In membership development it is not only the journey but the destination that is important. Put another way, if we seek new members for our club, we need to make the club as attractive as possible to them.
Among the biggest areas of change in bridge clubs is in use of technology. Many of us recall when shuffling, dealing and scoring was all manual, and to learn the results at the end of a session you had to stay late, or be patient until they were posted on the noticeboard at the next session.
The advent of the web enabled clubs to post results for all to see, complete with extra information like the percentage score for each pair.
More technology followed, though not every club could take advantage. Wireless scoring devices at every table. Dealing machines for hands that are better randomised than human shuffling can easily achieve, along with the ability to publish the hands with the results. Sophisticated web results with colour coding, double-dummy analysis, and the ability to replay hands card by card to discover the optimum play or reveal why you had a disaster.
There is also club management software that can help with assembling teams, finding partners, managing subscriptions and other matters.
The EBU’s National Grading Scheme (NGS) is also worth a mention, providing players with an indication of their current performance and rank. After every session, you can see whether you achieved a better or worse score than would be predicted by your grade, after taking into account the abilities of the other players.
All this is great, but it comes at a price. Dealing machines are expensive, and operating them is a considerable commitment of time and effort. Because they are expensive they have to be kept secure. The same is true of wireless scoring devices. Further, you need some sort of computer and internet connection to run dealing and scoring software and upload results.
Some clubs struggle with these requirements, maybe with nowhere obvious to keep equipment between sessions, or lack of funds or human resources to manage them.
There may also be dissenting voices in the club. Dealing machines are more random, so hands are less balanced than with manually dealing. This does affect the odds and the play, and there will be members who are used to what they had before and prefer it.
Despite these issues, it is worth investing in dealing machines and scoring devices if you possibly can. Expectations have changed, and once players get used to features like instant results and the ability to inspect and play back hands on the web afterwards, they do not want to go back. Further, these facilities are great for learners (and experts for that matter) who want to improve their play.
It is also worth noting that technology is not standing still. There are now options to use a mobile phone for scoring instead of a dedicated wireless device, reducing costs. There are even ways to have a robot pair to eliminate sit-outs. It is worth paying attention to see if you can use technology to make club sessions more enjoyable – which is what bridge is all about.
Another excellent use of technology is to enable novices to practice their bidding and play in their own time. There are online bridge systems where you can play in your own time, taking hours to decide what to bid or what to play if you really want to, or completing a game at breakneck speed if that is what appeals. The standard of computer play is now high enough that it beats most humans. And if you score badly, you can try again and find out what would have worked. There is no substitute for a real game at a club, but online bridge is great for learning and more fun than solitaire!
Technology is not just about games and results. Many EBU clubs use Bridgewebs which is excellent for displaying results; but what about other aspects of club management like the ability to email your members, help them find a partner, and have a web site that looks good on every size of screen? If that appeals, Pianola may be worth a look. It is always worth paying attention to see if your club can improve its service to members via intelligent use of what is available.
Every bridge club is constrained by resources and full-scale adoption of the latest technology may not be possible. You can still run fantastic sessions without it. But it is at least something to aspire to, and will make it easier to attract and keep new members.