Bridge is in the air

■ Plan­ning starts for Au­gust’s 6th an­nual Bella Vista Bridge Tour­na­ment

The Weekly Vista - - News - BOB GROMATKA Tour­na­ment Com­mit­tee Chair­man

Look­ing for­ward, look­ing back – that’s what a bridge tour­na­ment chair does this time of year. By all ac­counts, last year’s tour­na­ment was a huge suc­cess — but that isn’t what mat­ters now.

To­day, the ques­tion is: How can we build on last year’s suc­cess to make our 2017 tour­na­ment even bet­ter? We want your jour­ney here, whether you are within 100 miles of Bella Vista, or from far­ther away, to be its own re­ward.

Chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics mean chang­ing ex­pec­ta­tions. The zeit­geist of to­day is about chart­ing bridge tour­na­ments that of­fer: (1) a friendly and help­ful wel­come when you regis­ter; (2) a part­ner­ship desk that is re­li­able and manned at all times; (3) a tour­na­ment de­signed to pro­mote the game for all play­ers re­gard­less of skill level; (4) a tol­er­ant and cour­te­ous play­ing at­mos­phere with no in­tim­i­da­tion fac­tor; rude­ness is out, so­cia­bil­ity is in. (5) plenty of direc­tors as needed; (6) an end­less sup­ply of cof­fee and snacks, (7) gath­er­ing player feed­back and ac­tu­ally us­ing the re­sults; and (8) re­strooms with real pa­per tow­els. Our tour­na­ment has and will con­tinue to of­fer all of the above and more!

Based on in­put tour­na­ment or­ga­niz­ers have made the fol­low­ing changes to the 2017 tour­na­ment. First, we have moved our tour­na­ment date from Aug. 19-21 to Aug. 4-6. This change bet­ter spa­ces out area sec­tion­als and re­gion­als and gives play­ers a chance to re­cover from jet lag be­tween tour­na­ments. There will be two tour­na­ment direc­tors this year in­stead of one, and there will be more strat­i­fied pairs games — which mean more gold points will be awarded. Sin­gle ses­sion en­tries will be ac­com­mo­dated in all pairs games, but play­ers who play only one ses­sion will not be el­i­gi­ble for over­all awards. The Swiss Team game on Sun­day has been re­placed with more strat­i­fied pairs games. How­ever, we have added a Com­pact Swiss Team game Satur­day evening for those who en­joy IMP com­pe­ti­tion.

By mak­ing the “Gold Rush Agenda” a primary fo­cus of the tour­na­ment, we want to at­tract new­com­ers and so­cial bridge play­ers to our tour­na­ment. As S.J. Si­mon ex­plained in his best­selling book: “Why You Lose At Bridge,” it is es­sen­tial that bridge tour­na­ments to­day cre­ate a level play­ing field for all com­peti­tors. It is im­por­tant that play­ers in the 0-750 bracket have a play­ing field to play where they are able to com­pete and, hope­fully, take their game to the next level. It is not a sign of weak­ness to use a Yel­low Card at the bridge ta­ble. When play­ers win their first gold points, we want to en­joy their suc­cess vi­car­i­ously. It is no ac­ci­dent that 64 per­cent of at­ten­dees in 2016 came from the 0-750 strata.

Sur­veys from pre­vi­ous tour­na­ments in­di­cate that the primary mo­ti­va­tion for at­tend­ing the Bella Vista tour­na­ment is to have fun, stay men­tally ac­tive, im­prove their game, and meet new peo­ple. Peo­ple are tired of the same-old, same-old and would rather stay at home than travel to tour­na­ments where they don’t feel wel­come. The Bella Vista tour­na­ment is de­signed to give all play­ers a rea­son to want to play here in events they feel they can win.

The pop­u­lar­ity of bridge in the United States has waxed and waned in the last 100 years. Some would go so far as to de­scribe bridge as a na­tional pas­time back in the late 1950s. For ex­am­ple, on Sept. 29, 1958, a pic­ture of Charles Goren ap­peared on the cover of Time mag­a­zine as the “King of Aces.” Many of you prob­a­bly re­mem­ber that Pres­i­dent Eisen­hower was an avid bridge player. The num­ber of peo­ple who played bridge in the United States in 1957 was es­ti­mated to be around 40 mil­lion. Club bridge was played in one’s best clothes amid clouds of smoke. In the late 1960s, as a “Baby Boomer,” I was part of the last gen­er­a­tion to ac­tively pursue bridge as a recre­ational past-time. Many like me, took a hia­tus from bridge dur­ing our work­ing years, but were rein­tro­duced to the game upon re­tire­ment. Some would ar­gue that the def­i­ni­tion of a bridge player to­day is “a baby boomer with a ten­nis or golf in­jury.” I be­lieve the fu­ture of bridge lies with this gen­er­a­tion and I hope to bring more-and-more of them into our game.

Bridge play­ers from this co­hort are look­ing for something to do as a chal­lenge and so­cial op­por­tu­nity. Mind­ful of “use it or lose it,” boomers un­der­stand that ex­er­cise of the body (golf) and ex­er­cise of the mind (bridge) can help off­set de­men­tia and other phys­i­cal ail­ments. Bridge has mor­phed from a game played by ev­ery­one to one where the me­dian player’s age is north of 70. With life ex­pectancy at an all-time high, these peo­ple will be look­ing for en­ter­tain­ment for many years to come.

To put this into per­spec­tive, in 1975 less than 20 per­cent of ACBL mem­bers were over the age of 65. That fig­ure was 30 per­cent a decade later. In 2005, the ACBL es­ti­mated that the num­ber of bridge play­ers in the US had fallen to 25 mil­lion. To­day’s ac­tive bridge-play­ing pop­u­la­tion is con­sid­er­ably less than that — al­though no­body, in­clud­ing the ACBL, has any re­li­able data to put for­ward. What is known is that each year the ACBL loses 10 per­cent of their cur­rent mem­ber­ship and gains a new 10 per­cent. It is from the baby boomer gen­er­a­tion that most of the new mem­bers come. To­day, the aver­age age of a com­pet­i­tive bridge player in the United States is 71 and is ex­pected to in­crease to 75 in the next ten years.

Be­ing 75 is not old in the bridge world. The irony is that I was a “up-and­com­ing young player at col­lege in the mid-1960s; then again in my 30s and 40s. Now that I’m in my early 70s, I seem to still be a “young bridge player.” Our mem­ber­ship has re­mained sta­ble be­cause we work hard to at­tract and re­tain new play­ers from this age group. Help­ing new and less-ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers im­prove their game, along with be­ing be­ing tol­er­ant and friendly, are the se­crets of our suc­cess. As some­one once said: “you don’t want to scare away the pi­geons.” “And the tour­na­ment world needs their share of pi­geons to sur­vive.”

Yes, the bridge play­ers are out there. We just need to con­vince them to play at our clubs and tour­na­ments. Re­search by the ACBL tells us that we are on the right track. Their statis­tics in­di­cate that “68 per­cent (of cur­rent mem­bers) are not Life Masters and more than half have fewer than 300 mas­ter points.” Sta­tis­ti­cal ev­i­dence from our 2016 tour­na­ment also bears this out. We had a record-set­ting 209 ta­bles in play at our 2016 tour­na­ment (The pre­vi­ous record was 204.5 ta­bles in 2012), and over 64 per­cent of those who played had less than 750 Mas­ter points. Most con­sid­er­ably less.

What does all of this mean for po­ten­tial play­ers at our tour­na­ment? First of all, we want all of you who at­tended in pre­vi­ous years BACK! We have tried to build on the suc­cess of last year’s tour­na­ment to make our 2017 ven­ture even bet­ter. We want emerg­ing play­ers and de­vel­op­ing in­ter­me­di­ates to come and cel­e­brate new bridge mile­stones in Bella Vista. We’ll try our hard­est to make our tour­na­ment spe­cial for you, es­pe­cially if you’re work­ing to­ward a Life Mas­ter or want to earn your first gold points – something not usu­ally of­fered at a three-day tour­na­ment.

Please go to www.ACBL-Unit247.org/Sec­tional. htm for more in­for­ma­tion and to see our 2017 flier. It is not too early to Pre-Regis­ter. To regis­ter by email go to <nwa.bridge@gmail.com>. We hope you will join us for an ex­cit­ing and re­ward­ing week­end of du­pli­cate bridge in Bella Vista.

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