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ACBL Speeds Up Play and Monetizes NABC+ Events
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ACBL Board Votes to speed up the game

The ACBL Board of Rustees by special executive session has decided to turn their attention to speeding up the game.  Their objective is to make high level bridge appealing to television and streaming audiences, even pay-per-view podcasts.  The changes will eliminate slow play and increase surplus of funds after expenses (Since the ACBL is a NY State Not for Profit 501 c4 Corporation, the ACBL cannot use “profit” on their income statement).

Slow play has plagued all forms of the game and makes BBO viewing unmarketable, causing a loss of potential income from selling broadcast rights to ESPN, FOX News, Univision, and BBC (Canada and UK).  ESPN wanted a 2-hour format for 24 hands with no breaks.  Their intent was to broadcast finals live with expert and entertaining commentary.  They expect to edit major events to a ½ hour blitz format settling on 4 hands per set that generated either the most score or the most technical challenge.  BBO will earn 7 figures if this programming catches on.  Expect these games to be shown on Sunday Mornings opposite Premier League Soccer, and repeated Sunday evenings.  Depending on strength of audience appeal, the program might move to more popular time slots on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. 

I have it on good authority that Adam Parrish's recent article on BridgeWinners had no impact on the Board, who claims to have been working on this for the past 16 years.  See: https://bridgewinners.com/article/view/what-are-we-going-to-do-about-slow-play/ 

The following changes were adopted for all NABC+ events:

1)     A strict 5 minutes per hand will be enforced. No delay is acceptable.  The offending pair is penalized one board for the first offense and disqualified for the second offense.  No appeals permitted.

2)     No breaks are allowed until 24 boards are played. 

3)     No one may leave the table for any reason one play commences.  Doing so is a serious offense punishable by a one board penalty. A second offense in the same event results in disqualification.

4)     Where possible, video will be used to confirm the offending side.  There will be video cameras at every table.

5)     Instead of removing cards from the deck to shorten each hand by 4 tricks (illegal under the Laws of Duplicate Bridge), the ACBL will require that everyone rent or buy ACBL approved smart pads for use only at NABCs.  The Smart Pads will connect only to BBO and will not be otherwise programmable.  They will sell for $149 each and rent for $25 per session. The ACBL predicts pads will have a useful life of 4 years. 

6)     All NABC+ events shall be played barometer style – everyone plays the same board simultaneously. 

7)     To cover the increased cost of monitoring time, the ACBL will require all players to present their room key from a host ACBL hotel.   Those not staying at a host hotel will be charged an extra $150 per day (Up to a max of $250 per day depending on pricing and availability) to cover the cost incurred by the ACBL for lost room revenue.  This charge is per person whether or not you share a room.

8)     BBO will record the hand record, the bidding, play, result and score, and in addition the time elapsed between the opening lead and the end of the hand.  For the purposes of time, the end occurs at the play of the 4th card to the last trick or at the claim or concession. 

9)     Pairs and Teams that average less time during play will receive score bonus based on the difference between their time and the field average or calculated time, whichever is smaller.  Calculated time is simply the product of number of hands times 5 minutes. 

10)  Slow teams will be penalized if their average time exceeds the field average or the calculated time whichever is smaller.  One Board removed from their score for every 5 minutes slower on average. 

11)  Director calls cost each person at the table $20 each.  If no penalty is assessed, the players retain their money.  If an offending side is ruled against, the non offending side gets their money returned. 

12)  All convention cards will be in ACBL format on the BBO.  Links to WBF cards are acceptable.  Use of the dedicated tablets will eliminate the need for paper scoring and hand records.  Players will depend on electronic versions of each.

13)  Players filmed for ESPN broadcast must wear at a minimum business casual clothing and have a clean well-kept appearance.  This is necessary for product placement rights to be appealing to major advertisers.  To meet the viewing needs of the more populated East Coast, all West Coast events must finish no later than 8 PM PT.  Clips will be made available to Scott Van Pelt immediately on completion of the later session. 

14)  Discussion between hands is strictly prohibited. 

15)  No personal score keeping allowed – the electronic score is final and can be challenged based on fact up to 4 hours after the session ends. 

KO Events:

1)     No board shall be played after the 2 hour 40 minute mark (32 boards). 

2)     The entire team is disqualified if a pair delays the game twice during one session. 

3)     Tactics that provoke slow play shall be dealt with harshly. 

4)     Individual repeat offenders shall be banned from the event for the next two years.

 

Swiss Team Play (Either as the Event or a Qualifier for a KO bracket):

1)     No board shall be played once the session time limit has been reached. 

2)     Scores are kept on the pads, and team assignments are delivered electronically. 

3)     Failure to start the next session on time results in a one board (12 IMP) penalty. 

4)     Any disqualification affects the entire team. 

 

Speedball 

1)     All boards will be given 3.5 minutes each. 

2)     All rules above apply. 

A 24 board session will end in 1:24.  

BBO Tournaments will delay broadcast by 15 minutes (or days depending who's playing) to allow editing out dead time by the carrier network (at press time this was ESPN). Fox Sports Network is in the process of revising their bid and might figure more prominently in the final solution.  BBC Canada and Univision have been strangely silent throughout this process.  China and India have been silent, and Russia is haggling over naming rights insisting to return to Contract Biritch.  

Audiences want concentrated action and witty commentary 60 minutes at a time.  Commercial breaks will be allowed with funds split by contract between ESPN and ACBL.  Several Technology, Investment, Insurance and Banking Companies have purchased ad time for the first trial.  Consumer goods companies are targeting the 50+ age group and await evidence that this new format will have a sizable audience. 

As a result of the short time intense format for the broadcast, ESPN is planning to bring in X-Games commentators and Tik-tok stars, who will be assisted by today’s young bridge stars proviing play by play analysis. The contract requires 50/50 split between male and female announcers.  Sponsors want a mid twenties to mid-thirties look. Success would be measured in Reddit posts and (shudder) Tweets.    

Post-editing of a finished video program is expected, so delayed broadcasting will be common. 

As a result of this change, BBO will charge BB$2 per hour for Major Match viewing online.  Pricing will be lower for pairs and Board a Match (Hot debate followed, but everyone wanted to throw shade at Board a Match). The fee will be split 50:50 with the sponsoring organization.   

Rationale

Slow play is a major barrier to enjoyment by spectators.  It hinders enjoyment for many players and has been used as a tactic to gain advantage over the average player – this is quite concerning as the average player is now 73 years old and spends the entire day 15 minutes away from their next nap.  Super senior events were left out of these changes as the ACBL int sure the inaugural 2017 event has finished yet.  

The challenge is to make the game as exciting as X-Games winter competitions, NASCAR Races, skateboarding and Magic the Gathering.  If nothing else these improvements should put bridge in a position to think about challenging X-Box and PlayStation adherents for a bigger share of their entertainment time.

In addition, the ACBL has adopted GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Practices) that require matching costs to their revenue streams.  This means having players who use the director pay directly for their time that is the variable cost.  Likewise if a player doesn’t pay their fair share of the housing commitment as contracted with the host hotels, then the ACBL has every right to require compensation form the player at the time they purchase an entry for any NABC+ event.  Card readers will check hotel keys to prove their validity.  Presenting a fake key to avoid the fee will bar the pair form the tournament. 

By controlling the smart pad cost the ACBL increases their income stream and makes  players captive to massive data capture about their systems, decisions, and errors.  

BBO has been using price to attract users.  With demand reaching 40,000 players at once, management believes monetizing their service is timely.  In fact, it is long overdue. 

BBO is looking to put together a package for Brick & Mortar Sanction Holders that will enable them to move their B&M game online permanently.  This will help those games under severe financial stress caused by declining participation and rising costs for space, labor and incidentals. 

While not unanimous, these changes will survive a second reading in Tampa.  

On the bright side, while the new costs are punishing, they should keep the ACBL solvent for a decade.  For sure they are much better than the alternative recommendation where starting with Life master, a player could earn their next rank by either achieving their masterpoint total and mix, or by playing at least 50 times a year (30 club 10 regional, 10 sectional) for two years then purchasing their rank for the current cost of $14.99 times the number of masterpoints required for that level.  (There are 9 levels to Grand Life Master. So after 18 years, a player could be a GLM by playing and paying the ACBL a total of $475,932.50 - the sum of the products of $14.99 times each rank target MP total.  Note: GLM still requires an NABC win, and is charged only once (the player receives Platinum LM if no GNT win, and no further charge when they qualify for the GLM title).  

Reactions

Yeah, I don’t like this picture much at all. I couldn't afford it.  Maybe what we have isn't so bad after all. 

Maybe now is the time to enjoy being here with each other, playing a game we savor if not love.

The current pandemic stopped me from finding humor even satire so i settled for weak irony. Isolating at home didn't help – April 1 found me anyway. 

I hope you all stay safe and healthy for yourselves, your friends and family, and the future of bridge.  

SmileSealed

Post Script: https://slate.com/technology/2020/03/coronavirus-april-fools-day-corporations-twitter.html

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