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Hawaii NABC Report & ACBL Issues of the day

Several people have suggested that I post my personal Hawaii NABC report on Bridge Winners.  For clarity and accuracy, I have made a few small revisions and updates from the original.

My photos from Hawaii and other bridge tournaments can be found at: http://imageevent.com/jon911

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2018 Hawaii NABC Report

The Hawaiian Islands, 2390 miles from California and 3850 miles from Japan, are truly beautiful. There is lots to see and do. But it was a poor choice for an ACBL North American Bridge Championship tournament.

The Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort opened in 1955. Today it consists of seven towers and is one of the largest hotels in the world. It is the largest Hilton, and largest hotel in the United States outside of the Las Vegas area.

That said, the huge Hilton complex and indeed all of man-made Waikiki must be among the most expensive real estate areas in the United States.

Luxury five+ star establishments may be fine for the super wealthy, but certainly not for the average ACBL tournament player. ACBL members stayed away in droves. The final count of 6035 tables, more than 1000 tables below the budgeted estimate, was the smallest NABC in 33 years, having to go back to cold Winnipeg in 1985 to find a smaller one.

Worse (for the ACBL) was that many who attended opted to stay off-site in less expensive lodgings. Can you blame them? The Hilton is home to Tropics’ $26 cheeseburger and high-end boutique retail outlets where I saw an attractive men’s bathing suit for a mere US $98!

The excellent restaurant guide must have been a sticker shock for some. The restaurants ranged from one dollar sign to eight dollar signs ($200+ per person). Wow!

The ACBL is in the midst of negotiations as to how large a penalty it will have to pay for failing to meet its contracted for room block. It will be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. I hope the ACBL points out the less-than-ideal playing conditions, perhaps in violation of the original contract which must have specified lighting and temperature control requirements.

The playing areas were in two distinct, separate buildings. There were dark areas and worse was the extremely poor air conditioning. In the Tapa tower, I sweated in sauna like conditions during Day One of the North American Swiss. Players quipped: “if I wanted to be in a sauna, I would have gone to Finland” and “the ACBL must have run out of money and can’t afford to pay for air conditioning”!

Meanwhile, over in the Coral Ballrooms, it could be comfortable at one end of the room but a virtual freezer at the other end. From sauna to ice box, the luxury Hilton property did not impress.

There were no vendors (book sellers, jewellery, clothing) nor any concession stands. Day care services were abruptly cancelled just a couple of weeks prior to the NABC.

On the plus side, we received an appropriately coloured commemorative beach towel as a registration gift. The evening hospitality (in both locations) was tasty and timely. I particularly liked the fact that the food came out at 10:30 PM, which allowed for a snack to boost one’s energy before playing the final few boards!

That said, the Thursday evening Educational Foundation game (higher entry fees) has historically provided everyone with a tasty dessert and coffee. This time the “dessert” was hot pretzels (ugh), regular coffee (but no decaf or tea). Don’t blame the Ed. Foundation or the locals. I am almost positive that the ACBL makes the arrangements for the free Thursday evening hospitality and then charges the Foundation.

A few Toronto area players did very well. Congratulations to David Grainger who won the Bobby Nail Life Master Open Pairs (with Greg Hinze). George Mittelman placed 2nd in the Reisinger, just 0.57 of a board from winning. He played on the same team as last year – Ken Bercuson, Ron Pachtmann & Piotr Pawel Zatorski – when they also placed second. Shan Huang, on a team with Kevin Dwyer, Justin Lall, Kevin Bathurst, captained by Joyce Hill, had a solid win in their final match, only to fall short of winning the Keohane North American Swiss by a mere 1.5 victory points! Not everyone is happy placing second. Tough game!

ACBL Board of Directors Actions

2018 was not a good year. The new CEO was fired after less than one year in office. Several top head office executives were let go. ACBLscore & technology issues remained a problem with yet another (close to $400,000) write-off on a failed Microsoft program

The former CFO and acting CEO, Joe Jones, was announced as the new ACBL Executive Director (new title, same job). Five current Board members either retired or were defeated – there will be five new Board members (a full 20%) in 2019. Perhaps a glimmer of hope.

Price sensitivity (or price elasticity of demand) refers to the degree to which consumers' behaviours are affected by the price of the product or service. My sister is active in the world of golf both as a player and Board member. There are many similarities to bridge as they try to increase membership, attract junior players, control costs and expenses. She tells me that entry fees are highly price sensitive whereas yearly membership dues are not. I agree with her.

Consider the ACBL: With more than 160,000 members, a $1 yearly dues increase yields $160,000. ACBL membership is a bargain. Just 12 issues of the full size, full colour specialty ACBL Bridge Bulletin magazine must be worth at least $5 an issue or $60 a year.

Sadly, a majority of the current ACBL Board of Directors disagrees with my thinking. Instead, in Honolulu, they approved NABC entry fee increases of 25% across the board! Effective Summer, 2019, at the Las Vegas NABC, entry fees per player, per session will increase from $15 to $20; from $16 to $20; and from $25 to $30. Not only that, but if you play well enough to reach a session where screens will be used, there will be a “screen surcharge” (amount unknown)!

Why would a Regional player who is used to paying $12 to $15 per session want to play in a Regionally rated event at an NABC for $20 per session? $40 per day, every day, compared to $24 to $30 per day at a local Regional. NABC events will be $60 per day before the screen surcharge.

Tournament attendance is falling. Increasing entry fees will hasten the demise. It is an ill thought out plan by what appears to be a Board in panic. There are better options to increase revenue. Costs must be reduced.

Is all lost? Perhaps not, but it requires YOU to speak up, write to your ACBL Board member, and express your concerns. With 20% of the Board composition changing, plus the fact that the increases are not scheduled to take effect until the summer, there may be time to get the Board to reconsider the increases at the Spring Board meetings in Memphis.

ACBL Disciplinary Matters. The Cheating File

During most of my 15-year (1994-2008) tenure on the ACBL Board of Directors, I was a member of the ACBL Appeals & Charges Committee (A & C). The late Peter Rank (ACBL League Counsel) impressed upon us that membership organizations have been given great latitude by the courts as long as our decisions were internally consistent. Every charged individual received a fair hearing.

How times have changed! As of sometime in 2017, the ACBL Board amended the CDR to include: “5.2.14 Negotiated Resolution of a Charge.” This allows for negotiated settlements and/or plea bargaining without going through any formal hearings and committees.

While a case can be made for saving time and money regarding conduct matters, I see no justification for allowing this process regarding ethical issues.

The first inkling that something was going bonkers was during the labyrinth, well publicized MP saga which resulted in the ACBL releasing the unprecedented statement that there was no cheating, but that A & C had meted out a two-week suspension (over the Christmas holiday period) with no follow-up probation, for fouling a board. So much for consistency and precedent.

The brave Boye Brogeland was instrumental in shining light on the sordid world of high-level cheating among professional bridge players both within the ACBL and around the globe. Multiple convictions and expulsions followed. The ACBL claimed to be onboard and appointed numerous Committees and Task Forces to address underlying issues.

The current ACBL League Counsel & Chair of the A & C Committee argued against implementing the recommendations of its own task force to remove past NABC titles and masterpoints from convicted cheaters. An awful decision that needs to be revisited.

There are various degrees of ethical infractions and crimes. Even in liberal Canada, a conviction for first-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence with no eligibility for parole for a MINIMUM of 25 years. In some cases of multiple murder convictions, the sentences are consecutive (no parole for 50 or 75 years).

The bridge equivalent of first-degree murder are the professional bridge players who have won ACBL’s premier events, perhaps World Championships and big money tournaments like the Cavendish and subsequently have been convicted of cheating. The ACBL does not imprison anyone, but they can expel them from the membership organization. Expulsion is reserved for the most heinous transgressions and it should be permanent.

In Honolulu, the A & C Committee presented its report to the full ACBL Board. The Board accepted it, thus agreeing to allow Massimo Lanzarotti (expelled in 2005 for cheating) to resume playing bridge in the ACBL. A deplorable decision.

Please refer to my Bridge Winners post (and the excellent comments, notably from Bobby Wolff & Jeff Meckstroth) at:

http://bridgewinners.com/article/view/massimo-lanzarotti-readmitted-to-the-acbl/  and the excellent post by Chris Willenken at: http://bridgewinners.com/article/view/ban-collusive-cheaters-for-life/

Is all lost? Perhaps not, but it requires YOU to speak up, write to your ACBL Board member, and express your concerns. With 20% of the Board composition changing in 2019, perhaps the ACBL will wake up and do the right things.

Remove the stench of having convicted cheaters listed as NABC Champions. Remove their masterpoints. Do not let these players return to the ACBL or play in its tournaments. Personally, I have no desire to ever again compete in a WBF and/or European tournament where they are now allowing the worst of the cheaters to return and prosper. The ACBL can and must do better.

#SAY NO TO CHEATS

Going Forward

The demographics are grim. The politicized ACBL Board continue to bicker among themselves. The current ACBL Governance model is a failure.

Bridge is one of the greatest games in the world. It has enriched my life as it has hundreds of thousand of players. In what form I do not know, but it will survive.

I wish all of you A Happy Hanukkah & A Merry Christmas (or at least an extra hour of sleep and/or a Timmy’s maple doughnut). Stay healthy and be well.

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