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ACBL's Future 2020 & Beyond (San Francisco NABC Report)

I attached this report in an e-mail with my photos from the San Francisco NABC (see: http://imageevent.com/jon911/2019sanfrancisconabc) but apparently people using Apple and various smart-phones could not open it. No problem using PC.  Several people have asked me to post it here on Bridge Winnerss.

 

ACBL’s Future: 2020 and Beyond

The San Francisco Marriott Marquis has 1,500 rooms and more than 1,000 employees including 250 in housekeeping. In October 2018 a strike by more than 7,700 Marriott housekeepers, cooks, servers, dishwashers, doormen and concierge spread to multiple cities. The strike ended on December 5, 2018. Hotel workers in San Francisco received a $4 hourly wage increase.

Whatever the reasons, I found the Marriott staff to be exceptionally friendly from the front desk to the “M” Lounge to the housekeepers. Unfortunately, several elevators were out of service, in the process of modernization. As a result, Marriott opened up the service elevators for guests on high floors. Invariably, every employee I encountered was well trained and friendly. One employee fondly remembered the bridge players from seven years ago and promised me that all the elevators would be working when we return in 2025.

The only hotel complaint that I overheard was from a bridge player who was unhappy that there was no room service available. Tough life for some.

A. Financial Considerations

The San Francisco NABC ended with 10,373.5 tables, down 23.1% from the 13,500 tables seven years earlier, Fall 2012. It is a disturbing trend.

Management informed me that the ACBL will return to the Marriott Marquis in 2025 with a “fabulous” rate of $175 (plus taxes) per night. Well, perhaps for one of the most expensive cities in the country, it is an excellent rate, but if you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. For Canadians whose dollar is only worth 75 US cents, it is even more prohibitive.

It gets worse when you combine the high cost of hotel nights with expensive restaurants and high entry fees of $20 per session for side and Regional events; $30 per session for NABC events. Let me clarify... that is $30 per player, meaning a 5/6-person team pays a higher entry rate than a 4-person team.

The ACBL Board of Directors attempted to justify that increase by saying everyone on a team wins overall masterpoint awards so everyone should pay for the privilege. The obvious flaw in that “logic” is that it is not true. Generally speaking, only 25% of the original field receives overall awards. In a 16-team KO, only 4 teams receive overall awards. In the three-day North American Swiss Teams, the cut is 50% in days 1 & 2 so only 25% of the field qualifies for Day 3 where everyone receives overall awards.

What does that mean? It means that unless you reach the top 25% (day 3 in my example) you pay, even if you don’t receive overall awards. It means that if you sit out matches, you don’t receive match awards. You don’t play but you still pay. It means you can sit out the first KO match and if your team loses, you still had to contribute to the ACBL coffers. It is quite simply a cash grab devised by the ACBL Board of Directors that believes all bridge players are wealthy, sponsors and/or professionals.

In reality it is yet one more reason why attendance is dropping, especially in Regional events at NABCs. Why should a pair pay $40 in entry fees when at their local Regional they only pay $24 to $28?

It gets worse. Let’s say you play well and reach Day 3 of the North American Swiss Teams. Now the entry fee increases an extra $5 per player per session because screens are being used! What’s next? Surcharges for tables, chairs and supplies?

Bottom line. For a pair who reached Day 3 of the NABC North American Swiss Teams, their entry fees were $380! Just the entry fees. Add in the hotel and food... NABCs are just too expensive for most bridge players.

What really disturbs me is that poor decisions from the oversized 25-member political body known as the ACBL Board of Directors have cost the membership several million dollars of lost money (see firing of CEO in violation of contract, lost lawsuits, failed technology programs). Money gone, out the window with nothing to show for it.

Financially, the ACBL is not going bankrupt and has a healthy balance sheet (in 2019). However, if the current trends of declining membership, lower tournament attendance and ever increasing expensive NABCs continue, it will be a challenge to balance the budget with appropriate fees.

B. Masterpoint Awards

The ACBL’s invention of masterpoints was brilliant. It remains a powerful motivator for bridge players today. It has long been known that masterpoints are flawed when it pertains to rating players but the fact remains that no superior rating system has yet to be devised and popularized.

Inflation is a given in all walks of life including masterpoints. I can live with that.

What bothers me is that there is no equity among masterpoint awards. Here is a simple example from the Thursday Open Pairs events in San Francisco. The Daylight Pairs had 35 tables and paid 46 masterpoints to win. The Prime Time Open Pairs had 45 tables but only paid 27 points to in. This is but one of many examples where the awards are not based on strength of field or size but rather ACBL’s complicated and flawed formulas that depend upon what events are being played at the same time (such as Gold Rush or mid-flight).

In my opinion there should also be a cap on the maximum number of masterpoints any two session Regionally rated pairs game should pay out. Perhaps 40 would be a reasonable number.

I have been given multiple reasons from various members of the ACBL Board of Directors as to why it is taking so long to fix the obvious inequities. I am told some ACBL masterpoint committee is working on this issue and that a fix will be forthcoming... I have been waiting for years.

C. Governance

History has proven that the 25-member ACBL Board of Directors is costly, ineffective, does not produce optimal decisions and indeed, in some recent situations, has led to huge financial losses as a result of lawsuits and arbitration.

Related to that is the inequity among Districts that range from geographically tiny to huge, membership numbers from 2,800 to 20,000! But since it is a political body, the ACBL Board could never reach a consensus as to how to re-District.

As the reality has hit that there may not be a future for the ACBL, an ever increasing number of Board members realize that they must change. A motion to restructure the size of the Board of the Directors (while leaving Districts intact for the purpose of bridge events, GNT, NAP, etc) received a majority of votes (15 out of 25). But since this required a two-thirds majority, it failed to pass.

It will be reconsidered at the Spring 2020 NABC in Columbus, Ohio. With 5 new incoming Board members, it is impossible to predict the outcome, but the reformers and leading proponents for change to a smaller 13-member Board are confident that the motion will get the required two-thirds vote in Columbus.

It is far from a panacea, but at least it will be a move in the right direction.

D. ACBL’s Future

There are some positive signs. The new ACBL Executive Director, Joe Jones, has tightened the financial controls, sharply cut back expenses and overpriced hiring of outside consultants. 2019 will be an excellent year financially. There is a new Executive Financial Officer, Director of Information & of Technology, new marketing plans and ideas. Let us hope that the new employees and programs will be successful. Time is running out.

E. Happy Holidays

Richard Pavlicek has 11 NABC Championships and 8 Runner-Ups including the 2019 Blue Ribbon Pairs. He was a member of the juggernaut Edgar Kaplan, Norman Kay, Bill Root & Richard Pavlicek team from the 1980’s that won the Reisinger BAM three straight years from 1982-84.

In 1993, Richard founded his website “For Bridge Players”. It is truly a labour of love, that is continually being updated with new material. For all ages and all skill levels. According to Alex Hudson (currently number 7 on ACBL’s 2019 Top 500) it remains “The best bridge web site on the Internet”.

Check it out at: http://rpbridge.net/

Merry Christmas, Chag Chanukah Sameach & Happy New Year!

Sincerely,

Jonathan Steinberg

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