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All comments by Ron Zucker
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OK, first my experience, since it might help people think about things, and then my opinion. I'm currently the sectional tournament chair as well as a board member for the Washington Bridge League. Those two functions should not go together, but our tournament chair passed last year, so I'll fill out my term on the board and then just be the tournament chair.

Here in the Washington, DC area, our sectionals (4 per year) run up against the local club. There is one that's close, and more that are farther away. We don't worry about the farther away ones, as few players would come down for the Sectional, and those who do will always come down and have for years. The one close club has normal games Thursday morning, Friday morning, Friday night and Saturday afternoon. The agreement we've made is as follows. For years, our sectionals started Thursday night, same as our local unit game. Now:

Thursday morning: Sectional begins with a game at the club. The club is the profit center for this game, after paying for the extra sanction fee and ACBL director.
Thursday evening: Unit game becomes a sectional game.
Friday morning: Both the club and the sectional run. While it's always a tad uncomfortable, as some players play at the club instead of the sectional, it's just not fair to ask the club to shut down. The sectional seems to have little, but some, effect on club attendance. Our theory is that it's largely two distinct sets of players, and that's fine.
Friday afternoon: Sectional game (no club game normally on Friday afternoon)
Friday night: Sectional - club cancels his normal Friday night game
Saturday morning: Sectional - club cancels his normal Saturday 1 PM game
Sunday: Sectional - no conflicting game normally

Basically, we buy off the club with a Thursday morning section in return for closing his Friday night and Saturday games to allow for the largest possible sectional.

In general, the club is a threatened entity in the US (can't speak for Canada or anywhere else). The ACBL is still built on an old time thought of clubs with one or two games a day, unit games once a week as sort of a super club, and sectionals and regionals bringing out everyone. Here in DC, at least, our experience is that few people play in the clubs and most are not interested in playing in sectionals or regionals. The unit game is quite large (~50-55 tables per week, including stratified non-LM, stratified B-C-D, and a separate A-X), but the clubs are dying. People either play online or, like me, once a week, at the unit game.

Now, for my own take. A lot of it has to do with the suburbanization of America. When most of us lived in central cities, the population was large enough to support a club out of the small percentage that were duplicate players. That's why there are still clubs in NYC. But, at least here in the DC area, I'm the only member of the board of the Washington Bridge League who actually lives in Washington, DC, and I'm planning to leave the board this year at least in part because it's too hard to get to meetings after work. The bridge playing population lives in the suburbs, and are more spread out. It's hard to find the density of players necessary to support a club except at the retirement community.

BBO, and OKB before it, made it even less likely that people will make that trek. If it's too far, we can just play online. Leo Lasota, who commented earlier in the thread, is a DC area player well known for his online exploits in the robot tournaments, but he started playing those in part because he was working too late to make it to a club, and wanted to keep his (prodigious) card-playing skills sharp. Leo is one of my favorite opponents (despite my record against him), but he really can only make it out for the sectionals. When players as interested in the game as Leo and I abandon the clubs because of distance, and because we have other options and outlets, the clubs are in trouble. The clubs need us to be their backbones, playing at least a couple of times per week. Instead, I don't know where most of the local clubs are.

At least, that's my $.02
Jan. 18, 2012
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Oh, and I echo the “don't stop writing, please” plea. I know how hard it is to write these things, but I really appreciate it. Whether you're done with these or not, thank you for all of the articles you've written.
Jan. 12, 2012
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Interesting that this comes up right after I sent the following email to a friend who was my opponent in a Sunday Swiss at the local sectional this weekend:

“In the last match Sunday, I held Axx xxx KQTxx Ax. I opened 1NT (12-14), Tibor transferred and bid 4S, a mild slam try. I decided that my good values and 3 card support merited cooperation, so I bid 5C, T bid 5D and I bid 5S. T passed, though he had KJx of hearts. You led the obvious heart to Rusty's Q and ace, and when the hearts weren't 5-2 and the spades weren't 4-0, I claimed. (Dummy was KQTxxx KJx AJx Q)

Did you have a heart lead if the auction had gone 1NT-2H-2S-4S-6S? I was tempted to just bid it. It does take a heart lead to beat it, as I have 5 diamonds, 6 spades and a club good to go. I was loath to engage in such a descriptive sequence, but also loath to bid slam with three heart losers. I'm beginning to think that maybe I ought not have been loath to go for it.

As Steve Robinson and John Adams keep saying, if you never give your opponents a chance to get it wrong, they won't. Is this another hand to add to the data bank?”

Then I read this. The more I think about it, the more I think Josh is right and I should have just blasted. If partner has the HA, no damage. If, as in this case, partner holds the HK, we've already wrong sided this sucker with our weak NT, so I shouldn't give away the information. The problem is that, at the table, I thought, “I can get us to the right slam when it's right and stay out when it's wrong.” I didn't consider the alternative. I think I'd better try considering it more. And if I bid a few bad slams, well, it's not like I've never brought back -100 vs. -650 before…
Jan. 12, 2012
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One of the things I always like to discuss in new partnerships is the minimum quality at different vulnerabilities of a preempt suit. My own proclivities make Josh Donn's and Clee's agreements the ones I prefer, i.e., OGUST nv, feature vul, but if partner thinks JTxxxx is a preempt, I'm OK with that. But I do need to know that I can't necessarily raise to game without going through 2NT on certain hands.

I also like a very simple card, at least to start. If I find that partner and I have problems with a certain type of hand, whether because it's a hand that one of us tends to overvalue for the other's bidding or because some set of agreements we've decided on make certain hand types difficult (think 1=4=4=4 12 counts in a weak NT structure), I'm willing to invest in the memory strain to come up with a way to handle those hands.

The only agreement that I prefer to add Josh and Clee's card even in a first time partnership is not using 1m-2NT as invitational. I prefer the “Horse with no name” 3 way 2H to show either a strong jump shift in hearts, an invitational hand in NT or a mixed raise in the minor. That's because I'm a pretty strong believer in 1m-2NT as a game force, and I like 1m-3m to be TRULY weak and preemptive. But that's just me, and I can easily be talked out of it.
Dec. 21, 2011
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I'm a fairly fast player, largely on the theory that, when I can declare them like Michael Rosenberg does, I can take as long as he does. But I think his point about resetting expectations is an important and un-noted one.

Here in the DC area, Bill Cole has worked significantly to speed up his play. As an opponent, I've certainly noticed. He still takes a long time on certain difficult hands, but he's really tried not to on other hands.

But he still has the reputation. And when I played against him recently, and I was the one who took a long time on a difficult hand when partner and I both overbid, the directors just assumed it was his fault. And I had to explain that it wasn't his fault, that it was mine.

That's difficult for him to overcome. He earned his reputation for slow play. Now that it's not true, unless there's some sort of automated system, his pleas that he's no longer the problem fall on deaf ears. Our local directors are good, but they're not superhuman. Unless the fast players sometimes admit their own fault (and most fast players don't, because we're often so frustrated with slow play), there's just no incentive for someone with a slow reputation to do anything about hit. S/he is going to get the blame anyway. S/he might as well get the benefit from thinking in his/her own fashion, at his/her own pace.
Nov. 14, 2011
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