The increasing availability at club level of Bridgemates and duplimating machines is giving clubs a much wider range of bridge events to give members more choice and interest. No longer does it simply have to be another nine table Mitchell for the weekly club duplicate event. Events such as Swiss Pairs, which used to be solely the provenance of county led weekend tournaments, can now be successfully delivered by clubs for their mid-week club event. This is the experience of Cheltenham Bridge Club and our members would recommend it to other clubs who fancy a change.
Cheltenham is a big club with over 550 members and bridge is available most weekday afternoons and evenings catering for all standards of play. Additionally, the county offers a range of top quality events every Monday so that the full range of bridge is available from beginners to county standard. However, like many bridge clubs, Cheltenham’s members had settled into their comfort zone and regularly attended their favourite bridge session and were reluctant to try new events outside their usual circles. For many years players simply chose their regular games, either upstairs or downstairs (I did say it is a big club!) game and rarely did players get the opportunity to mix across the whole club.
In order to offer something new, the club committee decided to try Swiss Pairs in July 2014. For the first event we had 24 tables playing across 2 floors of the club. The second event attracted 30 tables – more than some weekend tournaments! Key decisions were also taken from the start that for safety’s sake because of the narrow staircase in the club we would minimise pairs having to move between floors. Another important consideration was to ensure that relative beginners did not get put-off by playing experts too soon. We achieved both these aims by seeding the first round according to the accelerated Swiss principle and assigning the second round so that the upstairs winners played each other and the downstairs losers played each other so that only a quarter of the field had to negotiate the stairs! Avoiding the first “random” round also ensures that the competition provides a fair winner on the night and that we have an excellent competition with five rounds of 5 board matches.
We need thirteen sets of 25 boards, and at a total 325 boards it is a lot but our club manager is happy to duplimate them but not too often! Because we run the event on two floors we need two directors and a caddy, who also doubles in the key job as safety controller on the stairs. Our players are now very used to following the assignments on the Bridgemates so moving between rounds is swift. Players are asked to be seated by quarter to seven so that we can set the movement, allocate sitting seats and collect the table money to start promptly at 7pm. The two floors break separately for a 15 minute coffee break and we now regularly finish on time by 10.30pm. The winning pair are usually the pair that wins all their matches as in the best Swiss principle. Players enjoy moving to higher tables as they win their matches and there is enormous interest in the final rankings. It definitely brings all club members together and many enjoy playing longer matches against pairs that they don’t usually encounter. Our newer members, fresh from beginners classes, follow their results closely and are hugely encouraged if they achieve the top half of the rankings list.
We have now successfully completed nine Swiss Pairs events on a Tuesday night and have averaged over 24 tables. The club programme has the Swiss event every second month from September to June and is much appreciated by club members, who when asked, universally supported the initiative at last year’s AGM. We know there are some members who dislike the Swiss format but there are plenty of other club sessions for them. Don’t be off put by the complexity – if we can do it so can you.