Thoughts on the World Championship book

November 10, 2009 at 6:31 am 19 comments

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for ages.

A couple of years ago at the Shanghai Bermuda Bowl, Brian Senior invited me to write as much of the Round Robin section for the Open and Women’s as I desired. What a nice invitation!

It set me on a path of thinking, before I went, about the nature and function of the World Championship books. Once upon a time they were the most exciting repository of information available to the bridge world. Every card and bid of the WC final, dispassionate, merely telling the tale, not embellishing it in any way. One was able to come to one’s one conclusion about what had happened.

Is there still a role for the WC book to be like this? Now, when we have on the Internet every bid and play recorded. Now, too, when we have lavish Daily Bulletins, again fixed on the Internet for posterity.

It seemed to me, that the part of the book I was writing was best off avoiding what was already going to be available online. Therefore the first thing I did was watch no matches that were going to be Vu-graphed. I also wanted to avoid writing up hands which were already reported in the Daily Bulletins. In other words to make this value for money by giving the reader new material, or, if you like, to record for posterity things that otherwise would be left unknown.

In line with this idea, I decided to follow some teams which I thought would have the potential to do really well, but wouldn’t be considered especially exciting vu-graph material.

Ireland because they’d had that great result of 2nd in the European recently. Could they keep it up?
Argentina because any team with Lambardi on it has to be a chance. Honestly, if Pablo was playing with three tinned fish I’d still be expecting him to get up.
Indonesia because they are so frustratingly close to pulling off the big one, but does anybody really expect them to? And they are my friends and neighbours.
Australia because I’m completely parochial.

Okay. Now you sit, you watch, you collect data which will tell a story. Its story.

One of the things that happened in this tournament was that Ireland and Australia both had dreadful starts. So after a few rounds I sat down to watch these two teams play each other and I guess I was already expecting what the story would be. Ireland finally gets its act together by trouncing Australia and then steadily moves up the ranks to take its rightful place, whilst Australia languishes sadly at the bottom of the field.

But the data, of course, is what’s telling the story. What happened in fact was that Australia emerged easy victors and it was Ireland that was never in the hunt. Australia had a splendid qualifying, staying in the top few throughout. Meanwhile, Indonesia was never convincing and Pablo struggled.

The data was telling a story and the story that was developing seems to be looking at the hardest question in sport to answer: why do teams lose? A harder question, even, it seems to me to answer than why do they win?

Argentina, Indonesia, Ireland are all teams that might easily do well and yet why was this the two weeks when things were tough for them, when their luck was never in?

I didn’t do a good job, in the end, of presenting this story. Partly this was because the copy that went into the WC book was, due to some sort of communication failure, not the copy that should have been there. It was incomplete and badly proofread.

Still, the fact is that it is a hard topic to write about. Yet I hope it was also a fascinating one which is rarely if ever preserved, since it is so much easier to write about the winner.

If anybody reading this has ideas on what the WC book should look like these days, opinions more than welcome!


Entry filed under: thoughts on bridge.

What’s it to be? Concluded When shouldn’t you think at bridge?

19 Comments Add your own

  • 1. sartaj  |  November 11, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    How about a chapter on “One day in the life of Giorgio Duboin”

    There would be plenty of people out there, part of the team entourages, with plenty of information about preparation, attitude and human interest stories who could write interesting pieces.

    Instead, the writers in bridge seem limited to a handful who go through the hands in the standard accepted fashion, coloring it with their own view of how bridge works etc.

    While someone like Kokish is a spectacular commentator on, say, the finals the early stages might be better served by off-hand commentary from observers from different teams; with some hands thrown in….

    • 2. cathychua  |  November 11, 2009 at 4:04 pm

      One of the great things about the WC book historically is that it did no more than record. But, given the Internet, is it adequate/appropriate for that to be what the WC book does these days?

      • 3. Richard  |  November 12, 2009 at 12:44 am

        My feeling is no. If all that is wanted is recording, then preserving the hand records and detailed results is enough, and you don’t need an author at all. If you want the book to tell “the story of the championship” or something, you are asking for an author to bring some sort of point of view.

        To single out any one nation or group of nations seems a little unfair to me, which is why I suggested a sort of summary for each nation. It would be a big book and a lot of work, so maybe that idea isn’t practical, but anyway…

      • 4. Peter Gill  |  November 12, 2009 at 11:44 pm

        If you try to look up any hands from Sao Paulo, for the last five weeks you get the message “There is no play data for this match.”
        Therefore, WBF inefficiency might affect one’s answer.

    • 5. andrew webb  |  November 12, 2009 at 8:25 am

      I’m in sympathy with this – I would like to see a lot more information from the round robin, although I’m not altogether sure about the human interest stories; I don’t want to turn it into American golf coverage. The occasional HIS is OK, but they can be seriously overdone. Perhaps an interview-style genre could be developed, so team members can provide a commentary to an interviewer/analyst/writer.

      Further, I’m not at all convinced that the BBO play records are adequate. At the very least, I’d like them to be checked because I know vugraf operators make mistakes, some use the “always play low card” option, etc. Nor is the commentary on BBO always that great – and I have special knowledge on that, as I have been known to provide it. Also, thematic issues that arise over the course of a match may not be visible a.) to non-experts b.) immediately, so there is still scope for a detailed commentary prepared after due thought.

      But the publication I’d really like is a Wisden for bridge.

      • 6. cathychua  |  November 12, 2009 at 9:16 am

        A bridge Wisden’s. I like that.

  • 7. Nigel Kearney  |  November 11, 2009 at 8:49 am

    Do we have every bid and play recorded on the Internet? If so, where? Especially for the round-robin. There are links on the official web site but many just say ‘There is no play data for this match’.

    • 8. cathychua  |  November 11, 2009 at 4:06 pm

      No, we don’t have it for the qualifying, the complete internet record. But there will be approx. 4 matches per round which are covered and I wondered it made sense to avoid these matches while looking at the qualifying for the book. Then again, I guess a good hand is a good hand, and even if it is recorded in 4 BBO matches, two Daily Bulletin stories, does that mean it shouldn’t go in the book as well???

      • 9. Peter Gill  |  November 12, 2009 at 11:47 pm

        The WC hand records and data of every table’s action on every board was on the WBF site until a week or two after Sao Paulo finished, when it was all removed. I have no idea why it was removed.

        • 10. cathychua  |  November 13, 2009 at 12:18 am

          This is really terrible. Obviously all this information should be permanently available.

  • 11. David Morgan  |  November 10, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    The question of why teams win and lose is one that is insufficiently explored IMO. I’m a big believer in the mental dimension of the game: in bridge, like most (all?) other competitive endeavours, it has a huge impact. You see it when teams expect to do well: when Lavazza came to the NOT six or seven years ago it was obvious that they expected to win the event. They had great confidence and their aura helped them be successful. (In a similar way Tim and Dick also expected to win and often did. And so have other teams: think of Australia’s dominance of cricket for most of the 2000s: other teams expected to lose even before they started to play.)

    Most of us don’t play in such teams or partnerships so the real question is what we can learn from them and what we can do to improve our success rate. I found the discussion of the mental preparation of the Irish team in “Silver for Ireland”, the story of how Ireland qualified for Shanghai, very thought-provoking.


    • 12. cathychua  |  November 11, 2009 at 8:22 am

      I haven’t read ‘Silver for Ireland’ but one of my themes for Shanghai was that the tournament was dirt for Ireland. How does that fit into their story? Will they ever write it? Probably not, and yet I could imagine nothing more interesting than this sequel to their moment of triumph.

      As for confidence, that is surely a double-edged sword. Look at top sportsmen and the one thing they all have in common is a refusal to take anything for granted. Federer might be asked how he is going to go in round 3 and his answer will be ‘I still have to get through round 2 and that will be tough. So and So is playing well.’ Now, as it happens So and So is ranked 328 in the world and has never taken a set off Federer. And I feel that was very much the case when Lavassa came to Australia. They might have LOOKED confident, and I’m not exactly saying they weren’t. But at the same time, although they were expected to play an ex-world champion team in the final and instead came up against my team, I was totally impressed at how seriously they took it. You never felt like they thought it was won until it was won.

      • 13. Ben Thompson  |  November 11, 2009 at 10:03 am

        My perspective is that sporting champions are extremely good at staying “in the moment”. It’s a cliche, but it’s true. The only thing you can change is what’s happening now. When you’re in the contest, you can’t take back your error on the previous hand, and there’s no value in wondering what your opening bid on the next hand should be. The value of confidence is that it enables you to stay in the moment.

        Win the moments, win the match.

      • 14. David Morgan  |  November 11, 2009 at 8:49 pm

        “Will they ever write it?” Yes, although not in exactly the same format. This time it was in A Bridge Too Far, Tom Hanlon’s co-written biography of his first year as a pro player. (The co-author was Enda Murphy, the author of Silver for Ireland.) There’s an interesting chapter about the disappointment of not doing well at Shanghai. Alas, this has less analysis than the earlier book’s discussion of why the Irish team had done so well in getting to and at the European championships so it’s not as insightful.


      • 15. Peter Gill  |  November 12, 2009 at 11:56 pm

        Alfredo Versace tells a funny story about how, when they scored up to find they trailed Marston by 82 imps at half-time of their NOT semi, the question arose of who tells Mme Lavazza the bad news. “You go,”, “no, you”, “not me” … Being with worst negotiator, Alfredo finds himself forced to make the long trek, one of the hardest things he’d ever had to do, he said. The joy when they came back to win the match was phenomenal, he said.

        I wish I could tell the story with the same Italian charisma and panache which Alfredo does, but I can’t.

  • 16. David Morgan  |  November 10, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    I’ve always wondered about how best to write up the round-robin stages. I have to be honest and say that I usually do little more than skim that section of the WC book because I’m interested in the bridge that matters (the final, sometimes semis and other knockout matches) and, well, it’s rarely written in a way that appeals to me. (The 1983 book is an exception: that was because who would qualify was unclear until the final board and the writers sensibly looked at what happened in all the matches in the final round — as they had done for a selection of deals from earlier matches.)

    I’ve wondered if a thematic approach would be better: maybe looking at a selection of deals that highlight contentious issues (e.g. weak v strong notrumps or four- vs five-card majors) or how bridge is changing at expert levels (e.g. how strong notrumps are getting weaker and weaker, how games are routinely bid with fewer HCP, lighter competitive actions). Or maybe just picking a few deals at random and writing up what happened in every match (a format The Bridge World has followed on two or three occasions when reporting on major pairs events).

    Another idea is to explore what it is that makes some teams successful: look at how teams perform after they have lost big (or won big).

    To be fair, it is a harder task now because the number of teams is so much greater (and so is the number of matches) and some of them are not WC standard.

    While I haven’t seen Cathy’s writeup of the Shanghai WCs (haven’t got that book yet), I have read much of her other bridge writing and think it would be a Good Thing if she were to do more of it from such events.


  • 17. Richard  |  November 10, 2009 at 9:09 am

    I mean, all those stories.

  • 18. Richard  |  November 10, 2009 at 9:08 am

    Perhaps I’m aiming in the wrong direction, but it seems to me that every country has a story of expectations and how they were fulfilled or not. And for a lot of countries, I had no idea. I mean, for instance, the Bulgarians are apparently a top-flight team. At the start of this Bermuda Bowl, I didn’t know that. That’s just my ignorance: I’m sure people who actually play or mingle at that level knew that. But what I’m saying is, for us plebs, there’s a lot of potentially interesting tales about how this country or that did better or worse than expected. And maybe the book should try and illuminate those stories.

    • 19. cathychua  |  November 11, 2009 at 8:24 am

      I guess in a way I was doing that. But somehow I feel like the important thing is that the bridge tells the story. I didn’t know what the story was going to be until I started writing up my hands after each match and realised that it was taking shape to be a particular thing.


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