Judy Kay-Wolff

World Bridge Team Selection – Its Methods, Pitfalls and Innuendos

I wanted to share with you some interesting, candid thoughts by the celebrated Editor of the International Bridge Press Association (IBPA), John Carruthers, in his June 2010 Editorial.   It gives one much to consider by calling a spade a spade and openly discusses many controversial views as to what is best (for the game itself, the country and/or the individuals involved).

Because many of you are merely interested bridge players and not privileged to access the IBPA, I thought you would enjoy the frank outlook of Canadian, John Carruthers.  He really covers several touchy subjects.  John mentions the non-democratic hand picked teams issue and also takes swipes at the USBF and professionalism.   But after all, is that not what modern day bridge is all about?????

It’s that time of year again – Team Trials. In the matter of Zonal Trials for Bermuda Bowl qualification, expediency and financial considerations sometimes play a part, especially in Europe and North America. The European Team Championships are now held in even-numbered years, despite the fact that the Bermuda Bowl for which they are used as a qualification process will not be held for 15 months or so. Is that a problem? Perhaps not for the NBOs. In practice, it could be a problem for some players because the teams qualify as NBOs, not individuals, so it is quite possible that a team qualifying through the European Championship will not appear in the Bermuda Bowl with the same personnel, and this sometimes happens. Additionally, a team may be more ‘in-form’ coming off qualification than in 15 months’ time. Why does the EBL do it this way? Ever since the introduction of the Open European Championships, it was felt that those championships should be held in non-Rosenblum (odd-numbered) years to ease the financial and time burden on people who can attend only one big event per year. So they fit the European Team Championships into the even-numbered years. The process has its pros and cons and you could argue the case either way.

What about the United States Bridge Federation? The USBF does things a little differently from the Europeans, and even their Open Trials are different from their Women’s and Senior Trials. Both the Women’s and Seniors choose their two teams in the year of the event for which they qualify. However, there are two separate Trials for USA1 and USA2 in the Bermuda Bowl, one this year and one next year. Why should this be? Regardless of the rationale, having two Trials appears to support the view that the professionals, who dominate the USBF Board of Directors, desire two paydays rather than one. That may not be the case, but that’s how it looks.

For individual NBO selections, there are basically two methods of choice: democratic and autocratic. It is difficult to argue with either, since their chief proponents are the USA and Italy, respectively, winners of a combined 39 Bermuda Bowls and Olympiads (everyone else has won just 13 combined) since 1950. Italy is the avatar of the autocratic methodology, Carl’Alberto Perroux dictating the makeup of the Blue Team in the 50s and 60s and Maria Theresa Lavazza choosing the Lavazza Team lately. The USA has always had a democratic process to choose its representatives, whether by pairs trials (in the early days) or team trials (since the 1970s).

Both NBOs get it right in their own selection process. Not many (perhaps no other) countries have the depth of talent the USA has, and thus, in any given year, four or five teams could win their Trials and be a co-favourite for the world title; a handful of other countries could produce two competitive teams. On the other hand, why should Italy take a chance on an upset in a team trials when they know they can produce a co-favourite for a world title without such a process interfering?

The rest of us have to make do as best we can, with some picking a non-playing captain and giving him (almost) free rein, with others holding completely democratic open trials, still others finding a middle ground. Sweden has got it right for them, giving their NPC, much as a national football team manager, the freedom to choose his own team, based on selection tournaments and compatibility.  Other countries using a completely-democratic process have it wrong, with too small a base of world-class players to make an open teams championship winner the best choice.

So, who will qualify for the Bermuda Bowl in Europe and the USA? We’re going out on a limb, making predictions. It is wonderful to see so many teams with really young players and we predict that they will come to the fore this year.  For Europe: Poland, Italy, Sweden, Israel, England, Netherlands; for the USA: Diamond. You will notice that all these teams are relatively young, with Balicki, Lauria, Fallenius and Muller the closest we can come to “Grand Old Men”, not that any of them is ready for the old folks’ home just yet. Another group from which one or more qualifiers could come in Europe: Bulgaria, France, Germany, Norway, Russia, Turkey. In the USA, everyone has to overcome Nickell to win.


Ross TaylorJune 13th, 2010 at 6:47 am

Excellent article

Judy Kay-WolffJune 13th, 2010 at 9:48 am

Hi Ross:

Yes, it is all encompassing. In fact, I have read it over several times, each time gleaning some new information.

By the way, John makes a pointed distinction between the democratic and autocractic team selection process.

I believe my late husband, Norman, was an “autocratic” benefactor on two different occasions — once in 1961 (before we started courting) being selected to compete in Buenos Aires partnered by Sidney Silodor on a team with Howard Schenken, Peter Leventritt, John Gerber and Paul Hodge.

The second time, partnered by Edgar Kaplan, he finished fourth in the Pair Trials, but was selected by virtue of displacing the third place finisher to join Jordan and Robinson and Roth and Root to represent the U.S. in Deauville in ’68.

Aside from those incidents, I do not recall any deviations from the regular “democratic format” in the United States. However, John makes mention of Carl Alberto Perroux (Ah, I remember him well) who ruled the legendary Blue Team with an iron hand.

I found Perroux’s write-up in our ACBL Bridge Encyclopedia very amusing. Aside from pointing out he was “the most famous NPC in the history of bridge,” it went on to say, “He was celebrated for his tough team discipline, and was said to check that team members went to bed early AND ON THEIR OWN.” (Caps added as I thought it was so forthright and funny). Yes, indeed, he was single-minded and as history proved, was hell bent on winning at any cost.

John Howard GibsonJune 14th, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Dear Judy, Interesting article on an issue frought with difficulties. I guess with so many really top class players to choose from, adopting criteria for decision making becomes a major problem in itself. What factors to include, and what weighting to be attached to each criterion, and who and how to judge ? I hope you read my article I did on team selection a couple of weeks back that identified a critical issue of choosing a team made up of top class individuals, or one where established pairs ( not quite of the same calibre ) are chosen because of their consistent high achieving track record ? Yours HBJ

Judy Kay-WolffJune 14th, 2010 at 6:53 pm


I always enjoy reading your candid articles because I (like you) am a no-nonsense person. I am not sure to which particular article you are referring. Please point me in the right direction by identifying it by title and I will go right to it.

Trials (their methods, their organizers, their purposes, their goals, etc.) are a very controversial subject. I personally believe regardless of what it takes, each nation must put its best foot forward and offer up the cream of the crop (if they have such a commodity). After all, when these groups venture forth, it is not Ding Dong School. They will be in combat against the best of the best. That is why I believe in substantially long contests that are not decided by a fluke. Usually the best team emerges as the victor!


John Howard GibsonJune 14th, 2010 at 11:28 pm

tx for replying. It was my June 4th article : Team selection.How Easy Is That. Yours HBJ

Judy Kay-WolffJune 15th, 2010 at 11:04 pm

Hi again HBJ:

I just read ‘How Easy is That’ and I can see you have given much consideration to the elements that make for a top partnership. Right on!

However, team selection (especially via ‘democratic’ means of Trials) is far from the ideal solution because of the frequent necessary presence of a sub-standard player (the sponsor) that runs hand in hand with the greedy concept of professionalism.

I remember the good old days when there were Pairs Trials. They usually ran for several days and the element of luck seemed to be minimized. However, when Bobby at a meeting about five years ago proposed once every-so-often to have a Pairs (v. Team) Trials — one of the big gun professionals immediately countered that Pairs Trials removes the element of “camaraderie” from the equation. Strict B.S. What he really meant to say was that it threatened removing the green stuff from his pocket.

Although it seems that professionalism is here to stay (because the field is rampant with pros who wield a lot of power on various committees), it certainly has not served the game of bridge very well — turning it into a business venture rather than the majestic game it once was.