In normal circumstances, the European qualification spots for the World Championships are decided via the European Championships themselves. Because of COVID, it was not possible to hold the European Championships this time around, so the EBL held a special qualification tournament on RealBridge last week, with the players playing in their home country under the supervision of an appointed neutral observer.

This was a huge logistical effort, involving 96 teams playing on more than 550 individual computers in 31 countries, 58 observers (and 20 reserves) from 32 countries, 9 TDs from 8 countries (including our own Fearghal O’Boyle), 5 daily bulletin journalists operating from different countries, and 2 RealBridge IT staff. Happily, all went well, with only a few minor glitches. Our thanks to all our teams, as follows, for their commitment and understanding:

  • Open: Tom Hanlon, Hugh McGann (operating under supervision from New Zealand), Nick FitzGibbon, Adam Mesbur, John Carroll, Mark Moran, NPC Gráinne Barton
  • Women: Jeannie Fitzgerald, Joan Kenny, Rebecca Brown, Gilda Pender, Hilary McDonagh, Siobhán Part, NPC Bríd Kemple
  • Senior: BJ O’Brien, Ranald Milne, Terry Walsh, Peter Goodman, Enda Glynn, Gay Keaveney, NPC Derek O’Gorman
  • Mixed: Carol-Ann Cummins, John Noonan, Louise Mitchell, David Walsh, Sandra Newell, Michael McAuliffe, NPC Harold Curran

Unfortunately none of our teams managed to secure any of the qualifying spots, but particular kudos to Tom Hanlon & Hugh McGann who finished eighth in the Butler rankings in the Open event. This competition also saw a significant controversy, as all thirty of their opponents forfeited their matches against Italy, omitting to submit line-ups in protest at the inclusion of Fulvio Fantoni on the Italian team. Fantoni was convicted of collusive cheating after the investigations begun in 2015, and banned from bridge for five years, although the conviction was subsequently overturned on appeal by the Court for Arbitration for Sport (CAS), with the charge regarded as not having been proven to the required level of satisfaction. His selection for this event represented his first return to top-level international bridge, and obviously feelings remain strong against the inclusion of a player widely regarded as having won multiple World, European, and other titles illegally, and who has never admitted to any ethical violations.

The World Championships are scheduled for Salsomaggiore Terme, Italy, from 27 March to 9 April, 2022, and the European qualifiers, in alphabetical order, are:

  • Open: Bulgaria, Denmark, England, Israel, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland
  • Women: England, France, Hungary, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey
  • Senior: Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden
  • Mixed: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Poland, Portugal, Romania

Italy, as hosts, qualify automatically for each of these events. In addition, the Open team qualifiers plus Hungary and Italy make up the entrants for the Champions Cup in Slovakia in November. As a measure of just how tough bridge is in long events at this level, commiserations must go to teams such as Hungary in the Open series and Turkey in the Seniors, who missed out on world championship qualification by less than a single victory point after 290 and 230 boards of bridge respectively. You’ll find all the results here.