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One Sponsor's Motivation

Jeff Lehman recently published a post asking the Bridge Winners community: What do you think is the primary motivation for bridge players to become sponsors? I abstained in his poll because while I have an inkling what motivates most sponsors, it does not seem right to guess. What I can answer is: As a sponsor, what motivated me to hire professional teams?

Education My primary reason. I started Bridge late in life (relatively speaking). I am a competitive person by nature, and as we all know, bridge is addictive, and winning is addictive. I wanted to get better fast and to take advantage of the short time (relatively speaking) I had left to improve. So I tried to find out what is the best way to improve and accelerate the learning. Most people recommended hiring a professional teacher. So I started working with professionals: local teachers in person, and world-class pros on BBO. I had no immediate interest in hiring a team, I wanted to get better myself first.

At my first Nationals, in a convoluted set of circumstances too long to recount, I ended up playing with a professional partner in the Women's Pairs. We came in 10th. Later in the tournament, the two of us, another professional woman player, and her expert partner played in the North American Swiss. We qualified to the third day with me having no idea what was going on. I was mortified, miserable, and suffered through much of the day's playing but I also have to admit the success of that first Nationals was rather exciting. I had been introduced to the world of professional bridge.

Employment Talking to professional women players during my first Nationals, I realized that women are under-represented at the top end of the bridge world and felt they did not get a fair chance to compete in the Open events. I decided to hire a team composed solely of women, but also to enter it in Open events. I was hoping to highlight that women can compete with the best and do well. The results were mixed. We came close in the Vanderbilt to making history, losing by only a few IMPs against a world-class team; otherwise we would have advanced to the round of 16. We also led after the first day in the Roth Swiss and ended up finishing 4th (I still blame Steve Weinstein: his team lost against a team that jumped in front of us - he, of course, won the event ;-). We were also leading after the 2nd day in the North American Swiss. Unfortunately, though, we didn't win, and so I don't think we managed to change anybody's mind.

There have been also times when I hired friends not because I really wanted to hire professional teammates, but because I knew they were working on their partnership and needed practice. In turn, I got to play with professionals without paying when they did not have an engagement, wanted to work on a partnership, or just felt like playing. I feel very fortunate that way.

Social benefits Hiring teams also introduced me to professional bridge players on a social level. Jeff is correct, that is a benefit of being a sponsor. By now I have lost my wide-eyed admiration of every world-class player but several of the players have become friends to me. There is no question, it is fun to have experts discuss hands with me and I enjoy being included to a certain degree.

The thrill of success Of course, doing very well in major events (e.g., winning a national Women's Team championship orqualifying for the World Championships) is thrilling and one does get hooked on the rush. Nevertheless, it is much more satisfying to win an event when I felt like I actually played well and had not dugmy team into a hole they had to getout of. Some of my happiest wins have been four-handed events in regionals and even sectional pairs. In most cases, I would rather lose and feel like I played well, than win and feel like I could not follow suit in that event. That does not mean I do not have dreams of winning an open National Championship or a Women's World Championship.

Masterpoints Masterpoints are of limited value to me. Someone in my club once said to me: "Right, you buy your masterpoints..." While I did not appreciate the comment, it was hard to argue against it. Masterpoints certainly do not reflect how I feel about my game. And that is what it comes down to for me - I want to get better, I want to feel good about my game. Ironically, having succeeded at the top level with hired teams also prevents me from playing in limited games against my peers and winning events on my own merit.

I decided to stop hiring teams for major events for awhile. Why? The answer goes back to the top of this article. I want to become better. Playing in major tournaments with hired teams is not the best learning environment. Working with professionals online and in what I call "boot camps" is a much better investment of time and money to improve my game. To me, hiring teams is also a stressful undertaking. I am always the weakest link on the team. Chances are (actually, the chances are VERY good) that I am the one that drops the most IMPs. Who would voluntarily put herself consistently in that position, always under pressure not to make a "stupid" mistake, or feeling bad because I misbid, misevaluated, miscounted, or got the defense totally wrong? Bridge is humbling, frustrating, and infuriating - now try playing with the best of the best where EVERY single mistake is being noticed. I needed a break.

Not hiring teams does not mean I will not hire a professional partner. Playing with an expert teacher that wants to improve your game and does not emphasize results is priceless. I love playing with a partner that knows what he or she is doing. I love trusting my partner to see all the spots, remember our agreements, and declare a hand in a way that is newspaper-worthy. There is nothing like the thrill of having defended a hand, where my partner and I were 100% on the same page. I will always want to play with an expert partner and fortunately I can. Yes, I am still the weaker half but for the sake of learning and seeing the possibilities in every hand (even if it is not until the post-mortem), it is so worth it.

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