Paul Cronin

The 1%ers

The question has arisen whether duplicate bridge is organized in favour of the 1% of players having 5000+ masterpoints. Many people can remember when social bridge was actually popular – when regular folks, like their parents, just sat down and played – no lessons taken, no books read-no frantic discussion as partners rotated as to what ones new partner played. People just…..played. Funny how popular games tend to be those with a few easily understood rules. And out of that great mass of social players (particularly university!) came many of today’s top players. But now there are very  few social players, and an ACBL membership rapidly approaching a median age of 70. Perhaps it’s because bridge is no longer seen as a “game” but rather as a science –  or so it might seem to a newcomer walking into a bridge tournament and seeing the hundreds of books/software for sale detailing the myriad of systems and conventions that apparently have to be learned before one can “play” the “game”. As Churchill might have said “Some “play”, some “game!””. Then the alerts, the pre-alerts, the announcements, and a 24 part series of articles on how to fill out a convention card. Who benefits from all this? The answer may be found in following Deep Throat’s advice in “All The President’s Men” – “Follow the money”. Had Deep Throat been a bridge player, perhaps he would have said “Follow the masterpoints”. Reminds me in many ways of the situation in education where people pushed new curricula requiring new text books, and the authours of the new text books were invariably those who had pushed the new curricula. Tough to make new money out of old material. Is it the 96% of ACBL members under 2500 MP who called for all the changes that have taken place?  Is it the 84% under 1000 MP who asked for the alert procedure? Does he who pays the piper get to call the tune?


Judy Kay-WolffMay 14th, 2010 at 4:09 am


Your Deep Throat Analogy was most prophetic — and quite easy to read between the lines. I believe the force majeure responsible for the drastic and growing change in the game has much to do with the appearance upon the scene of professionalism. Bridge once was the ultimate majestic game of its time played for the beauty of the sport. Sadly, it has dropped to a distant second with money taking over the top spot and calling the shots. Yes, our game has been reduced to a business with many monetarily interested parties. It is quite apparent that bridge is rapidly losing its original splendor.


bobby wolffMay 14th, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Hi Paul,

While I do agree with Judy about her blog, IMO it is far more complicated than just that, but I suspect that you, Paul, both had a different subject and a different conclusion.

My father and mother in the 1930’s and in San Antonio, Texas used to play bridge in our neighborhood at night after dinner and, at least from what I was told, had a fighting good time with their opponents. From there the popularity of bridge increased greatly, reaching a high point in the late 1950’s when Charles Goren’s picture was on the cover of Time Magazine in 1958. By then interest in World Bridge competition was also on the rise with the formation of the World Bridge Federation again in 1958.

High level bridge (sometimes thought of as tournament bridge or duplicate) was formed and took off, but something sad happened on the way to success. In the USA and all through North America, bridge hit a major stumbling block. Possibly due to many increasing options for youth (TV, many other fast developing entertainment options, and the access to world wide transportation on one hand, and the apathy that our youth developed toward their previous generations because of Viet Nam and other assorted wars and differences in life style, young people did not want to do what their parents did (play bridge).

Paul has seemed to now point out, (if I understood what he was saying) that probably tournament bridge now favors the scientific small segment of the duplicate bridge world (estimated as perhaps the top 1%) as opposed to the club players who only want to play bridge for fun, with very relaxed rules about systems and maybe even about some of the ethics demanded at the high levels. Assuming he is mostly correct, and I do not doubt that he is, perhaps we should separate the two (or perhaps more) divisions. It is doubtful that we should go beyond the duplicate world to challenge the estimated 8 million other bridge players (used to be estimated at over 30 million in the 1950’s and 1960’s), who now comprise the social players, many of which are located in retirement communities in Florida, Arizona and California. At least according to the letters I get on a regular basis from the readers of The Aces on Bridge column, they do not seem to be concerned with any scientific element which has emerged within their community, although often they do ask about modern changes in bidding and what I think about them.

If the above is evidence, then what we need to restrict our attention to, is whether the ACBL and its approximate 150,000 members, less than 2% of our current bridge population,
wants to do away with catering, or being greatly influenced by the relatively small group of scientific high-level players who are focused on bridge as a World Wide Competition, not to mention what Judy was referring to, the professional group who, at least try, to make a respectable living while playing, writing, teaching and promoting bridge.

Before I get carried away and take the poor reader with me, I would like to finish this subject by asking whether the bridge tournament world itself should remind their players that other forms of bridge (social) do exist and ask a person when he opts for tournament bridge (ACBL) should he expect a total informality and low-key environment which could only resemble a game where high card wins and most discussion would center on our families and other personal subjects instead of what are the developing new ideas of what our ever changing high-level game is really about.

Perhaps I am going to extremes to generalize the problems mentioned, but in reality, at least in my opinion, right now I think that if someone takes up tournament bridge he should expect to play bridge on a more formal and competitive basis than what my parents expected with their neighborhood games. Mom and Dad used to have fights among themselves with no tournament to win nor money to change hands, so what should they have expected if they were to want to move up to real competition? All of this discussion is not to take sides, but rather to bring the overall problem of bridge competition into closer focus. Excess pampering might just not take us to where we want to go, but even if it temporarily did, would there be enough electricity and excitement there to sustain it?


Chris CowanMay 14th, 2010 at 8:01 pm

I can only say that professionalism is not a recent phenomemon in bridge. Eli @ co were in it for the money and not much else. I’m willing to bet that the percentage of social players to serious players is about the same as it ever was. Unfortunately there are fewer of both.

bobby wolffMay 15th, 2010 at 10:55 am

Hi Chris,

Right you are in what you say about Eli(y) Culbertson, but let me, for what its worth, expand a bit on your subject.

As you know, Eli was very involved with world wide subjects and publicity like the League of Nations and other dreams (fantasies). I think he loved bridge, at least for a certain time, and was greatly caught up in World bridge competitions, national teaching programs, and competitive bridge system discussions and challenges. Everything he touched (with the help of his wife, Josephine) had to do with money coming in, but nevertheless was a very colorful and positive force in the creation of bridge promotion.

Enter Charles Goren. He could be nicknamed the commercialist! The 4-3-2-1 very inaccurate point count (rather relationship of the 4 highest cards in the deck) was a very successful fraud on the would be bridge playing public, but, believe it or not, has stood the test of time, probably because of his hoped-for simplicity in counting, then became, and still is, very popular. No fool, he!

Don’t get me wrong. He expanded bridge interest mightily and could be called the father (with Eli possibly the grandfather) of bridge development, expecially in the Western Hemisphere. He was a good looking man, with a resonant booming voice and enough energy for two or three people who always made a significant impression. Again, like Eli, money was primarily his motive, but he also seemed to love to play the game, especially with his regular partner, Helen Sobel, who, for my money and that time of bridge development was as good a player as there was (including all her male competitors).

We are sadly looking today at a world wide bridge world which, in spite of the vast improvement of bridge bidding, at least by the elite, with more to come, but which seems to be in search of a charismatic leader like Culbertson or Goren, if for no other reason than to seek greater popularity and maintain the status of the greatest card game (or, for that matter any non-physical game) ever invented.

Judy Kay-WolffMay 15th, 2010 at 2:11 pm


You are confusing the promotion of bridge as a game (and future money making venture) by Culbertson, Goren and and others to follow. I really believe it started out as a labor of
love as they adored and honored the game in all its early glory. Columnists and authors also have created for themselves a livelihood with their writing talents.

Professionalism is totally different. It deals with (1) Sponsors (otherwise known as clients); and (2) Pros (who comprise expert players who sell their services to the sponsors by teaching or partnering them in pair or team games) — as well as some wanna-be pros who pass themselves off as such to the great unwashed.

BlairMay 16th, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Dear Paul,

As to your response to my comment on the previous blog “Zero Tolerance”, you are kidding, right? Your first request was that you would like to hear about how ZT is being perceived at clubs and tournaments. My remarks were meant to offer you an insight as to what some perceive. In all fairness, the perceptions offered were not done so to be attacked or criticized.

References for point 6. (Please kill the referencer, not the messenger):

Since semantics has been brought to the table…..
Answer to Question 1: Yes and No, as the “almost all” is a matter of syntax ( Throw the horse over the fence some hay. )
Answer to Questions 2: Yes and No; Maybe
I hope that clarifies my thoughts, answers the question of references ( I do not claim that the statements made in the above references are correct, just that they can be found published in cyberspace ) and that I was only trying to contribute to your call for remarks concerning the perception of ZT…..

May I make a suggestion for any further polls: Clearly state the verbiage that you wish judged. Though you may have created the term ZT, as you can see it seems to have become exposed to a broader interpretation as found (via ) in the two referenced examples aforementioned. Those findings, though incorrect by your writings, are still perceptions, which qualifies them as answers to your opening request…

I still like point 5’s appealing w/o the ability to overturn ( does that seem like an extension of the 1950’s Red Scare paranoiac thinking ). The perception of point 6 is that the recording system is an extreme, in the sense that there is no debate or higher court of appeals. Contrary to your remark “That a director would take very seriously a committee’s recommendation to reconsider his/her decision” is the view that where is that statement published in the references aforementioned and when would it happen. The two references concerning point 6 just bring to light that the authors were so easily able to deduce the extreme scenarios that your ZT policy could cause. It is possible for a player to submit a ZT Report Form, which does exist, and report comments, actions or views expressed away from the table. Further deduction derives the perception that “Big Brother” could then take action against said complainants. The perception is that what was once a futuristic fear has now become a present day reality.
Now, to follow in the thoughts of your next blog “The 1%ers” whether “he who pays the piper gets to call the tune?” Your criticism of my thoughts reflects the pompous attitude that is often displayed by those in charge. As an example, you are a unit Vice President, Recorder and co-author of ZT. So, with such authority why did you feel the need to belittle me, a common player? All that I did was what my fellow bridge players (either the 84 or 96%ers by your words) do each time they show up and buy an entry: I wrote and I responded to your request. To answer your question that you are searching for in the “1%ers”: What’s wrong with bridge is that often the wrong people are in charge. It’s a game that needs to be marketed and sold with a smile, not dictated through appeal committees that can not overturn and (Shades of the Inquisition) ZT Report Forms. Do you think that I am going to record a little old lady for being crotchety, which is the law of your New World Order? …

BlairMay 16th, 2010 at 3:27 pm

What is wrong with bridge is that OFTEN the wrong people are in charge. I will write an example in a blog, or post it to your blog (as to that type of individual that has so damaged the game that their efforts have overshadowed any possibility of being beneficial), if you so desire….

It’s a game! It should be marketed and sold with a smile. Committees that cannot overturn an appeal and ZT Report Forms were not designed to deal with crotchety 70 year olds who are having less than a wondeful day….

Judy Kay-WolffMay 16th, 2010 at 3:47 pm


You said it all in the first sentence. The primary object, above all else (including egos and
personal agendas) is for the perpetuation of the game as it was once intended. It is obvious it has wandered off course as in many cases (not all, for sure) — those in command are not qualified to adjudicate the problems as they arise and the bleeding hearts affect many of the decisions (especially in the cases of clubs where regulars automatically transform themselves into favorites). Read some of Danny Kleinman’s stories if you want to see favoritism in action. As far as “It’s a game! It should be marketed and sold with a smile.” I think that statement must be qualified by adding — “as long the contestants adhere to the rules.” Under the jurisdiction of the ACBL, honor and equity should play a huge role.


Paul CroninMay 17th, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Blair – my reply to you was

Paul CroninMay 13th, 2010 at 2:07 pm

In all fairness, it should be noted in point (5) that the director’s decision to impose a ZT penalty is appealable – it is just not overturnable. Not entirely semantics, as a director would take very seriously a committee’s recommendation to reconsider his/her decsion.

Not sure where your wording of point (6) is coming from, as the current ACBL wording is
VI. The DIC shall provide a summary report of all behavioral penalties to the Tournament Chairman and/or Recorder.

I am at a complete loss to see where anything in the above attacks, criticizes, or belittles you, but please accept my apologies for anything that seemed that way to you, as that would never be my intention.

BlairMay 17th, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Thank you

Ray LeeMay 19th, 2010 at 11:06 am

Came to this thread late, but I’m going to throw in my 2 cents anyway.

The key phrase in the above discussion, IMHO, is ‘marketing the game’. That’s what Culbertson and Goren did, because that’s how they made money — and they were very, very good at it. The more people who played bridge, the more books they sold and the more they got paid for their newspaper columns. The ACBL doesn’t market the game — that’s not its business, which in the end is running tournaments and selling master points, perhaps the most brilliant hoax ever perpetrated. (I notice they’re trying to revalue the currency, amidst howls of protest — talk about galloping inflation!)

There’s no incentive to be Charles Goren today, because the top players/writers/potential promoters can make a really good living playing with clients — and that’s where in the end professionalism is having its greatest and most insidious effect. There’s no doubt that there are personalities around today who could get more people excited about bridge again (Zia is an obvious candidate) — but why should they?

Perhaps the most successful Culbertson-like self-promoter in bridge today is Audrey Grant — who has trained hundreds of teachers to use ‘her’ methods, and sold a lot of books. But Audrey doesn’t reach out beyond that audience to the would-be players themselves — she is, by her own admission, a club-level player who doesn’t even like bridge that much! Fifty years ago, Culbertson and Goren were literally household names — indeed, even today, if you ask the proverbial ‘man in the street’ to name a bridge player, I’d bet the reply would be ‘Charles Goren’.

Not sure where we go from here, but I guess I’m saying that professionalism has damaged bridge at the grass roots too, as well as at the top.

BlairMay 19th, 2010 at 11:52 am

Amen Ray…

We need to move the professional out of the easy points events. They get extra master points as well as credit for titles won, both very valuable for prestige and future sponsorship funding, all at the expense of the average player. So, let the four to eight tables at each event play each other and keep them away from the A’s, all the B’s and every C through Z pair.

The league once held a National Amateur Pairs. Players won National Events against their peers. We need a TON ( as in at Regionals and Nationals daily ) of those to return the game to its popularity. The non-professional has no chance at seeing the opportunity to play in a World Class Team Event. The popularity of novice, intermediate and A players winning their flighted pairs and team events that are National rated cost the ACBL NOTHING!!!!!!! It is like the ACBL has no interest in growing under present management…Thank you Paul for this forum

PaulMay 24th, 2010 at 5:55 am

“but I guess I’m saying that professionalism has damaged bridge at the grass roots too, as well as at the top.”

This may be true but it is not the root cause. If it were, then bridge would be flourishing in countries where there are no professional players. But the problems are the same everywhere.

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