Judy Kay-Wolff


As many of you more serious bridge players are aware (primarily those who participate in the U. S. Trials to select the team to represent our country), there has been a recent to-do about how to handle the pre-qualifying rounds of the event.   The UNITED STATES BRIDGE FEDERATION (USBF) is considering inaugurating a preliminary event for the first time to be held via internet and there is much to be said for saving time and money for those who do not make the initial cut, thereby being able to not have the expense of traveling to the eventual playing site.   It would involve monitored internet inner-play among the designated weaker teams and the emerging losers would have saved air travel, room rates, food and other extraneous expenses by competing from their own computers — and would not necessitate assembling the entire entourage to the tournament site early to enter the regular event as it has been held in the past.   Incidentally, since monitoring would be 1,000% mandatory, it is mind boggling to envision how so many monitors would have to be screened and selected to act as watchdogs if this new concept is approved!

I personally think bridge internet has been one of the greatest innovations of all time and believe it is an incredible method of partnership practice, playing to pass the time of day and best of all, being able to sit in the comfort of your home and kibitz on your own screen serious competition such as Nationals and even World Championships at all times of day or night.  However, the above do not address many of the problems suggested below.

I recently read an impressive email to those involved in the decision making, authored by Hall of Famer Kit Woolsey.     Kit has been a respected figure on the bridge scene for many decades and is recognized not only for his bridge prowess and analytical genius, but for being objective in his appraisal of problematic issues.   With Kit’s permission, I am quoting his views on using the internet for the preliminary round of the U. S. Trials for 2010:

There are many issues involved with having an online match be part of the trials which the committee members may not have fully considered.

Security:  Even with a monitor present, there are still plenty of ways for an individual to cheat.  Even worse than actual cheating may be suspicion of cheating.  Suppose a player takes some anti-percentage play to make a slam.  If this happens at the table against us, at least we know that he didn’t see our hand.  In an online match we don’t know that at all — he may very well have found a way to see our hand.  There may well be such accusations, and there won’t be anything we can do about them one way or the other.

Inexperience.  There are players who simply don’t have any or much experience playing online.  These players will be at a severe disadvantage.  In addition, even for experienced online players there are many who simply don’t play as well when looking at a computer screen as they do when at the table with the cards in their hands.  Do we want this to be a factor in a match which determines who continues in the trials?

Physical disability.  There are players who find it very difficult to maneuver a mouse properly and efficiently.  For these players, playing online would be a big distraction.

Table presence is a real part of the game — nobody can deny that.  An online match loses all such table presence.  Do we want this?

Accessibility.  Not everybody has a computer, and not everybody who has a computer has internet access.  Granted computers and internet access can be supplied if necessary, but it is a potential problem.

What happens when somebody misclicks?  I have played a lot of online bridge, and I occasionally misclick a bid or a play.  Naturally I request an undo when this happens, get one from my opponents, and the game continues.  But in a trials match it can’t be so simple.  We would either have to say that if somebody misclicks it is too bad (and do we want a trials match to be determined by this), or we would need special rules for dealing with this situation.

Bridge is a timed event.  When playing at the table, a director or monitor can see who is playing slowly.  That is not true in an online match.  There may be connection problems which are causing delay.  Due to this, it would be impossible to enforce any kind of time restrictions on a match.

There are computer glitches.  What if somebody’s computer has a glitch which causes them to make a bid or play they hadn’t intended to make.  What if somebody’s computer simply locks up in the middle of the match.  What if there is a power failure at the locality of one of the players in the middle of the match.  Or what if … well, any of the unexpected things which might go wrong with a computer.

Internet connection can be quirky.  What happens if somebody loses connection in the middle of the match and it cannot be reestablished?

These are just some of the potential difficulties I thought of off the top of my head.  I’m sure there are other possible pitfalls.  I am all for technological progress.  But it isn’t just a matter of saying: Let the preliminary matches be played online.  There are many things which would need to be worked out very carefully.

Kit really offers up food for thought and it will be interesting to see how these potential multi-problems will be addressed before a decision is made by the ruling body, the USBF.


dannyNovember 4th, 2009 at 12:05 am


This preliminary event is unlikely to be needed.

It is only intended to avoid having awkward numbers of teams in the event. Mostly this just means not having an odd team, but there are some even numbers that don’t ‘work well’. In that case, the entries will be held open to encourage one more team to join the fray, or perhaps have one team who would need to play the prelim drop out.

If this doesn’t happen, then there would be a prelim, typically covering the bottom 5 or so teams.

If one looks at the bottom teams, of which I was a member this past year, you have mostly serious amatuers who want to play a good tough event.

As a player who falls into this category, I would far rather play a preliminary online, with qualification to the main event, without having to travel, etc.

BOBBY WOLFFNovember 4th, 2009 at 1:55 am

Hi Danny,

My goal is to try and influence our governing organizations into acting professionally, always selecting the right bridge movement, and running the fairest tournament, even though there may be reason to take a particular situation lightly and decide to take little notice.

I cannot imagine and I would suspect you to be likewise to expect the PGA, NBA, NFL, MLB, Hockey and Tennis to run ALL of their events in the most professional manner. When corners are cut, even in the low environs of what you describe, it sends the wrong message. All of us need to take pride in our efforts which mean all aspects of our competition including the right TD’s, the right venue, the right movement, the right playing conditions, the right appeals mechanism and, of course, the right qualifying methods are right on target. When table screens were first introduced in the WBF beginning in 1974 in Geneva and then at the first WBF event which used them, Bermuda 1975, they were frowned upon by many. But without them bridge would have suffered greatly, to the point of ridiculousness and despair.

It is laughable to discuss monitors, unless if the ones selected are now beholden and totally accountable to our administrative group. What about pay? What about monitoring the monitors? In order to be qualified to administer bridge, one has to understand what goes on, both past and future.

As far as I am personally concerned, I could care less. What distresses me is your apparent naivete and you are one of the young ones who could be in a leadership position someday. No one could now say what might happen, but until every move of our somewhat plastic organization is manned by responsible, experienced, very caring people, we will never get out of this awful morass, where money, power, and status rule rather than ones who love the game and want it to be played and administered correctly.

Forgive me, if I have offended you. That was not my intent, but I am hoping that your intellect will eventually lead you to what is best for the game and not what is best for only the powerful in control.

cahNovember 4th, 2009 at 4:38 am

How will you run this event. I hope not on BBO. Nothing against BBO but their user interface is absolutely awful (sorry, Fred). It just violates so many principles of good UI design. When I play on BBO I put a lot of effort into keeping track of what’s going on, which means less information into the bidding and play. Playing “well” on BBO is partly a function of bridge skill, but also partly a function of familiarity with the UI.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFNovember 4th, 2009 at 5:28 am

To cah:

You ask: “How will you run this event.” Don’t interrogate the messenger. I certainly hope the question was not directed at me, the innocent blogger — just expressing distaste for the USBF’s suggestion of using the internet as a venue of combat. Anything where security is involved is hardly the place to battle for qualifications — monitors or no monitors. Too many areas for other problems as well — so eloquently expressed by Kit on my original blog.

LindaNovember 4th, 2009 at 6:21 am

I agree there are many challenges. However I do find that you can have quite a lot of table feel even in an online match. Yes, I understand that pauses can be caused by a variety of things from connection problems to phone calls but I still find that despite table feel is still there. Of course, screens do also affect table feel and presumably in serious events you would be using those.

You would no doubt have to consider all of the issues Kit suggested but some of them could be overcome. Still the Internet is not yet suitable for a significant major competition among a fairly large set of competitors. It might be possible to pull off a preliminary round with a few competitors and some clear rules about how to handle real problems.

PaulNovember 4th, 2009 at 10:24 am

As someone who does play a lot of online matches, I believe the issue of familiarity is the most problematic.

Many of us watch the (almost daily) online matches played by Jimmy Cayne and his friends. Here are a set of players who are fully attuned to the online game and would not be disadvantaged by having to play any stage of the trials on the Internet.

But for others, far less familiar with computers and online bridge, it would be a significant disadvantage. How much of their concentration would be focused on operating the computer, worrying about the Internet connection, rather than thinking about the game that they are playing?

There is no doubt that experts (at this level) are very good at concentrating at the bridge table. This could be significantly undermined playing online and the proposal does not seem to deliver the level playing field that I’d expect the players would expect.

Fred GitelmanNovember 4th, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Quote from cah:

How will you run this event. I hope not on BBO. Nothing against BBO but their user interface is absolutely awful (sorry, Fred). It just violates so many principles of good UI design. When I play on BBO I put a lot of effort into keeping track of what’s going on, which means less information into the bidding and play. Playing “well” on BBO is partly a function of bridge skill, but also partly a function of familiarity with the UI.


No need to apologize – constructive criticism is always welcome 🙂

However, I think the basic nature of your argument is analogous to “There is a new bidding system that violates so many principles of Standard American that it has to be awful”.

Of course that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a point or points. If you want to send me an e-mail (fred@bridgebase.com) with some specific suggestions I would be happy to read them. If you can justify your suggestions by doing better than “because my UI design textbook says so”, I am more likely to pay attention.

But if you have not done so already or if you have not done so recently, I strongly suggest you try using the our web-client (click the yellow “Play Bridge Now” link on http://www.bridgebase.com) as opposed to our traditional Windows client. I think we did a good job of improving the interface – we learned a lot from the mistakes we made in the Windows client (some of which were caused by the fact that, when this program was written, we had no idea that it would eventually be used in an environment with many 1000s of players online and many 1000s of tables in play).

There is really not much point in you sending suggestions pertaining the Windows client (since that program is basically “dead” – it won’t be changing). Still, if your comments pertain to our Windows client and you still feel inclined to send them, I will certainly read and send you some kind of a response to whatever it is you have to say

It should perhaps be noted that, it would be easy for us to produce a version of the web-client connected to a dedicated server that would be used only for the purposes of running “serious tournaments”. In other words, we could easily remove all of the interface elements that are not required for this purpose and restrict access only to participants in the tournament in question.

I am not saying I think what the USBF is considering is necessarily a good idea. Some of Kit’s objections make good sense to me (though some of his other objections are well below the standard I would normally expect from a person of Kit’s intelligence and bridge/computer experience).

However, for me Danny’s words speak more loudly than Kit’s – IMO there is a great deal to be said for giving the players who rate to be impacted by such a decision what it is that they want.

Fred Gitelman

JUDY KAY-WOLFFNovember 4th, 2009 at 6:55 pm


Your blog was magnificent and extremely educational (especially to knowledgeable computer users unlike me). However, in this modern day and age where people pick up in a split second and take off to all sorts of bridge events, I see no reason why the USBF should make exceptions and depart from their normal protocol. This is a one-shot deal! There is much to be said for holding the entire event in one site and it is the responsibility of the administrators to guarantee total security — at any cost!

From my standpoint — if you want the thrill of participating in an event where you suspect you are playing over your head, that is strictly your choice. You bite the bullet and make your reservations .. also known as YOU PAYS YOUR MONEY AND TAKES YOUR CHANCES.

BOBBY WOLFFNovember 4th, 2009 at 7:33 pm

Hi Fred,

Just finished reading your blog to CAH and although I am not in any way qualified to discuss internet mechanisms applied to bridge (nor anything else), it rang 100% true and is to be respected. I also agree to your last paragraph, echoing Danny’s words about giving the players who figure to be playing in the pre-Open trials, their choice of competition venue, assuming it can be accomplished without too many deficiencies or too much security risk.

Having thought about my position, I have concluded that my obvious frustration with the USBF and the ITT has mostly to do with financial defiencies in their various presentations in not being able to run events up to what I consider proper standards, keeping in mind the necessity for always being sure of the right supplies arriving and therefore being on hand, people in control not compromising the security, glitches in hand record handling, much lower entry fees and MUCH more of actual expenses being paid to the qualifiers, as well as zero catering to professionals, sponsors and foreign participants in our qualifying for seeding advantages in the events preceeding. A nutshell description of our present position would be an example of the animals running our zoo.

There is no question in my mind that our organizers, including our support in Memphis (soon to be Mississippi), not to mention the heretofore volunteers, need to be paid for their very hard work, which in turn will tend to make them accountable for the results, particularly so if we can get their talent and pride to come forward.

Having said the above, I would like to challenge the sponsors to come front and center and basically right the financial shortfall without which, none of the above can be accomplished.



DavidNovember 4th, 2009 at 8:20 pm

We live in a remote area where we had ‘geographically challenged’ regional playdowns every year. One of the ideas we came up with was the concept of doing these online (using BBO) as has been suggested here.

But when I outlined the concept, I never considered the idea of allowing the players to play at their houses. I had assumed setting up each location for each team in a local bridge club, for a number of reasons. The setting up of 4-8 computers linked to the internet in a bridge club is not a problem with current technology, most internet savvy people could set that environment up in less than 1 hour. The advantage is the ease of monitoring, the ability to watch and kibitz, the companionship, and the whole concept of a team trial, the team is together. You can use screens or even cubicle dividers to seperate each player on the team so they can not see the other people involved, and have someone walking around checking screens on a random basis. Finally, having it set up this way, there is less chance of someone having a chat or monitor program sitting around helping out on a PC that was set up by someone for the trial.

I do agree there are issues with this approach, it will not be perfect and will have teething problems getting started. But if it will encourage more teams to enter the trials, at least at stage 1, since there is less cost to start until a team makes the second or later stage, it would be worth it. Getting teams involved in your countries trials for the world championships is perhaps the easiest way to get newer players into the competitive side of the game

dannyNovember 4th, 2009 at 9:46 pm

Let me reiterate. This is NOT a mechanism to allow, or even encourage more teams to enter the trial.

The prelim is used as a last resort, in the event an awkward number of teams register, AND, there are no teams available to balance the movement.

If one enters the trials, it is with the expectation that they will be playing the main event, not a prelim.

Bobby, this was not designed for the best and those in control. It is designed so that if one actually does play in the trial at the main venue, you are playing in the main event, not a prelim designed to make the main event go smoothly.

BOBBY WOLFFNovember 5th, 2009 at 12:15 am


It is very clear that this event mentioned is only a convenience for the main magilla. Also, it will be made up of fringe players who certainly do not have any real expectations, other than to possibly rub shoulders with the USA’s top players and tell that to their friends. I have no real quarrel with whatever the USBF and the ITT decide, and how they do it.


Before you started being involved and around 1994 (1995 was the first year of the new event) the trials were broken away from the ACBL with the ITT, mainly me, in charge and responsible for the action. At that time the ITT called the shots in spite of soon after Howard Piltch, BOD member, wanting to intrude. We basically won that battle, but now years later and after I voluntarily relinquished control to what has become our group, the ACBL has reintruded and, although it is not 100% clear, at least to me, insist that any and everyone who wants to participate may do so, even to the detriment of the quality of the event.

When I was in the process of changing the qualifying from the winners of the 4 major team events (including the GNT at that time) to another form of fair qualification and with certain hoped for strictures of teams trying to stay together, improve and be worthy representatives of our zone I was given the total control of our destiny. Now, it seems, that although we get little support, especially financial from the ACBL, they still control more than they have a right to do, at least according to my original agreement with the ACBL.

The above is only one of the difficult problems which has been caused by a different kind of leadership. I could go on and describe the various events which have happened and would have no compunction doing so, except that I would want a larger audience (a starting point would be to consult the 1995 players who were there at the Alexis Park hotel in Las Vegas and were in the so called upper strata of the organization), especially the ones who could verify that everything I said was 100% true, and also be convinced that by my updating our whole group they collectively would do something about it. I have no such dreams of that happening, but since it was my baby originally I still have hope for achieving much more than has been achieved. Call me unrealistic or whatever else you might add, but our current circumstances do not please me!

Obviously it is very difficult for me to rant about events most of the current group are not the slightest bit familiar with and it gets tiresome when some even question my integrity without having the slightest idea why. Obviously the current setup is profitable for professionals who have an extra major pay day and for the sponsors who (at least in my opinion) are getting more than their money’s worth for having the chance to buy their way to play in a World Championship and contest for the Gold Medal. However, by our doing so, we are limiting just how far high-level bridge can go, besides the hit in dignity that we must endure.


Ray LeeNovember 6th, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Perhaps inevitably this thread is straying away from Judy’s original point (although the discussion is certainly an interesting one!). The real issue, IMHO, is that the experience of playing bridge on the Net is different from that of a live game. Since the World events are played live, surely the selection process should follow the same protocol. It’s a little like saying ‘We’ll have a playoff tournament to select the Ryder Cup team. However, we have room only for 64 golfers; we’ll qualify the top 50 on the tour, therefore, and have a pitch and putt playoff among the next 30-odd for the last 14 spots.” If the argument is that such a process in bridge would only involve the weakest teams, then why bother to have them to compete at all?

dannyNovember 6th, 2009 at 10:09 pm

A better analogy would be the US open, which is in fact open to all golfers with lower than a certain handicap. The first round of qualifying is played on relatively obscure courses, without the rules officials, etc, that are used in the main event. Only a few qualify from the local ranks, and they are almost never going to win the main event, but they surely do not play in the same conditions as the main event.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFNovember 7th, 2009 at 1:38 am

Thank you, Ray, for presenting your thoughts in practical terms. Why all the fuss — when we can play on a level playing field in one site without a to-do about computers, monitors and security. Surely the administrators can work out a movement to satisfy the standard conditions of play, making the eligibility cut at the appropriate time. To foster individual pre-qualification matches all over the country with, as Ray puts it, different protocol — is like a a scene from Ding, Dong School!