Guys, p-leeasssssseeeeeeeee

April 5, 2011 at 5:39 pm 8 comments

Geez. Well, this is MY blog and I can be irritated if I want to.

Are you all completely mad? Every last one of you?

Andrew, for heaven’s sake. Where did I ever say anything like you suggested re pros vs amateurs. I said that professionalising sports makes the standard go up a lot. Are you seriously going to argue about this? Are you seriously going to say that the standard of football and tennis, to take obvious examples, have NOT greatly increased in standard as they became professionalised? Of course many of our top players are ones who play with people who pay them. Where on earth did I say that ‘bridge pros’ are bums? But the term is laughable when you look at the wide range of players it covers, almost all of whom make nothing like a living from what they do, and at least some of whom have the talent to do so. Obviously there are dedicated amateurs and undedicated pros. That doesn’t in any way affect the general argument that the general standard goes up.

Where did I say bridge pros are complacent? I would have thought that is the last thing in the world they would be. They are employed on a whim. They will get sacked on a whim. How they play doesn’t necessarily relate to whether they will be employed. They live a nerve-wracking insecure life. If they were chess players, if they played well enough, they would win prize money, if they didn’t play well enough they wouldn’t. Still nerve-wracking, maybe, but at least one’s destiny is under one’s control.

As for Tim Seres, give me a break! He is this completely amazing exceptional player who loved the game, was utterly dedicated in the most professional way to it, who managed to say in the top handful of players in the world despite being able to compete against people close to his own level for a couple of weeks a year. I don’t see how we can possibly compare anybody to him, nobody else has done or, I imagine, will do anything like he has.

I DO say this, at the risk of further controversy. A professional bridge player is one who earns his living by PLAYING BRIDGE. Not by teaching it, taking bridge holidays, directing, writing. PLAYING. For your interest, having given Greg Quittner as an example of somebody who ISN’T a professional bridge player, and having had – was it Khokan? – comment that this IS what Greg is, Greg wrote to me recently and in discussions he made the very obvious point himself that he IS NOT A PROFESSIONAL BRIDGE PLAYER. That bit seems simple. A professional bridge player would be one who makes his living by PLAYING bridge. Sorry to labour what I would have thought was an obvious point. Ron Klinger, for example, is a bridge teacher by profession. He also plays bridge. He is NOT, to the best of my knowledge, a professional bridge player, paid to PLAY bridge and making his living from this.

Khokan. Ask not that I played two times for Australia in the women’s at great cost. Ask why I stopped. Because it cost me a huge amount of money for monumentally little reward.

Ben, get real, please. You point out that a chess tournament with a large sponsorship at the moment has now had the plug pulled on it. Like that means what? What it means is that it DID have that large amount of sponsorship for a long time and the Amber tournament isn’t even serious, it is just for fun. As if somebody in bridge sponsored a tournament for millions of dollars over a decade that was blindfold speedball. Like THAT would happen. Equally chess hasn’t found a sponsor for the $2M or so needed for the forthcoming world championship. But it expects to and does get that sort of sponsorship.

I asked a question more than once a while ago and eventually Bill Jacobs gave an oblique answer. The reason none of you go out and play on the international bridge circuit is that there ISN’T one. To the extent that you can go and play tournaments overseas, outside of representing Australia, every cent will come from your pocket with no chance of covering your costs. Chess, like other professionalised sports isn’t like that. You can go out, play tournaments, cover your costs, get better, get invites to better tournaments, etc etc etc. You can prove yourself without the great burden of trying to get to represent your country, and if you do prove yourself, there will be a positive financial outcome. As Bill pointed out, he has a job. Well, he would have, wouldn’t he? That’s how bridge players finance their bridge. By having day jobs.

Chess doesn’t have the money that big sports do and so it supports less in the way of professionals. But it gives everybody equal and fair chance to get to the top and get to a point where it can support you if you put in the effort, for relatively little financial input and it is input that might come back to you in spades. So to speak. All of this means that chess, like tennis, like footy, like – fill in as you please – has improved fabulously over last thirty years or so. I rather think the same thing is happening in poker at the moment. Lots of money. Standard goes up. Not a great surprise, is it?

I find it fascinating that the post before this was about a very important aspect of bridge: suit combinations and the fact that the Encyclopedia is so deficient in this area and how we might all have input into a comprehensive book on the subject which will be published in a while and what happens? NOTHING!!! Not one relevant comment.

I do think that if I’d written something of the same ilk on a chess blog, actual chess players would have written thoughtful things about what is missing, what is wrong….you get the drift. I’d spent some time recently trying to explain to Ian that bridge players aren’t interested and he simply didn’t believe it. Well. The data bears me out, I guess. Ian, I’m SORRY!!! Bridge players aren’t interested in a complete reference source on how to play suit combinations. Let me just read that again.

And then sign off, shaking my head.

PETER GILL: It’s time for you to wade in here.


Entry filed under: thoughts on bridge.

Suit combinations Bobby Richman died yesterday.

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. David Morgan  |  April 20, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    On the issue of suit combinations: As Ben noted in his comment on the original post, it’s typically much more useful to know how to think about these than to try to remember lots of cases. As an example, I corresponded with Ian McCance a few years ago about a column he wrote in which he said that the best way to play T9x opposite AK8x for three tricks is to cash the A and K. But that’s not right: the optimal line (assuming unlimited entries) is to finesse once, then cash the A and then take another finesse if necessary. (I still can’t work out why it’s not better to cash the K but . . . )

    Now, I didn’t know this but I checked using two readily available pieces of free software: the calculators compiled by Jeroen Warmerdam ( and Richard Pavlicek (

    That investigation led me to discover that cashing the AK is the best line for 3 tricks if you have xxx opposite AKTx; with T9x opposite AKxx the best line is to finesse then, if that loses, cash the A and K. If you have Txx opposite AK9x then you do best to cash the A and then take a finesse. These suit combinations are hard work!

    But we already have tools that help solve *any suit combination problem* so why would a book be more useful?


  • 2. khokan  |  April 7, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    Do you have any idea of how the new book relates to Frederick Frost’s “Bridge Odds Complete”?

    As for the utility of the Encyclopaedia of Bridge , it goes well beyond suit combinations. I find it very useful as a general reference and the biographies are interesting – I just wish that some of the Australian entries were more accurate. It’s probably the same for international biographies, only we don’t know that they’re inaccurate.

  • 3. khokan  |  April 6, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    Taking your points in turn:

    1. The issue of defining professionals vs others – I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    2. Tim Seres – I don’t see why he should be quarantined from any criticism. Tim was an Australian legend. However, he was well supported by Cummings, Smilde, Borin, Lavings, Klinger and others. As for being among a handful of top bridge players in the world, that’s debatable, even when he was in his prime. After all, he had Forquet, Garozzo, Belladonna, Kaplan, Kay, Mathe, Roth, Stone, Rapee, Rubin, Murray, Kehela, Huang, Jais, Trezel and others to contend with. There also are a number of other Australian players who have also been totally dedicated to bridge, including Seamus Browne, Paul Lavings and Michael Courtney. Elevating Tim unrealistically dimishes the achievements/dedication of other top Australian bridge players.

    3. Cathy, the fact that you you haven’t played serious womens’ bridge for a while hasn’t stopped you (or others) from trying for the open team. Presumably, you would have played if had qualified – as everybody else has done.

    4. In terms of not responding to the blog on suit combinations, I think a lot of bridge players like to work things out from first principles, rather than rely on a set of tables.

    5. Finally, I agree with Ben that you’re putting an argument forward for a situation that’s totally unrealistic – bridge to be sponsored at a similar level to major world sports.

  • 4. bruce  |  April 6, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    Like lots of players I know nearly all of the ones I come across, like “8 ever 9 never”. I certainly know the options and when i’m uncertain as to which one is best its always very close between which option is the “technically correct”.

    Seems to me when i’m in that rare position of not being sure what is the best line it is nearly always the case that the wealth of other considerations and information that is available to consider make a encyclopeadic knowledge of the technically correct line all but redundant. In fact I kind of think that to know the best line for the rare ones is just going to distract me from better information that is going to lead me to the best actual decision..

    In short i think knowing every suit combuination according to a very accurate computer is going to get me maybe 2 tricks a year I might not of otherwise got, 1 and a half of which will be overtricks.

    For all that i’m very interested in suit combinations according to a computer. As i read your post I figured it was leading up to an exciting description of how this can be done and where I can get it. Am i wrong about that ?

    Andrew has a stinky butt

    • 5. Andrew  |  April 7, 2011 at 7:55 am

      Once maybe, but they invented soap and water…

  • 6. Ben Thompson  |  April 6, 2011 at 8:52 am

    Cathy, I think the block you are having is that you see a tournament circuit with significant prize money as the one true implementation of professionalism. Many of us do not agree. At all.

    I do think we can all agree that pumping a lot of money over a meaningful period into a sport/activity will improve the general performance level in it.

    The fantastic thing about the discussion to date (and I mean that in the ‘unrealistic’ sense of fantasy) is that much of it is an argument about how to spend money that is not there.

    • 7. Richard09  |  April 18, 2011 at 2:48 am

      To an extent I agree with both Ben and you. I agree that a big-money tournament circuit would indeed improve the standard of play over time. I agree that it is OK to call someone a tennis pro even if he doesn’t spend all his time playing in money tournaments. And I agree with Ben about the absence of a revenue-stream for bridge. The thing about tennis, golf, football, and all the other examples I can think of is that they are spectator sports, and there is an influx of cash related to that. The spectators pay, and sponsors pay for the privilege of advertising to the spectators. Even in the USA, that can’t happen on a big scale for bridge, because the percentage of the population that knows anything at all about the game is too low. The only solution I see for that is to try and saturate the schools. It works for chess: most people can play chess (very very badly, but at least they know how the pieces move), and they know there are grandmasters and a world champion somewhere. Most people don’t even know tournament bridge exists. Not all the kids will grow up to be bridge players, but at least they will grow up knowing the game exists, if we can expose them to it at a very young age.
      Granted that a big-money tournament circuit is a good idea, how were you thinking it should be funded?

  • 8. Andrew  |  April 6, 2011 at 7:37 am

    Perhaps it’s the fault of the forum software, but my most recent post was a response to a post by someone called Bruce – I think you will find that it directly addresses points he made.

    You seem to think that you have proved some point by citing tennis and football. Maybe – although Australian tennis seems to be declining. Australian athletics didn’t improve because of professionalism, it improved because of government subsidies. A large number of changes in the AFL game are the result of rule changes.

    I watched a televised (minor) golf tournament from Asia recently. Of the Australians playing, all except three are employed as club pros, sales reps for equipment manufacturers & in golf retail. I think it is wrong to say that they are not professional golfers just because they haven’t yet succeeded in making the majority of their income out of golf. Your view is too black-and-white; it ignores the complexity and the multi-layered nature of professionalism in all sports.

    I think there is a professional international circuit of sorts; I’ve just finished reading a book about some of Hoffman’s experiences on it. The Northern hemisphere is, of course, a long way away and making a living out of that circuit is a pretty high-risk venture. It’s not surprising that not many Australians work it.

    I won’t give you a break on Tim Seres either – he absolutely stands as proof that attitude and ability, not economic context by itself, are what make good bridge players, which is the point I used him to illustrate.

    Finally, somebody who can’t be bothered writing down card combinations for future review is hardly in a position to roll their eyes at a similarly uninterested community.


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