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Tournament Table Counts
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In a previous post I examined club table counts. Now I have examined tournament table counts and district level variations in tournament participation. The tournament analysis is more complicated because there are several types of tournaments to consider and because the tabular lists of ACBL tournaments, e.g. all tournament in a year, do not include table counts for completed tournaments. However, table counts can be obtained via a page scraping program.

I present the full results on the La Jolla unit website where I can create HTML tables and host datasets for download. Here I will present a shorter version of the results.

In 2015, the ACBL held 1266 tournaments: 3 NABCs, 130 regionals, 933 sectionals, 90 sectional tournaments at clubs (STaCs), 69 Grass Roots events (GNT or NAP), and 41 miscellaneous tournaments. See this table for details.

The total table count is similar for regionals (~171,000), sectionals (~145,000), and STaCs (~124,000). Most regionals are regular open regionals (113) or split site (10) regionals where the latter are just open regionals split across two widely separated playing sites. Five districts ran three of these regionals, ten ran four regionals, seven ran five regionals, two ran seven regionals, and the very large D9 (Florida) ran nine regionals. In addition, D17 and D25 each ran one senior regional and D17 and D15 each ran one Intermediate/Novice (I/N) regional (D22 started an I/N regional in Palm Springs in 2016 and it appears it will become a permanent fixture). Finally there were three cruise ship regionals, each 500-800 tables. These are not assigned to any district.

89% of the sectional table count (excluding STaCs) comes from the ~700 open sectionals. Intermediate/Novice (I/N) is the ACBL designation for the tournaments usually billed as Non-LM (NLM) sectionals. Although there are ~200 such tournaments, they have much smaller average tables counts and so represent only 8% of the total sectional table count. The ACBL encourages I/N sectionals by significantly reducing the sanction fees and allowing the use of non-ACBL directors, the latter a large cost saving. Nonetheless, the experience of the five San Diego units is that running an I/N sectional is at best break even financially and often a loss of a few hundred dollars.

Only D20 (Oregon area) ran Senior sectionals and only D9 (Florida) ran Senior/NLM sectionals. D8 and D15 held Youth sectionals in Carlinville, IL and St. Joeseph, MO respectively, a notable accomplishment.

The 41 miscellaneous tournaments include 24 Inter Club Championships (ICCs), ACBL-wide charities, U.S., Canadian, and Mexican championships, and one-offs such as the Huntsman Senior Olympics (Utah) and Bay Area High School Championships.

Regional table count distribution

Histogram of open and split site regional table counts in 2015

The very large Gatlinburg, TN regional is way off the right side of the histogram. At 8649 tables, it has effectively become a fourth NABC, rivaling the table count of poorly attended NABCs. The Palm Springs regional (technically Rancho Mirage) is the second largest at 3876 tables, followed by regionals in Atlanta, Palmetto, FL, Houston, and Las Vegas. The average open regional has ~1400 tables but Gatlinburg pulls up the average. Excluding it drops the average to 1360 tables.

The distribution of split site regionals is superimposed (not stacked) in red. These smaller regionals average only 684 tables. Districts 2 (Ontario & Manitoba), 4 (Eastern Pennsylvania), 8 (Illinois, excluding Chicago), 11 (Kentucky and Ohio), and 13 (Chicago and Wisconsin) each ran two split site regionals in 2015. Both club and tournament play tend to be lower in these districts though D2 has high club attendance.

Sectional table count distribution

Histogram of open and I/N sectional table counts in 2015

There are handful of large sectionals. The five largest with over 800 tables each are the size of a smaller regional. These sectionals are in Roswell, NM, Atlanta, Houston, and Santa Clara. The long tail of large sectionals with over 400 tables is led by Texas (8 sectionals, 4 each in Houston and Richardson), Colorado (4), Arizona (3), Georgia (3), and North Carolina (3), locations predominantly in the southern half of the United States. The average open sectional has 182 tables but when the long tail starting at 400 tables is excluded, the typical sectional averages only 141 tables. Intermediate/Novice sectionals are small, averaging only 62 tables.

Frequency of tournament play

Scatter plot of average number of regional vs. sectional sessions per player in 2015 by district

The frequency of tournament play varies considerably by district. This scatter plot shows the average number of tournament sessions per player per year in 2015 for each district. The calculations assume that the players are members of the district where the tournament is held. For sectionals this is true with few exceptions. For regionals it is largely true but there is a group of pros and tournament regulars who compete in multiple districts.

The districts in the upper right quadrant have the most prolific tournament players. Many of these districts—those indicated in green—form a geographic arc from Texas (D19) westward and up the west coast into Canada. By contrast the districts in the U.S. northeast (red) exhibit low tournament play. The generally midwestern districts (blue) show similar collective behavior, a preference for sectionals over regionals, perhaps owing to the difficulty of travel to regionals.

D22 where I reside exhibits a preference for regionals over sectionals. I think this is due to the proximity of San Diego, Irvine, and Riverside to each other, each city home to a regional located in a major population center. Proximity in conjunction with the 10:00 am and 2:30 pm tournament schedule makes day trips for locals easy and affordable. The popular Palm Springs regional is further away but it is easy to play for N days at the cost of N-1 days of lodging, the host site lodging is reasonably priced, and cheaper options exist fairly close. Moreover, southern Californians are competitive and fairly well off and the tournaments are well run.


The magenta districts are the outliers that do not fit well into the previous groups. This collection includes D7 and D10, the two districts that form the classic American South. Curiously, they have very different participation in regionals which is something of mystery. But the evidence suggests that D7 is doing something right. Up 40% in membership since 2004 (see plot below), D7 is the ACBL’s fastest growing district by far. Gretchen Smith, a past president of D7, explains the growth as the result of hard work, a combination of teaching program, a commitment to youth bridge, and an emphasis on goodwill, and an atmosphere that makes bridge fun.

Nearby D9 (Florida) acts like D10 in regional participation but also has fairly low sectional participation. One explanation may be that even with 9 regionals and 85 sectionals, not enough tournaments are being provided for its ~18,000 members (as of the summer 2015). If so the problem is likely getting worse because the D9 membership jumped to ~20,000 just nine months later. Another explanation may be the average age of D9 members, 2½ years older than the already very high ACBL-wide average.

D1 (Eastern Canada) is a different story. This district has 70% high club participation than average. Presumably the difficulty of traveling to tournaments, particularly regionals, in this geographically very large district limits tournament participation. D18 (Northern Rockies - U.S. and Canada) may be similar, also another geographically very large district.

District populations from 2004-2015 for fastest growing districts

A tale of four cities

Bridge is suffering in the largest metropolitan areas. D24 (New York City) tournament play is very low, though the scatter plot puts it in the worst light because D24 strongly prefers STaCs over sectionals, as demonstrated later, perhaps owing to the highest cost of tournament venues. Nor are the D24 players simply heading to tournaments in nearby districts because tournament play is also low in D3 and D25. Although D23 (Los Angeles) is presented as an outlier it may have something in common with D24, likely expensive venues compounded by miserable commutes. Some Bridge Winners members have suggested that D23’s adherence to the traditional 1 pm and 7 pm tournament schedule may be hurting tournament participation. D13, which includes Chicago, exhibits similar low regional participation.

The Washington D.C. area, part of D6, is the standout exception. Tom Herzog, one of my regular partners, recently retired from the D.C. area after many years of working for the federal government, cites the extraordinary number of Ph.D.s in the D.C. area. He goes on to suggest that the reasonable job hours of government workers may allow more time for bridge than for those engaged in say the New York City financial industry.

Tournament play versus club play

On a district by district basis there is no significant correlation between club play and total tournament play (regionals + sectionals).

Scatter plot of average number of tournament vs. club sessions per player in 2015 by district


Sectional tournaments at clubs (STaCs)

STaCs straddle the boundary between club play and tournament play. Like a charity game or special club game, the awards are based on the tournament masterpoint calculations rather than club masterpoint calculations. Like a regular sectional, the pigmentation is silver. But in a STaC, the competition is typically the usual group of club players rather than the stronger field that an ordinary sectional would draw.

STaCs can have overall awards based on the participation of multiple clubs using the same stratification in the same type of event. But unlike a tournament where an effort is made to balance the field across sections, the field may vary considerably among the participating clubs. A strong pair paying a visit to a club with a technically open event but weak field strength may well rank quite high in the overalls, particularly if the number of tables is small, leading to higher natural fluctuations in the scores of the participants.

I think STaCs got started as a way to give players who were underserved by sectionals an easier way to earn silver points. Invariably, some STaCs became fund raisers because the sponsoring organization—a unit, district, or collection thereof—can tack on a sanction fee above the ACBL sanction fee. For example, the three annual Great Western STaCs held primarily by D17, D21, and D22 are the largest funding mechanism for the monthly Contract Bridge Forum newspaper published by the Western Conference.

STaCs event used to pay the same award as regular sectionals. But the January 2015 revision of the Masterpoint Award Rules & Regulations set the rating factor (R) to 11 and 9 for ordinary sectionals and STaCs respectively. This means that if things are otherwise equal, a STaC event awards (9/11) = 82% of what a regular sectional would award.

Scatter plot of average number of STaC vs. sectional sessions per player in 2015 by district

D3 (New York and New Jersey) is a clear standout, with more than twice the STaC participation as any other district. I have no idea why. Neighboring D24 has high STaC participation and almost no sectional which might be attributed to the high cost of venues in New York City. D14 (Iowa and the Dakotas) missed the STaC boat entirely but the rest of the Moderate Midwest clusters in its typical manner.

I have only presented results for 2015 tournament play but I have a data set for all the 2003-2015 tournaments. I intend to look at trends over time later and also encourage others to do so.

If you have analysis requests for the tournament data, please post them in the comments or send them to me privately. I will try to address them as time permits.

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