Bridge players earn master points when they play and win. There are names for the various levels of master points that you have won. Even non-bridge players have heard of a Life Master. This level is enough of a challenge for people to feel pleased when they attain it. You need 500 points to be a Life Master. It takes a few years for most people to reach this level. Then there are higher levels like bronze, silver, gold, etc., etc. The highest level is Grand Master; for that you need 10,000 points and a National Title.
The world of top level bridge is something only the real addicts want to know about. There is a lot of money in the game. Not that we play for money, but professional bridge players will teach less experienced players how to play better for a price that depends on how good the professional is. People pay a pro not just to get better, but also to help them win points so they can get to the next level. Most people think of bridge as two people playing together against other pairs, but there is a form of the game where people play on a team of four. This is the most popular form of duplicate at the higher levels.
The U.S. usually makes a good showing at the World Championships. They have an open team, a women’s team, and a senior team. Only one woman has ever played for the U.S. on the open team – Helen Sobel. There are invariably six players on a team. This allows for four people to play while two people rest. To play for two weeks, which is how long the World Championships last, for up to ten hours a day is very demanding, so although you can manage with a four-man team, it rarely happens. The good players have to stay physically fit, as well.
This is where the serious money begins. People like Carolyn Lynch, whose husband Peter ran the Magellan Fund for Fidelity and made a lot of money, pays for a whole team. The gossip says as much as $0.5m per person for a signing-on bonus for the very top players. Then you have to pay the team to play for four weeks of the year when the big tournaments are on and pick up all the expenses. Bonuses are given if you win a tournament or make the U.S. team. I did an approximation once, and you don’t see much change out of $0.5m each year.
Jimmy Cayne is a very good bridge player who was hired by a financial firm to teach the Chairman to play bridge better. They played at work. The story goes that is what they were doing when the financial world turned upside down in 2008. After a phone call telling them the bad news, they kept on playing Bridge.
In a similar vein, I was playing at a tournament during the time period when the IRA were setting off bombs in England. The fire alarm started to go off. Nobody moved. We kept right on playing. After ten minutes, the manager of the hotel where we were playing came in and said, “Ladies and gentlemen: There is a fire in the hotel. Will you please go outside?” We went. Clearly, under pressure bridge players can sometimes be sensible!
— Jane Ball