Issues about how to better our bridge at the top part II

January 20, 2011 at 6:53 am 12 comments

Bridge has one advantage lacked by chess: financial security. Chess survives on almost no money. But this goes hand in hand with the reason why the one has money and the other doesn’t and this in turn affects issues to do with what the games are like at the top.

Chess has a meaningful ratings system and no money. Bridge sells ratings and has lots of money because people are more than happy to purchase them. The long and the short of it is that chess takes rating points away and bridge doesn’t. It can’t really, having worked out that it is the difference between having money and not.

The other way of making money is through tournaments. Chess runs tournaments in order to reward the players, bridge in order to make money. Part of the logic of that, once one is into the money-making business is to hold more and more tournaments and make them as popular as possible. This is most likely to work against the integrity of the tournament.

These factors add up to the following: a chess rating is earned by hard work and is an accurate reflection of one’s playing strength, a bridge rating is meaningless; a chess title is earned by hard work – to be the Australian champion has a real meaning and significance – while bridge titles, which are a dime a dozen simply cannot hold the same gravitas.

These are not the only, but are certainly important reasons why chess is seen in the community as something weighty while bridge is seen as trivial. Ie bridge sells itself as being trivial, chess as important. As a consequence, bridge has the money, chess the influence. Thus, while chess can gain sponsorship for its top tournaments, including amounts up to millions for world championships, bridge can virtually not attract a cent. Not that bridge wants to, since it sees money as something it wants to keep out of the game. But still, for society at large these are important issues. Society thinks money matters, that professionalism in sport matters. Chess is professionalised and bridge isn’t. BIG difference.

Above all we see this reflected in the school system. I have been given the following as merely ball park figures, but they are from one of the successful chess teaching businesses in Australia. There are going on for a hundred schools in Australia where chess is a curriculum subject and 2000 or so more where it is taught as an extra-curriculum subject. Bridge? I expect the figures are pretty much none and none. The reason is that chess is seen as activity of gravitas and bridge is not. In my opinion bridge will never be seen differently by society at large until IT sees itself as different, ie the administrations from world championship level downwards.

A few thoughts for now, more tomorrow.






Entry filed under: thoughts on bridge.

Issues about how to better our bridge at the top part I Issues about how to better our bridge at the top part III

12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Peter Gill  |  February 6, 2011 at 12:26 am

    I agree with everything that Cathy has written, but I wonder –
    is it politically possible to change bridge into a serious game worldwide? How would we do so? I have often thought bridge needs a change of name, for a start. What building blocks would we need in order to transform bridge?

    As I interviewed Alex Smirnov for the 30 January Daily Bulletin at the NOT a week ago (on the ABF website), my constant thought was “here’s one guy who’s different from the rest of us in that he takes bridge seriously”. His stunning bridge results in the last 15 months (ref the interview) show what happens if a fairly unsuccessful youth bridge player dedicates himself to the game.

    Could a small number of people transform bridge, a bit like Culbertson did, by putting aside their personal longings and making the game serious and then promotable? If we knew how to, then perhaps.

    • 2. Ben Thompson  |  February 7, 2011 at 3:48 pm

      “His stunning bridge results in the last 15 months (ref the interview) show what happens if a fairly unsuccessful youth bridge player dedicates himself to the game.”

      A few local egos will struggle with this, but Alex was quite easily the best player in Canberra this year. Daylight wasn’t second, but it was sure in the running.

      Alex’s excellent bridge results go back a bit further than 15 months. The first was probably 3rd in the Transnational Teams at Shanghai in 2007 behind the strong Zimmerman team (only a year after a “fairly unsuccessful” 43rd in the world junior pairs).

      I think “fairly unsuccessful youth player” is not particularly helpful nor enormously relevant.

      Peter Fredin, for example, who took the silver in the World Pairs in Philadelphia ahead of Alex, was also a fairly unsuccessful youth player. And Alfredo Versace was only a moderately successful youth player. In contrast, it’s quite easy to find very successful youth players with no real success in open events.

      The same is true in almost any sport – there are lots of people who perform well as juniors but do not in open competition, and equally those who don’t do much as juniors but develop into stars in the open.

  • 3. David Morgan  |  January 25, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    I don’t agree that society’s views of bridge and chess are influenced by perceptions of the integrity and accuracy of the rating system or the games’ different approaches to money. Most people have little idea of bridge, even as a recreation; everyone knows about chess and many have played it at some stage of their life. Even in the digital age, chess is still seen as a game worth knowing and as a meaningful test of intelligence. Chess is able to draw on this legacy: think of all the AI research devoted to developing a program that could play, then play well, then defeat a human world champion. Bridge has nothing comparable.

    • 4. cathyc  |  January 25, 2011 at 9:35 pm

      It’s all part of the same thing, David. We have a game that is treated seriously by those that play it, and a game that isn’t. Why do you think chess has that legacy? It hasn’t just happened by luck….My point is that bridge is a game that thinks it is best to promote itself as one where anybody can get masterpoints, anybody can get a title and anybody can win a tournament. No wonder it has nothing comparable.

      • 5. David Morgan  |  January 29, 2011 at 4:38 pm

        I agree with your overall point re how seriously the games are taken (and take themselves) but I think there is more to it than how the game presents itself (and is marketed) now. Chess was already a widely recognised test of intellectual endeavour before contract bridge was invented, indeed before auction bridge was invented. That’s hard to overcome. It was compounded by the way bridge was marketed in the 30s, as a social game. At the time that was a winner because it ensured mass popularity, at least in the USA. But that has disappeared. Now bridge is a social relic for a few, mostly older, and an unknown for most of the rest. I’m always intrigued at the number of people to whom I have to explain what bridge is.

        My view is that the success of the 30s and the residual legacy has influenced the approach administrators, teachers and others take today: come along and play! have fun! it’s an enjoyable social activity that will help keep your brain active and stop the onset of dementia! The emphasis is on numbers. Arguably, that makes sense (especially for teachers and club owners, for whom it’s their bread and butter). If the game is marketed as an elite activity (only Mensa members need apply, say) there will be an even smaller pool of players to draw from.

        As a serious, if not very good, player I wish the players took the game more seriously. For example, I wish we used more board-a-match scoring: US players have for a long time argued — and my limited experience confirms their view — that it’s the best form of scoring to determine the best team. But because poor or average teams, even good teams, rarely beat very good teams, it’s not popular. In the 60s in the USA they replaced double knockout BAM teams events with Swiss IMP ones . . .

        • 6. cathyc  |  January 29, 2011 at 6:02 pm

          Lots to disagree with there, David.

          Absolutely chess has been around for longer, but bridge has a long history too, being intimately connected to whist, of course, which was greatly honoured as a sporting pursuit up to the twentieth century.

          In the 1930s bridge at the top was an important part of the game!! It was hugely popular but this went hand in hand with it being promoted as a game of skill where the best players won. It went hand in hand with social interest in how the top players went, bridge was high profile as well as popular. It absolutely was not marketed in the trivial way you suggest. The very fact that it had a rating system that took away points as well as gave them, like chess, reflects that. But you can’t make money out of doing that and selling ratings, ie masterpoints, has been the backbone of how bridge administration makes money. As a consequence they are locked into making it easier and more attractive for players to spend more and more money on masterpoints.

          Don’t forget, it was in the 1930s that bridge was NEWS. Ie it wasn’t relegated to a games column on a comics page. Not that the newspaper wouldn’t have one of those, but bridge – for example at State level in Australia – was reported on in the news section of the paper. I think you know all this but perhaps have forgotten it. This wasn’t because bridge was a trivial social activity. It was because it was generally played socially, but was respected in its expert form.

          Bridge now experiences the very opposite of respect. It is still seen as something where everybody’s aunt has won something important or is a grand master and that’s because they all are. You can’t actually have it both ways. That was NOT the case in the 1930s.

          The thing that made bridge hugely popular in the 1930s was precisely because it WASN’T only marketed as a social game, but at the same time, it was absolutely encouraged as an activity that could be played at home. Unfortunately bridge administrations since WWII have progressively seen the way to increase THEIR numbers, ie players in clubs, is to discourage them from playing at home. This is a great pity for bridge at all levels. It is the social grass roots aspect of chess, the fact that everybody plays it at some level, mostly completely trivially, of course, that makes people in society at large appreciate it at the top. Naturally if you discourage people from learning bridge except at clubs where they are locked into major investment of time and money, you will end up with a society of people who don’t know how to play.

          So, I think the very last thing that bridge admin is doing now is carrying on the legacy of the 1930s. They have acted in complete opposition to the lessons of that period and suffer the consequences.

          • 7. Richard09  |  January 30, 2011 at 8:29 am

            Certainly it’s true in the US that the ACBL does basically nothing to encourage the playing of Rubber Bridge. All of the emphasis is on Duplicate, and in fact when we give beginner lessons, we aim to prepare them to start playing Duplicate, and mention Rubber only in passing.
            IMHO this hurts in a couple of ways. Rubber Bridge is actually a good game, worth preserving in its own right. But also, playing Rubber sharpens your skills very effectively. (The pain of the wallet draining is a strong motivator.) And a Rubber Bridge afternoon or evening at home is just as much fun as the traditional American poker evening. In the 30s and 40s, that was a popular entertainment and recruiting tool.
            Combine that with the downgrading of masterpoints, and your argument is very persuasive for the US. I guess things are similar for Oz and other places too.

            • 8. cathyc  |  January 30, 2011 at 9:20 am

              Richard, Yes to both your points about rubber bridge. It is particularly tragic right now to see what a big game poker is, which as far as I’m aware, never had an administration trying to stop people playing at home, compared with bridge. A salutary lesson.

              And yes, really good for your bridge in lots of ways.

          • 9. David Morgan  |  January 31, 2011 at 8:41 pm

            Cathy: you’re the historian who’s researched these things in way more detail than I but I don’t think we’re that far apart. What I meant when I said that the emphasis in the 30s was on bridge as a social game was to contrast it with chess, a more solitary game. From my reading of early Bridge Worlds and the books by Culbertson (especially) and others, securing teachers who used Culbertson’s books, and got their pupils to do likewise, was a big part of the game. And the stars were taken seriously but partly because Culbertson had worked assiduously to make himself and Josephine — and, by extension, some of their teammates and opponents — celebrities. It worked a treat — the number of people who played was large and interest was high — but it was ephemeral. So when other things became more interesting or relevant bridge faded in a way that chess did not.

            My gripe is that administrators today follow the same approach Culbertson did, but without his personal genius or anyone who could act as a celebrity as he did. So, it seems to me, the emphasis is on numbers. As i noted before, that makes sense if you are a teacher, a club owner or a bridge association as larger numbers equals more revenue. But it means that few of these people/organisations have much incentive to promote the game itself, hence the lack of interest in rubber bridge or in promoting the game online. Was anyone promoting bridge in Second Life when it was the rage? Does anyone do so now on Facebook? (And I mean promoting the game, not their club or their lessons or their tournaments.) If we can’t get bridge into schools the way chess is — many schools have a chess club — then we need to find ways of tapping into where kids/young people today are just so they know the game exists and what it is about.

  • 10. khokan  |  January 20, 2011 at 8:30 am

    Cathy, I don’t think you’re telling the whole story about bridge ratings. While masterpoints are often a reflection how long one has played, the WBF points system actually does devalue points earned and places greater value on recent placings in major world/regional events. I think that Fantoni is currently number one.

    Also, I’m not quite sure about events with “gravitas”. I reckon it’s pretty hard to win most Australian titles. The only events I think that are a bit random are the state-based events – Interstate Teams and the Grand Nationals.

  • 11. khokan  |  January 20, 2011 at 8:12 am

    Cathy, can the top Australian chess players make a decent living from it, and how do they compare against the best in the world?

    • 12. cathyc  |  January 20, 2011 at 8:16 am

      Tomorrow. It’s almost midnight here, my bedtime!


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