Next month the entire bridge world will once again turn their eyes to the prestigious Bermuda Bowl to see which country will earn the right to call themselves World Champions. The significance of this event on the bridge calendar is that each country sends arguably their best team comprised of some of the most outstanding partnerships ever assembled.
Beginning October 15, the two-week-long 2011 Bermuda Bowl will be held for the 40th time since 1950. Historically, the Bermuda Bowl featured the champions from the United States against the champions from Europe. With growing interest from around the globe the event evolved and now features 22 countries competing from the eight World Bridge Federation zones.
In the 2009 Bermuda Bowl at Sao Paulo, Brazil, the star-studded Nick Nickell team, which included Bob Hamman, Zia Mahmood, Eric Rodwell, Nickell, Jeff Meckstroth and Ralph Katz, led USA2 to the title over a powerhouse team from Italy, while upstart Bulgaria impressively captured the bronze.
The schedule of play showing the match-ups is posted on the WBF website.
Which country will prevail in Veldhoven, Netherlands? I set up a non-scientific Bermuda Bowl poll to see who others thought stood a realistic chance to win a medal. Though not always the case, generally the best partnerships rise above the crowd in extended bridge tournaments. So this poll seemingly reflects who people think will do just that on the bridge world's biggest stage.
The European contingent of Italy, Poland, Israel, Iceland, Sweden, Netherlands and Bulgaria contains some of the most well respected players in the world. The absence of Norway is significant as many would have considered them one of the favorites. But in reality, Helgemo and Helness defecting to Monaco has relegated the Norwegian team to also-ran status in Europe. Italy faces a lot of pressure as the most likely team from Europe to medal in their quest for Italy's 15th world championship. Italy won the European Championships in 2010 and has 3 excellent pairs.
The host country, The Netherlands, won in 1993, but winning again in 2011 is a tall order. With that said, The Netherlands are one of the most prepared and skilled teams and were justly voted in the poll to be among the favorites. The Dutch will likely represent their country well and could be in the mix at the end. It goes without saying that the competition between these European countries to qualify is intense and that seems to help prepare them for the big moments. All of the European teams have historically experienced Bermuda Bowl success and are all legitimate contenders.
The North American team from Canada is not considered a serious contender, but both USA1 and USA2 are expected to be in the mix to defend the title. USA1 lived up to expectations during the US Trials by earning one of the two American spots in the Bermuda Bowl. The widely-respected USA1 team features Bridge Winners' own Steve Weinstein who has won the Cavendish a record 7 times. His partner Bobby Levin has a chance to claim a second gold medal after winning his first 30 years ago, while teammates Chip Martel and Lew Stansby claimed the gold in 1985, 1987, and 2001 along with a Silver in 1989. The USA2 team consists of youth bridge stars who have shined in past World Junior championships, but they are all Bermuda Bowl virgins. Nevertheless, they have proved they can take on the best and win, with most of the team members having won multiple NABC events over the past few years. The aggressive style and youthful confidence of USA2 may help them seize this opportunity.
The South American qualifiers of Brazil and Chile can be considered a dark horse and a long shot, respectively. Brazil often finishes in the top 5 and has one Bermuda Bowl victory while a top 10 finish by Chile would exceed expectations.
India and Pakistan represent the Asian and Middle Eastern region and have a chance to shock the world as Pakistan did in New York City in 1981. The great Zia Mahmood led that championship team, but he now plays in the USA. Despite both of these teams having some talented players, expectations are low for them to be in the hunt. If either country is able to win a medal that would be a huge success for this region.
Representing the Central America and Caribbean zone is Guadeloupe, an inexperienced Bermuda Bowl team, and that inexperience could make the pressure a challenge if they are in contention during the second week. Like India and Pakistan, voters in the poll think Guadeloupe has little chance of finishing in the top 3. One of the strongest possible challenges to the North American and European heavyweights are the teams from the Pacific Asia zone that includes China, Japan and Singapore. None of these countries have had significant success in previous Bermuda Bowls, though there has seemingly been some positive momentum on the international level in recent years from teams in this region. Though it would not be a complete shock if one of them finishes in the top three, they are not expected to be top contenders. In the poll, China was the only one of these three to get any consideration from the voters so if any of them are to break through in 2011 it will likely be the Chinese. However, the most notable Chinese partnership of Zhong Fu and Jie ‘Jack’ Zhao are not part of the team despite dominating bridge in their country for more than a decade.
The South Pacific teams of Australia and New Zealand are capable of making a run at the title if they can get off to a good start early in the first week. Both earned relatively few votes in the poll so the perception is these two teams are probably going to finish somewhere in the middle or towards the bottom of the pack. The Africa zone sends two teams with this year having Egypt and South Africa in the competition. The Egyptian contingent has leadership with Walid El-Ahmadi and Tarek Sadek having multiple second place finishes in the Cavendish Pairs. Historically the South African team has had a couple of top-five finishes at the Bermuda Bowl and it is conceivable that they could break out and finish with a medal. In the poll, most voters thought otherwise, as the top 5-6 teams will make it difficult for one of these less recognizable teams to actually win a medal.
The Bermuda Bowl poll voters placed the Italian, Dutch, Poles, Swedes and both American teams among the favorites to win a medal. Not overly surprising were the results that showed more voters favored the USA1 team over the USA2 team. This difference can probably be attributed to USA1 having more experience and more well-known partnerships on their roster relative to the upstart USA2 team. Nevertheless, the latter really put themselves on the international map by cruising through the 2011 Team Trials, in the process knocking off the powerhouse American teams NICKELL and DIAMOND , the 2009 world champions and reigning Rosenblum champions, respectively.
My prediction: My initial instinct was to put two European teams and one of the American teams in the top three. However, I have a serious feeling that this year's Bermuda Bowl is going to have an unexpected surprise by having one of the overlooked teams crash the party and finish second. A runner-up finish by a second-tier favorite like Brazil, China, or South Africa may not be a total surprise, but this just may be the year a total longshot comes out of nowhere and ends up competing for the title on the final day of play. With a plethora of strategy information available online and the game's popularity increasing all over the world, it seems that the gap between the top bridge teams from traditional powerhouse countries and the best partnerships from the other countries is shrinking. For instance, Bulgaria may just be able to break through this year. An under-the-radar dark horse could conceivably go on an extended run by capitalizing on their opponents' mistakes and consistently making good bidding decisions. And of course, some timely luck never hurts.
I predict that the 2011 Bermuda Bowl round robin will feature an abnormally tight race that puts several teams in contention on the last day of the round-robin to qualify for the knock-out stage. I also feel one of the American teams will ultimately win the competition.
I think it is great that both USA1 and USA2 have agreed to take time out of their busy lives to play one another for charity. The online match watchable on Vugraph will be incredibly entertaining for bridge fans all over the world. I believe the positive karma and confidence gained by the match winner will propel that USA team to the Bermuda Bowl title. My guess is that a relative longshot finishes second and a strong showing from the host country propels the Netherlands to win the bronze. Rounding out the top five will be the Italians finishing 4th and the other USA team finishing tied for 5th. I can not guarantee the accuracy of my predictions, but I can guarantee that no matter what happens it should be another thrilling international competition. Good luck to all teams at the 2011 Bermuda Bowl.
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