Reprint of social media comment from Ian Payn

One of the major problems facing the EBU is the divide between club players and county players and national players, and the challenge is luring those whose interests are only playing at club level to make the journey into the outside world. If I may be desperately simplistic for a moment, the two major factors in this are cost and fear. County events (which I personally have always enjoyed) are run by volunteers, but will still cost around £25 per day. To a club player who is used to shelling out a maximum of £6 per session, this is a big jump, and to make it worthwhile, the venue has to be amenable, accessible and attractive. But if that is conquered, the second element kicks in: what if everybody there is too serious, or too horrible, or calls the TD every time I stop to count my points again?

For national events, you can pretty much double the cost. The fear factor probably progresses geometrically rather than arithmetically.

So, what to do? For a couple of years the EBU has been trialling a membership campaign which will spread out over the country (run via counties, so some poorly-resourced counties may have to team up with each other if they want to participate). The next step is to get people playing regularly at their comfort level (the hard part) and then try to encourage them to ease outside it (the bloody hard part).

Somewhere along the way the message has been lost. Bridge "in the middle" (i.e. not playing with beginners but not playing in the Premier League, either) can, and should, be fun. Sure, over the course of a long weekend like the Pairs or Teams at the Summer Meeting you're going to meet some people who get on your nerves, but that happens in life, doesn't it? And if people start behaving badly (rather than just being generally annoying) then call the TD: that's what he's there for. And you'll be doing the rest of the room a favour, as well. I appreciate that if you are relatively new to the bridge world it can be a bit daunting, but genuine bad behaviour is just bullying, and needs to be stamped on firmly.

I remember the days when I was desperate to play in anything and everything. Now, age and other commitments have taken their toll, but I like to play whenever I can and despite booking my worst-ever result in a national competition, actually enjoyed myself in Eastbourne recently. Admittedly it didn't get off to a great start when the Chief TD asked my partner and I if we were playing together, and then when told we were, walked away shaking his head and laughing, but in the end he was proved right, so no hard feelings, eh?

Pleasing all of the people all of the time is impossible. You only have to ask any bridge club manager what his major problem is, and he'll tell you that basically it can be summed up as "someone wants the window open, someone else wants the window closed". Like clubs and counties, the EBU has to strike a balance. Comments on feedback forms and social media are noted, and correspondence is read. There was an open meeting at Eastbourne which provided quite a lot of food for thought, and this forum is one of the ideas that sprang from that.

Comments

  • edited August 2019

    Personally, I think that introducing county/national-style tournament formats into club sessions on a more regular basis could be a way of encouraging club players to attend these larger events. For example, playing a 5x 5-board Swiss Pairs event instead of a 12x 2-board Howell/Mitchell movement would hopefully highlight the benefit of playing in these sorts of events, and provide more of a reason to attend county/national events of this type. Of course, this comes with the risk that players choose not to attend county events because the same formats are used at their local club, but generally the largest attractions to attending county/national events are playing different people and the enhanced masterpoint award.

    By extension, the most popular event formats tend to be those used least - the two that come to mind are the Summer Festival midweek knockout teams as mentioned in Sunday's meeting and also the Spring Fours, both of which were/are very popular (respectively), and the latter remains the most enjoyable event I have attended. With teams events often few and far between at county level (despite being popular for effectively offering two chances to "do well" - on pair ranking with X-IMPs and at team level), the Spring Fours / Punchbowl format especially could be introduced at a smaller level as a one-day county event:

    For example, with 24 teams:
    * Round 1 (8 boards): Head-to-heads in undefeated bracket
    * Round 2 (8 boards): 6 head-to-heads in both the undefeated and once-defeated bracket
    * Round 3 (8 boards): 3 head-to-heads in undefeated bracket, 6 head-to-heads in once-defeated bracket, 6 twice-defeated teams play 5x 5-board matches in own round-robin (Group A)
    * Round 4 (8 boards): Triangle in undefeated bracket, 3 triangles in once-defeated bracket, 6 now twice-defeated teams play 5x 4-board matches in own round-robin (Group B ), Group A continues
    * Round 5 (12 boards): Top 2 from UD triangle and winners of each OD triangle now play final round-robin of 4x 3-board matches (Group D), 7 other teams play own round-robin of 6x 2-board matches (Group C), Groups A and B continue

    This format is very rough and will inevitably change as team numbers change (even slightly). A further alternative would be that twice-defeated teams immediately enter a Swiss Teams event, with entrants after Rounds 3 and 4 entering with adjusted scores (like with the 28 VPs in the Hamilton Cup for Punchbowl QF losers). This Swiss variant is beneficial in providing some similarity to existing tournament formats, though the Multiple Teams brackets are more similar to club sessions (and you will also stand a much better chance of winning, whereas the Swiss winners will be those eliminated at a later stage of the knock-out).

    Finally, of course, the largest problem is attracting entirely new entries. Perhaps providing incentives to both the new player (e.g. half price entry) and to the club (a half price entry to a regular attendee) would be a good strategy - if neither team were going to attend, then it's a win for the county, and if only the new player wasn't going to attend, then it's an increased entry with no change in revenue (which isn't a problem).

  • Every player will have a comfort level of play as not everybody wishes to play competitively to the highest standard. I agree, though, that fear stops many players moving to a more competitive event when they may wish to. That may be a club evening which attracts higher level players or moving to county or national events.
    Often it is the fear of doing something wrong that deters trying something new, rather than the fear of a poor result.
    Inexperienced players are often confused when to announce/alert or keep quiet and will have difficulty maintaining a bidding rhythm. The reaction of experienced players when mistakes are made is critical in determining the enjoyment of an event. It also helps if inexperienced players can see that they are not alone and are able to share experiences.
    The future of club, county and national events needs inexperienced players to try them and persist. It is the best way for players to improve and the only way numbers can be retained and built. Inexperienced players need to be welcomed, forgiven for minor transgressions, and encouraged.
    The EBU could gain feedback specifically from weaker/inexperienced players at congresses to understand their experience to see how more such players could be encouraged to attend.

  • I think Ian has identified the strategic problem. The bottom part of previous tournament fields is dropping out making the gap between club and tournament play bigger. It is likely that as we go forward the proportion of bridge players playing in tournaments will not grow significantly. However the numbers playing in tournaments can still grow if we can grow the total number of bridge players. It seems to me that the majority of new players once they have mastered the ability to play at a basic level have no desire to work on improving their game. It is an activity which gets them out of the house and meeting other people. I think the current membership campaign is correct in trying to increase membership largely from this group. All tournament players should offer their help to this campaign.

    Upon what we need to be concentrating is making it easier for that small proportion of new players who are competitive to move from their club to tournaments.

    Some recent changes have contributed to this and some have worked against this. The Really Easy Congress and events are not recent but seems to continue to have reasonable numbers and do work. My partner at Eastbourne remembers playing in the Really Easy Congress 8 or so years ago and looking down from the balcony at Brighton at the numbers playing in a midweek evening event and thinking one day she might play down there. I am not sure our current midweek events offer such inspiration. Perhaps we should think of more of Really Easy events alongside other congresses.

    Jack-High events also seem to be a viable option. Could we aim to have one at every two-day or longer event but at the event not with satellite events as was tried at one time. Get them to the Congress venue.

    At Eastbourne the one-day Swiss events brought in people who might not have played in an event where they had to play against the top pairs. Perhaps we could try this alongside some other Congresses. eg. Ranked Masters Pairs.

    Perhaps we could get even greater participation in the Really Easy and Jack-High events if we offered teachers free entry to the main events if they brought, say 3 students to the Really Easy and/or Jack-High.

    Events which start in clubs and which qualify people to play in an EBU event are an excellent idea it seems there is a proposal for the National Pairs to go back that way. Kent Contract Bridge Association will shortly be submitting a proposal for such an event based on what we have done to revitalise our main pairs competition, the Larsky Cup. However satellite events which turn events in to glorified simultaneous pairs (or teams), whilst they might bring in some welcome income, just water down the main event. We need club events which bring people tournaments not to pretend that we can bring tournaments clubs.

    There were a lot of other ideas being expressed in other threads to attract more people to events. Many of them seemed to have merit as a tactic and could be experimented with at one or two events to see if they are worthwhile. However as a strategy I believe that we need to grow the membership and provide a ladder to enable the small proportion who want or can be enticed to move from club tournaments to do so in gradual steps.

  • edited August 2019

    @Paul_Gibbons said:
    The bottom part of previous tournament fields is dropping out making the gap between club and tournament play bigger.

    I thought it was worth fact-checking this, so I pulled the entry list for the 2005 Brighton Swiss Pairs and compared it with this year's entry. I can only use today's NGS grades, so this makes the rather large assumption that the 2005 field haven't gotten any better, but if anything that makes the picture even worse.

    It's even more telling when you look at the drop in numbers for each group. For the elite 60%+ players, the entry has dropped only 34% in those 14 years, while for those below 50% it's a whopping 92%. The numbers for the other two categories are 55% for the 55-60 group, and 84% for the 50-55 group.

  • The above table pretty much proves what I think we all know, the stronger players are mostly still coming, it's the less strong players that are staying away. This does strongly suggest that if we are going to attract them back we need to offer more Jack High and Really Easy events alongside the main events.

  • Before addressing this issue - and it may seem extraordinary to be asking this - we need to be clear as to why we want to increase EBU tournament attendance and what we mean by success? Is Member Engagement in its totality the real issue and tournaments are only one (small) part of a much bigger picture ?

    Assuming, however, that tournament attendance is considered a vital issue in itself, it seems to me that one opportunity to address this challenge is an organisational one. The current responsibility for building tournament attendance - and indeed participation in EBU events generally - is spread between several people and those several people who share the responsibility have (many) conflicting priorities. If the EBU were to appoint a person whose primary responsibility was this whole issue, maybe it would create the focus it deserves and (maybe) provide the a catalyst for some root-and-branch revised thinking on the matter. By adopting from the outset, a marketing led approach of identifying member needs and seeking ways to meet those needs rather than adopting a "here we have a product, how do we tweak it and communicate it via the webpage/Events Focus Newsletter etc.", we might find a new way forward.

    Building on this idea, we know that bridge in this country (and maybe around the world) is changing. More people coming in at an older age, and therefore with a different set of objectives. Value for money ("how many boards can we cram into a day to keep the cost/board competitive") is of course a factor, but it may not be the most important factor to our target audience. Residential bridge holidays appear to be growing as do bridge cruises; club sessions in the morning and afternoon are growing at the expense of evening sessions: why is this so - and are there elements of these activities which could be incorporated into EBU events?

    Another question in my mind is that bridge events in some counties in Europe are (again, anecdotally) far more "socially" orientated and (perhaps for this reason) appear to attract more women (and far more husband and wife pairings). Why is this? What can be done to increase the number of women at EBU events (assuming that is desirable)?

    Yet another topic for review could be: what is the real difference between the motivation in attending local/regional events and EBU "national" events - maybe (guess on my part) it was driven (a long time ago) by a desire to accumulate green points to climb the pole of Master Point Rankings. Do Master Point rankings matter to anyone anymore, or has the effect of NGS been to (further) blunt the need to travel miles to play 96 boards over a weekend to amass 4 GPs? Would changing the MP ranking system (e.g. decaying Green Points over time as is the case with Gold Points) provide a greater incentive for playing in EBU events?

    I don't know the answer to any of these questions (or indeed many more which spring to mind regarding consumer/member motivations), and I also have no analysis of what I would call the competitive set (the options open to our members for spending the leisure time) and why members might choose these over e.g. a weekend in Daventry in a dark room with white middle-aged men and indifferent local food options.. Apologies for the cynicism!.

    One final thought from my own personal experience (and I fully accept that my views may not be representative of the large centre ground of members from where the EBU need to draw attendance). I love playing against a different group of people from those I meet in regional/local/club events. For that reason, congresses which attract a good number of foreign players are very appealing - and this seems to be borne out by the numbers who (for example) come to Stratford for the Spring Fours. This year the attendance at Eastbourne was overwhelmingly the same old, same old. If increasing the number of foreign participants is a desirable route to pursue, what need to be done, and whose job is it to do it?

    At the end of the day, it may be the conclusion that tournaments are really only ever going to be relevant to a relatively small number of elite players. If so, maybe the EBU should recognise this inexorable change in the membership demographic as soon as possible and tailor its cloth accordingly, putting the majority of its energies and resources into exploiting new ways to meet the needs of the overwhelming majority of its membership,, while tailoring tournaments specifically to cater for the demands of the elite. Surely better that than trying to produce a product (or series of products) which are meant to appeal to everyone, but end up not really meeting the needs of either group?

  • Reading Gordon's post carefully perhaps part of the answer is publicity...
    We were an NGS J (ish) team in the Swiss Teams. In the first session we won our first two and found ourselves playing Hackett * 3 + Mossop with predictable results. Having lost this we started the next session against Neil Rosen & Team again with predictable results but we then won the next three.
    What other sport can the likes of us take the field against the likes of them?
    They were all exceptionally charming and a real joy to play against.
    People enjoyed the venue, people enjoyed taking time out to see Calendar GIrls or 39 Steps.
    Others enjoyed playing in the one days so they could take in the concerts in the bandstand
    There must be a great story of a great time had by many that could be promoted very strongly on the website, and on facebook using photos, quotes, videos and interviews.....

    Peter Bushby Suffolk

  • Couple of thoughts:
    * Teams. There is quite a lot of emphasis at county and EBU level on team competitions. Most club players never play teams and have no clue as to the differences compared to MP pairs. This is probably exacerbated by the logistical difficulties of finding 3 other people and also the thought of letting down 3 people if it doesn't go well. It's bad enough having to face up to partner after a particularly grim session where one has played like an idiot (respect to those of you who never do so), but having to face three disappointed people ...
    * Fear of infraction. A huge element deterring people from playing. The thought of having the TD called and ending up being penalised because you forgot/never knew the more arcane alerting rules or took too long to bid because you are trying to work out what is going on is majorly off-putting.

  • edited August 2019
    I know that I’ve raised this before, but here’s a photo from a card game event in Rotterdam. What are they doing that the EBU can’t do?

    Apologies for the poor quality, but note the number of younger players.

    This is not a bridge Congress!
  • edited August 2019

    @466114 said:
    I know that I’ve raised this before, but here’s a photo from a card game event in Rotterdam. What are they doing that the EBU can’t do?

    Apologies for the poor quality, but note the number of younger players.

    This is not a bridge Congress!

    Indeed it's not a bridge congress. I wonder if the Netherlands Bridge Federation look at photos of English MTG or eSports events and think they are a useful comparison to their events?

  • edited August 2019
    I don’t know anything about Bridge in the Netherlands except anecdotally that bridge is supposedly doing well there and attracts a younger audience. I have noticed from BBO that the Dutch seem to be organising a lot of cross-border events against the Belgians and the French but that’s about it. I have never played in a Dutch Bridge congress and I don’t really notice any congresses/tournaments being publicised.

    I do think that if we are serious about addressing this issue, we should as a matter of course be looking at anything and everything which might help “solve” the problem including other countries and other “similar” activities. Why wouldn’t we?

    The photo is I think from a European-wide MTG Grand Prix Event which took place in the Netherlands..

    I can say with absolute confidence however that while National Bridge Organisations may not be interested in what MTG are doing, I am absolutely confident that the organisers of MTG are very well aware of the bridge world and how we organise events.
  • I’m not sure I have the right to comment here as I did not attend Eastbourne. In fact, I’ve never attended any EBU tournament. I just don’t see what I would get from an external tournament.

    I agree that there is a growing fear/unfamiliarity problem. At the club level, the quality of directing is declining, in my experience, largely because most players don’t want the exacting adjudication stated by the laws. They just want someone to keep time and settle revokes. Some holiday bridge directors warn their guests at the start of the holiday against reserving their rights. On many occasions — teams bridge, cafe bridge, bridge at home — there is no visible director, and players are happy to sort irregularities out themselves, in their own way, politely and without regard for the laws and regulations. So the idea of attending a tournament where opponents are likely to call the director at the tiniest infraction is indeed uncomfortable, and not my way of spending good money and enjoying myself. Duplicate bridge is very largely a social activity for my partner and me. Our NGS and master points are of almost zero interest. (If I were to put the issue of membership of the EBU to a vote at our club, there would be a couple who would vote to stay in because they are interested in their NGS, and maybe 30% at least would vote to stay in because they appreciate English Bridge magazine. The rest would probably vote to save their 45p P2P contribution.)

    The other factor which puts me off wanting to try a tournament is that I’m not sure I would like many of the other players, if, as seems to be agreed here, they come largely from the stronger end of the market. I cannot help but make an appalling generalisation here, but the stronger a player is, the more likely it seems that they have antisocial traits: more likely to be single, more likely to have personal hygiene problems, more likely to have zero conversation with opponents between hands. I don’t want to mix with these types any more, and I say that as one who read maths at university. Thankfully there are no end of exceptions to this tendency.

    This is not the place to reflect on the long-term decline of duplicate bridge, but I believe the chances of resurrecting tournament bridge are very slim unless you can make it an engaging activity for the club mainstream. Recognition by authorities that a fork has occurred between the highly complex official laws of duplicate bridge and the common-law, self-determined variants played in hotels and people’s homes would be a start.

  • I agree with much of what you say, Gravitono, except your comments regarding the strongest players. Although there are always exceptions, the matches against the strongest players can be the most enjoyable. In the main they recognise that our mistakes are from lack of experience and are both pleasant and helpful. When a director has been called the experience has never been awkward.
    The primary reason for playing in an EBU (or County) tournament is the opportunity to play against different opponents, including the very strongest players.
    I am sure that part of the reason for declining numbers is the reduced emphasis on Green Master Points, an unfortunate consequence of the introduction of NGS - and the fear of making mistakes. A fear reinforced by what, in our experience, are incorrect views and comments regarding the strongest players.
  • @gordonrainsford said:
    One of the major problems facing the EBU is the divide between club players and county players and national players, and the challenge is luring those whose interests are only playing at club level to make the journey into the outside world. If I may be desperately simplistic for a moment, the two major factors in this are cost and fear. County events (which I personally have always enjoyed) are run by volunteers, but will still cost around £25 per day. To a club player who is used to shelling out a maximum of £6 per session, this is a big jump, and to make it worthwhile, the venue has to be amenable, accessible and attractive. But if that is conquered, the second element kicks in: what if everybody there is too serious, or too horrible, or calls the TD every time I stop to count my points again?

    For national events, you can pretty much double the cost. The fear factor probably progresses geometrically rather than arithmetically.

    So, what to do? For a couple of years the EBU has been trialling a membership campaign which will spread out over the country (run via counties, so some poorly-resourced counties may have to team up with each other if they want to participate). The next step is to get people playing regularly at their comfort level (the hard part) and then try to encourage them to ease outside it (the bloody hard part).

    Somewhere along the way the message has been lost. Bridge "in the middle" (i.e. not playing with beginners but not playing in the Premier League, either) can, and should, be fun. Sure, over the course of a long weekend like the Pairs or Teams at the Summer Meeting you're going to meet some people who get on your nerves, but that happens in life, doesn't it? And if people start behaving badly (rather than just being generally annoying) then call the TD: that's what he's there for. And you'll be doing the rest of the room a favour, as well. I appreciate that if you are relatively new to the bridge world it can be a bit daunting, but genuine bad behaviour is just bullying, and needs to be stamped on firmly.

    I remember the days when I was desperate to play in anything and everything. Now, age and other commitments have taken their toll, but I like to play whenever I can and despite booking my worst-ever result in a national competition, actually enjoyed myself in Eastbourne recently. Admittedly it didn't get off to a great start when the Chief TD asked my partner and I if we were playing together, and then when told we were, walked away shaking his head and laughing, but in the end he was proved right, so no hard feelings, eh?

    Pleasing all of the people all of the time is impossible. You only have to ask any bridge club manager what his major problem is, and he'll tell you that basically it can be summed up as "someone wants the window open, someone else wants the window closed". Like clubs and counties, the EBU has to strike a balance. Comments on feedback forms and social media are noted, and correspondence is read. There was an open meeting at Eastbourne which provided quite a lot of food for thought, and this forum is one of the ideas that sprang from that.

    @AndrewF said:
    I agree with much of what you say, Gravitono, except your comments regarding the strongest players. Although there are always exceptions, the matches against the strongest players can be the most enjoyable. In the main they recognise that our mistakes are from lack of experience and are both pleasant and helpful. When a director has been called the experience has never been awkward.
    The primary reason for playing in an EBU (or County) tournament is the opportunity to play against different opponents, including the very strongest players.
    I am sure that part of the reason for declining numbers is the reduced emphasis on Green Master Points, an unfortunate consequence of the introduction of NGS - and the fear of making mistakes. A fear reinforced by what, in our experience, are incorrect views and comments regarding the strongest players.

    @Mark57 said:
    Couple of thoughts:
    * Teams. There is quite a lot of emphasis at county and EBU level on team competitions. Most club players never play teams and have no clue as to the differences compared to MP pairs. This is probably exacerbated by the logistical difficulties of finding 3 other people and also the thought of letting down 3 people if it doesn't go well. It's bad enough having to face up to partner after a particularly grim session where one has played like an idiot (respect to those of you who never do so), but having to face three disappointed people ...
    * Fear of infraction. A huge element deterring people from playing. The thought of having the TD called and ending up being penalised because you forgot/never knew the more arcane alerting rules or took too long to bid because you are trying to work out what is going on is majorly off-putting.

  • Most enlightening comments stream but we are hearing from those who play at tournaments. What about those that have dropped out from the lower rankings and those of Jack high plus who play at clubs but do not venture into tournament play. It is all very well theorising their motivations for lack of tournament play but some solid research may bring forth different factors.

  • Absolutely agree with this last comment. Solid research required on those who are not playing now whom the EBU wants to attract is the way forward to real solutions.
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