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Seeding in the World Bridge Games
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The World Bridge Games (WBG), formerly the Olympiad, will be held next month in Wroclaw, Poland. Each member nation of the World Bridge Federation (WBF) is allowed to send one team in each of the four categories: Open, Women, Seniors, and Mixed. Based on the number of entrants in each event, the field may be seeded into groups for the round-robin stage of the competition. Teams play a round-robin within their group and a certain number of teams from each group qualifies for the knockout stage.

Group assignments were released on August 18th. In the Open Teams, there are 55 entrants divided into groups of 18, 18, and 19:

Five teams from each group qualify for the knockout, plus one more team at large—the 6th-place team with the most Victory Points. The top 8 teams (the top 2 finishers in each group and the 2 highest-scoring 3rd-place finishers) choose their opponents for the round of 16 from the bottom qualifiers in the other two groups. (You cannot play a team in the round of 16 that was in your group). The 1st-place finishers choose first, ordered by their VP total in the round-robin. The bracket is fixed after the round of 16. Unlike in the Bermuda Bowl, teams have no control over the bracket beyond picking their round of 16 opponents.

It is essential that theWBGbe seeded accurately. Not only does being in a stronger-than-average group reduce a team's chances of finishing in the top five in its group, it also:

  • reduces a team's chances of being the 16th at-large qualifier;
  • places a team at a disadvantage for round of 16 matches, as teams in weaker groups are likely to score more VPs during the round-robinand therefore have priority in choosing their opponents;
  • increases the chances of drawing a top team in the round of 8.

Multiple teams have expressed concerns about group assignments, contending that Group B is stronger than the others, and Group C in particular.

There is little transparency about WBF seeding procedures. TheSupplemental Conditions of Contestfor the 2016WBGstate:

"The Teams are divided in groups, formed according to the criteria and procedures established by theWBFManagement Committee and effected by the Wroclaw Championship Committee appointed by theWBFPresident." (page 7, section 3)

TheWBF websitegives the composition of theManagementand Championship Committees, but it is silent on the "criteria and procedures" for seeding. Neither the General Conditions of Contest, the WBF Constitution, nor the WBF Bylaws offer a clear explanation of seeding procedures.

Correspondence with Al Levy, a WBF representative from Zone 2 and a member of both the Management and Championship Committees, has shed some light on the issue. He writes:

"Gianarrigo Rona and Maurizio Di Sacco have responded to my inquiry [about seeding procedures].

Here is their explanation:

The European teams have been distributed through the groups using an objective criteria [sic]: their placement in the European Championships just held in Budapest (June). Poland placed 8th, and England 10th. Monaco was 4th, while Sweden and Netherlands were 2nd and 3rd respectively.

‘Second tier’ teams are balanced as well. After the top four, in Group B Ireland, Iceland, China Hong Kong and Pakistan are all capable of some occasional excellent result, but Norway (the team was 9th in Budapest) will not have Broegeland-Lindqvist playing in Wroclaw. In Group C, Hungary, Canada, Denmark, Indonesia and Egypt are all serious contenders.

You have to look at the makeup of the teams as well, including the sponsors. England for example will not have the Hackett twins, Norway will not haveBroegeland-Lindqvist.

Balancing groups perfectly is always impossible, but they [Rona and Di Sacco] think that the groups are balanced, based on recentperformanceand makeup of the teams."

It is unclear what is "objective" about the distribution of European teams based on the results of the European Championships. Group A has the 1st, 5th, and 6th place teams from Budapest (FRANCE, ITALY, and GERMANY). Group B has the 4th, 8th, 9th, 10th, and 12th place teams (MONACO, POLAND, NORWAY, ENGLAND, and IRELAND). Group C has the 2nd, 3rd, and 11th place teams (SWEDEN,THE NETHERLANDS, andHUNGARY). 7th-placeBULGARIAdid not enter the Open Teams in Wroclaw.

As Rona and Di Sacco point out, the teams that competed in Budapest do not necessarily have the same players as the teams for Wroclaw. In fact, only five teams have the same lineups: FRANCE,IRELAND, MONACO, THE NETHERLANDS, and POLAND. This begs the question, Why use the results of one event to seed the other when almost all of the teams have changed their rosters?For a complete side-by-side comparison of team rosters, see the appendix.

A greater problem is that Rona and Di Sacco offer no objective method for assigning non-European teams to groups. The WBF's explanation suggests that teams from other zones were assigned solely based on the Committees' assessment of teams' "recent performance and makeup."

One objective metric the WBF has usedto seed the fieldin past years isthe WBF master point holdings of the whole team or the top four members of each team. Whilemaster points are inherently flawed as an evaluation of talent, they offer a better guide for seeding than performance in the European Championships for many reasons:

  • using master points avoids any subjectivity;
  • using master pointsprovides one standard for all teams, not just European teams;
  • using master points accounts for the specific team composition;
  • using master pointsconsiders performance over multiple years, rather than in one event.

Calculating the average master point holdings of each team and group supports the contention that Group B is stronger than the other groups. Averaging the master point holdings of all team members yields:

Not only is Group B's average master points per team considerably higher than Group A's and Group C's, but the top two teams in Group B have master point holdings greater than any team in either of the other groups, andUSA's average master point holding is virtually equal to ITALY's, the top-ranked team in Group A.

Using just the top four players' master point holdings further exaggerates the disparity between the groups:

As a comparison, using the same top four average master point figures, here are the resulting groups if teams aredistributed using a "snake seeding" method:

For a complete breakdown of every player's published master point holdings, see the appendix on page 5.

Is there anything that can be done now that teams have been assigned to groups and the schedule has been released? There is a provision for altering group composition or round-robin schedule after it has been published:

"The Tournament Rules and Regulations Committee has the authority to make some changes in the groups (and, as a consequence, in the sequence of play) if required by occurrences after the seeding has been announced." (SupplementalCOC, page 10, section 3.6)

Round-robin events rely on each team's playing all others to produce true-to-form results. Splitting a field into smaller groups and playing internal round-robins can only be fair if all groups are equally strong. Anything less undermines the integrity of the qualifying stage and, by extension, the world championship itself. The current composition of the groups and the lack of transparency and objectivity in seeding cast serious doubts on the fairness of the upcoming World Bridge Games in Wroclaw.

We call on the Tournament Rules and Regulations Committee to change the groups for Wroclaw before the tournament begins, and on theWBFto standardize its seeding procedures and to be transparent about all aspects of its tournaments, including seeding.

Appendix

Roster comparisons between World Championships and European Championships

Complete data on each team's master point holdings:


Group A

Group B

GroupC

NB1:Teams with fewer than six members have blank cells. Players with 0 WBF master points have cells with a value of 0.

NB2:There are some discrepancies in the published master points of some players on different pages of the WBF website. Great care has been taken to ensure figures are accurate, but it is possible that some of the published figures differ from WBF's own official records. You can follow links onthis pageand find players' master point holdings and compare them tothis published list.

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