Judy Kay-Wolff

Pairs v. Team Trials

Since I have trouble writing on Bridge Winners (password problems), I felt compelled to quote in its entirety, a blog on the above subject, written by Bob Heitzman which appeared today on the BW site.

It is brilliantly stated and obviously from the heart.   Bob pulls no punches and tells how he feels (and I certainly agree).   Excuses for pair trials are simply selfish reasons to strengthen the professional community and are detrimental to bridge and certainly don’t give our country the best chance of emerging victorious – but does keep the money flowing.

Bob Heitzman

December 19, 2011

I am very sad that there will be no pairs trials, although the outcome of the vote was totally predictable. The bridge "establishment" in the U.S nowadays is made up almost entirely of pros and clients. Clients would not like a pairs trial since it would be very hard for a client to do well in–in a pair event, there are no sit outs, and far fewer places to hide when you are in. Pros wouldn’t like it because it behooves them to like what their clients like. Besides, it is probably much easier to find a client to hire you for a team event than a pairs event, so in effect a pairs trial would mean one less payday for many pros.
In an ideal bridge world, there would be a pairs trial with lucrative cash prizes for those who do well along of course with fully subsidized expenses to the world championship. But that is not the way bridge in the U.S. has evolved. In effect, the money that is available for team trials and world championships is spent sending league officials to preside over these events and the money that the players need in order to be able to afford to compete is provided by the clients.

I know people talk about team chemistry and so on as the reason for a team trial rather than a pairs trial. Maybe there is something to that, but the cynic in me prefers to see other more nefarious motivations for the vote.



Steven GaynorDecember 20th, 2011 at 7:16 pm

A pairs trial for the next world championships may attract many players who currently do not participate. I would think the event would consist of several sessions of IMP pairs, similar to the Cavendish, perhaps with a qualifying stage and then a finals. The top 3 pairs could be USA 1, the next 3 USA 2, whatever.

On the other hand, the current format gives teams a chance to play long matches – the same format used in the World championships and there is something to be said for that.

At this level the clients are pretty good players and it has not hurt the USA teams from advancing in these tournaments to at least the KO stage.

The more I think about it, I am not convinced that the pair format would field that much stronger of a team than the current format. A talented amateur is not necessarily far off from the professional levels.

If we went to all pros in everything, then Mrs. Peel would never have been partnered with Steed.

Judy Kay-WolffDecember 20th, 2011 at 7:26 pm


I beg to differ with your remark
“A talented amateur is not necessarily far off from the professional levels.” Consider some of the sponsors and then compare them to the professionals – the real professionals — not the wannabes. A world apart.

Steven GaynorDecember 21st, 2011 at 6:11 pm

I am talking about players like Barry Crane or Chip Martel or your late husband Norman – top players with successful careers outside of bridge. They were not full-time bridge pros while winning a lot of big events.

I am not against a pair trials format for choosing an international team, but I think there is merit to both systems.

Ellis FeigenbaumDecember 21st, 2011 at 8:13 pm

Steve, It is possible that I am the only one that got the Avengers allusion, however I thought I would let you know that at least someone did.

Judy Kay-WolffDecember 21st, 2011 at 8:17 pm


Forgive my misunderstanding you. I agree there is life outside of bridge though some people won’t agree.



Richard WilleyDecember 31st, 2011 at 6:57 pm

From my perspective, there are two very significant problems with pairs format.

1.I suspect (and can probably prove) that luck plays a much more significant factor in pairs formats than it does in team events. Team events eventually collapse into long head-to-head knocks in which a pair of teams play a large number of boards against one another. Statistically, this is a much better way to draw inference than the relatively small number of boards teams contest against one another in a pairs event. Moreover, in a teams match there’s much more symmetry with respect to the boards that get played. In contrast, in a pairs event there’s a lot of randomness regarding which boards get played against which pairs.
2.There are significant advantages to using a selection system that corresponds closely to the actual event being contest. We all know that teams is very different than pairs. There is definitely some carryovers between “skill at pairs” and “skill at teams”. Even so, I’d argue that there are enough differences that its best to adopt a “teams” format. (I’d also argue that the system regulations for the Team Trials should be the same as those used during the main event but thats another story)

Personally, I think its a mistake to play around with the format of the event in order to achieve some kind of external goal – in this case, making it much more difficult for clients to make their way onto an international team. If you want to end sponsorship, pass regulations that ban “professionals” and/or “clients” from competing. FWIW, I understand that political realities mean that it might not be possible to achieve this; however, if this is the case I doubt that you’ll be any more successful trying to sneak this in through the back door.

Judy Kay-WolffJanuary 1st, 2012 at 7:13 am


I agree with much of what you say. However, I am very much against money determining who represents our country in world competition. There is no way in denying that sponsorship, more specifically in a team game, usually has five experts pulling the weak player in by dogsled to the finish line.

I can see by reading Bridge Winners it is an impossible situation to accomplish Pairs Trials because almost all the voters are professsionals who make their money from bridge and all their fun and games would disappear without the money suppliers. Thus, sneaking it through the back door is out of the question.

With the strengthening of the foreign countries as it has become obvious over the last few years, our situation will worsen. It is apparent the direction in which it is heading and we have no one to blame but ourselves. So be it.

Bobby WolffFebruary 11th, 2012 at 6:32 am

Put in simple terms, there are now a large number of very good pairs around the globe, capable of competing against the best players in the world and, at least from my experience, whether pair trials, team trials, or possibly some other form of competition is used it will not be the deciding factor, but rather the skill of the pairs themselves who have now risen to world class.

Add to that the simple fact that, if the above is even close to correct, three top pairs figure to defeat two top pairs and a not so. Yes there is an endurance factor and players get tired. Yes the previous USA intimidation factor as well as the Italian Blue Team factor (in this case in addition to other nefarious factors) has also left the room. The World Championships will be decided at the table and like the US in tennis and to a large extent now in golf the control has already passed to worthier opponents.

Sure it doesn’t make much difference to most people, even American bridge players, who wins the bridge WC’s, but having made a life of close contact with that way of life, it still makes a difference to me, and I wish for the USA to send three of our best pairs to try and win and maintain a world position we (at least I) have cherished for all these years.

Sure there would need to be some financial sacrifice for that to happen, but are we now living in an age where our top players will let our role in world bridge go downhill just to gain one extra payday (and perhaps some additional static from some of their sponsors)?

The answer to that question is apparently yes, only money is where it is at. Well, I cannot really accept that attitude, but realistically I do not have a choice. So, just like our nation’s politics the people in control call the shots and believe me, their lobby for what is best for them, not the country, not the game itself, but just for them seems in control and till death do us part.

I also understand that my personal plight is not nearly as bad as the poor crusading people during all the Arab Spring uprisings. I applaud their spunk, bravery and fight to the death attitude to save people, which we all know is much more important than just a game called bridge.

But their game is not what I have been dealt (probably lucky for me), but going quietly is not what I choose to do, especially when I believe that left to its own devices, pairs (and from around the world) can get much better than anyone playing now, by merely working harder and living and breathing with other players, all, with remarkable natural talent.

With the direction now chosen, it is very unlikely that the USA will maintain their dynasty developed, with ups and downs, over the last 60 years, but believe it or not, I still hope that I am proven wrong.