Issues about how to better our bridge at the top VI

February 19, 2011 at 6:34 pm 11 comments

Khokan asked this yesterday: ‘Cathy, you keep saying that chess is administered much better than bridge. If that’s the case, what has Australia actually produced chess-wise? I don’t follow chess, but I do follow the general media, and I don’t see much news in the way of Australian results in international events. Is this very different to the bridge situation in Australia?’

At the end of 2007 Australia Zong-Yuan Zhao, became at 21 years old a chess grandmaster. The age is almost old to do that, these days. But nonetheless he did this in a way which can only be considered to be extraordinary. A part time player who was studying at the time, he went overseas and won the first two grandmaster tournaments he played in back to back in a matter of a few weeks. Nobody, not Fisher, not Kasparov, nobody had done that before. Truly an incredible feat. In the same period he achieved the third norm he required and that also was a record, quickest successful attempt at gaining the title.

Bobby Cheng won the under-12 boys’ division of the World Chess Championship in 2009. I understand that we have in Australia a pool of extremely talented young players of this ilk.

I am not saying anything as simplistic as chess is administered better than bridge. BUT chess has done a couple of hugely important things that bridge hasn’t. One is not dumbing the game down. Another is considering prize money to be important. That, after all, is partly why the Vietnamese experiment makes sense, because foreign currency is a dangling attraction. These two things are terribly important to making chess what it is to society and this feeds back to the game, it really does. I’m constantly ashamed by having invested so much of my life in a game which to my non-playing friends is a bit of a joke. That isn’t their fault.

This is an example that comes to mind….a friend was hugely impressed that we were playing in the Commonwealth bridge championships at the Hyatt, but WHICH Hyatt she said, there being two five star Hyatts in Melbourne centre. Ummm…Highett the suburb? Actually, the event was played in a 2 star (?) motel which, I kid you not, was actually used in Kath and Kim.

I will update this later today, but I have to go out right now!


Entry filed under: thoughts on bridge.

Issues about how to better our bridge at the top V Issues about how to better our bridge at the top VII

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. cathyc  |  February 21, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    But Ben, you can’t have it both ways. You want to play teams stronger than you, but not play ones weaker. Well, don’t we all. I dare say, given the chance, there’d be a bunch of teams at international level saying if only we didn’t have to keep playing these Australians….Remember the situation in which the ‘Australian expert’ is the ‘international bunny’.

    I have nothing against lengthening the knockout matches, but all the same, the trouble with the qualifying is that it is much weaker than it used to be. It is obvious that less teams should be qualified to the final, maybe half what are at the moment.

    Because we no longer have any international teams playing, the event is maybe half a dozen strong teams less than it used to be in its heyday.

    Excluding the absence of international interest, the NOT has dropped off substantially because weaker players aren’t playing, not stronger ones. A lot of players, for example, are playing the Seniors instead. Or not playing at all because the ABF policy of national tournaments in all cities means there is local access to good tournaments – thankfully.

    I think letting less teams into the finals, rather than shortening the Swiss is the way to go not just because of course we all want to play stronger teams….but because we all get more value for money having made the effort to turn up.

    It could be as well that we need a period of recovering from those years when there was a split venue, during which time attendance started, perhaps not coincidentally, going downhill.

    • 2. Ben Thompson  |  February 22, 2011 at 5:36 am

      I’m perfectly happy playing teeams roughly as strong as mine, plus or minus in a fairly broad range. I’m also quite happy to play a moderate number of weak teams. What I’m objecting to is spending a lot of time playing mostly moderate teams in order to get a small amount of time playing mostly good teams. The balance is wrong.

      Maybe part of the reason we have few strong international teams at the moment is that the format is unbalanced.

  • 3. khokan  |  February 21, 2011 at 7:26 am


    Ben is making a comparison on the same per capita basis, when comparing the standing of Australia in chess, and in bridge. It’s something the OECD do all the time when comparing the progress of countries with respect to key social and economic indicators. Again, the last paragraph makes the point that Australia’s world chess standing is probably worse than its bridge standing, and if Australia’s chess grandmasters were the equal of WBF grandmasters, then there’s no way they would only be ranked in the top 30 percentile at bridge.

    While it’s difficult to draw strict parallels between the numbers of titles in the two games, one way of comparison is to compare the relative numbers of tournament players in the two games – after all, one only gets masterpoints for tournaments. I’m guessing that a major chess tournament in Australia wouldn’t attract anywhere near the numbers of players as, say, Surfers’ – happy to be proven wrong.

    • 4. cathyc  |  February 21, 2011 at 7:59 am

      Nup. Still lost. What is the point of saying that if we had bridge grandmasters they’d be relatively stronger than our chess grandmasters?

      I was wondering about the numbers of tournament players in each. My guess is that in Australia there are many more ‘bums on seats’, since, if I am correct to say so, that is something the ABF is excellent at producing. I’m guessing that this is not the same world wide.

      This is particularly so if we count juniors. Thousands of juniors compete via school chess in Australia, can we say approximately none in bridge? I noticed this figure for Turkey recently:

      ‘The number of registered chess players in Turkey has increased from 30,000 to 157,000 since 1995. The number of students who select chess as an elective course in school has increased from 100,000 to 2,250,000 during the same period.’

      I gather there are a huge number of kids playing chess in schools and school competition in the US who wouldn’t be counted in statistics such as registered players in the US.

      I noted the other day that AT THE MOMENT, ie this is a developing thing, apparently we have not only one recent world champion in an age category in chess, but a pool of potential candidates for this level of achievement in international competion. Once can expect that chess will develop from there….

      I think this is part of the answer to your question, Khokan, as long as you respect Ben and he respects you, what difference does it make whether society at large respects you? The reason that chess has this position educationally is because society respects the game.

      I know that bridge is big in Turkey compared with many places, but I see they have only 8,000 registered players. I have no clue as to what is behind that. For all I know 5M kids play in school….

      Good night!

  • 5. Ben Thompson  |  February 20, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    I’m sure Zhao’s performance is very fine, but FIDE hands out titles like candy. Chess (FIDE) and Bridge (WBF) each have four levels of international titles, with the top title being grandmaster. But are the titles equivalent?

    FIDE currently has 1,286 Grandmasters, 2,963 International Masters, and a total of 12,090 titled players.

    The WBF has only ever issed 1,007 titles to players. Fewer total titles than just grandmaster titles in chess. There have been just 81 bridge grandmasters. Amongst other challenges, a bridge grandmaster has to win a world title.

    Sounds a lot harder to get a bridge title to me. Or, put another way, chess has dumbed down its titles. A long way.

    And how does Australia go in these two fields?

    Australia has produced 4 chess grandmasters (0.3% of the total), and 85 titled players overall (0.7%)

    In bridge, we have produced no world championships and therefore no grandmasters, but we have produced 30 titled players – 3.0% of the total.

    Doesn’t sound like dynamic success from Australian chess to me.

    Khokan is a great example of this disparity between the games in appearance versus actual performance. He’s played in 5 world championship events, with best finishes of 11th (1997 Bowl) and 15th (2000 Olympiad). Incidentally, the best performance I can find from any Australian chess team is 15th (1970 Olympiad).

    Khokan is currently ranked 1855 by the WBF … and has no world title. Chess players around that rank are mostly International Masters, with some grandmasters. The WBF doesn’t provide the information, but Khokan’s peak ranking would have been around 600. There are very few chess players at that level who are NOT grandmasters. Khokan has been seriously short-changed by chess standards.

    Meanwhile, the 2010 Australian chess team had 3 GMs and 2 IMs. And finished 55th (out of 149), slightly below their seed of 49th. It would be infeasible for a bridge team with that set of titles to be seeded so low, and incomprehensible that it would finish so low.

    • 6. cathyc  |  February 20, 2011 at 8:07 pm

      I started writing a response to this, but it deserves more than a comment. Instead, a post tomorrow.

    • 7. cathyc  |  February 21, 2011 at 4:08 am

      Ben, So far your use of statistics is on the dubious side, wouldn’t you say? The top of the chess which you provide the figures for, rests on a base of hundreds of millions of players. I have no hard statistics either, but having looked around it is certainly at least several hundred million. Bridge? I’m sure there are a lot of ways of looking at the figures, but it is certainly so that there are many, many more chess players than bridge players in the world!

      Also, your last paragraph makes no sense. They finished about where they were seeded. It is hardly incomprehensible for a team to do that.

      • 8. Ben Thompson  |  February 21, 2011 at 8:06 am

        I wouldn’t say my use of stats is in the least bit dubious! We were talking about top level performance. My points are that labels (eg grandmaster) are deceptive as measures of top level performance, and that top level bridge in Australia is rated more successful by its global governing body than chess is. Underscoring my first point, you very reasonably note elsewhere that the Australian grandmaster title is unimpressive.

        I steered clear of “total player” stats because they’re very poor quality – amongst other things, hard to gather, and usually estimated & promulgated by vested interests. Estimates of “people who know how to play” for chess typically hit the 500-700m zone, while they hit more like the 200-300m zone for bridge. Big numbers. Poker estimates, by the way, are typically less effusive. Less need to talk it up, I expect.

        Registered players is a different story, and a much more realistic measure of activity. FIDE estimates around 5m registered players, maybe as many as 7m. I don’t really understand how FIDE can have such a weak grip on its own membership base. The WBF reports 0.7m.

        Exact player numbers isn’t that important. What we can say is that a lot of people play both games, they’re both hard in their own way, and winning a major international tournament is a substantial achievement. And that Australians don’t do a lot of the last item in either game.

      • 9. Ben Thompson  |  February 21, 2011 at 8:18 am

        Brief note this time 🙂

        My last para was not a comment on how the Australian chess team performed. It was just emphasizing that chess titles mean very different things from bridge titles. That impressive set of titles makes it feel like the Australian chess team should be competing for the medals. The reality is that relatively poorly titled Australian bridge teams are typically more competitive.

        • 10. cathyc  |  February 21, 2011 at 6:36 pm

          But Ben, obviously you have only to look at their seeding to see this is not true. Because chess is professionalised and provides many opportunities for strong players to play in world class tournaments, depth has greatly increased in exactly the same way it has in, say, tennis and golf, as these events have also become professionalised.

          In fact, this reminds me of another point lost earlier. Bridge is good at getting bums on seats in Australia, at any rate, I don’t know about elsewhere. But chess has never seen this as important in the same way. So, for example, every second year is the Australian Championship. It is a closed event. You can only enter if you are good enough, if you aren’t you go into the Reserves. Chess segregates good players so they don’t have to play with weak players. That’s something it would be great to have more of in bridge, wouldn’t it?

          • 11. Ben Thompson  |  February 21, 2011 at 9:53 pm

            Now that points to something that irritates me about Canberra.

            The finals series (“interesting”) is way too short compared to the qualifying (“weak”). The typical expert player view is that qualifying should finish a few matches earlier, with the extra time applied to lengthening the KO matches.

            The survey results apparently say that the average player wants to play more matches against strong opposition. So, in essence, the ABF wants strong players to donate their time to provide the entertainment, while providing less of what the strong players want. No wonder Canberra attendance is heading South.


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