Issues about how to better our bridge at the top VII

February 21, 2011 at 4:05 am 2 comments

Please refer to Ben’s lengthy comment yesterday before reading this!

I’m sorry, it would never cross my mind to compare titles in bridge and chess. At local level everybody is a grandmaster in bridge, right? Do you KNOW anybody who isn’t? In chess the title is only international and anybody can get it by competing in appropriately graded international events and performing as required. Not only that, but along the way you’ve picked up prize money. In bridge you can only become a grandmaster, talking of the international title now, by playing in world championships. That’s it! That means almost nobody can ever think of becoming a grandmaster. Chess, by the way, ranks grandmasters in meaningful ways, so that there are expressions such as ‘super grandmasters.’ A spade may be a spade, but a grandmaster is not a grandmaster.

The difficulty of becoming a bridge grandmaster certainly makes it more elitist, but it also makes it obviously unfair. You could be the best player in the world and never get the chance at this title because you play for the wrong country or you simply can’t afford to set about playing. Because there is no prize money in bridge and because you only get any expenses at the level where you are playing internationally – if then – it costs a fortune to play bridge at the top level. In Australia you have to play probably at least several national events, then a playoff. At that point you have spent lots of money, you’ve spent most of your leave and you still have the world championships to go. Only wealthy people can think about playing bridge ‘seriously’. Bruce yesterday said that bridge sucks and that the ABF should put money into prizes, but it’s a catch 22, isn’t it? The players who are there are wealthy and don’t want prize money. The people who can’t afford to play an amateur game have already taken up chess or golf or….Correct me if I’m wrong, but by international standards in bridge I rather think that the ABF is doing a splendid job of getting people to play. Since the players themselves don’t care if there is prize money, one can hardly blame the ABF altogether, if at all, for the situation. It is a democracy we live in. The ABF is us. What the ABF does, however, to attract what we might call ‘bums on seats’ is to dumb bridge down. At the moment, for example, they are giving subsidies to weak players to play in Canberra. Weak players who get their own national championship and title!!! Easy game, huh.

The bottom line is that while we treat bridge like that – and the TOP of bridge like that – it will be looked down upon by society at large for good reason. We will never get sponsorship because even when we did have sponsorship irresponsible things was done with it. Take a Blue Ribbon Pairs years ago, early eighties, which had sponsorship in the form of Club Med holidays. It was announced AFTER the qualifying that it would go to the winner of the bottom (or thereabouts) consolation. What sponsor is going to put up with that? How does it look when the media come to report on the event and we proudly announce ‘oh, no, the WINNERS don’t get anything. We couldn’t have that. But one of the worst pairs in the event, they get a good prize.’ End of sponsorship, end of media interest, end of looking even remotely legitimate.

So, coming back to the beginning of this, the average non-chess player out there knows that being a grandmaster is amazing – and it really is a fine feat, even though there are more grand masters than there used to be. We could also point out that at national level there are more grandmasters in bridge than there used to be. In that sense, I expect it means rather less than it used to. Perhaps somebody could correct me on this if appropriate. The average non-bridge player knows that their aunt is a grandmaster. It is quite clear that that average person knows that the one means something and one doesn’t. They have a hazy idea that this doesn’t make their aunt a rocket scientist and an equally vague idea that anybody who is bright enough to be a chess GM is some sort of genius. Writing this makes me wonder how at a national level we can even have titles such as grandmaster when they are international titles too…

Chess players in Australia have exactly the same problem as bridge players of not playing nearly enough against good players and they never all click at Olympiads. However, individuals do, therefore we have individuals who have won board prizes at chess Olympiads, which I consider to be something of a feat…..

The net consequence of treating bridge as something for rich people to play, with prizes and important sounding titles for weak players is that it makes the job of selling it in the places important to do so, much harder. How can you sell it to the education system, for example? For obvious reasons bridge is behind the eight ball in terms of how it looks, but the bridge community itself only makes that worse.


Entry filed under: thoughts on bridge.

Issues about how to better our bridge at the top VI Issues about how to better our bridge at the top VIII

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ben Thompson  |  February 21, 2011 at 10:58 am

    There’s more than one way to make money out of chess, or bridge, or many other things. Why should prize money be the only, or even primary, mode?

    Look at tennis, a very well-funded sport with global TV coverage. The 100th ranked male player wins about US$285,000 a year in prize money. Sounds good, but take out coaching, travel, accommodation, and factor in injuries and career span, and it’s not so great. And this is for someone who’s actually an extremely good professional (eg relatively better than any Australian chess or bridge player).

    How does #100 actually make a living? Sponsorship, appearances, interviews, writing (potentially ghosted), camps, coaching. Professional bridge players aren’t so different. When I cared about making money out of bridge, I didn’t care at all about the lack of prize money because there were so many other ways I was making money.

  • 2. khokan  |  February 21, 2011 at 7:50 am


    You haven’t said why WBF rankings are any less meaningful than FIDE rankings. Looking at Ben’s statistics, the WBF ones seem to be a lot more meaningful. WBF masterpoints are nothing like the local masterpoints given out by the ABF. Being an ABF grandmaster means nothing, except that you’ve played for a while. However, as Ben pointed out earlier, being a WBF brandmaster means that you’ve won a world championship.

    The issue about being the best player in the world and not being a WBF grandmaster is a valid one, but its just the nature of bridge being a partnership/team game, rather than an individual pursuit. Anyway, you can generalise in bridge that if you’re good, you’ll get to play in good teams. I don’t think that there are many players who haven’t played for Australia that “should have”, or vice versa – it’s more or less a meritocracy. I haven’t noticed that Australian representatives are particularly wealthy. In fact, many of the players who consistently represent Australia work full-time on bridge (although not necessarily as players).

    Finally, is the respect of those that don’t really understand bridge that important? Isn’t it enough to know that there are people who play bridge that respect those who have done good things at bridge?


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