Bridge Pros: Exploring the Cutthroat World of Professional Bridge

Bridge Pro’s: Exploring the Cutthroat World of Professional Bridge

By Alex J. Coyne © 2018 Great Bridge Links

Professional bridge is an exciting career option. It’s about more than just playing a game of cards really well. Cards are a way of life and a way to make a living. And if you’re not at the top of your game, you risk more than just losing a game. There have been many notable professional players and teachers in the bridge world including Audrey Grant, Jeff Hand, Mel Colchamiro, Migry Zur Campanile, Rich Waugh…

We went digging into the world of professional bridge to find out more.

PHOTO: Vanity Fair // David Prince.

Bridge Players: How much do they make?

Player Daniel Korbel revealed in an interview for The Record (“This bridge pro reveals his secrets as a hired gun”, The Record, 2012) that some bridge players are happy to fork out “upward of $30, 000 or more to a top pro to be their teammate at a week-long national tournament.” Smaller tournaments, also according to Korbel, could bring a professional player up to $9, 000.

Other articles have explored the same. An article from The Globe and Mail (“High rollers fit the bill for bridge pros”, The Globe and Mail, 2011) noted that tournament rates for professional players can vary between $8, 000 to as much as $50, 000 according to professional bridge player Gavin Wolpert.

It would seem that just how much bridge players can make in the professional circuit would depend on how active they are, how often they win – and, largely, who is sponsoring their game. In most cases, these are larger companies and bridge-enthusiasts who like to see the game continue – the “high rollers” referred to by The Globe and Mail.

Someone asked this question of Quora in 2014, and Jim Griffin, a professional bridge player in the SF bay area replied:

As a professional player I can shed some light on the subject. How much a pro charges is like asking “How much  does a lawyer charge?”. The fee is based on several things:

1) How good a player is the pro? Does he (or she) have significant tournament wins and a reliable track record?
2)  What is the event you are hiring the pro for?  A club game is significantly less than a sectional, which in turn is less than a regional event. At the top of the fee ladder would be a National or World event.
3) What part of the country do you live? There is a regional pricing variance I’ve noticed depending somewhat on the locale you’re in. NYC or LA or the SF bay area with their higher costs of living command a higher price tag. Many of the top pros have moved to Las Vegas and Florida and some of those rates are quite high as well.

In general I would say (based especially on bullet #1), a pro might get:
a)  $75 to $300 for a club game (3-4 hours). I know people getting paid both extremes.
b)  $250 to $800/day for a sectional (two 3-4 hour sessions)
c)  $300 to $1000 /day for a regional event (two 3-4 hour sessions)
d)  $500 to $3000/day for a nationally rated event (two 3-4 hour sessions).
      Many top pros are hired to play all 3 nationals and some set number of regionals / year for an agreed upon price. Frequently, they have written contracts outlining their agreements.

Bridge Pro Teams

Often a group of bridge pros will play on a sponsored team. Tournament bridge has seen many outstanding teams throughout its history and some of the most famous were carefully assembled squads of professionals. These teams often have a sponsor, typically a wealthy bridge enthusiast who pays professional players to compete under their captaincy. Here are  three iconic teams known for their composition of paid professionals and their influential sponsors.

The Nickell Team

Formation and Impact

  • Sponsor/Captain: Nick Nickell, a New York businessman and bridge aficionado.
  • Key Players: Bob Hamman, Jeff Meckstroth, Eric Rodwell, Paul Soloway, and later Ralph Katz and Nickell himself.
  • Achievements: The Nickell team has been a dominant force in bridge from the 1990s through the early 21st century. They have won numerous national and international titles, including multiple wins at the prestigious Spingold, Vanderbilt, and Bermuda Bowl championships.

The Lavazza Team

Formation and Impact

  • Sponsor/Captain: Maria Teresa Lavazza, a prominent Italian bridge sponsor from the coffee-famous Lavazza family.
  • Key Players: Norberto Bocchi, Giorgio Duboin, Lorenzo Lauria, Alfredo Versace, among others.
  • Achievements: Known for dominating European and international bridge from the late 1990s onwards, the team has secured victories in numerous European Championships and has been a strong contender in World Championships.

The Italian Blue Team

Formation and Impact

  • Sponsor/Captain: Supported primarily by the Italian Bridge Federation rather than an individual sponsor, the Italian Blue Team represented the pinnacle of national commitment to the sport of bridge. The federation’s backing allowed for sustained development and focus on international competition.
  • Key Players: The roster included some of bridge’s most storied players, such as Giorgio Belladonna, Pietro Forquet, Walter Avarelli, and Benito Garozzo. This core group formed the backbone of the team throughout its most successful years.
  • Achievements: The Italian Blue Team’s record is unmatched in bridge history. They dominated the world scene from the late 1950s through the early 1970s, securing 13 World Championship Bermuda Bowl titles, numerous European Championships, and several other prestigious international titles. Their era of dominance is often referred to as one of the most remarkable in any team sport.

Want to become a bridge professional?

The path to professional bridge is a potentially risky one, and one that requires a lot of work, a sharp eye at the table – and the right sponsorships behind you to back you up.

Documentaries & More

Double Dummy: Double Dummy is a documentary by John McAllister about the competitive world of youth bridge tournaments and the friendships that players form around the tournament table.

The Sheriff of Bridge: The Sheriff of Bridge is a perhaps lesser-known documentary about professional bridge player Boye Brogeland and his mission to spot and bring down cheaters in the professional bridge world. (And it was nominated the Best Norwegian TV Documentary!)

In the Cards: Short, at 44 minutes, this bridge documentary is definitely worth watching. In the Cards: The Secret World of Professional Bridge stands as one of the first in-depth looks into the professional bridge scene.

Aces & Knaves: Aces & Knaves is an exciting documentary about the mental side of playing bridge: A must-watch for anyone interested in becoming a professional bridge player!

Books about Bridge Pros

Pro Bridge: The Hall of Fame – This book takes a look of not only professional bridge players, but also notable bridge hands that have been played and an in-depth examination.

The Lone Wolff: Autobiography of a Bridge Maverick – The Lone Wolf is the autobiography of professional bridge player Bobby Wolff, considered to be one of America’s top bridge players.

At the Table: The Autobiography of the World’s #1 Rated Bridge Player – At the Table is another bridge autobiography for your bookshelf or e-reader, this time by player Bob Hamman.

How I Became a Life Master Playing the Weak No Trump – This wordy title is another autobiography for the records; this one’s by notable bridge champion Eric van der Luft.

How the Experts Do It – This one’s by authors Terence Reese and David S. Bird, exploring bridge from the professional side for those who want to learn more. Currently out of stock at Barnes & Noble, but still available on Amazon.

Would you like to get in touch with some professional bridge players yourself?

Pro Bridge : Find Me A Bridge Pro. Sally, Simon and Ben at the ProBridge team know all the Professionals well and would be happy to help you choose one. (2024 Note: Pro Bridge is now offline but this link will take you to the Internet Archive which  has a copy of the website)

You can also find a lot of pros hanging out on Great Bridge Links’ People’s Pages