December 4, 1996


Dear District and Unit Board Members in District Two:

It gives me great pleasure to announce my 1997 appointments to the ACBL Goodwill and Charity Committees. The Goodwill Committee is a lifetime appointment that recognizes players who exemplify the best of our game in promoting goodwill at the bridge table.

Congratulations to our 1997 Goodwill Committee members:
  1. Ruth Hopson of Sault Ste. Marie, ON
  2. Hans Jacobs of Aurora, ON
The ACBL National Charity Committee appointments are for one year and recognize our volunteers who have been active in running and promoting charitable events.

Congratulations to our 1997 Charity Committee members:
  1. William Coats of St. Jacobs, ON
  2. George Shaw of Milton, ON

  1. ACBL Election Results:
    1. Howard Piltch, District 25, was elected as ACBL President for 1997.

    2. Joan Gerard, District 3, and Cecil Cook, District 23, were elected to 3 year terms as ACBL representatives to the World Bridge Federation (WBF). They join George Retek, District 1, Virgil Anderson, District 15, and Dan Morse, District 16, to complete our five member contingent to the WBF.

    3. Carol and Tommy Sanders (affectionately known by their friends as Mama Bear and Papa Bear) were named as ACBL's Co-Honorary Members of the year for 1997.

    Congratulations to all of the above. We wish them well in 1997.

  2. Junior Programs -- Good News/Bad News:
    1. The highlight of anyone's 1997 calendar will be the World Junior Bridge Championships in Hamilton August 4-14, 1997. The organizer, John Carruthers, is doing an outstanding job, with help from friends and volunteers. Expect this to be a first rate quality show from start to finish. Make your plans to attend now.

      Related to that event, while reviewing the ACBL's junior programs, I discovered a "management oversight". As a result of bringing it to management's attention, the Canadian Bridge Federation (CBF) will be receiving an unexpected US $4,500. This is its 10% share of the ACBL money being allocated for training and expenses for junior teams. I urge the CBF to use this cash windfall for the benefit of both Canada Red and Canada White (our two participating junior teams) so that we may subsidize BOTH of our teams. The US will also have two teams (USA I and II) competing.

    2. The University of Waterloo Bridge Club continues to be a strong and positive force for junior bridge in Canada. This year they also have two successful teaching programs going - the Club and Diamond Series.

    3. Less positive is the situation in Toronto. The Hart House Bridge Club is a semi-private club affiliated with the University of Toronto. Their membership includes some students but is open to anyone who joins Hart House. Recent events have been disappointing, including a visit by Eddie Kantar (few people elected to attend) and last month's scheduled North American College Bridge Contest junior pair event offering $500 scholarships, which had to be cancelled when only two eligible pairs showed up to play!

    4. Even worse is the situation at York University. Several of our junior stars attend York and have benefited greatly from the ACBL's largess (scholarships, bridge camp subsidies, "Memphis in May" National College Bridge Team Championship, etc.) but we have received little return on our investment. Almost two years ago, Unit 166 helped send several kids to the Belgium Junior Camp in the hope that a vibrant junior program would develop at York including a bridge club. Unfortunately, this has not occurred.

    This is probably as good an introduction as any to the major financial problems affecting the ACBL today. As stated here on several occasions, the declining ACBL membership, coupled with increasing program costs and expenses, is a problem. Worse, declining NABC attendance figures (and reduced, if any, profits) have exacerbated the situation.

  3. ACBL Financial Results -- 1996:
  4. When the books close on 1996, the final results will be significantly below 1995's results as well as 1996's budget. Management is predicting a 1996 profit of $250,000 which is $450,000 below budget and a fraction of 1995's record profits (which reflected the membership dues increase).

    Some significant highlights:

    1. Profit from the first two NABCs in '96 are down $207,000 from '95 and $153,000 from budget.

    2. Bulletin publication costs were up $90,000 (expenses up $48,000 while advertising revenue declined by $42,000).

    3. Membership revenue is down $181,000 from projections due to a lack of familiarity with the new accounting rules, resulting in an inaccurate budget.

    4. Product sales and profits were similar to '95 but $111,000 below '96 budget. In hindsight, perhaps the budget was overly optimistic!

    5. An on going dispute with the Post Office to the tune of $178,000 continues and will appear as a footnote to the 1996 financial statements.

  5. Cut, Slash, and Burn -- 1997 Budget Cuts:
  6. The Board of Directors could not accept a "business as usual" approach for 1997; therefore, we made substantial program cuts and reduced other expenses. Some items of significance are as follows:

    1. ACBL Junior Program:
      1. College program eliminated effective immediately (no Memphis in May in 1997) for a projected savings of $25,000.

      2. Subsidies for 1997 Junior Camp in Italy reduced to a maximum of $12,500 plus any monies raised during Junior month in February. Savings of $30,000 from budget.

      3. USA I and II junior team expense budget reduced by $35,000 to a new figure of $45,000 (of which $4,500 goes to the CBF, leaving $40,500 for the US portion).

      The sad reality is that with just 1,434 junior members, there is no justification for the huge outlays of money that have been spent. The "crown jewel" of the junior program, the School Program Bridge Lessons, whereby the ACBL pays teachers to teach the Club Series to students for free remains intact -- for now. There are some who feel the money could be put to better use.

    2. General Interest Cuts:
      1. Point confirmation cards will be mailed bi-monthly for a projected savings of $31,000. This will be reviewed and the mailings may well become quarterly in the future.

        NOTE: You can call the ACBL MAD line 24 hours a day, seven days a week (1-800-467-2623 in Canada), punch in your ACBL number and instantly get the latest update on your lifetime, year-to-date, and last entry masterpoint information!

      2. The Bridge Bulletin will be reduced to 132 pages (from 148) for six issues. In addition a 16 page 4 colour section will be eliminated. Projected savings $78,000.

      3. In the muddied waters of ACBL Board meetings, it is not always clear exactly what is being proposed! This is especially so when the board is meeting "overtime" into Friday morning as happened in Miami and again in San Francisco. As best as I can ascertain, we plan to reduce our losses on the North American Pairs subsidies by $21,000. I believe that in 1997/98 winners will receive a straight $600 (US) and they will make their own travel and hotel plans.

      4. Stricter staffing requirements at NABCs is projected to save $50,000. When asked if this reduction will affect the quality of service to our playing members, management answered, "not at all" which begs the question of how the money was previously spent (on over-staffing?).

    3. Board of Directors Cuts:
      1. Spousal/Companion air travel to NABCs has been reduced to once per year. Savings of $10,000.

      2. Pre-Tournament spousal entertainment budget reduced to $3,000 for a savings of $4,500.

      3. The Board of Directors will meet in Memphis next fall instead of at the St. Louis NABC. While I voted in favour of this experiment, I have grave reservations as to how much savings (if any) will result. Further, there is much to be said for the board to be at the NABC where they can attend the Board of Governors meeting, Appeals Committee meetings, Competition & Convention Committee, Laws Commission, Educational Foundation, Charity Foundation...as well as just plain mingling and meeting with ACBL players from all over North America.

      In addition, management has also made various staffing cuts, the Goodwill Committee receptions will be cut back and the budget for the NABC volunteer dinners has been reduced.

      The bottom line is a 1997 budget suggesting a profit of about $400,000 subject to the usual significant variations and the inherent unreliability of any budgeting process.

  7. 1997 Milestones To Watch For:
    1. Bridge America, ACBL's social division. A little slow in getting off the ground, memberships began to come in at a rate of 50-100 per day by mid-November. Audrey Grant will be embarking on a four week promotional tour later this month. The Board of Directors will re-evaluate Bridge America at the Spring NABC in Dallas.

    2. The ACBL and OKBridge are very close to signing a long term agreement. The future ramifications of this potential "merger" could lead to a renewed interest in the ACBL for the computer generation of bridge players.

    3. Grand Slam Bridge Inc. will be presenting a proposal in Dallas to market the game big-time. The proposal will include a bridge pro tour, a major television show/contract, and new rating system to measure a player's current ability as opposed to a lifetime masterpoint accumulation.

    The above three items may have a significant impact on the ACBL's future. Clearly, raising membership dues is not the answer nor can we continue to slash programs and fat from the budget. It is time to move forward into new areas and the above three items are crucial.

  8. Tournament Committee/Other Noteworthy Board Actions:
    1. All actions regarding modifications to the alert procedure have been deferred to the Dallas Spring NABC. In addition, two new convention cards (one for strong club players) will be proposed.

    2. Moved from General Convention Chart to Mid-Chart: A one spade response to a one heart opening which shows a forcing NT response and a 1 NT response to a one heart opening that shows spades!

    3. Mid and Super Chart written defenses. Whenever a pair is playing a convention that requires a written defense, their opponents may be allowed to refer to their OWN written notes as to how to defend.

    4. Regulations on psychic bids have been tightened. It is now illegal to psyche ANY artificial or conventional opening bid and/or conventional responses. You may NOT psyche conventional responses to natural opening which are less than 2 notrump. Psychic controls, including ANY partnership agreement which, if used in conjunction with a psychic call, makes allowances for that psyche, are NOT allowed.

    5. New club players may accumulate up to a maximum of twenty masterpoints before joining the ACBL.

    6. The Future of Bridge Task Force proposal to have a two fee structure whereby members get a $2 discount each and every time they play at a tournament was deferred to the Dallas Spring NABC, pending a satisfactory and comprehensive implementation plan from management.

  9. Appeals & Charges:
    1. The Board "strongly supports the provision of law 73B2, which suggests permanent expulsion as the sanction for its violation". This refers to cheating via pre-arranged illegal signalling methods. I abstained because, while I support the above, I believe it should be mandatory. We have too much talk and too little action in matters of serious breaches of conduct and ethics.

      With about 160,000 members, if the ACBL were to expel 5 or 10 players, we would be left with only 159,995. Would this be a tragedy?

    2. Having passed the "strongly supports" motion, thereby rescinding previous mandatory sanctions, the board then approved by a 15-8-2 vote a one year suspension for a pair found guilty of violating law 73B2!!! In addition, they may not play together as a partnership except with permission of some future ACBL Board of Directors. There were too many "extenuating circumstances" to convince the board to impose the appropriate penalty.

    3. I presented a long overdue "motherhood" motion (thanks to Hans Jacobs for the suggestion) that instructed management to prepare proper documentation of all disciplinary cases where a suspension of six months or greater was imposed. This record will be used to help ensure some degree of consistency and fairness in meting out sanctions. In addition, these files -- without player names or numbers - shall be made available for purposes of precedent and to help future District and Unit committees arrive at a just and reasonable discipline for any accused.

  10. The Last Word:
  11. I firmly believe and hope that 1997 may be the turn-around year for the ACBL when significant changes begin to happen. Business as usual is history. We must move forward with new programs, new ideas, and perhaps even take some risks to ensure our survival.

    Allow me this opportunity to wish all of you a healthy, happy, and prosperous 1997. Enjoy the holiday season and I look forward to seeing all of you at the bridge table at our January New Year Sectional at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto.

Once again, I appreciate the cooperation of all Unit Presidents and Secretaries in distributing this report to their members. You may also access my reports at:
http://www3.sympatico.ca/jonathan.st/