These are hard times for bridge clubs, and speaking personally I greatly miss the bridge sessions we enjoyed before the UK went into “social distancing” lockdown. None of what follows is meant to suggest that playing bridge online is a perfect substitute for the enjoyment of playing face to face at a club, and I very much hope we can get back to doing that safely before too long.
In the meantime, clubs are currently unable to meet, and it is also possible that return to normal will not be smooth or immediate, but a process over a long period. There may be further lockdowns, and there may be understandable reluctance on the part of some members to return to club meetings while there is any perceived risk in doing so.
Playing bridge online is real bridge. You can play against a computer but compare your score with other humans (Funbridge); or you can play with other people just as you would if playing at a club (Bridge Base Online (BBO) or Bridge Club Live). We should acknowledge too that online bridge has some advantages. You do not have to travel; you can play at any time; you can easily find a partner or find somewhere to play with your normal partner; there are no worries about rooms or tables or preparing the boards or car parking. While we hope that our clubs will emerge in good shape when the current crisis is over, I also suspect that some of us will get a taste for online bridge that will continue. Perhaps it will make sense for some clubs to run regular virtual bridge sessions.
The EBU is doing a few things to encourage clubs to play online. Note first, if clubs play competitive tournaments on BBO they can continue to submit sessions for master points and NGS (National Grading Scheme); in fact, we very much encourage you to do so.
We have a spreadsheet which will automatically convert a results table into the XML file required by the EBU’s system and this is available on request. The club can then submit its results.
Virtual Bridge Clubs
With that out of the way, here is a quick look at the EBU’s arrangements for virtual bridge clubs, announced last week. All clubs should have received an email with details.
The idea of the virtual bridge club is that an EBU club can play pairs sessions on BBO as a club with a trained director (TD), who can be one of your existing directors after training, or a TD who we can help you find. The fundamentals are as follows:
- Once in the scheme, you can run pairs games of any size at any time, subject to the availability of a TD.
- Your members can pay “table money” through BBO in which case the the minimum cost is $3.00 per player (about £2.50). During the current crisis, the club receives 70% of this (it is normally 50%). Alternatively you can arrange with us to have members play without paying BBO direct, in which BBO charge about $1.00 per player. Clubs can then make their own table money arrangements with members. In both cases, the club submits its results and is charged UMS in the usual way.
- All virtual bridge club sessions must be submitted to the EBU under UMS. You can exclude sessions from NGS if you prefer by choosing the code. Code 10 is normal, with master points and NGS, Code 11 no NGS or master points, Code 12 master points but no NGS, Code 20 for counties.
A TD offer for virtual bridge clubs
Playing on BBO is a little different from playing in a face to face club. A group of EBU TDs has got together to offer some paid help, and we can put you in touch if needed. There are three offers:
a) You can have a BBO session set up and run for you at £40 for 18 boards or £45.00 for 24 boards. This includes finding hosts for single players, making rulings and correcting results for up to 20 minutes after play, publishing results to your website, submitting UMS, and providing a BBO TD.
b) There is a “support only” offer which provides assistance with rulings and results, publishing results to your website, and submit for UMS. £20 per session.
c) You can have one or more of your club TDs via two online sessions with screen sharing. You will get support material and assistance with users struggling to get online. This costs £100.
Questions about BBO virtual bridge clubs
Once in the scheme, do clubs have to pay for a BBO TD?
No. Once a club is in the scheme you can play as many sessions as you like and run them yourselves with your volunteer TDs just like a normal club night.
Do our TDs become BBO TDs via this scheme?
Not exactly. You have TD privileges within the virtual bridge club scheme, but not outside it. When setting up a session, you can appoint any BBO member as a TD for that session. But you cannot create pairs tournaments outside the virtual bridge club scheme, unless you are already a BBO TD. Our understanding is that BBO is not currently appointing new TDs because of the stress on their system during the COVID-19 crisis.
Is there a cost to join the scheme?
No. However the EBU administers the scheme and must be satisfied that the club is ready to run sessions. This could be via paid assistance as mentioned above.
Is it fair to award master points and NGS for online games, given that you cannot physically check that pairs are playing according to the rules?
We have posted about the ethics of online play here. It is a matter of trust, on the one hand, and also that anomalies become obvious, on the other. Normal disciplinary measures apply. But clubs have an option to exclude sessions from either or both master points and NGS if they prefer.
Do online sessions drag on because of disconnects, or players leaving their computer for some reason?
No. There is a setup option to have the time per board limited, for example to 7 minutes. EBU sessions are run like this. In this case, the round always ends when the time is up. Boards not completed get an adjusted score. Details of how this works are in the BBO guidance, but it is designed to be fair.
Can we control who plays in our sessions?
Yes. You can create what BBO calls a custom list of those allowed to enter. This can be just your members, or you can get together with other clubs.
I still have questions, can you help?
Yes. Please contact us with your questions. If you are an EBU club and have not received the application form, contact our club liaison officer Jonathan Lilycrop.