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I was intrigued to find my motivations being discussed in a number of posts on the World Bridge Games thread, after a comment congratulating Judy Gartaganis and me for being the only two women to reach the QFs in the Open event. I was (more or less) staying off BW while playing, but now it’s over I’d like to say a few things. 

If you can get through the first few pages, you might find some of the last one amusing.

While I am playing, I am only interested in how the team is doing.  I think the sex of any player is irrelevant along with their age, nationality, race or hair colour. To put it another way, I didn’t reach the quarterfinals of the WBG, England did.  I don’t want to sound ungracious when someone compliments me, but I am not interested in being singled out as a ‘special’ member of the team in any way.  My partner did more good things and had more to do with us qualifying than I did; how come he doesn’t get congratulated? 

After the event, things change. I think that there is an unstated assumption in much of the bridge world that ‘women can’t succeed in open bridge’.  If there are talented women players who are put off even trying to succeed in the open game, then it’s important to show that it can be done. The same is true for any group who are in a minority whether age, sex, race, size of nose, disability…. Being in a small minority can be challenging in ways that the large majority do not always realise.  Women were playing from a few countries – not just Canada and England, certainly Latvia and Mexico and possibly others – and it’s good to advertise this but at the right time. 

In the business world, I sometimes talk specifically to women about my experiences and career as some are put off jobs in the areas I’ve worked in, all of which are very male-dominated.  But when I’m doing the day job and speaking at a conference about (say) managing long term FX risks, I am not interested in talking about gender.  Similarly, now the WBG is over I'd love to talk to groups of young female (and male) bridge players about the pleasure of playing open competition (if only they existed!).

Why I play Open bridge rather than Women’s

CAVEAT: This relates to my personal interests, commitments and motivation. I do not think other women are wrong for making a different decision.  I do not even think it is necessarily ‘wrong’ to believe that the women’s game should be abolished but to play in it while it exists.

I have been asked a number of times to play women’s bridge, and I’ve been saying no for at least the last 15 years.

I am not a bridge professional.  I play solely for fun (and because I want to win), which means I can choose who I play with.  I am lucky to have a (male) bridge partner who is also a good friend while my other regular partner is my husband.  If I am going use my precious time to travel for weeks on end to play bridge I want it to be with one of them.

I was delighted when my partner and I were selected for the England team because it is an honour to represent my country and because for anyone competitive, the best competition has to be a world championship.  If I were there playing in the women’s event, I’d always be thinking of it as secondary and looking jealously at the open.

I do play in mixed events.  I get to play with my regular partner, plus I get my husband as a teammate and another friend of ours as a fourth. We enter the mixed as we believe we have a chance of doing well but we also see it as a holiday.  If I had to choose between mixed and open, I would always play open.

Subconscious bias and why there aren’t more women in the Open game

Even if there were absolute equality of opportunity, I suspect there would not be an equal mix of men & women at or even near the top of the game. However I think there would be more women at the top than now. I said at the start that there is an assumption that women won’t be playing open bridge. This affects attitudes, whether conscious or unconscious. Suppose you are on a selection committee, or forming a professional team. You might assume that in a mixed partnership it is the man who is the better player, and that affects who you ask to join your team. You might assume that a pair of women are only interested in playing in the women’s team and not bother to ask the better player if they are interested in forming a new, open partnership. If a woman does not play on her country’s women’s team, you might assume she is a worse player than those who do. You might be concerned about the impact on team dynamic of changing from all male to mixed (restaurant/pub conversations are definitely different in mixed rather than single sex groups).

There are also some practical handicaps: as has been mentioned on other threads, some spouses do not want their husband to play bridge with a female partner. If you are young, keen, but not very well off, you might share a hotel room with your partner when you play – this is looked on a bit oddly in many cultures if your partner is the opposite sex.

When there is a prevailing attitude that things ‘don’t happen’ it does take a conscious effort to overcome it, and this might put people off.

There also tends to be a gender difference in self-perception: there is a tendency for men to over-state their ability and self-belief, and women to understate it. It’s a gross generalization, but a women is more likely to think ‘I don’t deserve to be on this team, that’s why I haven’t been asked’ while a man is more likely to think ‘obviously I should be on the team, they just haven’t asked me yet’.

Perhaps you think that if someone is put off, or doesn’t believe they are good enough, then they aren’t going to be competitive enough to succeed anyway and shouldn’t be on the team. Maybe that’s true, but the biggest impact on my bridge recently was when a team-mate said to me ‘don’t worry about this match. You are better than them.’ For me, that made a difference.

These things are all minor, and don't apply to everyone (or maybe even to most people), but they can have a cumulative impact. Why is it that of the women who do play Open events, the vast majority (as far as I can tell) play with their life partner either as partner or team-mate?

I was doing some research recently and found a peer-reviewed academic paper from 1974 discussing mathematics in schools, saying “…boys will achieve higher than girls on tests dealing with mathematical reasoning” and “[it is] fairly well established…that boys excel in mathematical ability”. By 2006, however, girls (in England at least) were outperforming boys in mathematics across all school age groups. Things do change, but it takes time. I suspect that bridge may have died before we've achieved the same change.

Half the players in the English U16 team are female.

Men's Bridge

Back in August, I was playing in an English event and chatting to a foreign visitor. I mentioned that I was playing in Poland, and we talked a bit about his country’s team. When I said that Monaco was in our group, there was an obvious double-take and he said …”Oh, are you playing in the men’s event?”

At dinner with a multinational range of bridge players last week, we were talking about the results and one asked ‘who is winning the men’s pairs?’

A member of our women’s team admitted that she habitually asked ‘how are the men doing?’

I overheard one discussion about the standard of another country’s team which started along the lines of ..”well we sat down against a man and a women…” “Ha! That’s all I need to know”

At one point when we were on BBO/OurGame I walked into the room and said good morning to the vugraph operator. He looked a bit confused, and said to me ‘England?’ (good guess as we were playing Japan). When I said yes, he then said ‘Captain?’

When conducting a consultation/review, the TDs are supposed to consult peers of the players involved at the table. While sitting out, two different TDs consulted ‘us’ (my partner and I) on two rulings. My partner was consulted on a ruling in the Open teams, although the TD was treated to my opinion anyway. I was consulted on another hand, the TD showing no interest in talking to my partner. I asked which event it was from, and was told it was the mixed.  EDIT (28th September) - I am being unfair to the second TD here.  I've posted further in the replies to the thread.

Vugraph commentators who don't know me reliably called me 'he' for at least the first board (usually until someone corrected them). Yes, it's a reasonable guess when commentating on the Open, but why guess?

My name is Frances. The male version of my name is Francis (Francis Ford Coppola or Francis Drake, vs Frances Hodgson Burnett or Frances Cleveland). There were at least two bulletin articles which called me Francis. (I’m possibly being a bit over-sensitive here, as my partner Graham become George at one point!)


Now I'll go back to talking about bridge.  Far more interesting.

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