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Expensive and random gold points
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Once the ACBL virtual club games got off the ground I wondered how long it would be before the ACBL offered gold points events on BBO to replace the regionals. Not long it turns out. Yesterday, the ACBL announced:

Beginning Thursday, April 30, ACBL will host a four-day tournament featuring single and two-session 18-board pairs events awarding red and gold points on Bridge Base Online (BBO). The games – which include 299er Pairs, Gold Rush Pairs, Open Pairs and Side Pair Series – begin each day at 4 p.m. EDT with more events and second sessions starting at 7:30 p.m. EDT. Entries are $15 per player, per session for all events and will support the League in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cheating on BBO is easy so these events are subject to abuse and the temptation will be much higher than it is for a club game. However, I'll take a wait and see attitude on this issue given the circumstances.

But the format and pricing are inappropriate for gold points. If I'm going to pay $15 per session, I want to play 24-27 boards. $15 is a dollar higher than the card fees at the Palm Springs regional (flyer), the second or third largest regional in the country depending on the year.

I'm fine with the 18 board virtual club games at $5. Three board rounds against only six sets of opponents is more variable than it should be. But ACBL virtual clubs were implemented with record speed and playing only 18 boards with fewer rounds smooths the process for players who are inexperienced with BBO as well as directors inexperienced with directing on BBO. Once new BBO players come up to speed, we can revert to two board rounds for better field exposure and reasonably expect rounds to finish on time.

And let's face it, club games are highly variable. Field strength varies a lot between clubs and even different time slots at the same club. Some clubs have only a few tables which produces poor matchpointing. The short 6 rounds × 3 boards format is just one more source of variation in games that aren't all that important.

But open regional pairs is usually a good field. A 20+ gold MP top award shouldn't be based on the randomness of playing only twelve pairs across two sessions over only 36 boards. The open players are already familiar with BBO or intelligent enough to get familiar with it quickly. Let's play real bridge in open pairs! 13 rounds of 2 boards in each of two sessions.

Even Gold Rush should be be at least 24 boards, though perhaps 3 boards / round to keep it moving.

Who are we saving?

I'm favorably disposed towards the "save your club(s)" notion. It's not clear what will happen to clubs when the pandemic ends. One friend is predicting the worst: "Only units games will survive." Our demographics are terrible in pandemic terms. Bridge Clubs should be one of the last events of 20-100 people to reopen. But I also strongly suspect many people want to play face to face again.

Many clubs have real problems. Most are a labor or love, barely profitable, and some are saddled with rent obligations. (I think our treatment of rents and mortgages so far in this crisis is very poor but that political discussion will get us too far afield. For now let's assume that many clubs will have rent obligations.) And some people earn a significant amount of their income from running a large club. Doing something to shore up clubs was an excellent idea.

But what about units and districts and the sectionals and regionals that they normally run? The board members are almost entirely volunteers. Hardly anyone is earning any part of a living at the unit or district level. Tournaments are largely break even financially. If a venue is shuttered by a statewide order, the tournament can hardly be obligated to pay the rent (sectionals mostly) or fulfill the room block obligation (regionals mostly).

Maybe we are trying to save the livelihood of the national directors. Okay fair enough. But when they direct on BBO, there is no need to pay their lodging, transportation, and per diem—I've run a few sectionals, believe me I know how these director related expenses add up. Nor is there any hospitality expense or tchotchkes for event winners. Nor any printed Daily Bulletins. I understand sectional expenses better than regional expenses. I could be missing something. But I don't see why the regionally rated events on BBO should cost more than $10 / session.

Well, I've said my piece. You can comment below. But contact your district director too.

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