YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
A year ago it was very much on the cards that bridge would be played at the Paris Olympics in 2024. Twelve months on, bridge as an international “sport” is in a dire situation. For the administrators, burying their heads in the sand is not an option if the trend is to be reversed before it is too late. Improvisation and radical ideas are required.
As an Englishman who has been promoting and teaching the game around the world, I am entitled to give my opinion in particular on the English Bridge Union and the World Federation. Neither deserve any medals whatsoever for their response to the pandemic to date. The lack of initiatives and guidance is mindboggling. With the inevitable result that bridge is being driven on line and away from clubs.
I personally still never play on line. For me it is not bridge at all. At best I would class it as a computer game which is a useful learning tool for youngsters. i.e. those who know how to resolve being cut off from partner when the internet signal fails! As happens frequently with senior citizens who are even more senior than me. Being cynical, the only conceivable plus is that on line bridge reduces the average age of players. By eliminating from the sport the computer illiterate geriatrics and the arthritic!
To offer some insight into the scale of the potential problems for bridge as a sport, I am addressing some of the common Covid related questions which blinkered administrators at club, national association and world federation level have left unanswered throughout the entirety of the pandemic.
The pictures and commentaries on the first two pages of this wevsite already tell half the story. Showing how, even today in January 2021 at one of the peaks of the pandemic, safe F2F competitions are possible. Putting a smile on the face of every participant to boot. As you will see, it is a simple formula that can be applied anywhere. I rest my case.
Trevor 21h15 on 10/1/21
Online or Face to Face. Where does bridge go from here?
I play for the camaraderie. To meet other sociable people from all walks of life and from all corners of the planet. Some fascinating stories told with a refreshingly different cultural perspective. Not to mention the apres-bridge aperitif, the dinner / dances, plus the interclub matches in pastures new.
On-line bridge can never fulfil all of those items on my wishlist. In any event, sitting alone in front of a computer for three hours is not my idea of fun.
Yet, for many aficionados who think like me, there appears to be no choice. The bridge associations are doing absolutely nothing to suggest there is any alternative. Play on line or you cannot play for the foreseeable future is what they are saying. Which explains the reported fourfold increase in on-line bridge players in the past 12 months.
Many have given up playing altogether because of their aversion to computer games. They may never return to playing at their clubs when the opportunity arises. And even if and when clubs are allowed to reopen for multi table sessions, 6 months later there will still be no more than 50% of the pre pandemic numbers. That, in my opinion, is the inevitable scenario if the national federations don`t come out of their cosy little bubbles and try some innovative intitiatives to keep F2F bridge interest going. Instead of simply being content to confine their activities to collecting a commission from the on-line companies that they eagerly promote.
To prevent the game and the clubs haemorrhaging an ever increasing number of players, we must keep F2F bridge going whenever humanely possible. To remind people of its long term advantages for our health and mental well being. If I and many others are currently able to play F2F bridge competitions legally and safely here in Tenerife, there is clearly no reason why the national federations should not be encouraging clubs to try mimicking our example.
Can anyone play COMPETITIVE F2F bridge RIGHT NOW?
if (or WHEN depending on where you live) Covid regulations allow just four players to get together.
How can that be competitive with just one table of four, you may then ask. You will find a more comprehensive explanation elsewhere on this website. So let me just remind readers that not only are individual, pairs and team tournaments possible, but those competitions can be organised in such a way that they give a fairer result than in the traditional club tournaments. That is due to the fact that participants have the opportunity to play every board.
The only pre-requisite is for each bubble of four to acquire an appropriate set of boards, cards and bidding boxes. In the case of our ACES club, we have a large enough stock to loan all the equipment to 11 bubbles. Enabling the boards to be played up to eleven times by 44 different people before the results are collated.
Note that the only other requirement is for one of the four to deal the cards using two A4 sheets with all the hands to be prepared. Here in Tenerife, I am able to prepare sets of boards which subsequently do the rounds of the households.
It`s as simple as that!
TMW 06h00 on 13/1/21
Will bridge clubs survive the pandemic?
Some have already closed permanently. Others will find it very difficult to reopen. Fixed costs, fewer members and cashflow will be the main hurdles to overcome.
A word of caution for club administrators
There have been several surveys which suggest that no more than 50% of members will return when the club reopens. Worse still, that figure will probably be much lower if the club requires masks to be worn throughout the session. These findings are supported by the footfall figures for clubs which are already open in Europe. Reduced numbers of players not only dictate that clubs put up prices to cover fixed costs. It also devalues the competition. Noone wants to play a two and a half table Howell movement with a half hour sit out. But that ia what in happening at a club in Fuengirolla where I used to play. Yesterday (14/1/21) there were again only 5 pairs compared to 27 pairs on the corresponding Thursday last year***. Which all adds up to a vicious circle with ever decreasing player numbers and spiralling costs relative to the income generated.
The prescription? In my opinion, there is only one option I`m afraid.
Keep F2F bridge alive for club members by adopting a home-based bubble system for competitions
Do NOT reopen clubs if the wearing of masks is still to be compulsory.
TMW 16h00 on 13/1/21
***UPDATE 5/3/21. Below is the message which was recently posted on that club`s website detailing the current state of play:
MESSAGE FROM THE CHAIRMAN - 26 FEB 2021
"Dear members and players of the Bridge Club,,
We have decided to remain closed for another month and then reconsider the situation on the 1st April. We played from June last year until January of this year with very few players, 2 to 4 tables each session which is not what we are used to. In the winter season we would normally expect to have 10 to 20 tables.
Christel and especially Deanne have done a great job running the club over the summer and keeping us going.
Financially the club is sound and we have sufficient funds in the bank to keep us going for a couple of years.
Some players have had covid which is why we closed in January but thankfully they have all recovered.
We understand that because of the pandemic some players do not wish to risk going to a bridge club or have chosen to spend this winter in their home countries instead of coming to Spain.
We expect to be fully operation from September and hope to see as many players as possible coming back to the bridge club."
It`s a dog`s life
A lighthearted look at what transpired at onother club on the Costa del Sol last summer
The local authorities duly responded efficiently and sympathetically to the request for the green light to reopen last July. But they insisted on sending their own team of workers to completely disinfect the building before human beings could enter. Unfortunately, the caretaker forgot to tell her four legged friend who sneaked into the premises – and the poor little thing ended up in intensive care. Dog lovers will be relieved to hear she made a complete recovery.
Will table fees increase when clubs reopen?
Club committees will undoubtedly be facing the conundrum of how to cover fixed costs like rentals with fewer players. Even with the variable costs which include cleaning, maintenance, table fees and tuition, there are usually a small percentage of unavoidable fixed charges to consider. Whether they be registration, retainer fees, or administrative costs.
These problems will be compounded by a reduced cashflow affecting the club`s ability to invest. A point which leads me to yet another problem that has come to light. Redundant dealing machines! Not only are some now superfluous to requirements, but clubs who were considering purchasing a machine are unlikely to have player numbers in the foreseeable future to justify such an investment.
Whilst the need to increase income per head in proportion to a shrinking membership is unavoidable, administrators will thankfully have the opportunity to raise the extra cash in different ways. The overriding considerations should be how to maximize the numbers - and how to keep them and new recruits coming. The best and most approriate package of measures will vary from club to club. Here are a few ideas to put on the agenda for consideration:
- For next year, offer a freeze on prices at pre-pandemic levels to all those who play a minimum number of games in the first three months after reopening.
- Limit the increase in table fees to 50% (or zero) to couples living in the same household. This should help, in particular, married couples for whom bridge fees take up a larger proportion of their pension.
- Make the next end of year club dinner free to anyone who has played, say, 20 times since reopening.
- Advertise a weekend “Open Day” at the club with a demonstration game involving a couple of youngsters and two seniors – with the offer of free tuition for those who might be interested.
The number of potential incentive schemes are limitless. As are the innovative ways to publicize bridge clubs within the local community. Good luck to you all.
When will “clinically vulnerable people” be able to return to the clubs?
Despite the scientific and practical challenges of delivering an effective vaccine, the good news is that it looks likely the first-generation vaccines will have a significant impact on the global battle against Covid-19. In the short term they will help prevent the most vulnerable in our communities from developing severe disease and dying.
The not-so-good news is that, realistically, it could well take years to vaccinate enough of the global population to make the whole world safe and to thus reach a point where we can all return to full normality.
While the outlook for at-risk groups should undoubtedly be brighter in 2021, “clinically extremely vulnerable” people (like me) and those that suffer breathing difficulties simply wearing a mask (like me also) will have to wait before we can play F2F bridge in a large group at a venue open to the public.
Even then, whilst vaccines may ultimately end the pandemic, they will not get rid of the virus. All bridge clubs will need to be vigilant. Especially in relation to visitors who may be less honest than club members when, for example, it comes to disclosing whether they have recently visited a country where they might have contracted the virus.
To finish this Q & A section on a positive note, there is one good thing that has come out of this pandemic. It has exposed - and hopefully eradicated - a common problem that I have faced for years. Namely, selfish and ignorant people who insist on playing at the club to spread their germs. Not for the first time, catching flu at a bridge tournament put me in intensive care (twice in ten days) at Wythenshawe hospital 40 years ago. The influenza virus is perhaps just as dangerous as Covid would be for me. Which explains why 2020 was, paradoxically, the healthiest of my past 70 years. For which I am duly grateful.
Trevor 11h45 on 15/1/21
Why is ACES playing competitive F2F bridge during a pandemic?
My answer to the previous question partly explains why I consider the current ACES system far safer for the clinically vulnerable than the environment in other clubs ever was pre pandemic. In the past, bridge clubs did not protect people like me who pleaded for windows to be opened to improve ventilation. Instead, the tendency was to pamper to the few who preferred a warm, stuffy, (virus friendly) card room. Similarly, in the summer season, poorly maintained air con units were often switched on in preference to opening windows. Even in West Yorkshire long after the sun has set! Crazy.
A mail I received yesterday raises another concern relevant to this question: Social distancing. Here is the message:
l hope you are well and safe and enjoying yourself in Tenerife. Due to government and medical restrictions l will not be coming there till January 2022. l hear you have started a small school of actual bridge which is great. Trust it's socially distant though l don't see how and hope it's successful and safe.."
If I were to ask that friend to tell me what distance he would suggest, he would probably say 2 metres Simply because that is tthe figure most touted by the media in the UK .Yet here in Tenerife, bars and restaurant terraces are full of people safely sitting 4 to a table without masks. Two metres is the distance between tables, not between bubbles of 4 friends. .
Hysteria fuelled by misinformation is exacerbating the crisis. Logic seems to have gone out of the window for many people. What is important is that you sit with people who likewise take sensible precautions when they are not actually with you. If rational thinking and pragmatism do mot prevail, then those of nervous disposition will stay cocooned in their homes for the rest of their lives.
There can never be a linear definition of what constitutes a safe distance in any event. So many variables come into play. Indoors, outdoors, ventilation, wind direction, humidity etc, Not to mention air conditioning. With the result that social distancing rules on airplanes seemingly allow one to safely sit next to a Covid infected passenger on a 4 hour flight from the UK to the Canaries! Compare that to the plight of cystic fibrosis sufferers. They should not be in the same room as another CF sufferer at any time of their lives, let alone in this Covid era.
My experience of looking after CF sufferers over many years required me to fully understand how susceptible they are to common viruses. And how they might cross infect one another. That knowledge proved invaluable in understanding the way Covid spreads – and how to protect myself and my bridge friends.
In a nutshell, there was always a health risk going to a bridge club and there always will be. But common sense tells me that, if we ignore the misinformation about social distancing and take the minimum of risks. then I am more likely to be run over by a bus than to catch the virus playing bridge with like minded friends..
Trevor 07h30 on 21/1/21