Linda Lee — My personal bridge blog

A changing opinion about professionalism in bridge

When I came back to the bridge world after a lengthy absence in the early 1990’s the bridge world had changed a lot.  Perhaps the biggest change was the bridge professionals.  Years earlier players did get played to play with others but it was not talked about and was done secretly.

I wasn’t sure if I liked the idea at all.  It weakened great events liked the world championships, the Spingold and Vanderbilt and many others.  It is true that in a lot of cases the sponsors sit out the last few rounds and you can see the great players playing against each other as in the old days.  And that did help those of us watching but it didn’t completely bring back the spirit of the best in the world battling it out.  Because In the end it is almost never true that even the strongest sponsors are as good as the very best players.  Why should they be? 

I didn’t understand why sponsors wanted to be players.  Why would they want to weaken their country’s team in a world championship?  Why would they want to play in front of every and "look bad".  Why not simply act as NPC or even non-playing sponsor as one or two sponsors do? 

In particular I couldn’t understand why someone would hire a pro to win masterpoints for them.  Masterpoints are completely meaningless anyway as the currency has become debased and they are cumulative so that simply playing a lot means gets you a large total.  I didn’t really understand why talented players would want to be pros travelling from tournament to tournament and playing with weak partners.  Neither side of this equation appealed to me.

But over time I have developed some sympathy for both sides of the equation.  By having sponsors the top players can play and make a good living.  They don’t have to be "bridge bums" or "weekend bridge players".  It is most fun to play with other top players but I can see that some pros like the challenge of playing with clients and teaching them and helping them to develop as players and even fielding their mistakes and getting the best results possible if not always the best possible result.  There even seems to be some prestige in saying that you have played pro. 

For the clients I can understand that a quite good players might want to play on a very good team so that they can compete against the best in the world in the last rounds of a major team championship.  They want to play with a great partner (who wouldn’t) and they don’t mind paying for the privilege.  I suspect that they know that they are the weak link on the team (in most cases) but they don’t care.  I can even imagine myself sponsoring a team and playing in the Vanderbilt if I won the lottery.  And I would be happy to play pro on a team especially in partnership with an expert of similar ability,  not just for the money but to be able to get on a good team.

I still don’t completely approve of having sponsors on national teams as players.  How can you exclude sponsors from playing in the world championships unless they are truly experts?  If you have team selectors you can refuse to select them but if you do then you better be prepared to pay the players or at least elaborately cover their expenses.   It may be impossible to do anything about sponsors from countries that use team trials.  I can’t think of any way to do it and with a country like the US which has collected the very best players from around the world to play on their national teams the rest of the team is so strong that they can finish at the top anyway.  Still I wish the sponsors would stand back and give us the best competition and be real sponsors and not client players.

I appreciate it if you don’t agree with what I am saying and I am willing to change my opinion if I hear some argument to the contrary that make sense to me.  I already have changed my opinion somewhat as you can see from the above.


MichaelAugust 5th, 2008 at 6:26 pm

I can think of two obvious structural changes that could help with the sponsorship problem (if you think it is a problem).

One change that could be implemented by the selecting country would be to do all the team trials as partnership tryouts. Now for a sponsor to qualify they need to be one of the top partnership in the trial, not merely the sixth person who sits out a lot on a team that wins. And if a sponsor and pro are one of the top 3 pairs then the sponsor deserves to be on the team anyways.

A change that could be implemented by the tournament organizers would be to increase the number of hands that need to be played by everyone on the team. One could say that a team needs each player to play a full 2/3 of the hands instead of the 1/2 that is often used today. Alternatively, and even more radically, one could change the format so that one’s opponents get to pick which partnership sits out instead of the team itself. Now a weak pair would be forced to anchor the team by their opponents and the sponsor would be more exposed.

I doubt anyone will be anxious to change any of this as the sponsorship issue isn’t viewed as a problem by the top players, but really it is the structural changes that are needed if we do want to change the status quo.

LindaAugust 6th, 2008 at 11:15 am

I don’t think that sponsorship is a problem in most games. While it is true that having a sponsor on a team is likely to weaken the team, it is also true that many players would not be able to devote themselves to playing bridge without someone paying them so sponsors also strengthen bridge by allowing people to be bridge professionals. I was really just musing on how great it would be if sponsors would do as Ira Corn did with the Aces and act as team leaders but not players in the World Championships. It would make watching the event more exciting. In fact, I think we should drop all board restrictions for winning prizes (not for selecting teams). If weaker sponsors played less it would make the event better. I don’t really care if they get a medal.

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