Bridge players love coffee – but is it good for you?

Bridge players love coffee – but is it good for you?

By Alex J. Coyne © 2020 Great Bridge Links

Caffeine isn’t new as a performance-enhancing drug – not in bridge, and not in any other sports like soccer. This has given it a classification on the Anti-Doping list along with a range of other “uppers” that might enhance the speed at which you think at the table (or the speed at which you make bad decisions).

Some people still use it as a wake-up call both at the bridge table and away from it – but what does coffee do, what happens when you’ve taken too much of it and what if your cravings for caffeine point to a serious medical condition instead? 

What Coffee Can Do

Caffeine is so popular as an acceptable everyday pick-up for a reason: Drinking products that contain it, whether caffeine pills or a good cup of coffee, has a whole range of physical effects on the body.

It helps to increase blood circulation, constricts the blood vessels, makes you feel more focused – and makes your brain produce more of its “happy hormones” that helps to give caffeine products their kick.

In small amounts, it’s great: Thousands of students attribute coffee to making it through their studies, and many employees lean on it. My own daughter used to buy caffeine powder in little capsules for maximum effect during exams at university.

In large amounts, caffeine can be less-than-great: Overdoses are possible, and heart attacks (and worse) have happened thanks to consuming too much.

Cravings for Caffeine

Sometimes regular cravings for caffeine and coffee (especially when you don’t normally drink it) can point to underlying deficiencies that your body is trying to point out – commonly related to iron, though it can also sometimes be related to your body’s adrenaline or cortisol levels.

Obviously, sometimes craving caffeine just means you’re craving caffeine: It can be addictive and like with every other substance out there (including sugar) you should remember to pace yourself.

At the same time, caffeine is also a recommended treatment for many health conditions: If you’re craving caffeine and showing certain symptoms, it might be time to see your doctor to check.

Caffeine for Medical Issues

Caffeine is sometimes prescribed for a variety of different medical issues, even though too much of it can also cause medical problems at the same time.

Caffeine is often an ingredient present in over-the-counter flu medicines and painkillers, usually as a component to counteract the tiredness that would be associated with taking the medication on its own. (Thus, don’t take any added caffeine products when you have already taken something for the flu or pain!)

Sometimes caffeine is also given to alleviate conditions like sleep apnea, an often-chronic condition that might cause the patient to stop breathing in their sleep.

Caffeine for CSF Leaks

Caffeine is also most commonly prescribed for alleviating the symptoms of CSF Leaks – short for cerebrospinal fluid leaks, which are just as serious as they sound. Sometimes they are a consequence of a lumbar puncture (or spinal tap), but they might also happen as a consequence of a severe injury to the back or neck.

CSF leaks are a serious medical condition that can turn into a medical emergency at the drop of the hat. While the site of the leak often has to be medically patched (and strict bed rest is recommended thereafter), caffeine is known to help with the symptoms – even though scientists aren’t entirely sure why just yet.

If caffeine offers more than the regular “perk” or pick-me-up and you find that you’re feeling worlds better after a cup of coffee, then you might be suffering from a CSF leak – which can easily and regularly go undiagnosed.

More information about CSF leaks and how they work can be found at the CSF Leak Foundation. An added handy Q&A session with an expert about caffeine and CSF leaks can be viewed here.

Caffeine Side-Effects

Just like most other things, it’s possible to have too much of it. If you’ve exceeded the recommended dosage – or if you’re naturally sensitive to caffeine – you could develop symptoms like heart palpitations, irritability, chest pain and an increased risk of a heart attack.

Be careful when mixing any form of caffeine with an existing heart condition, and cut your intake and see your doctor if you experience any adverse effects.

Miracle Caffeine

There was a time when doctors warned of the dangers of caffeine, especially in regards to pregnant women. Studies showed how the heart beat of a fetus was affected by the mother drinking coffee. However decades later, new studies were unable to duplicate the old results. This is because in many of the old studies, the test subjects were having cigarettes with their coffee!

Healthline has a lot of good things to say about coffee. It tells us that because of its ability to stimulate the central nervous system, caffeine may increase metabolism by up to 11% and fat burning by up to 13%. Caffeine may enhance exercise performance and increase the use of fat as fuel. Despite what you may have heard, caffeine does not raise the risk of heart disease. In fact, recent evidence shows a 16–18% lower risk of heart disease in men and women who drink between one and four cups of coffee each day. Other studies show that drinking 2-4 cups of coffee or green tea per day is linked to a 14–20% lower risk of stroke. Caffeine is also known to protect the liver, promote longevity, decrease cancer risk, protect skin, prevent gout, and support gut health.

Coffee Housing at the bridge table

A cup of coffee at the bridge table is as ubiquitous as the cards themselves. And now we know, coffee is good for bridge players! It will help your endurance, make you happy, and increase your ability to focus.

What’s not good at the bridge table is ‘coffee housing.’  Coffee housing is used by many players as a way to distract, bore, or catch opponents off guard. It is considered quite unethical and when it concerns tempo, also illegal.  Forms of coffee housing at the bridge table might be:

– taking so long to play or bid that the opponents are distracted, no longer focussed, indeed half asleep – and then err because of that. This kind of result is sometimes referred to as the Sominex Coup

– playing so quickly, the opponent(s) are caught off-guard. This happens way more often than it should. It’s a good idea to develop the habit of leaving your card face up until you’ve had time to catch up. On opening lead for example. Partner leads and declarer plays from dummy immediately. You can follow suit, but feel free to leave your card face up and take a moment to look at dummy, count, and make your plan.

– chatter chatter chatter. There are some players who use the coffee housing technique deftly and consistently. Chatter at the table makes it very hard to focus.

– questions. Have you ever had this happen? You’ve played one hand, and are pulling out the cards for your next hand when an opponent asks you “did you have the 6 of hearts?” – what a question! First, not many players would have memorized all their pips, and even if you do know if you had the 6 hearts in the last hand, you’ll wonder why that opponent is asking – and you’ll start going through scenarios that might have affected the outcome of the result, based on the six of hearts. You will, in fact, use up all your brain power and energy on something random regarding a hand that has already been played. Well forget it! It’s total coffee housing.

In fact, there are so many examples of coffee housing, we’re going to write a new article! We’ll outline examples and show you how the rules govern this kind of behaviour.

See you there