Keeping your bridge club alive in difficult times

As I write, most bridge clubs in England are not meeting. Our official advice is here. It may seem as if there is nothing we can do until we can return to playing at the table, but this is not the case. It is important that we look after our members and find ways to keep the club going even if it is not possible to meet.

The first thing is to keep in touch. There are several ways:

– Email.

– web site notices.

– phone.

– social media, for clubs that are active on Facebook, Twitter or similar.

Visiting is obviously possible but against government advice, since we are being asked to maintain social distancing and that is not possible with face-to-face bridge.

But what is there to say? Here are some suggestions.

Online bridge

First, what about playing online? There are a number of options and I will list some of the main ones below.

Bridge Club Live. This is an EBU online club. You can play for free in guest rooms, or sign up as a member to get full access. You play with real people and it is UK based so plenty of Acol/weak No Trump (though all are welcome). Bridge Club Live has an interesting offer for us right now. Your club can register, in which case club members who play in the drop-in-drop-out (DIDO) tournament (which runs almost all the time) can compare their results with those of other club members.

What is the DIDO tournament? Described here, it is an all-day tournament scored with pairs scoring (MPs). You commit to playing at least 4 boards at a time, and if you play 16 boards during the day (which can be at different times, in rounds of 4 boards), then you appear in the daily leader board and receive EBU master points.

Thanks to the special offer, you can currently join Bridge Club Live for just £1.00 for 30 days. The full price is £72.00 per year. There is a little wrinkle you should be aware of. If you have a discounted subscription like the special offer, you will also pay an EBU UMS (Universal Membership) charge. If you pay the full price it is included. How much? £0.67 per month (a bargain!).

Note that there is, or will be, a cost for clubs to register. It is free until 1st July 2020 but will be £24.00 per year for the club, and club members also need to join as individuals.

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Bridge Base Online is the largest online bridge platform for real-time bridge – by which I mean, you play with real people and wait while they are thinking and so on, just like in a club. There is an option for robots, but mainly for practising. It began in the USA and is truly international, which means the majority of players use a strong No Trump, but there are plenty of Acol players too.

The EBU has made arrangements with Bridge Base to run EBU sessions every day. Joining in one of these sessions costs one “BB$” which you purchase at the rate of one BB$ per US $. It is just a way of keeping some credit with Bridge Base to avoid paying a small sum each time you play. Master points are awarded. They are 12-board games and there are currently four every day, at 2pm, 3.30pm, 7.30pm and 9.00pm.

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We have a guide to registering for Bridge Base Online here.

Funbridge is the largest online platform for computer bridge – but with a difference. Every game you play on Funbridge had its results compared with other people, so it is a kind of computer duplicate. The standard is high; the computer opponent is better than most human players even if sometimes it does strange things (just like us). In 2019, an average of over 1 million deals were played on Funbridge every day.

Funbridge has a nice user interface and some great features, like the ability to replay hands as many times as you like (only your first score counts unfortunately!). Because you play against the computer, there is no waiting around, and you can play as slowly as you like without annoying anyone. You can’t let down your partner therefore, but equally you won’t be congratulated for your great play, except by the reward of a nice score.

You get 100 free boards when you sign up, and can play 10 boards for free every week. Beyond that buy packs of boards or pay a subscription for unlimited games.

The EBU runs a Funbridge session every day, and master points are awarded. There is a small extra charge for playing in the EBU sessions, currently €2 (though like Bridge Base, Funbridge has a virtual currency called Diamonds). Full details of the EBU sessions are here.

There are several ways you can do things as a club on Funbridge. You could have a team in the Funbridge Team Championship (6 members in each team), and you can create Funbridge tournaments for your club. It is not ideal though, since players always play solo, and you have to accept that non-club members might play in your tournament. These other games do not cost any Funbridge Diamonds though, and you do not get master points.

We have said a bit more about these and other online bridge options here.

Encouraging and supporting online bridge

Do you have members who would like to play online but may struggle to get started? You can offer to help them either by talking them through it on the phone. We can also help with advice. A great idea though is for one or two members of your club who are comfortable with playing online to make themselves available to encourage others.

Please also advise them that if you are playing online with other people you need to apply the same high standard of behaviour as you would at a real table. For example, imagine you over-bid and see the contract is hopeless as soon as dummy goes down. Do not think about abandoning the board, as that is inconsiderate. Grit your teeth and play; the next board may be a triumph.

Continuing bridge learning

Another idea is to encourage club members to use the opportunity of more time at home to improve their game. There are plenty of sites out there, from no fear bridge aimed at novices, to the highly educational Bridge Master which you can find (completely free) on Bridge Base Online. Bridge Master has several levels; you have to find a line of play that succeeds for a variety of hands. At the high levels it is very challenging, and you can learn different types of squeezes.

If you are running bridge classes, you might consider running some classes via web conferencing. Many systems let you share your screen so you can show hands and other presentations.

Let’s not forget books as well. There are many superb books on bridge at every level, so this is a good time to remind members of them and make some recommendations.

Have you got ideas about keeping your club together during a time of not meeting? Please let us know in the comments or contact me by email as we would love to share them.