Making bridge in Australia better. Collecting some thoughts.

March 15, 2011 at 5:59 am 19 comments

I’m just trying to get my head around things here.

As far as I can see, Bruce withstanding, there is general agreement that it is either good or irrelevant that bridge is amateur, that there is no prize money and that the public at large has no respect for it. It is evidently considered to be the case that in sports like tennis, the introduction of professionalism has not created fantastic depth in the game where one can observe a player ranked, say, 200, and see a scintillating display of tennis. Apparently people who teach bridge are professional bridge players. I don’t quite get that myself. But, let me see….George Quittner, to take a Sydney example, is a professional bridge PLAYER. I use him as an example because I haven’t noticed him playing much bridge, but I’m a long way away. Somebody can set me right on that.

I wonder if I might make the straightforward point that teaching or writing or directing or…these things do not make one a professional player. They make one teachers or writers or directors or…

Bruce, prize money of the type you suggest is trivial and meaningless. There is the tournament being sponsored yearly in Sydney at the moment (sorry, I’ve forgotten the name) which has prize money of that type, ie not enough for o/s teams to think in a pink fit of playing.

Further, it is perfectly acceptable that the only way of achieving a world ranking in bridge is to play in one’s national team, extremely unlikely for most strong players because (a) selection methods prevent that, eg teams are selected in some places and that means many deserving players will never get the chance (b) too much depth (c) financial constraints.

Andrew Webb commented yesterday that millions of people watch chess online, while thousands of bridge players watch bridge online. The difference is staggering and absolutely has an impact on standard, on professionalism, on prize-money. The 2010 world chess championship between Anand and Topalov had a prize-fund of $2M Euro. As Ben pointed out, without the audience there won’t be the money. The reason chess has that sort of prize money for its world championship and a professional circuit is that people in society at large want to watch chess. That isn’t luck or coincidence. It does have something to do with how chess is run and promoted by its own.

Having said that, one might ask if it is true that although chess is a spectator sport, bridge isn’t. Still, if we lived in the 1930s where ‘everybody’ played bridge, as opposed to now when almost nobody does, we’d think bridge was a spectator sport too. It used, for example, to be on the radio. Presumably one could expect that if TV had existed back then it would be on TV too. Now, of course, the internet has really taken the role of hosting these sorts of sports and the bottom line is nobody has the least interest in watching bridge.

It may be true that, as Andrew went on to say: ‘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.’ But making a living from something is very different from being a professional player. And although within the bridge world we may consider any chancer who gets paid maybe $30 an hour or so to play with a weak player a ‘professional’, we all know, don’t we, that this is not what we relevantly mean by a professional player.

I made the point a while ago that the one thing Australians can do to meaningfully improve is to go overseas a lot. Play a lot overseas against strong company in strong tournaments. I didn’t note any objections at the time. But if you are all in agreement that this is the case, then what’s the problem and why are we having this discussion. Go forth you bridge players into the world and play lots and lots against strong players in important competitions. THAT isn’t rocket science! In point of fact I don’t think any Australian has ever done this. So, what I would like to ask now is WHY NOT? Why aren’t you all out there playing a strong o/s bridge circuit? I would like to know the answer to this.

‘Til tomorrow.


Entry filed under: thoughts on bridge.

Ted Chadwick Suit combinations

19 Comments Add your own

  • 1. khokan  |  April 3, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    Any comments from Playoff contestants? Good hands, pivotal moments etc? The final looked to be a close affair. What about the Playoff format?

    • 2. bruce  |  April 4, 2011 at 10:49 am

      I think its an excellent format.

      Instead of the tyranny of playoff points deciding who you will and wont play with you have a choice. If the points dont put you in a team you want to play with then your welcome to try and form one that you do like. Players who dont have the ability (personal or fiinancial) of playing all the events to earn the points are no longer unable to participate making it a stronger and fairer system.

      • 3. Chris Mulley  |  April 4, 2011 at 4:43 pm

        I strongly agree with this. Since this method was brought in, I haven’t felt that having a real job and living in WA (effectively a 2 day round trip by air from the east) has adversely affected my ability to make the Australian team. Now I just have to work on my lack of bridge ability. 🙂

      • 4. Ben Thompson  |  April 5, 2011 at 9:18 am

        Yes, it’s a great format. The 2 division concept could be applied to pairs trials as well.

        I don’t think it’s necessary for the Womens or Seniors playoffs (the Seniors couldn’t even fill the 6th slot in regular time).

        Pivotal moment for me was hand 77 of the final. Courtney had the mo. A difficult defence would have shot 4CX for 8 imps and a 35 imps lead with 19 to play. A normal looking defence saw 13 go out instead, and the mo with it. There were more swings and roundabout coming in the final set, and it could have gone either way with 5 (or even 1) to play, but I felt Courtney was in control for most of the match until 77 and that was the point where it became a toss-up.

    • 5. sartaj  |  April 5, 2011 at 11:37 am

      I think that the format is excellent. Increasing the semifinal to 96 boards would be the biggest improvement we could make.

      The match was one of the best I have played. There were many spectacular hands. At the end, the result was a bit fluky. Perhaps we need 128 boards after all . he he.

  • 6. Andy  |  March 26, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    Hey Cathy,

    This is totally irrelevant but I’d just like to share an article that I read today.

  • 7. Richard09  |  March 24, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    I’m trying to stay out of this discussion, because I think it’s a particularly Australian one, although I’m following it with interest. But I thought I’d mention that Delmonte just had a good run in the Vanderbilt, on Joe Grue’s team.

  • 8. Peter Gill  |  March 24, 2011 at 12:12 am

    The WBF masterpoints page is

    There’s lots more to say – generally I agree with everything Cathy says and disagree with much of what everyone else says – but it’s late and I have to go to bed.

    • 9. cathyc  |  March 24, 2011 at 8:43 am

      Go Peter! I’m just marshalling my forces for my next comment. I”m gobsmacked by the attitudes here!!

  • 10. Ben Thompson  |  March 20, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    Is professional chess really going so well? According to the March 19 chess column in the New York Times, 4 major European tournaments are either closing or in serious trouble. Their sponsors are pulling out, and the organisers aren’t having much success finding new ones.

    For example, the Amber tournament with US$315,000 prize money, and 10 of the world’s top 12 players, is being held for the last time through March 24.

  • 11. khokan  |  March 16, 2011 at 4:44 pm


    The 200 ranked bridge player is none other than Stephen Burgess. I daresay you get a scintillating display from him on occasion. If your point is that bridge has no depth, I think that’s debatable.

  • 12. Bill Jacobs  |  March 16, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    Question: Why aren’t you all out there playing a strong o/s bridge circuit?

    Answer: because I have a full time job unrelated to bridge.

    Might that answer not apply to many people, including those with the innate talent to improve Australia’s standing in the world?

    Cheers … Bill

  • 13. khokan  |  March 15, 2011 at 5:37 pm


    In answer to your query about why top Australian players (with very few exceptions) aren’t playing in strong overseas events, the blunt answer is that there are more accomplished professionals from other countries that can be hired for US Nationals and Transnational Teams etc, and paying your own way is expensive. You’d be aware that even the kind of sponsorship you get for the NEC doesn’t really cover all expenses, unless you run a place.

  • 14. Andrew  |  March 15, 2011 at 11:59 am

    I think the distinction between teacher/player/person-who-makes-a-living-out-of-bridge is meretricious. Large numbers of people who call themselves musicians, for example, make their primary living out of teaching. I think it’s reasonable to go along with their practice. As Ben points out, the visible tennis pros are supported by a hierarchy of invisible and “underpaid” pros (I’ve shared youth hostels with them) struggling to cobble a living together out of a mixture of playing, teaching, hustling & odd jobs. They are professionals; like the “chancers” of the bridge scene, they are doing the best they can to devote as much time as is practical to their chosen game. All sports work that way; golf, football, even hockey, most of whose pros in Australia – worlds hockey #1 – also have day jobs. The rates paid are set by market mechanisms that aren’t going away (and $30 an hour, BTW, is better than a 1st year TESOL professional,who by definition has a postgraduate qualification)

    For money to improve bridge there would need to a distribution system that rewarded skill in a motivating way. To me, that looks like a system where incomes from tournament prize money far exceeded incomes from sponsorship – but that’s a structure very hard to create. And, where’s the money coming from? Bridge was fashionable in the 30’s, sure. It’s not now. Whist was also fashionable once. Piquet offered the skilled card-player a chance at a living in the Edwardian 20th century. Bridge will follow those games to their backwater existence.

    On the playing overseas note, I don’t know how Grosvenor managed the visa & logistics requirements of being a professional player in the US, but it certainly seemed to help his game along. (I gather from talking to him that the ability to manage intense boredom was one of the hallmarks of the seasoned ACBL pro.)

  • 15. Ben Thompson  |  March 15, 2011 at 10:17 am

    Some world championship events are transnational, and these are typically open entry. Almost every event at Philadelphia last year (eg Rosenblum, World Pairs) was transnational, but there is a transnational teams in Bermuda Bowl years too.

    Balicki-Zmudzinski, for example, got the world championship requirement to be Grand Masters in the 2000 transnational teams. They’ve won another transnational teams (2009) but haven’t yet won a world championship as representative players, although they have many world championship medals as representatives.

    You can also get WBF masterpoints and placing points (required for GM and LM rankings) at zonals such as the European and the PABF. Zonals are for national teams.

    • 16. cathyc  |  March 15, 2011 at 3:35 pm

      For heaven’s sake then Ben, you can only get masterpoints by going on the world championship/international representation trail. Zonals count too. Great. That doesn’t actually change anything I said.

      • 17. khokan  |  March 15, 2011 at 5:09 pm

        I’m not sure what you’re getting at, Cathy, as the things you say seem to be contradictory – to me, anyway. On one hand, you said earlier that local masterpoints are meaningless, because people can get them from playing in events of no consequence ie events without “integrity”. On the other, you say that WBF masterpoints are too hard to get, because you need to play in world championships to get them – some of these are open events, with no qualification criteria. What would you like to see bridge ratings actually represent?

        On the matter of qualifying for Australian (or other) national teams, what makes you say that deserving players can’t qualify because of financial constraints? I notice that you’ve qualified for the (womens’) national team a couple of times. Would you consider yourself wealthy? Similarly, just look at the players who have qualified for the Australian open team – they’re overwhelmingly full-time bridge players (I hesitate to use the term “professional”, in deference to your views), often playing with sponsors. In my own case, I can say with certainty that I got my best results when I played bridge full-time (and consequently made less income than I do now). So, I think there’s a place for full-time bridge players in Australia, although it’s hard to make the kind of money made by international professionals playing in US Nationals. On the other hand, it’s much harder to win US Nationals – note they attract world-class fields without any prize money.

        On the issue of comaparing the standard of bridge at to top to chess at the top, how can you realistically do this? I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that the top Australian chess players struggle for a living.

        On the Greg Quittner issue, I agree with Andrew that he’s a bona fide professional, as are the numerous full-time chess players/writers who don’t have a hope of placing high in a world championship.

  • 18. Ben Thompson  |  March 15, 2011 at 8:56 am

    Goodness me, so much to respond to!

    Bridge is full of amateurs, as is chess, as is tennis, but that doesn’t mean there are no professionals or even no professional players. One can watch the 200th ranked tennis player and see excellent tennis. One can also watch the 200th ranked bridge (Andrew McIntosh of England, as it happens) or chess player and see excellent play.

    Cathy, you are essentially trying to argue that prize money alone would create a meaningful cadre of professional bridge players. I’m saying that prize money at a level bridge (and chess) can’t contemplate doesn’t really do the job in tennis. Money in the game, which follows from public interest in the game, is important but prize money is very far from the only way to distribute money. And it’s by no means the most effective way to distribute money.

    Working on how to promote the game, and create an environment conducive to fully professional play is very worthwhile, and I agree with much of the direction you are heading in. But prize money is not the silver (or gold) bullet.

    It is not true that the only way to achieve a world bridge ranking is to play on your national team. For example, Bill Jacobs is ranked 477th by the WBF (the 10th-ranked Australian) entirely on non-representative performances, even though he has represented Australia several times.

    I do consider that a $30/hour chancer is a professional player, and they are very important pros. That level of pro-dom can be a very useful intermediate step for higher-level pros as they develop. There are literally thousands of pro tennis players who scratch out a few thousand to a few tens of thousands of dollars each year in lower level pro tournamants. Almost every serious pro has spent some time working through those tournaments. The players who never get above that level, and some of them spend a decade trying, make the majority of their living some other way, as do most professional bridge and chess players. Their willingness to NOT earn a living as professional players is critically important to the existence of the high-level professional game.

    • 19. cathyc  |  March 15, 2011 at 9:06 am

      Just before I go to bed: you have to explain or give a link about the masterpoints in bridge. I can see nothing on the WBF site to indicate these can be gained other than by world championship events. There is a new category of points they talk about which seems to be a different thing altogether. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong place?

      At any rate, you can’t become a grandmaster without winning a world championship. That means as I said before.


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