December 4, 1998

Dear District and Unit Board Members in District Two:

It gives me great pleasure to announce my 1999 appointments to the ACBL Goodwill Committee. This is a lifetime appointment, honouring players who exemplify the best of our game and promote goodwill at the bridge table.

Congratulations to our 1999 Goodwill Committee members:

My 1999 appointment to the ACBL National Charity Committee is:

The fall meetings are where many elections and appointments are made. Here are some of the key players for 1999:

  1. Val Covalciuc of Omaha, Nebraska (District 14) will be the 1999 ACBL President. We wish her well.

  2. Bobby Goldman will be the 1999 ACBL Honourary Member of the Year.

  3. Dan Morse was re-elected as one of the ACBL representatives to the World Bridge Federation.

  4. The ACBL Educational Foundation elected Lynn Berg President for 1999. Jonathan Steinberg will be Vice President; Dudley Brown Secretary-Treasurer. There is a link to the Foundation web site from my home page -- please visit and support us.

  1. Orlando Headline News (Highlights from the tournaments and ACBL board meetings -- details to follow):
    1. Congratulations to our Toronto stars Fred Gitelman and George Mittelman who WON the NABC Open Board-a-Match teams.

    2. ACBL stops the decline of the Canadian Dollar! 1999 conversion rate to be capped at 1.50.

    3. October designated as Club Recognition Month.

    4. Are 2 AM Appeals Committees headed for extinction? New appeals procedures to begin at the Vancouver Spring '99 NABC.

    5. ACBL Membership dues are expected to increase by $2 in 1999. Club game table fees will increase by 10 cents/table.

    6. ALL restrictions on club "pool" games and masterpoints have been rescinded. Our Thursday night money games in Toronto may now offer BOTH cash prizes and masterpoints.

    7. Yearly and lifetime restrictions on winning on-line masterpoints have been removed; however, other restrictions remain and on-line masterpoints are deemed to be "colourless", without any pigmentation!

    8. New requirements for LM (black points won at clubs) are in as well as new "expert" levels of achievement to be implemented as soon as possible.

    9. A two tiered price structure permitting members to pay less than non-members will be implemented at the San Antonio Summer 1999 NABC.

    10. New marketing initiatives to involve the grass roots. Units will be expected to develop mentoring programs to welcome new members and follow-up on why new members do not renew. ACBL will offer incentives.

    11. Orlando attendance nose-dived after the USA Thanksgiving Holiday. Final tally of 12,035 tables was almost 20% below the 1992 Orlando Fall NABC record of 14,980.

  2. Marketing and The Future:
  3. The ACBL Board of Directors held a two day strategic planning session just prior to our regular meetings. The exercise helped focus on areas that require both immediate and long term attention. Priorities were clearly established -- now the much harder task of successful implementation lies ahead.

    There are many marketing initiatives planned (or already underway) for 1999 and beyond. Here are some of them:

    1. A new program involving unit membership integration and retention responsibilities (with ACBL incentives) was approved. While exact details may change, all units will be expected to perform the following tasks:

      1. Must welcome new members within 30 days and report back to Memphis with the supplied form/questionnaire.

      2. Must telephone members whose membership has lapsed within 30 days of receiving information from Memphis.

      3. Must designate a Unit Electronic Contact who is able to receive e-mail.

      4. Must complete an annual Unit Marketing Survey Form provided by Memphis and submit it to ACBL along with with the annual list of unit officers.

      Full details will be provided to all units from Memphis. The ACBL recruits more than enough new members every year. The critical problem is our retention rate. Only about half of our new members elect to rejoin. That is unacceptable. For the ACBL to prosper, grassroots efforts are essential. We must ensure that our new members are happy, taken care of, and renewed.

    2. "Membership Has Its Privileges" but what privileges does ACBL membership have? Several years ago the Future of Bridge task force proposed that members receive a discount on their entry fees every time they play in an ACBL tournament. I am pleased to report that starting with the San Antonio Summer 1999 NABC that policy will be implemented. In addition, effective July 1, 1999, all sponsoring organizations are encouraged to do the same; specifically to charge $1.00 per session more to non-members at Regional tournaments and .50 per session more to non-members at Sectional tournaments. Failure to do so will mean submitting extra sanction fees to Memphis for all non-members who participate.

      NOTE: The above does NOT apply to Charity events and events limited to 20 masterpoints or less. The intent is to provide incentives for our players to join the ACBL and for LM's to pay their service fees. To be valuable, membership must be meaningful. We should not offer the same services and amenities at our tournaments to non-members and/or Life Members who do not pay their dues.

    3. The test marketing plan of offering new members a choice of receiving the traditional ACBL Bridge Bulletin or 6 issues of Better Bridge magazine (or both) continues. Preliminary indications are that a significant number of new members are opting to receive Better Bridge, which is targeted towards entry level players.

    4. In Montreal, a test market of an Associate Club Game will begin in 1999. These clubs will not need a certified director, nor will they be required to hold Charity games. Session renewal fees, game fees, and table fees will be the same as for regular club games. Masterpoints will be issued at a rate of 25% of currently sanctioned open games.

    5. October is designated Club Recognition Month. Clubs may hold up to three special games that will be rated as Unit Championship games for the purpose of issuing masterpoints; however, the clubs will only pay their regular game and table fees.

      NOTE: Clubs may not hold more games than they have sanctioned for any week. Thus, a club with one sanctioned game a week may only hold one special game.

    6. With the emergence of on-line bridge as a new means of acquiring masterpoints (colourless), it was decided that we needed to offer the backbone of the ACBL -- the bridge clubs that offer ACBL sanctioned games -- an incentive to get players to come out and play at their local club. Given that, the requirements for reaching Life Master status must now include at least 50 black points. Black points can only be won at the club level.

    7. A committee will investigate and report back to the board no later than Summer '99 with a proposal towards the development of a current rating system for our players.

    8. ACBL management is currently in the process of hiring a Chief Marketing Director. The position will be filled in 1999.

  4. Netpoints & On-Line Bridge:
  5. On-line bridge is here to stay. The question is how to harvest this potential and convert on-line players into ACBL members who play at the club level and attend our tournaments. My belief is that what worked for traditional face-to-face games (masterpoints) will have limited appeal for the players who opt for the on-line environment. We need to find something new and imaginative to attract these people to ACBL's face-to-face environment. I fear that the masterpoint lure will have a very limited benefit.

    Meanwhile, fewer and fewer people go out to their local club at night and tournament attendance is dramatically falling. When an outstanding NABC site such as Orlando is down almost 20% from six years earlier, we know we have our work cut out for us if we are to improve the situation.

    A variety of motions dealt with on-line bridge and masterpoints. Here are the highlights:

    1. "Netpoints", i.e. masterpoints won by playing bridge on-line will be "colourless" or lacking in pigmentation. Neither gold, red, silver, nor black, we now have colourless points (odourless, tasteless -- you decide)!

    2. The old restrictions of 10 points/year; 100 points/lifetime have been removed. However, on-line games are limited to no more than 1.50 netpoints/session. There will be no overall awards. Further, club championship and other higher rated special games that offer extra masterpoints will not be allowed for on-line games.

    3. No more than one-third of points required towards Life Master status can be won on-line (i.e. 100). Naturally, these points do NOT fulfill the requirements for black, silver, red and/or gold points needed.

    4. Netpoints won on-line do not count towards any ACBL yearly masterpoint races.

    5. Finally, the issue of cheating and ethical standards on-line was addressed. I will discuss those items later in this report under Appeals & Charges matters.

  6. Tournaments and Masterpoints:
    1. The regulations forbidding "Invitational" clubs from awarding gold points has been revised to allow all ACBL sanctioned invitational clubs to award 0.80 gold points to section top winners in the annual Instant Matchpoint Game (must have a minimum of 5 tables with no masterpoint limitations). Thanks to Mississauga's Bina Adams for this suggestion.

    2. Identical hand records must be used at both sites, for all events with one overall winner (unless there are special circumstances/significant starting time differences, etc. and management authorizes the use of different hand records). Thanks to Toronto's Sandra Lovering for bringing this matter to my attention.

    3. The large increases for overall awards for Canadian National Championships (see my Chicago report for details) received second reading approval and will go into effect in 1999.

    4. Platinum points have been created. These are awarded for NABC+ events and count towards the annual "Player of the Year" award. NOTE: Platinum points will be given towards senior and womens NABC+ events but NOT to junior, Flight B, or other restricted events.

    5. New titles of "Expert" have been added for each category of achievement. Management will design a pin, certificate, or other appropriate recognition of the Expert status categories. Implementation will be as soon as feasible; the programming required is extensive but should be completed during 1999. See Appendix A for all the details.

    6. All regulations regarding restrictions on cash prizes and jackpots (pools) at games held in clubs, including special events and unit championships are rescinded.

  7. Financial Matters:
    1. The ACBL has capped the conversion rate for the Canadian dollar to be no more than 1.50 for all of 1999. This will apply to all sanction fees, table fees, Tournament Director salaries, etc. and will allow us to plan our tournaments without having to to worry about Canadian dollar fluctuations. Thanks to the Canadian Bridge Federation for this excellent motion.

      NOTE: Membership dues were pegged at a conversion rate of 1.51 last July and will remain there in 1999. Product sales will be at the exchange rate in effect when a sale is made.

    2. ACBL membership dues are scheduled to increase by US $2.00 for all members effective July 1, 1999. This 7-8% increase will be the first since 1994. Junior membership will be $12, also up $2.00 and the first increase since sometime in the 1980s. The half price new membership promotional rate will increase from $14 to $15 dollars.

      NOTE: All dues increases will require a second reading at the Vancouver Spring NABC in 1999.

    3. Club game table fees will increase from .50 to .60 cents/table, an increase of .025 cents/player. This is the first increase since 1989 and is scheduled to go into effect on April 1, 1999. Some special event games will also see a price increase (eg. NAP games up to $7/table from the current $6).

    4. There will be NO increase in the $2.60 Sectional table fee nor the $3.70 Regional table fee.

    5. ACBL fully supports the use of Tournament Assistants (TA) to help sponsoring organizations keep their tournaments affordable. Management is directed, whenever feasible, to reduce its TD staffing requirements for a tournament when the sponsoring organization commits to hire a TA.

      NOTE: Attention all District 2 Tournament Chairs. The onus is on us to develop and hire TA's to help reduce our costs. Please take advantage of this opportunity. Advance planning is required.

    6. The ACBL Treasurer's report is available to any member upon request. 1998 was a good year. Our financial reserves are at a record 3.7 million which is about where it should be for an organization of our size.

  8. Appeals & Charges & Ethical Matters:
    1. My Chicago report spoke extensively on the issue of Appeals Committees. I am pleased to report that effective with the Vancouver Spring '99 NABC, the ACBL will experiment with a new method of handling appeals at all events below the NABC+ rating.

      All such appeals will be handled by the tournament directing staff rather than by the traditional appeals committees. There will be a full review of the process and cases will continue to be written up in the Daily Bulletin.

      Many, including yours truly, believe that the focus at a bridge tournament should be on the game rather than on litigation. The intent of the new procedure is to resolve appeals in a more timely fashion with less inconvenience for all concerned as well as to develop more consistency in rulings.

    2. My Reno report last March discussed drug testing for our International players, a practice to which I am opposed. However, while drug testing is no longer on the agenda, management will develop a certification statement concerning illegal drugs and inappropriate behaviour to be signed by all players under consideration for approval by the ACBL Board of Directors to represent USA, Canada, Bermuda, or Mexico. I remain opposed (in the minority) to interfering in one's personal life regarding behaviour that has no effect on one's performance at the bridge table.

    3. Any on-line service which offers masterpoints must offer some type of mechanism for their players to file complaints if they sense there may have been ethical violations arising out of on-line bridge. The complaints must be investigated. Carried unanimously.

      By a narrow 14-11 margin, we passed the additional motion that all such complaints and investigation results be forwarded to the ACBL Recorder. The Recorder will oversee the disposition of these issues and give regular reports to the Board of Directors.

    4. A significant minority of the ACBL Board believe that the role of the ACBL National Recorder must be expanded and that it can no longer be carried out effectively by a volunteer. Given the emergence of on-line bridge, the need for a salaried full time Recorder is greater than ever.

      Unfortunately, ACBL management does not share my concerns over these matters and I have been informed that there is "no money in the 1999 budget" for such a position. It would be a tragedy if the ACBL reverts to the "bad old days" when ethical standards were arguably significantly lower than they are today.

      It is not clear who the 1999 ACBL Recorder will be, but I doubt if there is anyone who, as an unpaid volunteer, can do the work required with any degree of effectiveness or satisfaction.

  9. The Last Word:
  10. It must be clear to everyone by now that there are no magic bullets, "Silber Bullets", nor will divine intervention restore ACBL's duplicate bridge environment to prosperity and growth.

    What is required is the efforts of ALL of us: players, unit and district officials, our TD's and Memphis staff, to promote bridge and the ACBL whenever and wherever possible. It is the grassroots at the club and unit level where success must be achieved one person at a time. A telephone call, a smile, a warm welcome -- these are the ingredients for success.

    I shall be starting the new year attending the International Youth Bridge Festival in Holland with the 1999 Canadian Junior Team. While I am overseas, I hope the rest of you will continue to make our January Toronto Sectional at the Royal York Hotel the largest three day sectional in North America. Mark it on your calendar: January 8-10, 1999. A great way to start the New Year!

    To all of you, my best wishes for a happy holiday season and a peaceful and healthy 1999. I look forward to seeing you at our District 2 Regionals in 1999 which are:


    The cooperation of all unit Presidents and Secretaries in distributing this report to their members is greatly appreciated. This report may also be viewed on my home page at:

    http://www3.sympatico.ca/jonathan.st/


    Appendix A

    The following list represents new TITLES or LABELS, not new categories. The EXPERT label is an incentive for those players who recognize the challenge to achieve more than a simple accumulation of Masterpoints.