Club Management Focus: Autumn 2017

Kingston Seymour Bridge club comes of age!

Kingston Seymour Bridge Club in North Somerset began life in 2005 when Daphne Patrick, with a lot of help from husband Joe, started giving beginners’ bridge lessons in the village hall and then encouraging her students to continue coming along to play and improve their game.

Years later, the club continued to jog along, minding its own business, with usually three, four or (very occasionally!) five tables, typically playing just fifteen to eighteen boards.

Then in Spring 2015, Joe suggested that we look at EBU affiliation, with more structure; perhaps even having a club bank account, rather than keeping the money under someone’s bed!

The EBU’s Club Liaison Officer at the time, Andrew Urbanski, came along to a club meeting to support Joe’s proposition and the die was cast. Our EBU affiliation happened in June 2015 and we started to pay the UMS/P2P fees (Universal Membership often still referred to as pay-to-play) – albeit, with our low table numbers, at a rate then that was as likely to be less than £20 a month as it was to be much more than that!

We appointed a provisional committee, produced a formal constitution document (based on an EBU template) and, perhaps more importantly, an etiquette document, intended to help our less experienced (or slower) players to understand some basic house-rules which helped the evening to run smoothly. Our inaugural AGM was held in December 2015 and the provisional committee formally voted into office.

We pretty quickly opened that bank account, but our first significant task was to get a website in place, using BridgeWebs, and link ScoreBridge (which we had already been using) to it.

We struggled (in fact, it was undoubtedly the biggest challenge facing that new committee) with balancing the desires of the experienced players to play more boards with those for whom a club meeting was an evening out, with an opportunity to chat to their friends – and for whom a hand could take as long as it took!

We brought forward our start time a little but probably the biggest factor in our getting to grips with slow play was the introduction of Mike Rothwell’s BridgeTimer software, which we ran on an old, redundant laptop of my wife’s with a redundant pair of speakers of mine. That’s done a marvellous job for us, with an anonymous voice (rather than mine!) telling everyone they should be on the last board of a round, not to start another one or to move to the next table. I heartily recommend it to any size of club and, at just a £30 one-time cost, it should be a no-brainer.

The next big, technological, step forward was the purchase, with the aid of an EBU grant (and with thanks to the current Club Liaison Officer, Bev Purvis, for her assistance), of a BridgeTab electronic scoring system – the system that was reviewed positively in the EBU magazine late last year after Barry Morrison’s trialling of it in Winscombe. That does, of course, save someone from having to manually enter all the travellers into the scoring system each week but, more importantly, it makes things so much easier for the players, particularly the less-experienced ones, to enter the contract, the lead and the number of tricks, with the system then calculating the score and allowing us to display the results within moments of the last table finishing their last board – and then, within another few minutes, pushing them up to our website.

We’ve found the system intuitively easy for the players to use and, with a little experience, easy to set up before play. The tablets are inevitably susceptible to what I call ‘operator malfunction’, as they would be with any system, so learning how to correct those user errors is a key part of the administrators’ learning curve. Years of experience tells me that no matter how hard you try to make something idiot-proof, the idiots (or, in this case, our lovely club members!) will prove your efforts to be nothing more than work in progress!

We also, with the help of that EBU grant, bought a HandyDup. We recognised that we’d wait a very long time to be able to afford a full-function card dealing machine (such as a Duplimate) but this is its baby brother. It costs a fraction of the price, but uses exactly the same software to generate the hands and establish achievable contracts information. It clearly takes longer to use, as you have to feed all the cards over the bar-code reader manually, but it’s still quicker than dealing by hand and gives us the enormous advantage of being able to publish all that hand and achievable contract information, with the results, on our website. Thanks again to Bev for alerting me to this neat little device after she saw one on a visit to Falmouth.

That’s what we’ve achieved with the help of technology, but what are the core values that have played every bit as big a part in our growth and success?

  • Top of the list, we’ve always maintained our friendly, helpful, welcoming atmosphere.

  • We provide free tea, coffee and biscuits. We have (and this is alien to some of the heads-down, play more and more boards brigade) a short half-time break, giving more time to have that chat with friends, and we bought an urn to help cope with lots of people wanting to make a hot drink at the same time.

  • We’ve introduced a ‘find a partner’ facility, based on the BridgeWebs software but enhanced by active monitoring by real people.

  • We’ve committed to introducing regular handicap events, giving those players who’re usually at the bottom end of the results table a chance to see that they’re on the up.

  • We hold monthly improvers’ tuition sessions, before play on a club evening. With the help of the Somerset County BA and its Chairman, Tony Russ, and their new learning initiatives, we hope that we can collaborate with other clubs to offer further tuition in a more structured and effective manner.

  • We keep our members informed; we do try to keep our website up to date and interesting, but we send out regular emails (rather than assuming all of our members look at the website every other day), and we show them respect, inviting their constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement, recognising that everyone has different reasons for enjoying the game – and that they’re all valid. Some people will come to our club hoping to gain more Master Points but there are others who either don’t know what to do with them (they’re not like Tesco Clubcard points are they!) or don’t attach significant importance to them.

We now often get eight or nine tables (we’ve already bought two more BridgeTab tablets and more bidding boxes to cope with that growth), we usually play 24 boards and, importantly for many of our members, always aim to be washed up, packed up and out of the hall by 10:30pm. We’ve grown to more than 50 members, most of whom play regularly.

In short, I believe we at Kingston Seymour can justifiably claim to have come of age. We’re punching our weight, have a competitive team in the county league and we’re now looking forward to playing a part in the plans the SCBA has for the development of bridge in Somerset.

Graham Daniel
Chairman, Kingston Seymour Bridge Club, November 2017