by John Carruthers
Until 2006, the European Team Championships was conducted as a complete round robin amongst the participants (from two teams in the Open series in 1932 to 33 teams in 2006). Eventually, the matches became 32 boards in length, two per day. However, as more nations joined the European Bridge League, it was necessary to shorten the matches to 20 boards to prevent the event’s running for three weeks.
From 2008, with 46 member countries, it was found further desirable to divide the field into two equal-strength sections for an initial round robin, then continue with the top nine from each group forming a ‘premier’ league for nine further matches. Now the event is run in 3 x 16-board match days to allow for best play and as little competitor weariness as possible.
Perhaps it’s time for the EBL to consider splitting itself into two WBF Zones. This could be done on a geographical basis, with either an East/West or a North/South split. Continental solidarity should not be an issue as Asia, for example, is already divided in two Zones (BFAME and APBF) and North America into ACBL and CACBF (the Caribbean and Central America are geographically part of North America). While it is a fairly simple matter to divide the 46 European member NBOs into one or the other division, even 23 in each if so desired, it is not a simple matter to determine what the criteria for the division should be. Three potential criteria that immediately pop to mind are:
(i) the number of members in each NBO,
(ii) the relative strength of each division and
(iii) the number of NBOs in each division.
Both the most populous and the most successful NBOs would be in the North (excepting Italy) or West (excepting Poland and perhaps Italy) division. If none of these criteria were considered a serious detriment, the division would be fairly straightforward. If only the first two of these criteria were considered important factors, perhaps an East or South division could contain more NBOs to equalize membership. (Note that the NBOs of France and The Netherlands together claim about 45% of EBL members.)
Each division of the EBL could retain three of the Bermuda Bowl (and Venice Cup and d’Orsi Trophy) qualifiers of the current six, or perhaps they could convince the WBF to increase the number of European qualifiers from six to seven and award four to the North or West Zone, based upon larger NBO membership. If such a division of the EBL were to occur, a North or West division, unless artificially reduced in size, would still be the largest in terms of membership
in the WBF. The East or South division would be third in size after the ACBL. One could then assign one more team to North America (effectively to the USA). Twenty-four teams seems like a much better number for a World Championship than 22 anyway, although it must be admitted, 22 teams fit a seven-day round robin perfectly.
A 24-team Bermuda Bowl is easily handled with a round robin within each of two groups of 12 teams, qualifying eight from each group for two-day knockouts. The round robin matches could be expanded from today’s 16 boards to 32 boards. That would make for a rather more-intense five-and-a-half-day round robin than the current seven-day affair, but would allow for a half-day off between the qualifying and knockout stages and for eight days of less-arduous 48-boards a-day knockouts.
In addition to its advantages for Europe, this scheme would have three added advantages for the WBF:
(i) keeping more teams in the running for Bermuda Bowl knockout play for a longer period than they are now and,
(ii) making 16 teams eligible for knockout play instead of the current eight,
and (iii) providing for an earlier start to the Transnational Teams, avoiding the cramped feel of the current event.