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Part2: Results for the survey of time preferences for NABC events - comprehensive (kind of) poll
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A couple of weeks ago I published here a survey, asking questions about your preference for NABC open events schedule - 254 of you filled it out (at least I hope no one filled it more than once!). I made some initial analysis of the data, and thought that at least the 254 people that participated would be interested to know. 

However, first things first - before we go to the data itself, it is important for me to stress that this survey is in no way comprehensive, definitive or official. My motivation was completely selfish -  to satisfy my curiosity and test my doubts. I have absolutely no affiliation to organizing NABCs, I was not asked by anyone at ACBL to make it, and the initiative and execution are entirely mine. The original data gathered is available here, if for whatever reason you can’t open or download the data drop me an email or private message and I will happily send it to you. Also, in retrospect, there quite a few changes I would make to this survey. So please take those results for what they are, no more!

Another disclaimer is that this is kind of pet project I tried to find time for between home, work, playing bridge, and generally being busy. It is not meant to be perfect (constructive suggestions and comments are welcome!), and despite the very generous offer from Steve Moese it was not proof read or peer reviewed prior to publication - mostly because I really do not have a lot of time to polish it. Again, take it, or use the data as you see fit.

In this post I will first go through the conclusions in brief, so that people who are not interested in the cool figures (I also use it as training data to learn how to make Sankey plots!) can actually get to the bottom line (as I see it). The full analysis is available here, and the text of it is in this post. The figures are linked, mostly because inserting them did not work right for me from the first go and I do not want to spend time figuring out why (ok, I am LAZY). 

Finally, a warning, the report itself is rather long. And probably boring. And tedious. And has lots of grammatical mistakes. Well you get the idea....proceed at your own risk :)

Quick overview of results:

1. The preference for morning or evening schedule is about 50-50. This split is consistent across age groups, or grouping by frequency of attendance or across time zones - with the exception of Europe. Almost all European players would prefer morning NABCs. 

2. The factor that seems most important for morning vs evening decision is responder's wake time; not time zone, not age and not frequency of attending NABCs. 

3. >85% of responders would prefer the same schedule, regardless of location.

4. Subjectively most people who advocate morning schedule claim it is an important issue - it affects their enjoyment, the games they chose to play, or their plans of attendance. So do the people that prefer evening schedule, but to slightly lesser extent. 

5. More objectively, >50% of responders who would prefer the morning schedule are not willing to spend even $1 per session ($20 for the entire NABC if you reach the final of every open event you enter) to play on their preferred schedule - most would chose to play an evening schedule, but some do not attend at all or sometimes. People who would be willing to pay extra (for example if ACBL will run choice pairs...) mostly see the issue as affecting their enjoyment, but not any practical decision.

So my personal conclusion is that whatever ACBL chooses there will be ~50% of people who are unhappy. However, since currently one group always gets what they want and the other almost never, it does seem unfair. I would love to see few morning NABCs, preferably on the West coast - so that people that can't function late could play their best.

The full report:

Background and rationale

   NABCs are 10 day events (Thursday - next Sunday) held 3 times a year in different locations across North America, mostly in the US. NABC open events present the only opportunity to earn platinum points, however there is also a host of other events run in parallel - most are NABC limited (e.g. 0-10K) or regionally rated and pay gold + red. Some of the open events are considered among the strongest and most prestigious bridge competitions in the world, therefore NABCs attract a significant number of international players and professionals. Traditionally main NABC events are multiple days, two session per day with 1pm and 7:30pm session starts - allowing for 2.5-3 hour break between sessions; for simplicity this schedule will be called “evening schedule”. Concurrent regional events run at NABC adhere to morning schedule - 10am and 3pm session starts for multiple session events. There are some deviations from these schedules, based on event type and day. For example fast pairs events start according to the event type, but the 2nd session is at 4:30 for NABC events, and at 1pm for regional rated games. Events played on the last day of NABC are scheduled earlier. Here is an example schedule for the upcoming 2017 fall NABC in San Diego.   

A debate about adequacy of NABC schedule has been ongoing for several years. BridgeWinners (BW) is a typical platform for such debates and examples can be found herehere and here. Players generally divide into 3 groups: 1) those that advocate moving the events to morning schedule, 2) those that advocate remaining on the traditional schedule, and 3) those that suggest to have a time zone dependent schedule. Additionally another suggestion of “choice schedule” events was recently raised. That type of schedule was reportedly in effect in Omaha regional and would allow each pair/team to decide whether they play the morning or evening schedule in advance - while ACBL runs 3 sessions every day.   

Many pros and cons have been suggested for each schedule. It is quite clear that at least some players have significant difficulties to concentrate and play their best, either during morning session or during the evening session; it is also quite clear there is no one perfect schedule to fit all. While most players start from stating personal preference, eventually they end with estimating the general tendency - including how important is scheduling for attendance, are natural time zone or personal wake time constitute the main factor in determining preference for one schedule over the other, and finally will morning schedule make the NABC events more enjoyable for significant number of attending players. However, assessment of these is universally tainted by personal preference (author included), making everyone’s expressed notion more akin to a hunch than informed opinion. The purpose of this survey was to collect reasonable amount of data in unbiased manner that could shed light on these questions and examine the validity of statements of the sort made in this letter to the ACBL CEO.

Quick summary:

This is the list of survey questions that were asked. Throughout the document I will often refer to the questions by their numbers rather than repeating the question - so this is a look up table.

QN      Poll question

Q1       Are you a member of ACBL?

Q2       Are you male or female?

Q3       What is your age group?

Q4       What time zone do you live in?

Q5       How many NABCs did you attend in the last 10 years?

Q6       On average how many days do you play at the NABC?

Q7       What is the main type of events you are coming to play?

Q8       When planning to attend an NABC how important is the schedule, versus other      organizational issues (e.g. location, pricing, timing) ?

Q9       In your preferred routine you get up around

Q10     In your preferred routine you go to sleep at

Q11     1st session of all events in Eastern time zone NABC (e.g. Philadelphia) would be?

Q12     1st session of all events in the Central and Mountain time zones (e.g. Kansas city)?

Q13     1st session of all NABC events in the Pacific time zones (e.g. San Diego, Hawaii)?

Q14     2nd session of all events in Eastern time zone NABC (e.g. Philadelphia) would be?

Q15     2nd session of all events in the central and mountain time zones (e.g. Kansas city)?

Q16     2nd session of all events in the pacific time zone (e.g. San Diego, Hawaii)?

Q17     Assuming the default is 1pm and 7:30pm for session starts - if it was an option, how          much would you be willing to pay extra for the option to play your preferred schedule?

Possible values for responses and their frequency are in appendix 1. Pie charts of responses are here. 3 responses were removed because they did not answer any of the start time questions. Summary table of all responses and counts is here.

List of abbreviations used throughout the text:

ET=Eastern Time                                ME=Middle East          NAET=North America ET      

CM=Central and Mountain Time         EU=Europe                 NACM=North America CM

PT=Pacific Time                                  AUS=Australia             NAPT=North America PT      

S1/2=1st  or 2nd session                      SA=South Americ

Point1: Is this a representative poll?

An important limitation of any survey is publication bias - this one was published on BW site, and thus reflects the opinions of BW members. It is unclear to which degree BW membership is representative of the target population - i.e. players that either attend or consider attending NABCs and play the NABC open events. Thus, Q1-4, establish general demographics meant to estimate how representative the survey responders are of NABC attendees. Yet, since I am not about to scrape pages of ACBL Live (as suggested elsewhere by Mr. Hammond), and have no actual data on ACBL NABC events, I am unable to answer it quantitatively. If someone can get me the data, it would be very instrumental and much appreciated!

So, you will judge for yourself:

Q1-3: 98% of responders are ACBL members, 80% are male and >50% are between 51-70 years of age - with all of the age groups getting at least 3 responses.

Q4: In terms of residence 9% are from Europe, 89% are from North America, with the rest (Australia, South America, Asia and Middle East) getting 0-2 responses. Within NA (n=226) 46% are from the East coast time zone, while the Central/Mountain and Pacific time zones are ~27% each.

My personal feeling is that all the distributions are somewhat skewed here, and thus are not exactly representative, but the survey is not off by too much. All in all, I believe that this is at least as close as we would get on a poll of this (rather small) size.

Point2: Do start time preferences change as a function of NABC location or time zone of residence?

One of the most common arguments is that East coast people prefer early time starts when playing on the West coast, while West coast people need late start times on the East coast - because of time differences. Playing the same schedule on both coasts forces one of the groups to play in un-natural time, thus it was suggested to vary start times by NABC location.

The data is pretty clear on that suggestion (data for the first session is in Figure 1): 76% of responders do not want to vary the start times at all between the East and West coast; they chose identical start times for all 3 time zones. If we group the schedules roughly into morning (S1=10-11.5) or evening (S1=12-13.5) that number goes up to 89%.

Figure 2 - correlation between preference of start times for sessions 1 and 2. 

To the next obvious question - 132 (52%) of responders would want a morning schedule, regardless of time zone. 92 (37%) of responders prefer an evening schedule, regardless of location. Only 24 responders would like different schedule (20 preferring evening schedule at the ET and morning schedule at the PT, and 4 the other way around). Moreover, the preferences of morning vs evening schedules does not seem to depend on time zone of residence (Figure 3), with the exception of European players who almost unanimously prefer morning schedule (and are included in the 132).

Point3: Are start time preferences a function of natural internal clock or age?

Not surprisingly, the data suggests that people who get up earlier go to bed earlier, and prefer morning schedule, while people that get up later tend to prefer evening schedule. However this is again a rather mixed group. 

Figure 4

Another factor that is often referred to as potential bias is age. “Young people like evening schedule” (often say the rather old people). While this poll has very few (n=3) responses of people 20yo and younger,  there quite a few people in their 20s, 30s and 40s - all of them can be considered “young” relative to the ACBL population. Here is the distribution of preference by age:

Figure 5

Point4: How important is scheduling to the attendees?

Two questions on this survey (Q8 and Q17) asked about the importance of scheduling. The first question asked directly how important the issue is relative to other considerations, offering a range of answers from “the most important issue” to “I do not care”. The 2nd question asked whether the responders would be willing to pay some premium per session to play at their preferred times, rather than the currently default evening schedule. Figure 6 shows the summary of responses for people that prefer morning or evening schedule (pie charts), and the correspondence of answers between the two questions for morning people (heat map). Obviously people that prefer evening schedule do not need to pay more to keep it. The purpose of Q17 was primarily to have an additional, semi-quantitative/objective measure of importance - but I thought it might also be useful data in light of the suggestion of “choice” pairs (and the additional costs that might be involved in running such format). 

As one may expect, people who do not have what they want feel slightly stronger about the issue than people who do. This is reflected by a larger proportion of “do not care” responses from people that prefer the evening schedule. Only 16 people (11%) that prefer morning schedule said they do not care - the rest 89% believe it affects their enjoyment or is an important factor in their decision to attend. However, for both groups, the proportion of people who feel strongly about the issue (Figure 5, categories 4+5 in the top 2 pie charts) is similar. The results of Q8 are in logical contradiction to responses to Q17. While 89% of the morning group feels that it is an important issue, >50% of the same group would not pay even $1 per session to change the schedule. To put it into proportion $1 per session would amount to at most $20 per full 10 day NABC if you happen to make the final of every open event - $20 happens to be the entry fee for a single session of any open event.

Six out of 7 people that prefer the morning schedule, and consider it to be “the most important factor” (panel B, heatmap, bottom row), would prefer not to play at all, or not to attend at least some of the NABCs; only one would be willing to spend an extra $1-$3 per session. Altogether, 13% (18 people) that would prefer morning schedule responded that they either do not play the current schedule, or do not attend some NABCs because of it; 36% would be willing to pay at least $1 to play according to their preference - most of whom consider it a non-critical matter and 51% would chose to play the regular evening schedule.

Limitations and problems:

1. Only 5% of responders did not attend any NABCs in the last 10 years. Thus this survey cannot answer any questions that are aimed to attract new players to attend NABCs - simply because practically every responder is at least an occasional attendee already. 

2. As mentioned previously, this survey has very limited number of responses who are not necessarily representative of the target population.

3. We do not even have a well defined target population. Should people that attend NABCs regularly have more of a say than people that would like to attend or attend rarely? Should we take into consideration what events those people are playing? Or may be should the players that regularly reach the finals of open events given the dominant vote? Should people outside North America have a say? Arguments can be made for and against all of those choices, which is why I did not explore the issue much. All of the results presented here were not stratified by attendance.

 To summarize, much can be improved in this poll. My feeling, that I intended to back up with dat, was that age and time zone would have a very significant effect, and that given that this issues comes up again and again - it is likely something that is really important for large number of people. However the initial results suggest that the preference for morning and evening schedule of NABCs reflects personal wake/sleep cycle times more than other factors. The roughly 50-50 divide applies to people from different NA time zones, different attendance levels, and different ages. Moreover, while people may profess that this is a critical issue, majority are not willing to spend as much as $20 to play the entire NABC on their preferred schedule - the price of one single session (and I hoped bridge players would be more rational!). It is easy for us to get worked up about an issue and overestimate its importance when we focus on it without any relative framework, and of course the value of money is different to different people. Nevertheless - if you come to NABC to play $2 per day for 10 days is not likely to break your bank.

So what changes should ACBL implement to NABC schedule, if any? My personal conclusion is that currently ~50% of the players never get what they want, while the other 50% get what they want 100% of the time. Luckily, I am part of the latter group, but it is unfair. I would hope that ACBL may be could organize SOME NABCs to run on morning schedule, hopefully taking into account the time zone issue…..yet, whatever the schedule is - 50% will love it and 50% will not.


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