Paul Cronin

Follow the money over the cliff?

IMHO, there are three aspects to bridge: (i) bidding (ii) declarer play (iii) defense
What I object to is the incredible amount of time spent on the bidding aspect, with little or no time being spent on the other two.
Correct declarer play doesn’t change – there can’t be a new book to learn every five minutes. When you become a good declarer, you stay a good declarer.
The same is true for defense – the correct way to defend will be the same next year as it is now.
So there is little, if any, money to be made in writing books or giving lessons covering those two aspects. I’m not saying there aren’t any books,
but rather once you’ve read a good one, you don’t need any more.
All the money is to be made in writing books and giving lessons on bidding – and new ones pour off the press every year. This is what new players find daunting when they walk into a tournament area, see the huge book display table, and think “My God, how can I ever master all these things?”. And they feel intimidated when they sit down at a table, and find that their new opponents are using a totally different system than at the last table. And on and on it goes … “twists” at every table, and endless varieties of conventions. Even those who think they’ve mastered everything…2/1, Precision, Standard, ……don’t realize that they’ve barely scratched the surface, for in the rest of the world very few play those systems.
We do attract new players to the game, but…we don’t keep them. They leave, and they don’t come back. Does that matter? Yes! The median age of ACBL members is now around 70, and the attrition rate in the future is going to be brutal. We can be selfish, and say “Hey, there are enough players at the tournaments I attend to make up a good sized field, so why should I care?”. Or we can take a good look at what’s coming, and know that it’s absolutely necessary to bring new players into the game, and keep them. How can we keep them? Bring the “game” back into bridge – let newcomers know that there’s nothing wrong with keeping the bidding simple – focus more on declarer player and defense. Do otherwise, and we may soon reach the point where there aren’t enough players to make a game!


Judy Kay-WolffNovember 5th, 2013 at 5:29 am


Your points are superbly presented. Declarer play and defense are a ‘constant.’ Bidding doesn’t stand still. It has changed drastically since I came upon the scene in the late 50s — improving by leaps and bounds.

Two problems exist: getting on the same wave length with a regular partner and not aging too quickly to be able to keep up with, understand and adapt to the ever changing styles and methods of bridge communication.

It is frightening that statistics reveal that seventy is the average age of a bridge player. There is one obvious way to try to enhance and preserve the game and that is what Bobby has been advocating for the last twenty years … start by getting bridge into the schools here (Canada as well as the States). It has been accepted and has been thriving in the Chinese schools and in other parts of Europe for well over a decade. Bridge is an unrivaled method to teach logic, reasoning, problem solving, numeracy (not arithmetic — but rather the numerical science of numbers), game ‘ethicality’ — and all the other components necessary for success in the real world. It is not just a game, but rather a means leading to a worthwhile, productive existence.

I understand the ACBL has hired a new marketing director (whom, to my knowledge, is not a bridge player). However, it should matter not. I can think of no greater challenge and driving force than to go all out (and succeed) in convincing those decision makers in the educational field how much bridge could assist the developmental process needed in improving one’s mind if it were included in school curricula. Easier said than done — but if we don’t try — we will never know.

Sorry to have hopped upon my soapbox. However, direction is needed to enable our game to survive and must be pursued at any and all costs!

Gary MugfordNovember 6th, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Paul and Judy,

The issue of Bridge popularity has two main problems. There is no rooting interest generated in success beyond the immediate family and friends of the winners. And, somehow, the impression has become concrete that Bridge is a difficult game, requiring much, much more than cursory effort to play.

My main focus when giving fifth column duties during my tours with the ACBL office was to find ways to inject youth. And I failed completely and utterly. Even such a little thing as finding young(er) players to do the play-by-play analysis on the Pendergraph (a sop to Judy, but it SHOULD have been the real label). I was told in no uncertain terms to butt out. The experienced would remain in control.

And I acquiesed because, well, I liked most of the old guard. Sure, I hated being squelched, but when an Edgar was doing the duties of reminding me I was a replacable young punk … well you get the drift.

I still think Bridge MUST find away to attract shirt sponsors. We need more Dallas Aces, and fewer M. Smith’s turning up in the results. Even better would be the Reinhold Beer All-Stars taking down the Atlanta Coca-Cola Kings in the final of the event. And the university events should be the result of LEAGUE play, sending the Big Ten Champions Indiana Hoosiers into the final against the Ivy League Harvard Crimson.

Sponsorship brings money and kids follow the money. Ugly. But True. And, inevitably, Bridge gets younger. And wilder. The money will make ethics even MORE of a challenge. But that’s why you have to teach ’em young.

My friend Edwin Hills has been heroic here in Ontario teaching schoolkids. It’s a challenge. Because it requires having a Bridge player in ‘command’ of the school and pushing Bridge as an after-school activity, with Ed coming in to do the teaching. That’s TWO Bridge players for just that one school. And with a dwindling supply of STILL ACTIVE Bridge-playing administrators plus the willing teacher with afternoon time availability, it’s a tough combination to find repeatedly.

But what’s the alternative. Bridge can become the Whist of this century, a card game that people used to play. And some folks still do. But culturally irrelevant.

If Bridge WON’T accept that that is required to gain the attention of the youth. If Bridge WON’T get to the schools one school at a time, then the future is already written. And then, all those books will be academic papers with nobody but professors (who’s parents played Bridge) to read and understand the merits of how clever the new interpretation of the hoary old ‘bidding’ language of a long-dead activity is.

There IS time to turn it around. A new guy in marketing (Paul Cohen was that guy for me) and a Board of Directors still hewing to stasis is almost the definition of an inmovable object. But I wish him well. Maybe the dam can be busted. But it probably won’t come from the hidebound group that has been the ruling junta in the ACBL forever. A grassroots teaching movement, gathered together via the Internet, might work.

Money. Teaching. Forming rooting interests by those on the outside.

Your turn.

Bobby WolffNovember 8th, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Hi Paul, Judy and Gary,

The previous comments above from you three heroic bridge lovers constitute a “State of the Union” summary within our great, but terminally threatened, game of a lifetime.

In spite of the rave notices about bridge in the schools from all involved (Europe and China), especially from the students, but also sincerely endorsed from the faculty, we here, representing the Western Hemisphere, continue to sit on our hands by not trying to add our influence to bellow out the never ending positive educational features which bridge has always offered. It is evident, especially now, since modern bidding continues to evolve to a more to the point language — creating more accurate description. It results in improving the high-level competition with partnerships and raises the respect level to those who succeed, to unprecedented heights. Thus, it encompasses and overwhelmingly reflects ingenuity, execution, and most of all, love of the game.

Bridge creates healthy mind competition, natural logic and problem solving, improving one’s judgment, especially when experience is gleaned, and will realistically serve as a “Bridge for Peace” throughout the world by creating what is now missing—RESPECT for one another. All countries and nationalities are equal in intelligence and while bridge has already proved that fact, perhaps it, as a guiding force, will turn people, and therefore nationalities, to coordinate their competitive instincts to outwitting each other by winning at the bridge table rather than by other warlike choices.

Without this change of course (no pun intended), in the long run it will result in everyone who inhabits the world, being losers.

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