International standards

February 26, 2011 at 3:23 am 20 comments

One of the things I don’t understand about the discussions we are having here at the moment is this idea that it is meaningful to compare Australia’s ranking at chess with its ranking at bridge. I would have thought it was obvious that because chess is attractive to play due to the structure of international tournaments and titles which permit something between expenses and a living to be made, depending on one’s standard, this has increased both the interest in chess competitively and the standard. This is not exactly a rocket science observation. The same happens in all sports that become professionalised.

Bridge is not. It is amateur. You can’t afford to play bridge at a high level unless you have a substantial disposable income to devote to it. This cuts out many individuals and whole countries from a meaningful relationship with the game.

I am suggesting that the point is that the standard of bridge is weak compared with chess around the world and this combined with far less players and less countries competing, eg at world championships, means that Australia holds its own relatively well in bridge. It will be interesting to see what happens to the standard of bridge if it ever does become a sport with prize money, but for now that is not even on the horizon.


Entry filed under: chess, thoughts on bridge.

Plan the play answer Ted Chadwick

20 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Andrew  |  March 14, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    Ben’s right; no audience, no money. The curious thing about chess is that its audience seems to be largely itself & yet that is enough to support a viable economic superstructure. There aren’t enough obsessed amateur bridge players willing to spend enough money to support an elite level, and that’s because, in some way, the game of bridge isn’t as attractive to people as chess. Millions of people follow the world chess championships online; thousands follow the bridge.

    Actually, I’d be prepared to speculate that a smaller %-age of chess players make a living out of the chess than bridge players do from bridge, simply because the number of chess players in the denominator is so big. Maybe that won’t fly; but I think it might flap its wings hopefully.

  • 2. khokan  |  March 5, 2011 at 7:37 am


    I could name at least twenty players in Australia that make a “living” from bridge, one way or another. I did it myself for a few years. In this way, bridge can be professional for some.

    However, if your point is that the top Australian players don’t have a professional attitude to the game i.e. they don’t put in the hard yards needed to make a partnership work, I think that for the majority of such players, you’re right. You can see that when pairs actually do put the required work, they generally do very well, at least in Australian tournaments. Do I think that having prize money would encourage this behaviour? Maybe, mabe not.

    • 3. bruce  |  March 8, 2011 at 11:15 am

      ok lets have the semantic debate

      Bridge “professionals” are not professionals at all. A professional is striving to become an elite player at whatever he is professional at. The bridge players your referring to are spending most if not all of their time playing with clients or on a team with a client (ie they are forgoing becoming elite at what they do in order to make money)

      I have no beef with the clients or the so called professionals who do this but i think the professionalism of australian bridge players would be gIeatly enhanced if they could play for some sort of prizemoney. Then they would have real incentive to be elite at what they do.

      • 4. Ben Thompson  |  March 8, 2011 at 12:39 pm

        Ok! I don’t agree at all that the primary characteristic of a profesional is striving to be elite at one’s activity. A professional is primarily someone who is paid to do something, although it usually helps to be good at it if you want to get paid for it. Being or even striving to be elite isn’t necessary.

        Here are some relevant alternative definitions of professional (noun) I’ve summarised off the net
        – a person who engages for his livelihood in some activity also pursued by amateurs
        – a person who engages in an activity with great competence
        – an expert player of a game who gives instruction, especially as a hired ‘professional’ at a club

        • 5. bruce  |  March 8, 2011 at 7:11 pm

          “professional” is really a pretty useless term as evidenced by the first defintion you give – ie someone who isnt “amateur”

          My point is simply that when 95%+ of the bridge you play is with a sponsor your not playing the game with a view to getting better at it. Your not honing in on the improvement that will progress your game to get to the top of the heap.

          That view stands in contrast with the ordinary view that calling someone a “professional” implies that they are constantly practising and striving to become better at what they do.

          I know a couple of professional athletes and they are utterly obsessed with anyhting that will give them an edge. They will devote enormous energy and time in the pursuit of getting better. I doubt there is a professional athlete alive who doesnt believe that their best in front of them.

          I know heaps of professional bridge players and nearly all of them dont really devote much if any energy to improvement. Many almost never play with someone who isnt paying them.

          I’m happy to define the word professional to include the bridge players we are talking about but i think the distinction between say a professional athlete and a professional brige player is stark and its that distinction i am trying to address.

          • 6. Andrew  |  April 5, 2011 at 3:22 pm

            The situation isn’t nearly as clear as you suggest. Playing with a sponsor is not inimical to improving one’s game in any fundamental way. I would reckon that 95% of the bridge Seres played was with revenue-generating “amateurs”; but he was able to improve for all that. I know of current professionals who have spent the bulk of their time practising in sponsored partnerships. There’s an awful lot of individual prowess in the game Maybe some professionals find a sponsor and think, Oh, good, I can stop improving now..but I doubt that’s a key to a successful career. I don’t know how many professional bridge players I know, but I can only think of a very small minority who are as complacent as you say.

            You have a fantasy about professional athletes of whom I have also known a few. Plenty of them were/are aiming to do the absolute least they can to continue drawing a pay check. I know a pro golfer who was chucked out for cheating. I know amateur footballers who train more seriously than some AFL players in terms of emotional, intellectual and temporal commitment. Sadly for them, they lack raw talent. Any coach of pro athletes will tell you that a bunch of his students are wasting his & their time because they don’t work hard enough.

            This idea that all pro bridge players are bums and all pro athletes are devotees won’t stand up to close examination.

            It does however reinforce your point that talking about professionalism is a waste of time.

      • 7. Ben Thompson  |  March 8, 2011 at 1:02 pm

        On the subject of prize money…

        How many (Australian) professionals would we like, and how much do we think they need to make to be able to spend many years aiming for the top and generally playing the pro circuit?

        The reality of any professional sport is that most of the prize money goes to a few at the very top. The 20th best pro, for example, is unlikely to get much more than 1% of the total prize money on offer (the #20 tennis player does a little worse, but he’s battling a bigger field of pros than is likely in bridge).

        If our pro is going to spend any more than a couple of years chasing the dream, that 1% is going to have to be at least what a smart person would make from a good job. Unrealistic at the current penetration of bridge.

        I would rather see the marketing dollar today go into attracting people to the game, and let the private market (continue to) provide income for the professionals.

        • 8. bruce  |  March 8, 2011 at 7:23 pm

          My response to the facts you give re prizemoney is something cathy observed in an earlier rant on the topic – I’m only capable of a personal paraphrase but it went something like – “if you look after the very top the rest looks after itself”

          I think prizemoney is a great way to spend the marketing dollars. The punters will go to the NOT and ooooohh a bunch about the guys who win and walk away with a chunk of cash. How cool is that ?. Imagine if you could actually go on a bridge holiday and get paid at the same time !

          Every non serious bridge punter i know finds playing with a client distasteful and actively barracks against such teams. I wouldn’t defend this view but i can clearly understand that they want to look up and see the elite being just that simply for the sake of it, not beholden to compromise for the sake of money.

          • 9. Ben Thompson  |  March 8, 2011 at 8:01 pm

            “they want to look up and see the elite being just that simply for the sake of it”

            That’s great, but who pays for it? The world doesn’t owe elite competitors a living, but equally the punter will never get to see pure elite competition without ultimately paying for it (whether it’s directly, or by buying the sponsor’s product).

            Prize money doesn’t do the job (of paying for the elite to be elite) even for major sports with global TV coverage. It pays for the very (very!) few super elite, but it doesn’t really pay for the bulk of professionals. There is no prospect that prize money will do the job in bridge.

            My point is that if you want to fund a purist’s elite, prize money is not the silver bullet.

  • 10. Ron Lel  |  March 3, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    Bored at work so decided to revisit this blog. Sorry to hear you have been ill Cathy and hope you are better now. What a shock to hear that Norma died. I had a lot of time for her.

  • 11. khokan  |  February 26, 2011 at 11:23 am


    I’m guessing that Olympic medallists don’t get prizemoney. However, they get sponsorships because of the visibility a medal gives them. So it’s not necessary for a sport to have prizemoney to gain a profile. You’ve mentioned that bridge had a lot more profile decades ago – was prize money any different then?

  • 12. Ben Thompson  |  February 26, 2011 at 7:54 am

    As I said earlier (“VII”), there’s more than one way to make money of bridge. There’s no particular reason that prize money should be the primary way for a competitor to make money, and no reason to think that there is a dearth of professional bridge players simply because of that. There are actually plenty of pros floating around.

    Even Roger Federer & Rafael Nadal, who won US$7m and US$10m in prize money respectively last year, make substantially more from everything else than prize money. And it doesn’t just get handed to them – they often have to do something to get the money. It’s just that the scale is different from what chess and bridge players are used to.

    • 13. cathyc  |  February 26, 2011 at 8:03 am

      Arrgghhh!!!! But they only make more out of other things because of the existence of the prize money. Same with chess. The reason Magnus Carlsen is paid money for advertising, for example, is because of his position in chess and that in turn has something to do with money. Correct me if I’m missing anything comparable in bridge.

      I understand that bridge players are paid to play with people and that partnership aspect of the game is missing as a money spinner in chess.

      But it does not create a professional atmosphere in the way sports with money experience. You think that because a few people in the world are paid money to play with others that they are professional, but if bridge did ever become professional I think we would see something entirely different from the standard and attitude of bridge at the top as it now is. Well, I’d hope so. I was gobsmacked coming from chess to bridge to see how little bridge players did by way of work and nothing has changed that I’ve noticed!

      • 14. khokan  |  February 26, 2011 at 9:09 am


        If you look at the fields in US Nationals, you’d see that the first ten seeds, at least, are all professional teams comprising full-time bridge players and a sponsor. Even teams much further down the seedings are often sponsored.

        As for the standard of bridge, how can you make a meaningful comparison aganinst another game, like chess? A bridge Olympiad has about 70 teams, compared to around 150 (?) at chess. The minnows in both fields probably don’t stand a chance against the good teams.

        The general standard of bridge has improved dramatically over the past twenty years, or so – you can see that by looking at the way the complexity of bidding and play problems in The Bridge World has evolved.

        I’m not sure what you mean by playing bridge at a “high-level”, but I don’t think you need lots of money to play bridge internationally. This is evidenced when you look at the players that often represent Australia. Would prize money change the situation, so different players represented Australia? I don’t think so.

      • 15. bruce  |  February 26, 2011 at 9:56 am

        what would happen if the ABF put up say 15K as prizemoney for the ANOT ?

        i reckon the strength of the top say 10 teams iwould grow dramatically

        we can haggle about what it means to be professional but i think cathy is right – bridge is an amateur sport

        • 16. khokan  |  February 26, 2011 at 10:12 am


          I reckon you’re wrong about the field improving dramatically. The same teams would line up. After all, a certain payout of, say, 3K for the professionals is better than a possible 4K prizemoney, so the current professionals would still rather play with sponsors.

          The people in the top 10 teams would line up the same way – winning the NOT is a pretty big deal in Australian bridge.

          Parts of bridge are amateur, parts are professional. The point is that you don’t necessarily need prize money for a sport to be professional.

        • 17. Peter Gill  |  March 14, 2011 at 10:55 pm

          In 201 the ABF did put up say 15K as prizemoney (money for trips to Philadelphia) in the Butler at the ANC in Hobart. It was won by Klinger, Mullamphy, Djurovic, Evans, Strasser and Bilski. Given that fact, I don’t understand your point at all.

          • 18. Peter Gill  |  March 14, 2011 at 10:55 pm

            In 2010 I mean

      • 19. Ben Thompson  |  February 26, 2011 at 6:55 pm

        Is Ron Klinger a bridge professional? Of course he is, and he doesn’t seem to need either prize money or to play on professional teams.

        Prize money, even when it’s meaningful, is really just part of the marketing budget. That is, it’s the headline that attracts attention. But it’s just attention.

        In the long term, you have to attract genuine customer interest. And by customer, I mean audience. There is no professional sport without a substantial audience, because ultimately it’s about entertainment and the bridge/chess/sport/theatre professional is ultimately an entertainer.

      • 20. Andrew  |  March 15, 2011 at 12:06 pm

        Not right. They get sponsorship because of their level in the given spot, which has nothing to do with prize money. Amateur tennis players were sponsored; no prize money there. There are many “minor” sports where sponsorship based on expertise long precedes prize money.


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