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All comments by Henry Bethe
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Jordan,

I do not think there is (much) resentment in the US about the Canadians getting a team every year. I was making the arguments really in response to the complaints about the US getting two teams. (When Zone 2 got two teams and Canada automatically got one of them, there was some grumbling.)

By the way, it is not up to the WBF; it is up to each Zone to determine how its teams get selected. At least as far as I know. The EBL could, in its infinite wisdom, decide to allow multiple entries from member countries with large (bridge) populations. France is the largest, with a little over 100k registered players, followed by the Netherlands with about 90k. Denmark, England, Germany, Italy and Sweden are all between about 20k and 30k. No other country is over 10k. The smallest is Bosnia & Herzegovina, with 10. Not 10k, 10. Two of the forty-seven EBL member countries, Luxembourg and Serbia, do not report their membership. So some scheme might be developed to let the seven large countries send multiple entries. It won't happen!

Zone 2 is unique in that it is entitled to more teams than member countries. (Mexico and Bermuda, while still part of the ACBL, have moved to Zone 5 for BB qualification).
May 30, 2011
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Randy,

If you want the top Canadian bridge players to remain in Canada, you have to create conditions conducive to being able to play professionally as a Canadian.

You cannot control the availability of sponsors. As I understand the market, a US sponsor needs about three hundred to five hundred thousand dollars of spare cash per year to put together a top flight team. Say a minimum of $15k per hired gun per event for five hired guns over four events plus expenses. I may be wrong as I am neither a hired gun nor a sponsor. The WC is a fifth event.

With this $60k as an annual base, a player can afford to be a full-time professional, earning additional money from other bridge efforts. Without it they can't. Well, they can, but then their bridge will essentially be full time be devoted to playing with clients in lesser events and they cannot develop the sort of partnership you need to be competitive in the rarified levels of top flight bridge. (There are exceptions, see for example Martel-Stansby; but those are even rarer.)

What you, the CBF, can control is the incentives for sponsors. You could make the NABC team events important for seeding in the CNTC. Alternatively, or in addition, you could pick some major Canadian Regionals – say Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver – and have them hold real KO team events with all-day matches. Make performance in those events by an all-Canadian team meaningful as a prelude to the CNTC. The Canadian Nationals in Toronto used to have a KO with all day matches, before the introduction of bracketed KOs.

Now you may like the fact that mostly Canadian bridge at the top level is non-professional. Many of us here in the US are unhappy that it really is no longer possible to play at the top level unless you are willing to devote full time to bridge or have the discretionary resources to be a sponsor. But if that is the case, you really should not complain about the “bridge drain.”
May 30, 2011
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Randy,
How did the USBF set up a system that encourages anyone to represent the US? The WBF, not the USBF, determines the criteria for being allowed to represent a country. In essence the criteria are that you either have to be a resident, in which case you do not have to be a citizen, or a citizen in which case you do not have to be resident. And that you not have played for another country in a zonal or world championship event within three years of the WC for which you are trying to qualify. Canada, at least once, had a US citizen resident in Canada on their team for an Olympiad: Karen Allison in 1976; on the open team.

The US is like most countries in its rules. A few, I think Sweden is one, limit their teams to citizens. No one, as far as I know, limits it to native born. But in some countries you almost have to be native born to be a citizen. I, for one, am grateful that neither the US nor Canada have that restriction.

Many people go to NABCs and play with partners and teammates with whom they could not win the Bermuda Bowl. Many clients hire partners and teammates who are ineligible to represent the US. Many of these clients also play in the trials. In the VSR they want their best chance to win. In the trials they also want their best chance to win. The same teammates may not fit both objectives.
May 29, 2011
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Randy,
I am curious how you determine that the USBF is to blame for Canadian-born bridge players choosing to establish residence in the US.

The USBF is certainly not responsible for the existence of professional play. The USBF is certainly not responsible for the separation of the US and Canada into independent qualifying entities. As I explained and Eric Kokish confirmed this came about through the instigation and efforts of the CBF. The USBF is not responsible for the CBF not using North American Championship events to assist in seeding the CNTC. Note, these are North American Championships, not United States Championships.

The USBF came into existence about fifteen years ago in part because of the splintering of North America into separate Country Federations and in part because of the effort to make bridge an Olympic Sport. The WBF needed a US organization to show to the International Olympic Committee, and, as I previously pointed out, the ACBL is not a US organization. When the USBF was formed responsibility for international team selection for US teams passed from the ACBL to the USBF.

The USBF determined that it wanted to have the three major team events be more influential than masterpoints in determining the seeding of entering teams. It also wanted to encourage the creation of teams that would stay together over time, at least from the start of a qualifying year to the next trials. In addition, by providing some but not determinative advantage to teams that do well during the immediately prior cycle, the trials are effectively lengthened to include the three major events: the Spingold, Reisinger and Vanderbilt, known collectively as the VSR.

The US trials effectively are a four round KO with a round-robin preliminary to qualify for the first round. Reasonably good performance in the VSR, say a third place finish, maybe a little more, will ordinarily allow a team to skip the preliminary RR and gain direct entry to the KO phase. Significantly better performance – a win, or maybe a second and a third – will get a team directly into the quarterfinals of the KO. A KO win and something significantly more – a 3/4 in the other KO, or second in the Reisinger, or good finishes in both of the other events – normally qualifies a team directly into the semifinals. Playing in an event with players ineligible to participate in the trials reduces the benefit from good performance. Because of the vast participation of foreign players in the VSR it has become a rarity for multiple all-US teams to do well in multiple events.

Perhaps if the CBF were to encourage Canadians to play in the major NABC events with each other by providing seeding incentive …

May 29, 2011
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Erin,
I was not suggesting that Canada be thankful for their automatic spot. I was simply suggesting that Canadians stop being jealous of the two US spots. Again, I do not know the numbers. I do not know how many under-26 members there are in the two countries. Since the population ratio of the two countries is about 7 or 8 to 1, and the ACBL membership ratio of the two countries is about the same, I would suspect that the ACBL junior membership from the two countries is also about the same. But I don't know. Do you?

As I started to try to say, the issue is in a way whether the opportunity to play internationally should be a function of nationality/political boundaries or of the number of players competing for those opportunities. If it is a function of polity, then I agree, US players should be grateful. If it is a function of the number of players in the pool whom you have to overcome to reach the International events, then I suggest that the US players are at a disadvantage. There are so many more of them.

During a four year cycle there are two world team championships, one Mind Sport Championship and one open WC. If we exclude the open, in which anyone with the time (and money) can enter and which is no longer restricted to single country-of-origin entries, there are three events in each category during the cycle. In two of them, as it currently stands, the US sends two teams, Canada one. In the third the US and Canada each send one team. Total over the cycle: US 5 teams, Canada 3. The Juniors, I believe, do not quite have the same cycle, but I do not know the current cycle.

I guess my point is really that there are two very different ways of looking at the situation. And yes, if country representation is the key, then the US should be grateful. If, in a sense, it is the percentage of the bridge-playing population that have the opportunity to play in WC competition at any level, then the US is, if anything, under-represented.

A final point: I feel sure that the USBF would be more than happy to consolidate with the CBF in all competitions and have trials to select three teams in BB and WJC years that would be open to all (and allow “mixed” teams). If two or three all-Canadian teams won their way through, so be it. But then no whining if there were three all US teams. OK?
May 29, 2011
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Randy, The ACBL is a Zonal organization, not a country organization, even though it may seem at times to be “US-centric.” The ACBL is in a way the equivalent of the European Bridge League, or the South American Bridge Federation (or whatever it calls itself). The Canadian Bridge Federation and the US Bridge Federation are the single country organizations within Zone 2.

Zone Two, because of the total bridge population of its members – about 165,000, gets three teams in the various World Team events: the open teams (BB), The Women's Teams (VC) etc. When I last saw the numbers, of those 165,000 members about 140,000 were US and 20,000 or so Canadian. The US still (I think) has more members than any other country, certainly than any European country. (China may now have more; I do not know.) More than twice as many, in fact, than any single European country. On an opportunity to play internationally per member the US is not over-represented. If anything it is under-represented.

Erin, tell me: would you like to have an open trials for the World Juniors to select three teams? If you would, how about an open trials for the Bermuda Bowl to select three teams? Because you can't have it both ways: Zone 2 gets three teams. If we guarantee Canada one of those, and do not allow the seven US members for each Canadian member to compete for that slot, then what do we do with the other two. Have two open slots and one reserved for a Canadian team? Is that really fair?

Every European country, from Germany, France and England to Monaco and San Marino can send a team to European Championships. Which provide serious International competition. The memberships of those federations range from a few hundred to a few tens of thousands to about 70,000. Europe as a whole has about twice the membership of North America. But about 25 or 30 member political subdivisions.

You tell me what is fair, my fair Canadian friend.
May 28, 2011
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Kit-
I agree that the at-the-table disclosure is better online than in live tournaments, whether behind screens or not. What I don't know is prior disclosure, or the ability to study your opponents' systems before starting play as you would in a live event. Lets say you are playing in a global team event and your Estonian RHO opens 1. “Magic ,” he says to the two of you. He can explain it: either a Precisionish 1 opener, or(!) a strong canape into a major in which case it promises 15+ points, 4+ diamonds and 5+ in the major, or 20-21 balanced. Do you and Fred have blanket agreements to cover your defense to this without prior discussion? By the way, this is the most common expert system in Estonia (or maybe Lithuania). So what I would be looking for is the equivalent of an online convention card. Which I do not think exists currently.

Leo,
The drawback to disclosing the auction only when it comes around to you is that means that you cannot begin your thinking until then. Or at least many people do not seem to be able to consider alternatives. If time has been taken in a competitive auction this procedure would of course conceal the time-taker (most of the time), but in a partnership auction it would not.
May 28, 2011
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Tom,
I do not know how Europe applies WBF rules. The Europeans are a zonal. If a player participates in the Europeans for one country under WBF rules that player cannot play in the next Europeans for a different one. Or if a player represents a country in the Olympiad/Mindsport teams, the player cannot represent a different country in the next Bermuda Bowl. The same should be true for ANZAC.
May 28, 2011
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Actually, Tom and Randy, once you play in a zonal competition that chooses a team for the BB/VC/SB you are barred from representing another country for two and a half years. At least that was the standing rule. The only exception, as I understand it, is that a player resident in another country for non-bridge-related reasons who plays for that country in a zonal competition and then returns to their native country may apply for a waiver after not playing for one year. The waiver must be given by both the native country and the WBF. It does not work the other way around.

Gavin cannot play in both the USBC and the CNTC in the same year. In fact, having played in the USBC this year, he cannot – as I understand it – play in the CNTC before 2014, and then only if he is resident in Canada again. And only if he has not played in the USBC in the interim.

Some examples where a waiver might be given:
1) A spouse's job takes them to another country; you accompany the spouse and play for your country of residence in a zonal. The following year your spouse is repatriated, and the next year you wish to participate in the zonal for your native country. This might be allowed.
2) A student plays for their native country in the World youth championships, then goes abroad to pursue a graduate degree. They might be allowed to try out for their new country of residence's Junior team. Or maybe not.
May 28, 2011
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A brief history lesson: It was not the US that “kicked” Canadians (and Mexicans) off merged ACBL representative teams to the Bermuda Bowl, it was the Canadians who chose to leave.

There were “North American” teams in the late 1970's still. Soon after the BB expanded to allow two ACBL representative teams, Canada asked for a route to the BB for an all Canadian team. The first effort was to allow a Canadian team into the North American team trials. The next effort was to create a playoff in which Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Grand National Teams winner participated to determine the second Zone 2 team. For some reason, which I did not understand at the time and still do not, this was accompanied by excluding Canadians and Mexicans from participation in the trials to determine the “first” team. After a GNT team won a couple of those events, Canada successfully got the GNT winners excluded and the second-team event became three-cornered with essentially a foregone conclusion. (As a result of that, both Mexico and Bermuda have joined the CACBF for BB participation purposes, leaving Canada with an uncontested route.)

May 28, 2011
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Mr. Breuer,
I think this is an important topic. I thank you for raising it.
A great many people seem to think that cheating is a primary concern with online bridge. A sad commentary if true. I do not know what the experience has been. I do know that the juniors – who had a big prize at stake: a free trip to Croatia, substantial if you are 15 or 20 years old! – seemed to manage without incident. I do not know whether they had onsite monitors. They did the first time. I do know that this time they had online monitors, but that would be harder with lots of tables.
With respect to online competitions, I agree with Kit that there is a difference between face-to-face play and computer play. He and I and you are used to seeing and sensing the opponents – and we value that element. Kit says that major competitions need to be run in that classical mode. I am not sure. I am with Fred: I would like to see online bridge competition developed, experimented with, regarded as increasingly more serious without losing the importance of “real” tournament play. As the ability to travel becomes a scarcer commodity both because of cost and availability, the ability to use the bridge equivalent of video-conferencing will become increasingly important.

Kit says “not everybody has a computer or internet access.” It is equally true that not everybody has the wherewithal to travel to major competitions. Indeed, a computer and internet access are considerably cheaper than even one NABC per year.

The unfairness of unfamiliarity will vanish with use, if use becomes common.

There will be lots of bugs to overcome. But many of those will only show up as we experiment and develop serious online play. Personally, I would like to see the emphasis on simplicity and trust in the innate honesty of people. But perhaps I am naive.

One problem I think will have to be addressed: system disclosure. I had a vision of hearing a 1 opening, alert, “the satanic .” I inquire. “It shows either 5+ hearts, 10-15, 9+ black cards, 8-12, 15+ with diamonds only. High card requirements can be shaded with extreme shape. Oh, and various unusual very strong hands.”
May 27, 2011
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Mexico as a WBF member already has, participating in CACBF (Central America and Caribbean Bridge Federation) for purposes of World Teams qualification. Bermuda has also switched (I believe) to CACBF. Neither, as far as I know, is planning to leave the ACBL for administrative purposes.

Onsite monitoring would be (should be) prohibitively expensive: imho you would have to pay each onsite monitor, and not pennies either. Online monitoring would be cheaper though less sure. As a first approximation I would suggest ignoring the problem of collusive or individual cheating - but put in the rules that anyone found to have done so will be expelled for life both from the ACBL and from BBO.

One clear advantage of online GNT would be that partnerships would not be geographically limited: a player from Cancun could play with someone from Wichita Falls, and teammates from El Paso and Texarkana. Nor would there be problems of geography limiting which teams should play each other.
May 26, 2011
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I did not mention what 2N or 3 would mean because I was not told. I agree that this hand might well open the bidding, although I can foresee other problems later in the auction with no highcards in the long suit.
May 26, 2011
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Dear Mr. Breuer,
Holding the GNT online does not seem to me to be a problem. I would even suggest that there is no need for players to be in monitored sites: allowing kibitzers and providing some supervisors to whom kibitzers could report consistent unusual successful actions would probably be adequate. Many people – I am one – have a home computer but no laptop; I suspect that many clubs, again like mine, have no internet access.

You would have some details to work out with BBO, with players, and with the ACBL.

With BBO you would have to work out a payment mechanism, for them to collect the money and to pass it through to you. I think that is by far the simplest. I think you should also work out some arrangement to pay BBO “rent” for using their facility.

Second, and perhaps more difficult, is changed arrangements with players. Players would have to amend their profiles to include full real names, ACBL player numbers, and real home locations. Otherwise ringers from outside your district could enter your events. You would also need some way to check that the person playing under a particular name is actually that person. Otherwise someone could go to ProX and ProY and pay them to play in their place. Or just have ProX play as their partner under an assumed name. I am not saying this would happen, but the control provided by visual recognition is missing in online events.

Finally, the ACBL and BBO would have to set up a linkage to check eligibility for a particular Flight. Again I do not think this is a difficult problem, but it would entail some work.

As regards playing a National Finals online, I would suggest that you could, but of a different event. Face-to-face and computer bridge are somehow not the same.

I will try to address pair events in a different post

Henry Bethe
May 26, 2011
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Jonathan,
I played A – and caught the stiff 9 :( I'm sure if I had played the 10 it would have lost to the stiff Keen. Like Schrodingers cat I feel certain that these positions are fluid until observed.
May 24, 2011
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This combination seems to be in the air at the moment. Yesterday I had this hand to play:

A85 KQ10 94 A10752

K9 AJ8 K753 J863

In 3N I received the 4 as a lead. I won the J with the K and led the 6- 4 - ??

May 24, 2011
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I certainly wish everyone luck.

One thing that surprised me was how few pairs participated.

Was there inadequate prior publicity? If so, how could it be improved? Clearly there should/could have been announcements on BBO, OKBridge and SWAN Games and here on Bridgewinners. Were there? Does the ACBL maintain an E-mail list of players under 21? Were a couple of announcements of the event sent out in plenty of time?

One thing that does occur to me: This was a very popular graduation weekend in colleges and private high schools. That perhaps makes it a poor choice of time for an event for 18 to 21 year olds.
May 23, 2011
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One more point on this hand. At the other table Greco and Hampson reached 7. (Hampson lied about the Q.) Hampson got a club lead. His only chances to make are hearts 2-2 or to guess which hand has a singleton honor. He chose to play the leader for heart length. Why?

In a previous post there was a discussion of the proclivity to lead trumps against grands. Since you would never lead a trump from the queen, that suggests that when you don't lead a trump you have the queen.

That suggests two other things: If your partner leads a trump and you hold QJ doubleton, always play the card you are known to have, namely the Q. And also that it is unwise to lead trumps against grands when you have sneaky opponents. Try for something else! They might have lied about the trump Q expecting you to find it for them.
May 22, 2011
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Mike, just to say, as a fellow commenter, your value is enormous and I hope you will continue as time permits.
May 21, 2011
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:( You are both quite right, of course. I was so focused on the heart suit that I did not notice other possibilities.
May 21, 2011
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