The world chess championship

May 13, 2010 at 4:43 pm 36 comments

I was hoping to find out how many people actually watched this live, but so far have not succeeded. Hundreds of thousands maybe? Over a million euros for the winner, going on for that for the runnerup and richly deserved by both. It was a fabulous contest, the games were wildly exciting.

Why can’t bridge be like that? Have we exhausted the arguments?

I was talking to an English friend yesterday who said ‘but you have prize money in Australia, don’t you?’. Well, no we don’t. Surfers has a tiny amount which, correct me if I’m wrong, hasn’t changed for so many years it must have halved in value at least by now. Congresses have prize money which hasn’t increased in all the time I’ve been playing, so ditto. Not that it was meaningful then either.

So, what does everybody else think?


Entry filed under: chess, thoughts on bridge.

History of Australian Bridge

36 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ben Thompson  |  May 23, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    “if we wanted to know the best players we would always use board-a-match scoring”

    I don’t agree at all. Different forms of scoring test different aspects of the game differently. BAM emphasises cardplay, even more so than matchpoint pairs (where you can salvage a vaguely adequate score in the play despite your misbids, or get to average-plus in the bidding and suffer less from your misplays). IMPs emphasises bidding, particularly game bidding.

    Maybe the Reisinger winners feature less on IMP team winner lists because their bidding is comparatively rudimentary.

    • 2. cathychua  |  May 23, 2010 at 6:32 pm

      I’ve always thought matchpoint pairs was by far the toughest form of the game, which is why, after all, it has virtually disappeared from our tournament calendar. We don’t want tests of skill, we want as many people as possible to win things.

  • 3. No Money in Bridge « Board Games  |  May 22, 2010 at 11:09 pm

    […] of “Australian Chess at the Top”, Cathy Chua, who now blogs on bridge, writes: I was hoping to find out how many people actually watched this live, but so far have not […]

  • 4. David Morgan  |  May 22, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Cathy Chua wrote: “Bridge is designed so that as many people win prestigious sounding titles as possible.”

    This is clearly true: if we wanted to know the best players we would always use board-a-match scoring. Just compare the winners of the Reisinger with those of the Spingold or Vanderbilt: many more players have “lucked” their way to a win in the latter two events than the former. (Doesn’t happen often now given the number of professionals who enter.) You can also tell by the entries: most good players don’t bother entering the Reisinger — it has a much smaller field than the others — because they know they have no chance.

    Of course, identifying the best players isn’t the only (or even the highest) priority for most bridge clubs/national associations. And maybe it makes sense for them to run events that use scoring that increases the luck element — think Swiss IMP pairs — if that encourages more people to participate (or more people to continue to participate). That was certainly a factor in the USA when “congresses” switched from BAM events to Swiss IMPed teams events in the 1960s.

    Me, I think that’s the wromg way to look at the problem: better to use the fairest scoring — the one that minimises (but does not eliminate) the luck factor — and run multiple fields (the best, the good, etc).

    Of course, that would take away one of the unique attractions of bridge, one that all non-bridge players I discuss the game with regard as remarkable: that a patzer like me can sit at the same table as a world champion and, even more remarkably, have a modest chance of beating that person/pair. If I played tennis with Roger I’d be lucky to get racket onto ball; ditto for cricket or any other sport. And if I played Anand I’d be in trouble after 15 moves.


    • 5. cathychua  |  May 22, 2010 at 9:07 pm

      Yes, obviously the fact that there is a big luck element in bridge over a VERY short term is something which is a great shortcoming in terms of gaining respect.

  • 6. Clifford  |  May 22, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    The official 2010 World Chess Championship web site in Sofia claimed 400,000 – 500,000 visitors on each play day, except the final game where the figure rose to 700,000.
    In addition, a commentary site such as Susan Polgar’s blog – one of many – claimed to average 80,000 viewers a day so the numbers watching the Sofia match were indeed large.
    It helped, of course that one of the players was Indian, though most site reported that the largest percentage of viewers from one country came from the US.

    • 7. cathychua  |  May 22, 2010 at 4:32 pm

      Thanks for this information, obviously I did a bad job of finding it. There there were sites like where one could watch live as well, I understand. I’m guessing that these figures might even have been disapppointing by chess standards.

      What I don’t understand is that bridge players and administration don’t think it matters in the least if nobody has any interest in bridge. And it is clear when we have a discussion like this, which does actually involve relatively interested players, that there is no concern whatsoeverwith how things are.

      I’d compare bridge with something like croquet, but I understand that croquet does have good prize money and non-croquet players are more likely to have heard of croquet than bridge!

    • 8. cathychua  |  May 23, 2010 at 7:54 am

      By the way, I wonder if you can answer this. Yes, I guess there must have been lots of Indians watching. But why no interest in sponsoring the match, when there is such incredible wealth in India and the current world champion is Indian?

  • 9. sartaj  |  May 20, 2010 at 12:17 am

    Chess players worship their elite.
    Bridge players dont.

    Thats one reason the world chess championship prize fund is in millions while in Bridge, Meckstroth making 100K a year for the big four events is a newsflash.

    I am a chess player and i can name every world champion for the last hundred years.
    I am a bridge player and I would struggle to name every world champion for the last five years. Most couldnt name the full team that won last year.

    • 10. cathychua  |  May 20, 2010 at 1:22 am

      All part of the dilemma, isn’t it. For the very best to make such a small amount of money, as you are suggesting of Meckstroth just goes to show how badly paid it is, even for top players.

      I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m picking on sponsors, I certainly don’t mean to do that. They have played an extremely important rold in Australian bridge and will, one hopes, continue to do so.

    • 11. cathychua  |  May 20, 2010 at 7:36 am

      I’m also thinking doesn’t this also indicate how mickey mouse the whole idea of bridge titles are….we all know that to win a world chess championship is an amazing feat. To win a bridge world championship? Nothing like it!

  • 12. Andrew  |  May 19, 2010 at 11:03 am

    From the NYT

    “In its 1,500-year history, chess has imbedded itself in the world’s culture and vocabulary. Ideas, terms and images from the game have long been used as proxies for intelligence and complexity.”

    Bridge has a long way to go in the propaganda wars before people are saying this about it.

    I don’t have your connections with chess, but I would have said that not that many people (maybe we should cast it in terms of %-age of pros/players) are actually making a living from solely playing chess; nor am I so familiar with the US bridge scene, but my impression of it is that enough players are making a living out of the game to fund a lot of “pure” partnerships. Maybe it’s more a question of markets than games.

    As to respect, I’m not that concerned. I know what the game is worth.

    None of this is to say that I wouldn’t have been extremely happy to have been paid to spend my life playing cards; but it would have to have been pretty easy, because I used to be a lazy SOB.

  • 13. Chris Mulley  |  May 18, 2010 at 9:47 am

    It’s interesting … one of the reasons I switched my allegiance from chess to bridge was that (as a junior) the State chess association did not pay for ANYTHING. As a result, despite winning numerous state under-age championships, the only Nationals I played in (Open or Junior) were the ones in Perth.

    By contrast, when I started playing bridge, I was being subsidised to go to the ANC every year and to the Summer Festival a couple of times. That is not to mention all of the other people who supported our own fundraising efforts. None of this amountded to “indemnity” funding, but it was a huge step up from what CAWA were doing for me.

    • 14. cathychua  |  May 18, 2010 at 10:30 pm

      I must say, I’m sure that bridge does more for kids than for adults. I know various promising juniors at bridge who gave up the moment they stopped receiving finance.

  • 15. Rainer Herrmann  |  May 14, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    Why are you so keen making Bridge a big money sport?
    I rather like the notion that people play Bridge for fun or for their ego, but not because a lot of money is involved.
    It also helps keeping cheating at bay.
    If that differentiates Bridge from other activities all the more reason to keep it that way.

    • 16. cathychua  |  May 15, 2010 at 6:53 am

      The idea that it keeps cheating at bay is clearly ridiculous. People cheat because it’s in their nature, not because there is money involved. The history of bridge makes that pretty clear, doesn’t it?

      Why do I want prize money in bridge? Two obvious reasons for a start.

      (1) So that it is possible to play it seriously without being wealthy. Having no prize money is a way of keeping poor people out.
      (2) Because bridge is a joke to society at large and this is one of the reasons. When, as you say, it is just a game to have fun at and win titles and trophies you don’t deserve, there is nothing to respect. I think this is a great pity, having come to bridge from a sport that is highly regarded by society, ie, chess.

      • 17. Rainer Herrmann  |  May 15, 2010 at 6:20 pm

        People of course cheat for a variety of reasons. But a frequent motive for cheating is for material gain.
        I am not claiming that there is no cheating now in Bridge, but it is rare and I would be surprised if we would not get a more frequent and worse problem, once real money is at stake.
        You only need to look at other sports, where big money is at stake and games get rigged, to see that this is anything but ridiculous.

        Compared to many other sports (Golf comes to mind), Bridge is a cheap hobby. I do not think there are many poor people, who can not take up the game, because they can not afford it, but would be able to once big price money is at stake.
        The opposite is more likely. The money would often have to come from entry fees to tournaments, which poor people may then be less able to afford.

        • 18. cathychua  |  May 16, 2010 at 3:39 am

          If bridge were treated with respect, then sponsorship would come and from that prize money. It only comes from entry fees because bridge is incapable of attracting social, and therefore financial, interest. An example of a wellrun well sponsored tournament is the NEC in Japan where the top teams are given subsidies to attend.

          I’m not suggesting that poor people can’t take up bridge. I am suggesting that by lack of prize money they are prevented from competing at high levels. You keep bridge for rich people, which is exactly what it is now. I have a friend who figured out very quickly that playing for her country, after a fairly short period of time, had already cost her the price of a house. For her it was a no-brainer, she gave up playing for her country. Golf may be expensive to play, but IF YOU ARE GOOD AT IT, you can make it your everyday existence because there is prize money. Bridge is the only sport left in the world I’m aware of that thinks this is a good thing. And it is treated by society commensurately. It deserves better.

      • 19. Bill Jacobs  |  May 17, 2010 at 12:30 pm

        “I have a friend who figured out very quickly that playing for her country, after a fairly short period of time, had already cost her the price of a house.”

        Gee, I would just LOVE to see the arithmetic behind that calculation!

        • 20. cathychua  |  May 17, 2010 at 4:42 pm

          It’s not very hard, Bill. You spend maybe four weeks a year playing qualifying events and the playoff. It could easily be more than this, I imagine. Hotels, airfares etc, entry fees, etc. You go overseas. Well, at the time she was playing, that cost a fortune. I was aghast when I qualified – and hadn’t even wanted to – for the 1988 Venice Cup. The ABF gave us enough money for an inadequate airfare, no more than that, and we were told we had to stay together. It was all rather embarrassing when, as a consequence, forced everybody to stay in a dump because that’s what I could afford. Still, it cost me a couple of thousand dollars at least. Most of the others moved into nice hotels once they were there. That’s the thing. Only wealthy people can comfortably afford the process, so they don’t care how much it is costing.

          In contrast, when I played two chess Olympiads, a sport which is respected by the community and sponsored as a consequence, I paid nothing.

          The funny thing is that if I told you there were two Olympic games on – the amateur one and the professional one – you would all watch the professional one. What’s special about bridge???!

      • 21. Bill Jacobs  |  May 18, 2010 at 4:37 pm

        Yeah, well the median house price in Melbourne is around $450,000. Good luck with the “not very hard” arithmetic.

        I’ve represented my country 3 times, and the out of pocket cost might have been about 3% of that, even allowing for inflation.

        Maybe your friend’s country is different.

        I’m with the other side on this argument. Prize money is no big deal for me. Basically it’s irrelevent for me. Maybe I have a bad attitude.

        • 22. cathychua  |  May 18, 2010 at 10:29 pm

          Bill, we are talking about $100,000 twenty years ago or more. I think an apartment would have done her. A roof over her head.

          As for your bad attitude, I wouldn’t mind betting that you think that society at large should have a better attitude towards bridge, you probably wish it was treated with respect. Maybe you don’t? Maybe you don’t think its status in the world matters.

      • 23. Bill Jacobs  |  May 19, 2010 at 9:57 am

        I WOULD like to see bridge treated with more respect, for one specific reason:

        Medical research has suggested that it is an effective weapon against mental disease, in particular Alzheimer’s disease.

        So if bridge had a better reputation, then more people would play it, and the incidence of Alzheimer’s would decrease. How’s that for a simplistic piece of logic?

        Whilst publicity from the likes of Buffet/Gates can help, along with the associated prize money involved, I would think that the primary strategy should be a push from government and health industry to encourage and publicize pastimes that promote social activity and exercise the brain (the two key components of why bridge helps to ward off Alzheimer’s).

    • 24. phil markey  |  May 19, 2010 at 6:25 pm

      if you play for australia and take it seriously such that you might try and play some decent strength lead-up event(s) and you arrive at a overseas venue close to a week before you start – i think your talking maybe 10-12 weeks away from home a year

      that might cost you say 2K a week in money your not making by staying at home – your obviously out of pocket when your away too – i mean you dont get any subsidy to play the nationall events you have to to get to play for australia and the subsidy you do get isnt enough – so call that another $750 a week

      i dont think what cathy said is over the top

  • 25. phil markey  |  May 14, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    i was just a bit excited when i got a trophy and an envelope at the victory dinner at the NZ nationals last year for winning the same sex pairs – $50NZ – converted to about one lavish australian hot breakfast so i’m happy

    • 26. cathychua  |  May 15, 2010 at 6:55 am

      And is the reason you feel like this because you don’t have to be concerned with money? If you were a poor person who couldn’t afford to play, even though you were the best in the world, perhaps, because it is SO expensive with no chance of recovering your costs, would you feel like that? Would you think it was a pity that even though you were really good at this game you couldn’t play it?

      • 27. khokan  |  May 16, 2010 at 4:00 pm

        This doesn’t make much sense, Cathy. If you’re a world class bridge player, you’ll get sponsored to play, so you don’t need to resort to prize money to survive – you only need to look at the composition of the top teams at the American Nationals to see this.

        To a lesser extent, the same thing happens in Australia. I’m not convinced that having prize money raises the level of tournaments. Anyway, I think that bridge is pretty much an egalitarian pastime, certainly in Australia. You only need to look at the people who do well is most events – a high proportion of them are full-time bridge players, with not a lot of means. You just need to decide how much effort you want to put into it, compared to other things.

        • 28. cathychua  |  May 16, 2010 at 4:51 pm

          Khokan, Sorry, but this argument sucks. On the one hand ‘we’, meaning the community as a whole, greatly regret extremely wealthy people getting on teams because of their money, we greatly regret the impact it has on the bridge of their hired hands, etc etc etc, but apparently we want to argue that this is good because it permits livings to be made.

          You can’t have that both ways. If bridge permitted players the dignity that any major sport does now, of being able to play it for prize money, which is won by being better than other people, then players would have not to rely on sponsors, they could develop their talents appropriately, etc etc etc.

          Don’t think writing this means I have something against sponsors. Certainly while we are denied prize money in bridge, they provide a wonderful service. If there is prize money in bridge and they win it all, well, so be it!

          I’m trying to think what the equivalent of your argument is. Maybe telling me people like Tiger Woods can make good money caddying for rich people in a world where there was no prize money for golf.

        • 29. cathychua  |  May 18, 2010 at 10:45 pm

          Khokan, You aren’t really going to call people who desperately hope each event that they can find somebody to pick up their expenses, professionals, do you?!

          Having done some of this myself, I can’t help thinking of the following conversation I had with one ‘sponsor’, who thought that it was all about bargaining me down. I said my fee would be ‘x’ plus hotel room.

          Sponsor, trying to save a few bucks ‘Will so-and-so be sharing your room? I don’t have to pay for him, do I?’

          Me: ‘So are you telling me if I have a guy in for a shag during the tournament that I have to charge him half the nightly room rate on his way out in the morning and refund it to you?’

          Sponsor duly sacked.

          You can all this stuff playing for money if you like. But it isn’t really, is it? It’s something people do as well as a proper job, or because they don’t have the skills to get a proper job.

          I’m not suggesting that there aren’t great people out there paying money to desperates and letting them play bridge as a consequence. I am suggesting it is precarious and hardly a living in any sense of the word.

      • 30. khokan  |  May 16, 2010 at 6:16 pm

        I, for one, don’t regret that sponsors get to win major bridge tournaments because, as you say, they’re helping the professionals, too. I also don’t think that it’s undignified to be a professional.

        The acid test would be to find out whether different peopple would win the major tournaments if there was prize money, and whether this would improve Australia’s (admittedly mediocre) world standing in bridge. My guess would be that it wouldn’t.

        You can’t really compare caddying at golf to being a bridge porofessional – after all, who remembers the name of Tiger Woods’ caddy? Everyone in bridge, however, knows about Zia, Meckstroth etc, because they actual play and win.

        I think that, if you’re good enough at bridge, you’re going to be able to develop your talents through private sponsorship. The top bridge players playing in US events, including non-US residents can make quite a decent living.

        I don’t know if you can compare bridge to chess in this regard, as I don’t know if there are many private sponsors in chess.

        • 31. cathychua  |  May 17, 2010 at 4:58 am

          You certainly can’t compare chess and bridge. Chess was the first professionalised sport in the world from the mid eighteen hundreds. Now it is straightforwardly a professional sport. Good players receive their expenses, appearance money etc to play in tournaments, exactly like all the other sports except bridge.

        • 32. cathychua  |  May 18, 2010 at 10:39 pm

          Khokan So, with no offence to Sara Tishler, etc, you think that Bobby Richman, by playing with such a partner, has reached the zenith of his bridge potential?

      • 33. Ben Thompson  |  May 17, 2010 at 10:54 am

        “Chess was the first professionalised sport in the world from the mid eighteen hundreds”

        Professionalised sport goes back a little earlier than the mid 1800s. Gladiating springs to mind. In the same period, the lion tamers got reasonably well paid, the Christians less so.

        • 34. cathychua  |  May 17, 2010 at 4:43 pm

          I don’t know if being paid is quite the same as being professionalised….but I know nothing about ancient Roman sports.

      • 35. khokan  |  May 19, 2010 at 1:23 pm

        ….”with no offence to Sara Tishler, etc, you think that Bobby Richman, by playing with such a partner, has reached the zenith of his bridge potential?”

        I’d have to say that, in my opinion, Bob Richman has reached the zenith of his potential. Given that he’s won everything in Australia many times and also come third in a Bermuda Bowl, that’s not a bad high-point for any player, and as good as anyone in Australia.

        Do I think that he would have gone further if there was prize money in bridge? I doubt it, but we’ll never know. I’d definitely class players like Bobby and Seamus, who have played bridge for a living for almost all their working lives, as bridge professionals. There’s all kinds of “sponsorship” in bridge, ranging from bare expenses, to what equates to a very decent salary, even in Australia.

        “Because bridge is a joke to society at large and this is one of the reasons. When, as you say, it is just a game to have fun at and win titles and trophies you don’t deserve, there is nothing to respect.”

        I’m not sure what you’re getting at, here? Why would you suggest bridge players win trophies they don’t deserve? Why would people “respect” bridge if major prize money is available? I think that, to a very large extent, the people that have won major events did so because they deserved them and prize money has little influence on the community’s perception of bridge.

        You might compare bridge to poker, which has big prize money. I don’t know if poker has earned the community’s “respect”, even though it’s every bit as tough a game to play as bridge.

        • 36. cathychua  |  May 20, 2010 at 1:18 am

          You are so wrong! Bridge is designed so that as many people win prestigious sounding titles as possible. Everybody has a grandmother who’s won something and as a consequence they know it means nothing. Everybody’s a grand master etc. Winning at bridge, as far as society at large is concerned is utterly meaningless. Chess is so different from that.

          I am sometimes a bit taken aback at the reaction of people who aren’t bridge players to the lack of prize money, but it’s true. They can’t believe that we play a game which has no prize money. They think it’s pathetic when they ask what you’ve won and the reply is ‘nothing’. That you’ve lost money, as usual.


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