As a teenager, Michael Roche was notorious for staying out late playing billiards.
Then he started playing bridge and things changed. Slightly.
“My parents really didn’t appreciate I was coming home from the pool hall at one o’clock in the morning, especially on school nights,” he said. “I got sort of pushed into bridge, and after awhile, they found out I was coming home at one o’clock in the morning from the bridge club instead of the pool hall.”
Little did his parents know, Roche would go on to represent Canada in 10 world championships for the trick-taking card game. The Saanich resident is headed to India to compete in the seniors division at the 42nd World Bridge Teams Championships, bringing that number to 11.
“I don’t play any differently than I do at the local club or with my friends online,” said Roche. “I’m just trying my hardest at every hand and using my memories and my skill level to try to get the best result possible on every board.”
Roche has played bridge for the better part of 50 years, and in that time, he’s made – and learned from – a lot of mistakes.
“To be a good player, you have to make lots of mistakes. If that’s the case, I should be the greatest player ever because I’ve made them all. The secret is not to make them twice.
“There are so many possibilities of hand types and right and wrong steps along the way, and you just have to keep exploring those paths and don’t quit.”
Sticking to it has paid off for Roche, who has competed at the world championships in such places as China, the Netherlands, France, Albuquerque and Tunisia. With this year’s competition in the northeast city of Chennai, Roche is preparing for the other 18 teams in the running.
“Everybody has the same tools. Everybody gets to start off with the same 13 cards and take it from there and try to achieve the highest score,” he said. “They’re trying their hardest, they’re doing what’s best for them. It’s a little bit like boxing: They’re punching, we’re counterpunching. They’re relaxed, we move in for the kill. Thrust and parry.”
Roche said Canada ranks somewhere in the middle for bridge across the globe. While Team Canada has had some standout performances – including a silver finish at the 1996 games in Beijing – Roche said it’s a challenge to win at this level.
Countries like the U.S. have larger populations of bridge players, some of whom are professionals at the game, while Canadians are predominantly part-time, amateur players.
“We can hold our own with them, but over the long run, they have a big advantage on us,” he said.
Nonetheless, Roche is confident in this year’s team, which is largely made up of fellow bridge players he’s known for 40 years.
“We have a good team – we’re all past champions from the open division,” he said. “It’s been a tremendous hobby. It’s had its glory days – I’ve come first, I’ve come last – but I’m resilient.
“Every hand is a new challenge, and that’s what keeps us going.”