Join Bridge Winners
The disappearing evening club game

In my community (120,000 population), Monday night used to be the biggest and most competitive game at the club. Compared to the average ACBL club, our players were a bit younger and the quality of play was higher, but many beginners played regularly. For decades, we drew from 7 to 10 tables of players of all abilities.

In recent years, our attendance has seriously dwindled. Some people have given up bridge and many now play only in the afternoon and 299er games. We’re lucky to get three or four tables in the evening and we're on the verge of closing.

Before that happens, I’d like to find a solution, if there is one. Here is what I’ve tried:

Five years ago, when we dropped to around six tables, I did a survey and talked to lapsed players. Based on their requests, we moved the start time up to 6:30 pm and spent $4500+ for Bridgepads, new boards and a dealing machine (an "investment" that would never pay for itself). Attendance dropped again.

Two years ago, I sent out letters with free-play certificates to more than 50 locals who used to play at least occasionally. I offered to help them find partners and emphasized that we always had a standby. Four of them came once to cash in their free-plays and never played again.

I’m still talking to people and hearing a wide range of reasons/excuses. Besides the vague “I’m just too busy”, they included:

  • I don't like driving at night
  • My regular partner moved away
  • I’m more into golf/online gaming/dancing lessons/grandchildren
  • I only play on BBO now

The ones that concerned me more were:

  • Someone called the director on me last time
  • The players at your club are too good
  • We win more points in the afternoon games

I fear that I’m trying to sell something that people just don't want anymore. Have we really created a permanent snowflake culture where people won't play if they can't win? Or is the disappearing night game just an unavoidable result of our aging population, online bridge, the availability of 900 cable channels?

I know other clubs are facing similar problems. I'm interested in ideas about why this happens and possible ways to reverse the trend. If your community has a night game that's thriving – or at least surviving – please share what they're doing to keep players. Any suggestions for reinvigorating -- or even reinventing -- our game would be appreciated.

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