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 website already tell half the story. Showing how 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 - updated 7/8/21
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, the 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 humanly 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?
Even where Covid regulations only permit 4 people 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 produce a fairer result than traditional club tournaments. 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.
Here in Tenerife, I prepare sets of boards which subsequently do the rounds of the households.
It`s as simple as that!
TMW 06h00 on 13/1/21 - updated 9/8/21
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 ever return when the club reopens. Worse still, that figure will probably be much lower if masks must 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. 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 at least 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
It`s a dog`s life
A lighthearted look at what transpired at a club on the Costa del Sol last summer
The local authorities duly responded efficiently and sympathetically to the request for the green light for the club to reopen last July. But the council 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 hid behind an armchair. 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 (rentals and standing charges plus registration fees etc.) with fewer players. Then there are the variable costs such as cleaning which don`t drop in proportion to the reduction in income.
These problems will be compounded by a reduced cashflow affecting the club`s ability to invest in refurbishment and equipment. 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 playing - and how to keep members 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.
- Offer a 10% discount in membership and table fees 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 your bridge club 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. I am not so sure, however, about the long term prospects. While the outlook for `at-risk` groups is undoubtedly brighter now, “clinically extremely vulnerable” people (like me) and those that suffer breathing difficulties simply wearing a mask (like me also) need to be extra careful when returning to the bridge tables.
Whilst vaccines may ultimately end the pandemic, they will not get rid of the virus. All bridge clubs will need to be vigilant for the foreseeable future. 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.
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. Catching flu at a bridge tournament put me in intensive care (twice in ten days) at Wythenshawe hospital 40 years ago. That was not the only time it has happened. The influenza virus has always been just as dangerous as Covid would be for me. Which explains why the past year has been, paradoxically, the healthiest of my past 70 years. For which I am duly grateful.
Trevor 19h40 on 19/7/21
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 is safe, he might say 2 metres Simply because that was the 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 each person on tables of four freinds.
Hysteria fuelled by misinformation is clearly 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 not 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 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.
I mention that lung disease because 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 updated 19h45 on 19/7/21