Reviving the challenge match idea
In the 1930s, the first great heyday of bridge, transatlantic matches between the best players in the United States and Europe were a regular feature of the day. Matches such as that between the American showman Ely Culbertson (pictured right) and Colonel 'Pops' Beasley, held in London in 1933, attracted huge crowds and routinely featured on the front pages of the newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Since then bridge has moved on to become an international game which millions of players around the world play for fun and thousands more play competitively in international tournaments. The two main international competitions, the Bermuda Bowl and Olympiad, are held every four years. These competitions are marathon events featuring complex bidding systems in which the teams play a series of matches against each of the other finalists.
The Buffett Cup in contrast marks a return to the exicting head-to-head challenge match format that so exicted audiences in the 1930s. The players will use a simple bidding system in which all bids must be easily explicable to a non-expert audience. No bidding screens will be employed. The emphaisis will be on matchplay with each member of the two teams playing against their counterparts in a variety of match formats: an individual contest, pairs and teams of four.
The expectation is that the event will become a regular event, held every two years to coincide with the Ryder Cup of golf, on which it has been modelled. Anyone who has watched the Ryder Cup will appreciate the tension and exictement that competitive matchplay can produce. The idea is to help make bridge once again the spectator-friendly sport that so entranced audiences when the game was in its formative years.
Getting it off the ground
The original idea for a challenge match between the best players in North America and Europe was that of a well-known British player Paul Hackett, whose twin sons have been regular members of the English bridge team for several years. The organisation of the event is down to a four-man organising committee consisting of: Paul Hackett, Joe Moran, B.J.O'Brien and Paul Porteous. The event has the enthusiastic backing of the Contract Bridge Association of Ireland, which will host the inaugural event at its headquarters in Dublin, Ireland.
Paul Hackett picks up the story of how it came about:
"Jeff Morris, the owner of the Manchester Bridge Club, and I regularly meet for a late lunch and a chat on Tuesday afternoons. We often throw suggestions and ideas at each other. I believe that it was Jeff who originally suggested that Europe against the USA would make a great bridge match. Once it was known that the 2006 Ryder Cup was scheduled for Ireland, Jeff approached Denis Robson (pictured below), who was not only Chairman of the English Bridge Union, but also the Chairman of Bryom plc, which distribute tickets for major sporting events. The idea appealed to Denis and he approached the board of Byrom, who endorsed the concept. A conversation with B.J.O’Brien sparked an Irish interest".
"Jeff came back to me and asked whether I could get the show on the road in any way. Al Levy was president of the ACBL at that time and I asked whether I could get their approval. Back came the response that they thought it was a great idea, as long as they did not need to sponsor it. Al suggested that I contact the United States Bridge Federation, who run the trials, and Jan Martel, their chairman, in turn suggested that I contact Bob Hamman, who for 20 years had been the world's top ranked player".
"Bob thought that it was a fantastic idea. My friends Geir Helgemo (pictured left), Zia Mahmood (below, right) and Giorgio Duboin, all great players, promised their support. Armed with their endorsement, I phoned BJ to arrange the first meeting of the organising committee, where I outlined the plan. Finance was obviously important and when I said Byrom were prepared to guarantee a number of tickets to the Ryder Cup, the show really started to get on the road. Joe said that if I could deliver the players and political support for the event, he would ensure that the finances would be in place".
"The support of the Contract Bridge Association of Ireland, the World Bridge Federation and the European Bridge League was duly obtained. The date of the match was to be just before the Ryder Cup. The headquarters of the CBAI, where the match will be played, needed enlarging and Joe used his contacts to make sure that not only was the work done, but also completed on time. The Irish also got to work and found a hotel for the players. Fearghal O’Boyle, their chief tournament director, started to work out a formula for a series of head-to-head matches that resembled the Ryder Cup".
"All the players I had approached to play for Europe reconfirmed their participation and Bob Hamman put together his North American team. All that was left was the name of the trophy. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are friends and avid bridge players, and it was Warren who gave his support to our venture, which became the Warren Buffett Cup. In June Warren pledged $31 billion dollars to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The publicity has done us no harm. The first Warren Buffett Cup was ready to roll"