The ACBL and USBF have all sorts of programs for Juniors: a youth NABC, discounted entries at Nationals, and junior trials to represent the US in world championships. Seniors (which we jokingly set at 55+) are given similar treatment: senior NABC events, senior regionals, and senior trials for senior world championship events. What about the 27-54s? What do we get? The answer is simple: nothing. We have no NABC events, no discounts, no trials, no world championships. What we get is excluded from events at nationals because the blue-hairs like playing each other.
This situation is very dangerous. The ACBL keeps getting older and older, and we’re not doing nearly enough to bring younger players into the game. In fact, the current policy of ‘ignore the 27-54s’ is driving people away. Our numbers are not large, but we are the future of the game, and we need to be taken seriously. The board doesn’t seem to acknowledge any problem, which is perhaps at the heart of the issue. The notion seems to be that putting policies in place to cater to such a small minority of the membership is a waste of time and resources. They’re reading the data correctly (there aren’t many of us) but coming to the wrong conclusion: we need to put our resources there because that’s where the growth opportunity is. Yes, whatever events we put in place now for this group will be relatively small. But they will grow.
I have a few suggestions to try to change the culture of seniors first, juniors second, everyone else last.
Give us our own national events
Seniors get them, why shouldn’t we? Would under-55 events be large? Not initially. Will they have the best field? Probably not. (Though you can’t scoff at the quality of the under-55 talent out there.) But they'd be a lot of fun! Put them opposite the senior events to give us something to play. An under-55 KO opposite the senior KO at the Fall Nationals would be great fun. An under-55 pairs event opposite the Silver Ribbon Pairs would fill the gaping hole in the Spring Nationals schedule for anyone under 55 not entering the Vanderbilt.
While we’re at it, get rid of the Silver Ribbon Pairs
Or at least move it. I am the first to admit that I don’t understand the psychology of what makes people like senior events. These are the same people who tell me how nice it is to see young people playing bridge every time I sit down at their table. It can’t be that they find senior events more pleasant; the old codgers are the crankiest. So my best guess is that they like seeing me, but they’re sick of my leaving the table with most of the matchpoints. Like so many bridge players, they want to play in a weak field where they have a chance to win. They don’t want to play the hotshots.
If that’s really the main draw of the senior pairs, scheduling any event on the Sun/Mon of the Spring Nationals is enough to accomplish this. The hotshots are in the finals of the Platinum Pairs and/or entering the Vanderbilt, so any event on these days will already be weak. Why not make this an open pair game and move the senior pairs somewhere else? Maybe the final two days of the Fall Nationals, for folks who get knocked out of the first day of the Swiss and the Reisinger.
It’s embarrassing how poorly the ACBL has handled new technology. They ban cell phones when they should be using this amazing new tool. When a game is over, the results should be available on my phone instantaneously; I shouldn't have to wait around if I want to look at a print-out. At the last NABC, results from the afternoon session were never posted online before the evening session started. It’s time to get out of the Stone Age. I don’t want to stand around a stanchion with a dozen sweaty people trying to see my results. I don’t want to bushwhack through the jungle of humanity to get my next assignment in the Swiss.
Offer cash prizes
Poker offers a sexy lifestyle where one can make a living by being good at a card game. Bridge offers this possibility, but it usually requires playing with little old ladies. Not as sexy. I’m not saying every event needs a cash prize (though why not), but at least a few. Add a little sex appeal to the game!
The argument that this will foster cheating is silly. There is already quite a bit of money at stake in high-level bridge – whether it comes from sponsors or the tournament organizers is immaterial. Cash stakes at the Cavendish and money clubs around the world haven’t led to an epidemic of cheating.
Use the crop of new talent to advertise the game
Ask a non-bridge player who they think of when they think of bridge. Chances are you will get one of two answers: Charles Goren or Omar Sharif. Yes, they were playing at a time when bridge held a different place in the cultural ethos, but they were young, charismatic, handsome men who put a cool face on the game. Who do we have today? Our biggest-named ambassadors are Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Great men and great supporters of the game, but hardly young, and hardly sexy. We have an incredible crop of under-50 talent right now, here and abroad. We had a team of under-40s win a silver medal in the Bermuda Bowl – why didn’t we milk that for all it was worth? There are beautiful Swedish women coming to our country three times a year to play in our Nationals – isn’t this a selling point? It boggles my mind that bridge hasn’t been using Zia as a marketing figure for the last couple decades. We can’t make the same mistake with this generation.
Outlaw senior events at normal regionals
Senior regionals are fine. (Maybe consider a non-senior regional, too.) But at a normal regional the scattered senior events are killers. Often it leaves us with no event to play. Or at least no real event. The senior pairs at 10 & 3 leaves the open pairs at 1 & 7 with six tables.
If you have other ideas, I'd love to hear them. If you agree with anything I've said, please tell your district representative to the ACBL Board of Directors. The board does not acknowledge that a problem exists; maybe we can change their minds.
Plus... it's free!