As many may remember, it has been difficult to find a home to the current European Championships. We are all very thankful to the Royal Belgian Bridge Federation for offering to take upon themselves their difficult organization. The choice to host them in Ostend has been made a lot later than usual and it is natural that this has caused problems. This is why I am not going to write in order to complain about this European Championships’ disappointing organization. I am sure the EBL is already aware of this. On Sunday Jan Kamras, a member of the organizing committee, announced that players who signed up for the mixed pairs could take part to the side events on Monday 17 and Tuesday 18 for free, in order to compensate for the bad organization that was witnessed on Saturday and has not much improved since.
What I would like to focus on is the new format of play which includes side events, and which mimics the US Nationals. Open pairs and teams competitions run in parallel to the main events, every day. This means that players who do not qualify to the final of some main event do not enter the consolation, or “B”, final, but may, if they so wish, play in side events.
In the mind of the organizing committee, I believe, the purpose of running side events is to encourage more players to participate. Some maybe do not feel confident enough to take part to a main event, or cannot/do not want to commit to a competition which may last several days. Moreover some players do not enjoy playing in consolation events, and they prefer fighting to win a side event, because such victory would be a real one, rather than a “consolation”. I do not think this purpose has been achieved so far during these championships, and I do not believe that it can in principle be achieved.
First of all, Ostend is a beautiful tourist centre, but it is not exactly full of bridge players. There are very little chances of attracting the interest of players who happen to be passing-by. A side event can be interesting and worth going to, if and only if there are lots of players there. In Ostend the pairs tournaments had 30 tables on Monday 17th, and 15 on Tuesday 18th. The two-day Swiss teams had 27 teams. Just to give an example, in the US during one day of this year’s Vanderbilt there were 68 teams in the main event, 99 tables in side pairs events and 73 tables in side teams events.
Secondly, I think the way side events have been organized is very damaging and discouraging to those who cannot afford a great deal, in particular youngsters. In Ostend it costs 200 Euros a head to play for two days. Then, if one qualifies to the final, one plays two more days, without extra costs. On the contrary, if one does not qualify, one has to pay 35 Euros a head to play in a side event, for each day. To play 200 boards then one ends up paying 270 Euros, more than 1 Euro a board. Young players are likely to be less experienced, and thus not to qualify for the main final. Moreover, they are more likely to be poorer than older players.
I think the EC organizing committee is right in wanting to find ways to encourage more players to come to the EC. I find these championships a great and unique chance of making new friends, playing and watching good bridge. I would recommend all competitive players to try at least once. However the EBL has to set its aims clear, and then take steps to achieve such aims. Who does the EBL want to encourage? If the EBL would like local club players to give EC a try, then the championships need to be held in a place full of clubs whose players may decide to pop in, for instance a big city. Cities offer a good chance of fetching random passers-by.
On the other hand if the aim is to attract more young players, the championships need to be held in a place where cheap airlines fly (Ryanair, Easyjet), and where cheap accommodation is available.
I firmly believe that the EBL should want to target young players, because only them can give a future to this beautiful sport, which all teachers like me see dying day after day. There is already a 25% discount on EC registration fees for players born in 1988 or after, but this year’s format represents a surprising raise in costs, given that the number of boards offered is the same, and that the location is so expensive. In addition, I think it would be a good idea to run an “under 26” category as well, to encourage those youngsters who prefer a shark-free event.
I hope that the disorganization of these EC will not lead people to mistrust the EBL and will not scare away younger players. As a bridge teacher, I particularly care about the young generations and I think the bridge institutions have to do as much as possible to encourage them and help them taking part to these championships, which are a great chance to learn.
Laura Cecilia Porro