deducing opposing counsel’s legal strategy.

The human element of bridge is reflected not only at the bridge table, but also in the larger bridge community. I was in the pioneering class of a high school called “Kehillah,” the Hebrew word for “community.” We were a class united by our shared Jewish heritage as well as our desire to shape our school. Yet there is an equally strong sense of community in the world of bridge. Instead of being united by culture or religion, we are united by a shared passion – a passion for learning, playing, and improving at the game we love. Every time I visit Southern California I make sure to stop by the Beverly Hills Bridge Center, where I play with prior partners and against old opponents (some of whom are older ladies who call themselves my “bridge grandmothers”). And when I needed funding to represent the United States in the 2013 Junior World Championships in Atlanta (at which I would win the bronze medal - only losing to the Turkish and Australian junior national teams), it was the San Jose Bridge Club that held a fundraiser for me to ensure I was able to attend. It is this small but strong community that elevates bridge from a mere card game to a life altering experience.

Inspired by the generosity and cohesiveness of these bridge clubs, I decided to volunteer my time growing a startup organization, Silicon Valley Youth Bridge. Our goal is to create a larger bridge culture among the younger generation and to accomplish that goal, we teach bridge at eleven (and counting) middle schools and Boys and Girls Clubs across Silicon Valley. Through my efforts both serving on the curriculum committee and teaching a class at a local Boys and Girls Club, I help ensure that this community will continue to thrive long into the future.

Being a part of and improving a strong community is of utmost importance to my decision of which law school to attend, and this has driven Stanford to the top of my list. Stanford’s small student body and guaranteed on-campus housing have laid the foundation of a close knit community. The intimate setting allows classmates and professors to connect on a deeper level and to easily build relationships that would be more difficult to form at a larger law school. Moreover, Stanford has assembled a diverse and passionate student body that enjoys learning as well as interacting with each other and this in turn leads to a community that stays connected long after graduation.

The skills I developed through bridge, specifically my organization, communication and logical reasoning skills, will help me succeed at Stanford. Yet equally important to my success is my strong work ethic and perseverance. After our heartbreaking loss in the 2009 collegiate tournament, we tried again in 2010. Classmates who witnessed us training in the school lounges expressed interest in learning the game and we soon had replacements for the two members who graduated. I started teaching them from the beginning again. This time, however, we started practicing earlier. We worked harder and we got better. In 2010 there was no need to eagerly await the results as we had the previous year – as soon as we finished playing we knew we had qualified for the finals after dismantling the Princeton, Dartmouth, and NYU bridge teams. The victory was all the sweeter given our narrow miss in 2009.

Ryan, 2014