Shrewsbury brothers become youngest North American bridge champions

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Eric and Jeff Xiao recently won a major bridge honor on a team with their father, Victor as well as Sarik Goyal of Worcester and Kyle Rockoff of Gilbert, Arizona. (Photo/submitted)

SHREWSBURY – A pair of Shrewsbury brothers recently made history in the game of bridge, becoming the youngest people to win a limited North American Bridge Championship (NABC) event.

Eric Xiao, 13, and Jeff Xiao, 10, won the 0-10,000 point Knockout Teams event at the Spring 2022 NABC in Reno, Nevada. They played on a team with their father, Victor Xiao as well as Sarik Goyal of Worcester and Kyle Rockoff of Gilbert, Arizona.

“It feels amazing because I never thought that I’d break the record for winning a limited NABC event,” Jeff said in a recent interview. 

‘It’s way out of our expectations’

Bridge is a team sport consisting of two parts — bidding and playing the cards. During the bid, players on the same team have to communicate with each other without directly telling them about their cards. As a result, players use a code called a system.

Victor Xiao said he first got interested in playing bridge when he was in college and graduate school in the late 1990s. He stopped playing for more than a decade to focus on making a living. But he still enjoyed reading books about the game and translating them from English to Chinese.

One day in 2019, Victor had notes about a system and noticed Eric reading them. About a month later, he tested Eric about it.

“It’s a very complicated system, like Morse code,” Victor said. “I tested him and, surprisingly, I found out that he memorized 90 percent of it.”

Victor and Eric then went to a local bridge club in Sterling. While their debut was not successful, they kept practicing and earned their first points at a club a month or two later. 

They continued their improvement in June 2019, performing well at a regional tournament.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, Victor and Eric began practicing bridge online. Jeff then started playing in 2021. 

The recent spring championship was the trio’s first in-person event since coming together as a team.

“It’s way out of our expectations, because I had no expectation at all before we went to Reno,” Victor said.

Players to compete again in July

The 0-10,000 point Knockout Teams event is limited to players who have accumulated less than 10,000 points, which are accrued over time at bridge events. 

Victor said that massing 10,000 points is extremely difficult, noting that there are still very good players who have not passed the threshold. 

The previous youngest champion before Jeff and Eric had won a 0-1,500 pairs event in 2011.

Celebrating their recent win, Eric and Jeff represent an anomaly as very young players in a game that is typically associated with much older players.

The three will now attend the next NABC event in Providence, Rhode Island, from July 14 to July 24. 

At the end of the year, Jeff and Eric then plan to try out for the national U-16 team in Chicago to represent the US in next year’s world championship.

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