Dealing with Slow Play

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Dealing with slow play

Clubs and TDs need to be aware of their members' capacity for an evening's bridge. If the sessions are too long and finish too late, players will be unhappy and stop coming. Local custom and usage will vary, but most clubs find an evening of 24 boards played in around three hours is about right - a little longer if there is a break. It is good practice for the club to have a recommended set of movements for different numbers of tables to allow the TD to choose a movement that will result in the required number of boards.

When choosing your movement please remember the new '75% rule' which will be in effect from August 2015. Please see here for movements which will comply with this regulation.

Some clubs play at a faster pace while others take things more slowly but, normally, a board should be played in about 7-7 1/2 minutes. So two-board rounds should take 15 minutes, which means that the usual club duplicate of 24 boards can be played in about three hours. For rounds of three boards 22 minutes per round should suffice since less time is taken up with moving.

For rounds of four or more boards it is usual to allow seven minutes per board at a club duplicate, although some clubs may find that this can be shortened slightly. Of course, the move can be called earlier if all or nearly all tables have finished play. Sessions for novices need to allow considerably longer - perhaps 10 minutes per board or even more.

Slow play can be an intractable problem. Often it is the same players who are holding everyone else up time and time again even though it has been explained to them that they are not being fair to those they are keeping waiting. If a table is behind all the others, the TD can, of course, remove a board and award an average adjusted if appropriate but a board should not be removed once it has been started. Sometimes it may be necessary to remove a board in the next round from a table that has been held up by a previous delay. If there is time, it might be possible to play an unplayed board during a tea break or at the end of the evening.

There are a number of other measures which can help, but if all else fails the only real solution is to use some kind of timer which sounds at appropriate fixed intervals to call the move. This has been shown to work at a number of clubs that have introduced it. Strangely, players often respond better to a machine telling them to move.

A purpose-built bridge timer is a box with an electronic display showing the remaining minutes (and some-times seconds) to the end of the round. The display should be large enough to be visible across the playing room. Whichever member of a pair can see the timer should keep half an eye on it and ask the other play-ers at the table to speed up if necessary. The timer is set to sound a signal to tell everyone when it is time to move, and by-and-large they do so. It saves the TD from having to keep an eye on the time and signals the end of the round even if the TD is slightly behind on his own table. If the TD deems it necessary, e.g. if he has to make an announcement or has been held up by calls, he can always pause the timer.

The timer can also be set to give a different signal as a warning, e.g. four buzzes to signify four minutes before the end of the round. This tells people to hurry up if they have only just started the board. If a bid has not yet been put on the table, members can be instructed not to play the board but to call the TD, who will award an average, unless one of the pairs is obviously at fault when he may give a warning or award an average minus to that pair.

Such timers can be purchased online but tend to be rather expensive. If you know anyone who likes dabbling in electronics, you might be able to persuade them to build one for you.

For clubs which have a computer, or a member who can bring along a laptop, there is an even better solution -a computer program. The computer screen acts as a bridge timer face and an attached small speaker will broadcast the signals.

Rich Waugh's free round timer software is available for download from the Bridge Ace website. Takis Pour-naras provides one called Bridge Chronograph. A more sophisticated program (not free) which takes much of the pressure off the TD by not only announcing the end of the round, but also informing players of ar-rowswitches, final round, etc. can be found at ReadySolve. Other bridge timers, both real and virtual, can be found by simply googling on "bridge timer" or "round timer". Include the inverted commas to reduce the number of irrelevant results.

Of course, you could always equip the TD with a small kitchen timer, but this is usually only loud enough to act as a prompt for him, rather than the whole room, and the number of minutes to the end of the round is not visible to anyone else. Some clubs manage in this way, but it is often unsatisfactory and a purpose-built timer proves necessary.

Timing and Play Guidelines

If your club has not yet reached the point where it feels the need for a bridge timer, you could try giving out some guidelines to your members. The following are just an example and can be amended to suit your club's playing conditions.