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Whether differences in males and females are a function of nature, or nurture – or some combination of both – is a hot topic in both the bridge world and elsewhere.  I personally am of the opinion that the “combo” conclusion is accurate.  My belief is based upon my limited understanding of science and research, and of real world observation. 

Where ever the truth may lie, however, I have a recommendation as to how to deal with such issues at the bridge table.  My plan is the O/W ("Open/Women") format for national events.  Here’s what it is. We are all familiar with stratification in games. Players in the top strat compete against everyone.  To win, you simply must have the best game. Yet those who are in lower strats (A/X or A/B/C/D) meet players of varying levels during the course of the event.  When the game is concluded, those in the lower strats can win overall – or – they can win and place in their own strat.

I find stratification to be a reasonable concept for a few reasons.  First and foremost, less experienced and/or less talented players get to play against the best of the best.  Clear evidence that for most of us, your game improves if you compete against tough competition.  Second, even though players must compete against “everyone” – those in the lower strats still have a chance to win or place high.  I think virtually all of us enjoy such an outcome; stratification delivers that.  Third, stratification has the benefit that if you are in a lower strat and yet grab the big cheese overall score, you can “win it all.”  I find this superior to games in which people never face the toughest competitors, as now people can better prove that they are capable of competing with the best of the best.

As we all know, we have seen more women’s pairs and teams entering open events over the years. My guess is that these women do so for varied reasons. Additionally, some of the women’s events have had such large drop offs in attendance, that we have now come to the point where some events will cease to be in the near future. 

What might be a solution?  Stratification of open events.

Non-female only pairs enter the event, classified as “open.”  Female pairs enter as “W’s.” It works just as it would with current stratification.  If a female pair has the highest score in the event, then that pair wins both the open and “W” flight.  If a pair finishes 4th – or 10th – or wherever in the open field, yet 1st in the “W” field – then they win that flight in addition to their open finish.

What benefits would this have?  1) Women could compete in open fields, likely improving their games.  Almost all of us improve when we face the toughest competition possible.  2) Women could have the opportunity to still win in a “women’s” field, while achieving the objective of #1.  3) Female professionals, who might otherwise have difficulty attracting clients into an open only field, likely would have an easier time with stratification.  And 4) – no more having to compete in an event where one has to worry about how many (or should I say “few”) other pairs enter.

The primary negative I’ve heard is that this would be “insulting” to women.  Frankly, though, I think this sentiment would fade in time.  And if the “nurture” proponents are correct?  Then, at least in theory, we’d see more and more women finishing higher and winning.  Maybe we could then do away with the “W” flight altogether!

As someone who does strongly believe that we improve more when we compete against the best, I’d like to see the League give such a concept some serious consideration.  NOW for O/W!

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