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ACBL, Ballrooms and Costs

I often lurk, rarely write. I greatly appreciate Bridge Winners, especially threads that aren’t technical deals or you-holds.

I wish to comment on the recent discussions about tournaments, particularly the conditions in Chicago (I was there for a few days of meetings/banquets, etc.).

Let me preface my comments by humbly stating that I have the credentials/experience to know what I am talking about. I have played in 100 NABC’s and also been on the other side. I am a director, tournament organizer, writer, teacher, committee member – you name it. Other than serving on the Board of Directors, I’ve pretty much worn every ACBL hat possible since 1974.

As a player, I sometimes grumbled about conditions (a prerequisite for being a bridge player). Yes, sometimes it is too hot, too cold, too crowded, too far to the restrooms, too noisy, too slow, too expensive, too lousy hotel rooms, too dark ballrooms, etc. But, from the other side, it all becomes clear as to why.

Everything takes MONEY and MANPOWER. Yes, with tons of money (maybe very high entry fees and room rates), you could have better conditions. The hotel would be fancier, the space would be lusher, more staff could be paid. With tons of volunteers, things would run better – but how much time can we expect from volunteers? They also want to play bridge. They can’t work 24/7.

So, basically, you get what you pay for. I think ACBL has it about right. We aren’t at Motel 6 for tournaments, but neither the Ritz Carlton. For everyone complaining about the Hiltons/Marriotts of the world, imagine what the cost would be to run an NABC in a 5-star hotel. Most of the public would be priced out from participating (not to mention that those 5-star hotels won’t have large ballrooms/playing space).As to the cost of the hotel rooms, the ACBL negotiators really do try to get the best deal possible. The hotel gives them thousands of square feet of ballrooms and support staff. Hilton can’t do all that and charge $89 a room (especially in a major city). Stuff/space costs money. If someone can Priceline a cheaper room at the last minute, so be it. That’s not ACBL’s fault. In fact, ACBL needs to fill their room block in order to get the ballroom space--if everyone tried to beat the system, there would be no system--no ballrooms, no tournaments.

As to other hotel costs, they are high. Anyone who ever tried to run a banquet (maybe a wedding) knows that these hotels charge a fortune. Coffee is over $100 a gallon! It is just the way big hotels in big cities work. They have high taxes, high labor costs, high real estate costs, etc. There is no other option other than to hold the event in Boontown, Iowa at Motel 7.

Playing space: It is impossible for directors to know how many people will enter an event. They try to lay out table mats in advance as best they can. When people buy entries (often last minute), there is always a need to scramble. Given the parameters, I think the directors do a GREAT job. Usually within 10-15 minutes of game time, the event starts . This is with people showing up late, asking dumb questions and sometimes buying entries for the wrong event/strat, causing more grief – with which the directors somehow cope. As the late Henry Cukoff used to ask at the end of the day: “Did the event start? Did the event finish? Then what are you complaining about?”

Are there flaws? Of course. Even on my 5-star cruises, we sometimes run out of coffee or water and have trouble tracking down the refill guy. The restrooms get crowded during breaks. In the hotel, should the restrooms be closer to the playing area? Sure. But, can ACBL order the hotel to bring in a construction crew to build new restrooms? It is what it is. No matter what hotel is chosen, there will be flaws. Might it be too hot or cold? Always. In 20 years running events, I have never been in a venue where the temperature was perfect. Why start now?

In short, stuff happens. Could the organizers do better? Probably. The people who run/organize these events are really trying hard. Most are bright, intelligent people. No matter how hard they try, it won’t be perfect. It is easy to complain and criticize—it’s human nature. But, for the current price, this is about all we can expect. Did you play your 52 deals each day? Did the sun come up the next day? Enjoy the tournament.

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