Tournament Bridge–Million-dollar hobby?

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October 12, 2014

Here’s an article from the New York Observer, by sportswriter Greg Hanlon, that every player of serious and tournament bridge ought to read–

As to sociable bridge players, this glimpse into today’s tournament bridge world may amuse, surprise, or appall you.

Hanlon’s article, “The Million Dollar Hobby,” describes the exotic world of big-money tournament bridge and of somewhat elderly lady bridge players who hire junior world championship players as partners–called client/pro partnerships. Fees range from a low of $150 for a weekday 3-hour tournament to 3000 a day for national tournaments. Top pros can earn seven figure annual retainer fees to partner with super-rich bridge players.

Client/players, says Hanlon, are people “. . . whose experiences in life have accustomed them to winning.” He quotes one of the pros (bold emphasis is mine):

“These are competitive people who have risen through the ranks in business. They
ant to be  out there playing,” said Augie Boehm, a Manhattan-based pro. 

“At the same time, they want to make sure that they win, which means it’s
customary for sponsors to play only 50 percent of the hands at a tournament, the bare
minimum under the rules. . . . “

I learned from Hanlon’s article that the sponsor system in tournament bridge is unique to America. In “other top bridge countries like Italy, Poland and the Netherlands . . . the country itself pays tournament entry fees and, in some cases, runs national training programs. The tournament becomes a matter of national pride, and top teams playing with six professionals often beat sponsor-handicapped American teams.”

Ira Corn, back in the 1960s, began the tradition of sponsoring (paying) expert players to team up with him in international tournaments.

“But it wasn’t until he stepped away from the table himself and rolled out a team of six professionals that the team . . . brought bridge supremacy back to the States. . . . Sponsors
like Mr. Corn who decline to play are rare these days: If someone’s ponying up the cash for these players, they want to share in the glory.”

What glory? That is the question. How do you get ego satisfaction from winning when you know the 50% of hands played by a paid pro in your place made all the difference? When you are the handicap in a “sponsor-handicapped” team?

What price glory? That’s an even more important question. The article closes comparing the status of bridge in America with that of other countries:

“In 1970, ACBL membership stood at 170,000. Today, that figure is 167,000 . . . Meanwhile, the game is exploding in popularity in places like China, Russia and Eastern Europe.” 

I can’t help thinking that tournament bridge becoming a “million dollar hobby” has something to do with the status of serious competitive bridge in America today. Has nothing to do with  my kind of sociable bridge–that decline from the days when bridge was played in 44% of American homes has altogether different roots and causes.

Comments, emails welcome! maggy AT bridgetable DOT net




Send me an email to maggy AT bridgetable DOT net — with comments positive or negative.





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