District Director Report
By Bob Heller, firstname.lastname@example.org
Toronto – Well, this is the way North American Bridge Championships are supposed to be. Canada’s largest city provided the ultimate venue, and board members never have heard such a complaint-free NABC.
It was the anti-Orlando.
Attendance even surpassed expectations (13,289 tables after a 12,500 estimate). The weather was great, very mild and a stark difference from our visit six years earlier when a record heat wave made life fairly miserable.
We also had use of a new convention center. That made all playing areas outstanding, but there was a price — the downside of all convention centers. Another very unfortunate cost was an attrition fee that had to be paid to the Royal York Hotel. After the original room block filled so quickly, we asked for another. It, too, filled to capacity.
The problem: Hundreds of rooms were unnecessarily or recklessly booked, and when all of the dust settled, we had to fork over $80,000 to cover all of the empty rooms. This led to a policy change for booking rooms at NABC host sites — we will be obligated to pay for one night at the time of reservation. This is completely reasonable given our group’s failure to be responsible.
Let’s leave words about the tournament on a positive note. The first “pajama game” or “individual robot championship,” was a phenomenal success. More than 2,600 players entered the event (including dozens on-site), and the ACBL netted just shy of $60,000 from the four-session experiment (as did BBO).
Given the size, the winner was given only a very modest 48 masterpoints. Points in the event were no more than one-third gold, the remainder red. There likely will be similar such events concurrent with future NABCs.
NABCs: Looking ahead
Moving on to the board meetings, which may have set a record for the fewest motions. That was a good thing, leaving a lot of room for discussion on upcoming issues that will come to votes in San Diego.
We usually don’t take up space with the approval of future NABC sites, but here are some tidbits for long-term planners. In general, the league tries to book at least six years into the future.
The board approved Chicago — virtually the only popular venue in the Midwest — for Summer 2023 and at an improved site, the Sheraton Grand rather than the old Hilton. Atlanta already has been set for the fall, but there will be quite a difference in room rates. Chicago is the most expensive city for hotel rooms, and after all taxes and fees, the Sheraton will exceed $245 a night. The rate for the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta (where we’ll be next summer) will total less than $170 after taxes and fees four months later.
Hesitate — please hesitate
It’s time (or past time) to say goodbye to the “STOP” card. As soon as 2018 tournament play begins, we no longer should even be seeing that misunderstood red card in our bid boxes.
In my travels over the past year, I’ve asked players’ opinions on the card’s use and effectiveness, and the answer has been remarkably consistent. By at least a 3- or 4-to-1 ratio, tournament players said to get rid of it — the feeling being that its negatives outweighed the positives and, if anything, benefitted the bidding side rather than alerting the opponents.
The big problem many folks have with the change: Players may not realize they must hesitate before making their call following a skip bid. Well, the rule does not change just because the STOP card is not used. It always has been, and will continue to be, that the left-hand opponent must hesitate several seconds before making a call.
We all have run into offenders even with the red card being used, so this is the perfect time for all players to remind themselves that to fail to hesitate before bidding is considered unauthorized information. It can result in a legitimate director’s call and a penalty against the person (pair) who had a hand in his bid box in a nanosecond. Everyone has run into this, and it will be just as inexcusable without the STOP card as it was with it.
The motion came to the board from the Competition & Conventions Committee, first via a unanimous recommendation in the spring. We took our time, however, and listened to a strong opposing view, but the C&C, with only two dissenters, still recommended the STOP card’s demise. The change passed the Board 21-4. The league cannot force clubs to dispose of the red bid box cards, but they are urged to do so.
Law & Order
Two big moves dealing with policing our game got some attention.
The Anti-Cheating Commission is becoming a non-Board committee. The ACC will have five to nine members, all appointed by the league’s CEO in consultation with the then ACC chairman.
They should be bridge players of the highest caliber with a long history of success in NABC+ events who are above ethical reproach. At least two must be from outside North America.
The committee’s activities are highly confidential. Accordingly, each member must sign a non-disclosure agreement with the ACBL before beginning service on the committee.
The second big move was the major revision of our Code of Disciplinary Regulations (CDR). They have been simplified and should be easier to read. It was a very time-consuming project — which accepted a lot of input from outside the board — for league council Linda Dunn and Appeals & Charges Committee Chair Georgia Heth.
WBF membership privileges
Financial contributions to international bridge are an annual or every-other-year issue. This was a year, and the focus seems to be sharper, and the reasons clear. The heart of the problem is that the World Bridge Federation says everyone who pays his ACBL dues automatically is a WBF member. As such, we each must pay $1 to the WBF for the services we receive. The reality: The CEO writes a $165,000 check from our treasury each spring to send to the WBF (Juniors are not charged for their membership).
That is in addition to the $350,000 that the league raises (and players pay) to benefit the USBF, CBF and our international players and the $75,000 that the USBF and CBF get from the Junior Fund.
A motion was debated that would have the Zone 2 NBOs, and not the ACBL, be responsible for WBF dues. There was a lengthy discussion, to which a CBF representative as well as the president of the European Bridge League were invited. USBF board members also attended, and the ACBL board includes four Zone 2 representatives.
When I joined the board eight years ago, international bridge was a sacred cow. As the numbers climbed, a few people took notice, and motions to trim some of the funding began to appear. The first time, I was one of three in a 3-22 vote that failed. Then, I was one of six or seven. Now, finally, after a deferral, this particular motion passed the board 12-11 with two abstentions. It is not a done-deal. A former board member made a motion in the Board of Governors meeting telling the BOD to reconsider this motion, and the BOG passed it by two votes.
A major project this year is a Tournament taskforce, which is focusing on issues that have surfaced in running regional tournaments, including the significant drop in attendance.
Our District 6 neighbor, Margot Hennings, leads the group, and she has worked countless hours in leading the effort to gather loads of data and come up with some recommendations. Gatlinburg Chairman Pete Misslin also is on the taskforce and providing valuable input.
District 7 has suffered by far the most among those losing attendance. It began over New Year’s, when Charleston surprisingly dropped 14% after coming up status quo or growing with every previous tournament. Four weeks later, Wilmington lost 16% from two years earlier, resulting in its smallest regional.
Gatlinburg dropped 4.6%, Greenville, perhaps the biggest surprise, dropped 17.5%, Columbia plummeted 21%, and Atlanta fell 12.5% to its smallest in more than 20 years.
Some of us in governance (myself included) believe we have too many tournaments. In our area, we have too many good tournaments from which to choose. If you are like most tournament players, you will play in perhaps three or four a year. So, simple math tells us that in any year the district has seven or eight regionals, a “regular” tournament player will fail to attend four of them.
If the ACBL board changes regional allocation, we’d likely end up with six or seven a year.
There should be plenty to report after San Diego.
Most of you realize that as ACBL president, I became a lame duck the first day I took that position. It’s exactly a one-year term, so San Diego will be my final meeting with a gavel (actually a bell gets a lot more use). On Jan. 1, I morph into Frank Sinatra; the immediate past president is called the Chairman of the Board.
A large part of the president’s time is spent dealing with board issues, exchanging emails with board members, and communicating with management, usually through the CEO. Another large part is spent travelling, to visit various tournaments in districts to which he’s invited. This does not count District 7 Regionals, all of which I’ve been able to catch at least part of except for Wilmington and Asheville.
The road, in order, has led to the Houston Regional early in the year; Hot Springs and Richmond in May; Penticton in June; Council Bluffs and Chicago in August; and Traverse City in September.
Fellow board members generally served as great hosts and set up mini town hall meetings or Q&A sessions. There always was at least a brief session with Non-LMs.
Houston, Hot Springs, Penticton and Council Bluffs all were regionals and all first-time visits. They all were well run, and the two smaller ones, Hot Springs and Council Bluffs, were able to turn hospitality up a notch.
Richmond is a District 6 regional, so Margot was my host. I’d been to this Mid-Atlantic regional several times, and it’s always well run (the past several times by George Lewis and Jacki Shuman).
Taking nothing at all away from regionals — where I met some great volunteers from the South, the Midwest and Western Canada — the most memorable visits were to Chicago and Traverse City.
Chicago was the site of the American Bridge Association’s Summer Nationals. I’d never been to an ABA tournament, and a couple of friends, along with ABA President Hank Irwin, had urged me to spend a few days there. I’m very, very pleased I did.
The ABA is struggling mightily with membership. The report at the meeting I attended put it at between 2,600 and 2,700. Attendance at the 10-day Summer National was something less than 2,000 tables, or probably what the ACBL’s 20th to 25th best attended regional will draw this year.
The players, however, sure know how to have a pleasant time and how to make everyone feel comfortable and welcome. You even could walk out the front door without knocking down a group of smokers.
I was invited to a couple of meetings, and we discussed ways for the ACBL and ABA to interact and help each other. Personally, I’d like to see a joint membership offered at some discount. There already are clubs that offer players a choice of playing for ACBL or ABA masterpoints. We are working on making our scoring program compatible with the ABA’s as well as agreeing on a more equitable masterpoint conversion table.
The ABA features a sit-down lunch (ours was more a midday dinner) during which awards are presented, and after which an event is played. For those who find an ABA National nearby sometime, usually in April and August, give it a try.
The other different kind of trip was to western Michigan, where Dennis and Susan Carman were our hosts. The tournament chairs for the Traverse City Sectional hosted a cocktail party in their lakeside home the night before the tournament, where we met about 20 volunteers, and then we spoke to probably another 20 area players at the tournament the next three days.
This was your typical annual town sectional, with non-stop homemade food and a sizeable meal between sessions, played with less than a one-hour break. Players came early to socialize, were businesslike during the game, then ate and ate.
Traverse City was one of the many perfect examples of what makes a well-run, volunteer-driven sectional a wonderful bridge experience.