Bridge is in the air
■ Planning starts for August’s 6th annual Bella Vista Bridge Tournament
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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>. We hope you will join us for an exciting and rewarding weekend of duplicate bridge in Bella Vista.