Canadian Team Trials
The Canadian Bridge Championships concluded in Toronto in early June. In the three team events (Open, Women and Seniors) teams competed to earn the right to be named “Team Canada” in the upcoming world championships, an honour that also includes a small subsidy.
How we determine our representatives in world championships is often a subject of great debate. This is not unique to Canada as when it comes to choosing their representatives, countries generally follow one of two methods; a selection process, or a “winner takes all” style team trials (the autocratic and democratic methods as John Carruthers called them).
In the autocratic selection method, a committee or an individual is elected or appointed to select the team. This method is utilised by countries such as Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Israel and Japan. Since players/pairs have to demonstrate consistent high performance over a significant period of time, serious partnerships are motivated to participate in as many high level events as they can to build a resume of achievements. This in turn elevates their game and increases their experience level against top competition. A major advantage of the autocratic method is that it provides for team stability as the core of the team stays the same from one year to the next, thus allowing a small group of players to accumulate valuable experience at the world championships. On the other hand, this method relies heavily on the subjective judgement of an individual or a committee, and many safeguards have to be implemented to avoid possible conflicts of interest which can arise when prospective players are also involved in the selection process.
The democratic team trials method is used by several countries including the US, Canada, India and South Africa. It relies on the assumption that in a sufficiently long contest usually the best team emerges as the victor. Therefore this method selects the best performing team at the time of the trials. However, that does not mean that the team consists of the country’s best pairs as stronger partnerships may have been members of other teams. To overcome such deficiency, some countries use pair trials instead of team trials. The main argument against pair trials is that they create teams with no chemistry or where pairs may not get along.
I personally favour our current team trials approach, especially after the Canadian Bridge Federation eliminated the geographic restrictions on team composition (previously teams qualified to the national final as representatives of one of the six CBF zones, and the majority of the team members had to be residents of the zone they represented). The current trials are open, fair and rigorous. They avoid conflicts of interest, favouritism and politics. Having said that, I would like to see us try pair trials at least in one or two of the 4 year WBF cycle (e.g. for the World Knockout Teams also known as the Rosenblum, McConnell and Rand Cups). A sufficiently long pair trial would adequately minimize the luck factor that is inherent in IMP pair events. For example, if we replace the 8-day open team competition with an 8-day IMP pair event (with elimination after the 3rd and 6th days), the top three pairs at the end would have truly earned their position, largely on ability, having passed a test of 400-500 boards against their peers.