Does the venue matter to world bridge championships and when?

January 2, 2015 at 5:08 am 6 comments

Khokan raised interesting points in his comments to my last post, which I thought deserve more than a comment reply back.

The first was: ‘I don’t think it’s such a big deal for the Bermuda Bowl to be held in less accessible areas, though, as these players are almost always funded, at least to some extent, by their country.’

It reminded me of my first world championship, to which I inadvertently found myself going. I was playing for Australia in the 1988 Olympiad. In theory we received our airfare and something towards accommodation. In practice, the amount we received for an airfare didn’t cover the sort of fare we needed and the accommodation situation was embarrassing to say the least. Some of the players wanted to stay in expensive hotels, others like me wanted to stay as cheaply as possible. The ABF insisted that we all had to stay at the same venue, which means, of course, people who had spent their lives in five star hotels found themselves discovering life at the bottom. It was really really horrible, quite the worst bridge experience I’ve ever had.

These days, I suspect that the team gets a better subsidy, but even if it does, that doesn’t appear out of nowhere. The Australian bridge playing public has footed the bill. When the world championships were held in Bali not so long ago, Americans and Europeans were complaining bitterly online about how much they had to pay to get there. It is about the only time in Australia’s history that airfares have been relatively cheap for them. I pointed out that there should always be a pot. The airfare costs of every country should be calculated and averaged across the field. Everybody should pay the same amount. I was so surprised they didn’t like that idea, in general it would have cost them more, but it would have been fair. It turns out what everybody in the US and Europe wants is for them to pay the least possible and the rest of us don’t matter.

Further, even if we decide to accept the notion that ‘the country’ of the players pays the expenses, not the players themselves, where does that leave the many poorer countries around the world? Even a country like Indonesia, which has been knocking at the door of a world championship win for a very long time finds these expenses all but intolerable. To repeat what I discussed here – the WBF is trying to force countries to play in the Olympiad by refusing entry into the BB unless they have played the Olympiad. This is a disgraceful way to try to get more teams to play in the Olympiad in any event, but the more so when it involves obvious financial burden.

The second point Khokan made that especially attracted my attention was ‘As for putting the sponsorship money in the hands of players, I’m not sure how that would work. It seems that the best use of this money is to promote the game, so as to encourage new players to the game, and to keep existing players in the game. The money would run out very quickly if all entrants at a Rosenblum were covered, or even partially covered, for their travel expenses and/or accommodation.’

This was in reply to my point that the Chess Olympiad in Norway paid for the accommodation and board of all participants and the travel expenses of some as well. Okay, but now we are back at the start of the whole chess vs bridge and why is chess popular and mainstream and sponsorship grabbing whereas bridge isn’t? The chess sponsorship paid for, in the Open, 172 countries’ accommodation and board. Five players and a captain/coach. The women’s had ‘only’ 132 nations playing, same size teams. By way of a comparison, the 2012 bridge Olympiad had 60 countries in the Open playing with, let’s say 6 players and a captain/coach. The contrast is that chess can still attract huge sponsorship, whilst bridge can’t. Bridge would only need sponsorship to cover 420 players in the Open compared with chess’s 1032. But it can’t do it.

I don’t think this is a point about where the money goes. It isn’t that the chess olympiad gets money instead of grass roots promotion. This is not an either or, it is a both. It is simply a condition of being permitted to hold the Olympiad that the host accepts these costs. Chess, as far as I can tell, has a far greater impact at introducing chess and, importantly, I guess, at a much earlier age. In earlier posts we discussed this. There are countries where millions of kids learn chess. Bridge simply has nothing we can compare with that.

What I don’t know, is how much the attendance at chess Olympiads would decline if host countries did not supply living expenses. It is likely that the payment of airfares to some countries increased the entry, since the 2012 chess olympiad saw 152 countries playing. But then again, the 2014 even was held at a much more attractive venue. It certainly hasn’t made a dramatic difference, since the Chess Olympiad is already a well-attended event.

For the Open the differences between the number of teams in chess and bridge Olympiad follow. In fact the chess is every two years and I’ve included under chess number of countries represented rather than teams, there are always several more teams than countries.

Year    Chess    Bridge
1988     106        56
1992     100        57
1996     111        71
2000     124        72
2004     125        72
2008     141        71
2012     152        60

As far as I can see, looking online, the WBF has actually abandoned the Olympiad. Is this true? If anybody reading this knows otherwise, please say!


Entry filed under: politics.

The Italian Blue team talk about what’s wrong with bridge in 2014. Could bridge be popular?

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Peter  |  March 22, 2015 at 10:47 pm

    I was told that the WBF was told by the Olympics Games people (IOC?) to abandon using the word Olympiad, so they did so.

    • 2. cathyc  |  March 23, 2015 at 5:48 am

      How interesting. So chess is allowed to use the word but not bridge?

  • 3. Khokan  |  January 2, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    An interesting topic, Cathy.

    I think things have changed a lot since you represented Australia at bridge. The last time I played in a Bermuda Bowl, which was well over a decade ago, the ABF didn’t place any constraints on where we stayed during the Bowl. My partner and I rented a house on a couple of occasions. As far as the ABF subsidy goes, while it went a long way towards covering airfare and expenses, private sponsorship made the decision to play internationally a lot easier. From what I’ve observed of bridge lately, the types of sponsors that sponsored whole expert teams with a view to representing Australia in international events, a la Theeman, Watson, Dalley, Otvosi, Kaljo and Rothfield etc, a just aren’t around anymore.

    On the issue of funding everyone equally for the Olympiad (World Bridge Games), that’s just not practical.

    I reckon that if you’re good enough at bridge, you’ve got a very good chance to make it as a professional – wherever you are. You may need to be able to relocate to play with the necessary partner/teammates, though, just like Madala etc. Also, many of the world’s top players are hired by sponsors to play in US Nationals. These players have come from all over the world, including countries that aren’t that strong at bridge.

    I’m not sure what the number of countries turning up to an Olympiad represents. I fully accept, though, that bridge is getting less and less popular. I don’t think, though, that that’s because of the lack of sponsorship in bridge Olympiads. I also don’t think that we’ll ever see an appreciable increase in bridge sponsorship, except at the partnership/team level.

    • 4. cathyc  |  January 2, 2015 at 5:50 pm


      (1) No, it isn’t practical to have a pot and fund everybody the same way. I made the point sarcastically at the time, so that the people complaining would have to face up to the fact that they pay far less than Australians do. It was fun, though, seeing how that idea went down.

      (2) Yes, you can play bridge as a pro, though not really in Australia anymore, alas. Australia lost a lot when that whole crew of sponsors departed. But I’m not sure that’s the point. You are still left with bridge at a representative level not able to be played by poorer people or poorer countries. The playing field will never be level, but steps could be made in that direction, and they aren’t made by holding events in places expensive to get to and then expensive to stay in and then expensive to eat in. That was the smaller point with which we began.

      (3) I don’t know what the number of teams playing the Olympiad means either. But messing around with the formula and the name is really unfortunate. Bridge needs some sense of history and tradition, but it is hard to get that when you change everything all the time. Playing in an Olympiad means something. It sound good! Playing in the Mind Games teams championship or something sounds shitty.

  • 5. Paul  |  January 2, 2015 at 6:50 am

    The 2016 World Bridge Games (formerly called the Olympiad) featuring National Team events and new National Pairs events will be held in Wroclaw, Poland, from 3 September to 17 September 2016.

    As previously one team in each category but unlimited entries in the pairs events.

    • 6. cathyc  |  January 2, 2015 at 7:33 am

      Thank you, Paul! The WBF site, I see now that I look more closely, says

      World Bridge Games (formerly known as the World Team Olympiad)

      “The World Bridge Games are held every leap year and on two occasions (2008 and 2012) were staged within the framework of the World Mind Sports Games, For 2016 they will revert to being organised and run by the World Bridge Federation. Each country may enter one national team in each series: open (Vanderbilt Trophy), women, seniors. In addition, on the first two occasions, youth teams, pairs and individual were contested.”

      It’s a bit buried and I don’t obviously see the information about 2016….

      At least one could expect it to be a relatively cheap venue.


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