After playing in most of the US Trials since 1995 I moved to Switzerland in 2010. I must have made a good impression -- I was asked to join a competitive team and play in the Swiss trials. We qualified to represent the FSB in the European Championships being played in Dublin this week and next and in the World Team Championships in Lille, France in August. This gives me a rare perspective in comparing the events in Europe and the USA.
Our team consists of six expats. Besides me, an American, we have players from Uruguay, France, Croatia, Russia, and Denmark. Our results on the first day were not good. We improved on day two, but still lie well outside qualifying position. I've been trying to keep myBridge Blog up to date with our progress, But never mind that, what about the format and organization?
The Open, Women's, and Seniors' events are played simultaneously. This has plusses and minuses compared to the USBF approach where the three are usually held separately. In the USA a player who is eligible for more than one event can play in more than one. This is good for those who choose to take advantage of the opportunity, but means that each tournament is smaller and somewhat less of a social occasion.
The Open event qualifies six teams for next year's Bermuda Bowl. As a consequence, a KO or double KO as in the USBF would not be a reasonable format. Instead a split RR is used. About 35 teams are entered, at most one per country. The event takes 11 days. The first 7 days are a full RR of 20-board matches within each group. Half the teams qualify for the finals, when they play 20 board matches against the survivors from the other group. I think there is full carryover from matches against the qualifiers from within the group, and zero carryover from matches against the non-qualifiers.
Play begins at 10AM daily, as is the USBF, and finishes at 7:30PM. Starting times are 10:00, 1:30, and 4:40. 2 hours and 50 minutes are allotted for each 20 board set, with automatic penalties for results that are turned in late, I think after a 5 minute grace period.
Some areas where in my opinion the EBL does better than the USBF:
The use of automated scoring devices allows a number of technological wonders. One is that a player can scan his badge (each has a barcode) and get a personal scorecard from an inkjet printer at one of several automated stations. Another is that contracts and results from every table are available on the tournament web site, so one can see just how often a contract was reached and how often it made.
Spot searches of a few tables each round for cell phones, iPads, and other illicit communication devices. This seems necessary if the regulations, which seem quite reasonable, are to be enforced.
Some areas where in my opinion USBF usually does better:
The tournament is in a golf resort seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Eventually I found some shops and restaurants in walking distance, but that's a healthy 15 minute walk, and remember that it's often raining. That said, the restaurants and snacks in the hotel are good and relatively inexpensive, and the room rate is quite reasonable. The venue was arranged at short notice when arrangements fell through for Greece, the scheduled host country. Perhaps the lack of variety doesn't affect me much in any case. In 2009 my team ate in the same restaurant for every night of the tournament!
The hotel requires full payment in advance, which as I understand things is non-refundable. I find this strange. It is certain that half the teams will fail to qualify, but not at all certain which those will be.
The playing area is separate from the hotel. One must take a short walk outdoors, and rain is endemic.
I could have done without the opening ceremony, with speeches from officials representing both bridge organizations and the local government. No such thing exists in the USBF -- it seems to be a tradition here. My vote would be to make it shorter. The ceremony finished with dancing girls and an Irish band -- both groups were talented, but many in the audience skipped their performance, restless after sitting and listening for an hour.
Plus... it's free!