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An early strand in developing our future strategy is identifying clearly what is, and what is likely to be, different from the past. A first cut of the issues is as follows

  1. Too many people do not understand the pleasure that can come from playing bridge and/or find the game difficult to learn.

  2. The average age of a bridge player is increasing as more people are learning to play later, and fewer are learning early – with knock-on effects on the number of players and bridge administrators.

  3. Many people learn how to play bridge but never get sufficiently involved in Duplicate Bridge to gain the enjoyment that can offer.

  4. The bridge playing population has (in numbers) veered significantly towards playing bridge as a social activity and away from strong competition.

  5. There will be a smaller footfall in clubs across the country because of health worries and a number of existing clubs will no longer survive.

  6. There will be a significant amount of bridge played online and the EBU, Counties and Clubs need to support bridge players in England who prefer that mode of play.

We need to gather views on the completeness of this lists well as the size and priority of all the items. Your views are sought.


  • edited July 2020

    It's true that these are issues that we face. In order to address them we need to address the drivers of these issues - ie why are they arising and how external factors are causing them. For example (and I don't vouch for the accuracy of, and won't defend, what's below!): -

    • Technology has enabled a host of pastimes (eg computer gaming, particularly online) that fulfil social and competitive needs that only, for example, chess, bridge, monopoly, scrabble did some years ago.
    • These pastimes are very attractive to young people and fulfil the same social needs that bridge congresses did for us some years ago (there are gaming congresses much like bridge congresses, I believe)
    • There is more emphasis on physical fitness and activities than some years ago
    • More options (as above) means a dilution of available leisure time to the detriment of those that are seen as less attractive
    • More importantly, the young perceive "old-fashioned" games like bridge as less attractive than those that are marketed very heavily
    • I think it's fair to say that we tended to put more emphasis on the competitive, rather than social, side of the game when we were young

    All of those factors contribute to the issues 2, 3 and 4 above. If we're to address these issues we have to work out how to turn these external factors to our advantage (turning threats into opportunities, if you like). I admit to not having yet worked out how to do that! An obvious starting point is to raise the profile of the game and reposition it, but that's easy to say, hard to do and simply not enough!

  • On a different topic from my comment above, sound strategy is based on a good understanding of mission. And strategy is "only" a way of achieving goals and objectives. Consequently developing strategy before all of these are in place carries many risks including inconsistency. On the other hand, of course, doing nothing while waiting for the perfect definition of mission and objectives is also risky - the world will pass you by......

    This isn't easy!

  • I've been sitting back quite a bit on these EBU statements and strategy discussions for a while now but I feel like the focus in all of these discussions has been partially misplaced, and that's in part because the facts about the state of bridge in England has been overly simplified. I tend to hide my identity on the forum so that my TD/scoring responses are viewed as just an anonymous qualified TD, but I think it's relevant here to say I am a member of the U20 squad and current president of Cambridge University BC. I have had the opportunity, especially since the start of lockdown, to find out more about the state of junior bridge but also the bridge community as a whole and want to make a few key observations:

    • For schools that have an internal bridge-playing teacher, or at least have (and actively engage with) an external bridge teacher, bridge is not dwindling a lot in popularity. More schools are using technology a lot more in their curriculum but that has led to more emphasis on sport and clubs that don't involve phones or computers to improve mental wellbeing. This is a fantastic opportunity to promote bridge, especially in secondary schools. Trying to get bridge as a timetabled lesson isn't going to happen (realistically), but having it as a more common extracurricular activity is achievable. The success in recent JTIs is evidence that junior bridge programmes are working.
    • There is a correlation between academic performance and the proportion of bridge players and that causality goes both ways. Most bridge promotion in schools focuses on the academic (and wellbeing) benefits to school players, which are true, but similarly players who are more successful academically tend to enjoy bridge more as they are able to engage better with the rules, thereby learning/improving more quickly than others. The same trends are evident at university level - the list of universities that have existing bridge clubs is significantly correlated with university ranking lists. This is obviously a difficult topic to engage with - one might suggest that we should focus our school teaching programmes on higher achieving schools, but to avoid being exclusive we also need to have county or regionally-organised events that can attract players without that same opportunity. The Bridge4Schools initiative (based primarily in Oxfordshire) is a fantastic example of this, and the EBU might want to consider engaging more with counties to set up similar initiatives across the country. That said, member numbers as a whole are falling and we don't have the resources to support every possible entry into junior bridge - we will have to be make some tough decisions.
    • The existing teaching pathways are not suited to promoting junior bridge as they are far too slow and also don't align with the recommended national squad systems (which I should emphasise are fantastically run and are vitally important to supporting juniors in competitive bridge who have reached that level). At Cambridge University BC we run seven 2-hour lessons, including supervised play, after which the players can at least move into our duplicate sessions and just attend short improvers sessions beforehand if they want to learn more. We are fortunate to have a sustainable turnout of players, but most universities and schools don't have the resources to teach players from scratch. An online programme of Youtube videos would support engagement, especially if they're led by players of a similar age; We would then need to offer face-to-face sessions that can fit in a lunch time slot at school or similar to build on that remote learning.
    • University bridge clubs need support in the transition from school bridge to university bridge, and university bridge to adult bridge. The three largest age drop-offs in the bridge population are at 18 (when school players who haven't reached squad level and transition to a university without a club stop playing, or otherwise may pursue other societies at university if bridge isn't well advertised), 21/graduation (as has already been mentioned, the transition from casual university sessions to formal sessions with a higher average age is daunting) and 25/26 (when all junior sponsorship and support comes to an end for the vast majority and bridge may not be worthwhile financially, especially with a job to juggle and bridge sessions at unhelpful times for those in work).
    • All of the above is based on my experience as a junior, but as a member of a non-university club I know that lots of players get involved for the casual and friendly nature of club sessions. You can have fun playing a game, catch up with friends and compete in a friendly environment all at the same time, and many club players also meet up at other times for non-bridge events. The EBU needs to take note of this and realise that the bridge community should be coming together at this time and not trying to separate out social/competitive, rubber/duplicate, non-affiliated/affiliated etc. If the EBU could somehow expand into all of those markets then bridge and the EBU would be in a better place, and I admit that's not an easy problem to solve... This argument is also particularly pertinent for county organisations - the most successful events across the board are those that follow a swiss format, benefiting from a sufficient turnout that enables this varied style of event to occur. Simple MP Pairs tournaments at county level are often less successful unless there's some prior qualification or an incentive to qualify for an EBU event, and I think this has been evident in BBO events - players prefer playing at their own club unless a county event can offer a different type of event to your normal club session or the EBU can offer a congress that provides a chance to compete against the best.

    So the EBU's strategy needs (I think) to be focused on specific groups and how the EBU proposes to support each of them:

    • School-aged vs. University-aged vs. Those in work vs. Seniors
    • Stronger players vs. Weaker players
    • Social to Competitive spectrum of players
    • Member priorities - Normally not the NGS, masterpoints, the magazine or adult internationals! But they are (the NGS excluded) effectively the founding priorities of the EBU so it's very difficult to move away from those.

    One solution would be to use the EBU's congresses to bring as many of these different groups together - one of my first tentative thoughts I had when starting to write this post was to run a junior section (possibly a 1-day or even 2-day swiss pairs, with a Speedball or similar) alongside the Scarborough Seniors congress. This would presumably cost the EBU very little as the venue is already hired and more juniors may be encouraged to stay on for the subsequent events. I also think the poker buy-in idea that was proposed by Martin on the Vision thread (and sort of proposed by the WBF before lockdown) has the potential to bring lots of different groups together; As it stands, the prize money offered by the EBU feels more honorary than anything else as it rarely covers travel expenses, so a more targeted approach on that front may be better. Finally, the onset of more remote meetings will hopefully mean that the EBU can be more inclusive in who they can invite to key decision-making meetings - a post can do a lot but the chance to discuss ideas is so much better (I do think that more junior representation on meetings outside of term-time would be beneficial and help with vision/strategy etc., but I'm probably just biased!).

    Apologies for such a long post, and similarly I apologise that this creates more questions than solutions. I know the EBU do a lot behind the scenes that is too often underappreciated by the membership, and the university club is also grateful for the financial support that the EBU and EBED have provided in the past. If you've read this to the end then I'm very grateful to you for taking my views into account.

  • Some interesting ideas here, 495670. Fred Davis, secretary of Stamford BC, has made the point that the best way to get fresh ideas for an organisation is to talk to the younger members and this post supports that view.

    What is also needed, of course, is a process to evaluate those ideas and craft them into a strategy, as you acknowledge. Patrick has got his work cut out to get that in place in my view. You won't be surprised to hear me saying that, I'm sure, Patrick!
  • I absolutely agree with you, crafting all these points into the 3 statements and a strategy will be a very challenging task and there won't be a perfect way of getting to that point. While finding a way of completing that task concisely is problematic, it may be more manageable to also ask for members to provide suggestions for improvement in more niche areas. If it weren't for the lockdown this year, the 2020 Summer Meeting was set to follow a revamped timetable based on feedback from a discussion centred specifically on that congress and how to improve its popularity. By focusing on specific areas in addition to the high-level statements will (I think) ensure that progress can continue to be made while being able to think creatively about the EBU's medium to long term future. No-one here wants to spend months working on high-level statements and to then work on how to implement only once those have been agreed.

    Junior bridge is one such area in which a focused discussion for short run aims would be useful, and it could come simply from juniors being able to submit proposals, whether small changes or a complete shift, that could then be discussed for immediate implementation. I gave the Scarborough junior congress as an example earlier but other suggestions could be a slightly rigged swiss movement (such that juniors will draw each other if they happen to be level on VPs) so that juniors get to interact more with each other, plans to involve the EBU more in the day-to-day running of university clubs etc. Just being able to provide a list and discuss it on a semi-regular basis (but not for very long, we're all busy!) would lead to rapid advances in that specific area. Junior bridge is obviously my current interest but it might be a new format to combine rubber and duplicate bridge, inter-club competitions (which are proving very popular on BBO)... the list could go on.

    These discussion boards are a great resource for those that use them but they are currently focused on either TD and scoring queries (however big or small) or EBU and tournament plans (which focus a lot on big changes and need one person to kick-start each idea). Having a webpage where EBU members can add one-line ideas which may support even just a very small group of players is a way forward; If there are enough ideas then a far larger group of players benefit. Again, this is dodging the question but hopefully also pointing out that we shouldn't just be looking at a few high-level ideas but also a multitude of smaller ideas that, together, can have a large impact.

  • @45670 lots of great comments thanks. I also tend to agree that we have to keep coming back to the promotion and support of junior bridge; I think our success in teaching bridge to those approaching or in retirement, while very worthwhile and something we should continue doing, is likely to run out of steam as the pool of people in that group have less experience of bridge or even card games. I love the idea of inter-generational bridge as tried in Stirling, and would love to see some thinking about how to make this happen more widely.


  • @timanderson
    Thanks Tim for your response. I don't think that teaching bridge to older players is in any way a bad thing, and in many setups can be very successful. My local (non-university) club has its own transition group and supervised play which has created all sorts of new interest for those who want to progress from "beginner to improver" (roughly), and similarly there are lots of fantastic programmes that teach players from scratch. The problem with lots of these schemes is that it takes one, two or maybe three years for these players to feel confident playing in just a club environment, and it then takes much longer for them to improve beyond that and compete at county or national level.

    Put very simply, if your focus is on expanding club bridge then the existing programmes will fit that mission, whereas if your focus is on expanding competitive bridge at regional and national level then routes via junior bridge and accelerated teaching are the way forward. The middle ground is county bridge which has its selling point as a semi-local venue where you can play less regular types of events such as swiss events etc.; Perhaps though more of an inter-club element would be of more interest to regular club but irregular county players. Each club could have some sort of stratified ladder and then a county event would have 2 sections running at the same time (one for each stratification), with the winning club being that with the highest performing pairs across both sections. Players who are regular county players without such a strong club affiliation would still be able to participate, perhaps without a subsidy afforded to those ladder winners in clubs.

  • Actually with subsidies in mind, one part of the EBU's strategy does need to involve entry fees and how they should be set for different groups in different types of events. Junior attendance, at least in shorter congresses, tends to be quite strong for squad members because these are fully subsidised, and non-squad players get to attend at half price. Perhaps something similar should be proposed for those at different stages in transitioning to more competitive bridge (this is again something that would have been implemented at Eastbourne this year, although something more targeted might prove to be more successful). Attendees at EBU-recognised teaching courses would potentially receive 75% off their first congress, 50% off the second etc., or instead receive half price for the first year after completion, 25% off for the second, something like that. The discount takes out the financial "risk" of not enjoying the event, while hopefully the congress atmosphere (crucially another thing that needs to be part of this strategy) will encourage them to return as the subsidy decreases. The financial side is of course not the only incentive; You can promote the masterpoints on offer etc. As long as the venue is large enough, trying to fill it even if half the field are subsidised makes national events more attractive because a high turnout is one of their main selling points. Of course, you don't want to put off people who have to pay full price... it's a fine balancing act as with any pricing strategy.

    When you consider club, county, national and international bridge, as well as teaching schemes for vastly different target audiences, club expansion, how congresses are organised, monetary considerations etc. this strategy starts to get very complicated and that's probably what's put people off attempting it in the past. But these discussions have shown that some sort of reform is achievable and could well have a significant impact if tackled in the right way.

  • @495670 I agree with much of what you say, but I particularly agree with your latest comments about inter-club competitions, along with your idea of stratification, has a lot of potential..

  • Thank you all for the contributions on this topic, which have been valuable in moving the thinking forward. As you will be aware, a number of the contributions went further than the questions asked – these have been filed for later use rather than addressed at this point. The key point which emerged is

    • The set of changes/challenges we are facing are not all independent, and we must look at the underlying drivers of these changes if we want to reverse them.

  • I actually think that this is a great initial outcome - not having a short answer that fits neatly into this form of strategy statement is not a bad thing. It is, in this instance, a recognition of the complexity of the current situation.

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