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How to save Bridge

Most of us arrived at the game of Bridge as part of a natural progression. First we played Slap Jack and War at the age of 4 to 6. Later we graduated to Go Fish and Hearts. Perhaps Pinochle and Poker came next. “Screw Your Buddy” and Wizards may have shown up along the way, but Bridge was our final destination.When I first started playing Bridge, bidding rules were very simple. There was Stay-man and Black wood. Cue bids and all single jumps were forcing to game. I was taught Bridge by my parents. They thought I was too young to learn, and that just re-in forced my determination to read a book by Goren so I could play.The game has changed considerably. Many of us have been playing for 50 years or more. To jazz up the game we have added negative doubles, responsive doubles, support doubles, transfers, and truck loads of bidding conventions. We learned these conventions over a long period of time. It is unrealistic to bring a new player into the game and say, “Learn these 50 conventions, read these 20 Bridge books on this shelf, and play 30 years and you’ll be fine.” Still, we need to interest new players, especially younger players, or the game will die.

So what is the ACBL to do? The first step -- is to recognize that Bridge is not one game, but many. It is played at many different levels of complexity by people with many different goals. There are home games, “party bridge”, casual duplicate players – and then there are Meckwell and others who might have 100 pages of notes or more on their bidding methods. In olden days, Meckwell and the pros were arguably the only ones who mattered to the ACBL. The ACBL was tasked with providing a league for the best players in the country. But things have changed. Now the ACBL must act quickly or the entire game will be flushed down the gutter, replaced by racing cars and machine guns which reside on the computer.The ACBL recognizes that in order for the game to survive, they need to reward players for just showing up. Life Master no longer means “talented player”. It means, “Paid a lot of money and played at least 5 years of Bridge”. That’s okay. But the younger crowd isn’t stupid. They can figure this out. Why should they agree to pay a bunch of money for a silly certificate?

What do we need to attract younger players? First, we need versions of Bridge that can be played with 2 or 3 people. We want to attract various numbers of people who might show up in the lunch room at High School. We want everyone to be able to play, like in Poker. Honeymoon Bridge doesn’t do it. Nor does 3-man Bridge as commonly practiced. The ACBL need to come up with fun and interesting versions of Bridge that can be played by 2 or 3 people, and they need to be recognized at tournaments.

Secondly, we need versions of Bridge in which the bidding conventions are very simple and tightly defined. We can’t ask people to learn conventions that have evolved over 80 or more years, during our life time. And this needs to be supported and recognized at tournaments and ACBL club games.Scoring is a big hurdle. We need to have at least some versions of Bridge in which the rules for scoring are simple.

Young people love to bluff and fool their opponents. We can attract them if at least the starting versions of Bridge make this a big part of the game.I can’t invent new versions of Bridge, and make them relevant. The ACBL might be able to. It is needed as a last ditch effort to turn an old persons game, which has accumulated layers of complexity over the past 80 years, into something more relevant for younger generations.

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