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Scandale! Competitive Bridge Walloped by Doping Admission

Is this how bridge is played? And if so, how would drugs help? Photo: Lise Gagné/Getty Images/iStockphoto

To my knowledge, I have never played bridge, but perhaps the answer to this question will be self-evident to those of you who have: What advantage would a professional bridge player derive from doping? In sports that require more obvious exertion, like for example baseball and biking and bobsledding and curling, performance-enhancing drugs serve a clear, strength-and-stamina boosting purpose. But in bridge, a parlor game I do not count as a sport but the International Olympic Committee apparently does, what leverage do stronger muscles give you: More facility in card-shuffling, a faster draw? Do either of those things improve your odds of winning? I don’t know but here we are: The card game’s reigning champion has been handed a yearlong suspension by the World Bridge Federation because, according to the Washington Post, he has been doping.

Geir Helgemo, the No. 1–ranked bridge player in the world, reportedly tested positive for synthetic testosterone and a female fertility drug called Clomiphene that — according to the Post — speeds male testosterone production. In line with IOC protocol, Helgemo underwent the test after the September World Bridge Series in Orlando, where he sat on the winning open team. He has allegedly admitted to taking these drugs, and will be benched until November 20.

Testosterone does have medical uses, but when athletes take it, they’re often looking to amp up their workouts. Per the Guardian, however, Kari-Anne Opsal, president of the Norwegian Bridge Federation (Helgemo is Norwegian but reportedly plays for Monaco), has insisted that the drugs were “not performance enhancing.” Whatever their purpose, Opsal said, “It is his responsibility not to take substances that are on the doping list, even though in this instance they are not performance enhancing in bridge. I feel for Geir in this situation and hope he will come back stronger after his ban ends.” Stronger because of lessons learned and not because of doping, let’s hope.

Scandale! Competitive Bridge Walloped by Doping Admission