BRIDGE: USBC Quarterfinals – A new sponsor strategy?

Yesterday marked the completion of the US Bridge Championships (USBC)  quarterfinal round.  The quarterfinals were 120 hands conducted over two days in eight sessions of fifteen boards each.  In two of the matches, the trailing teams conceded before the end.  The other two matches went the distance.  Of the four teams in those two matches, three teams consisted of a sponsor and five bridge professionals (Nickell, Welland and Harris).  It struck me as odd that in the final set of these two matches, Welland and Harris were both playing.  This is counter to the usual strategy of getting the sponsor through the required minimum number of boards as quickly as possible and then letting the professionals take over the rest of the way.

I then went over the match records for these two matches and discovered an even bigger oddity.  Welland and Harris, together with their professional partners, played more sets than either professional pair on their team.  Here’s the breakdown:

Welland Team Number of Quarterfinal Sets
Welland-Willenken 6
Smith-Cohen 5
Weinstein-Garner 5

 

Harris Team Number of Quarterfinal Sets
Harris-Morgan 7
Landen-Gerstman 5
Chorush-Koneru 4

 

That’s right.  Harris and Morgan only missed one set during the quarterfinal.  On the other hand, here’s the set breakdown for the Nickell team:

Nickell Team Number of Quarterfinal Sets
Nickell-Katz 4
Hamman-Zia 6
Meckstroth-Rodwell 6

 

Of course, if you had Hamman-Zia and Meckwell on your team, you’d be a fool not to maximize their time in play.

This is not entirely new territory for Welland.  There was a stretch in the early 2000’s when Welland’s team finish second at the USBC two years in a row playing four-handed.  At that time, mental exhaustion from playing every hand was cited as one of the reason why they were not able to win the title. 

Is this a new trend among team sponsors to try to carry more of the bridge load?  If so, I wish them well.  When I have allowed myself to fantasize about having the resources to sponsor an elite team, it has included me playing more than the minimum number of boards as well.  However, it is worth noting that the Welland and Harris teams both lost their quarterfinal match, while Nickell is playing in the semifinals today.  Perhaps there is a reason to let the pros play.

Check out the USBC live on the internet at Bridge Base Online.  Click on “Play Bridge Now”.  When the new window is done loading, either become a member or click “Look around our site”.  The Vugraph has coverage of the matches while they are in session.

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