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Why do people make learning this game so hard?

#1 User is offline   MaxHayden 

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Posted 2019-September-06, 23:55

Bridge needs to be accessible, right now it isn't. Why is that? Why isn't there a Culbertson or a Goren bringing in a ton of social players?

Board game night is a popular thing. People spend tons of money on Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and the rest. Bridge is a fun game. But no one ever says, "let's play a few rubbers tonight". And hell would freeze over before someone said, "I bought this nice box set at the game store and liked the concept. Let's take 15 minutes to get the basics and try it out."

I learned bridge on board game night because my college friends couldn't agree on spades or euchre. So someone suggested we do bridge and taught us how. And as we got into the game and ran into problems, we got taught more stuff or someone went out and looked it up in a book and taught the rest of us. I.e. Exactly like the way people get into other games. Someone new can join, and the randomness makes winning possible even though skill and reasoning is a big part. And you can go online or buy a book if you want to get good. And you can go to conventions and do tournaments if you get serious.

But bridge doesn't do that. It's damned near impossible for someone to buy a pamphlet and learn to play with their friends like you could back in the day. And there are no attractive "sets" of stuff to buy that make the game attractive or remotely marketable.

No one says, "you can learn the game in less time than it takes to read the typical board game rules and it's every bit as fun and challenging!" We have classes and interminablely slow software. And we don't even teach anything remotely modern. So you can't even appreciate the higher levels of tournament play. And even a local duplicate tournament is intimidating as hell and a huge jump from social play.

I'd have never gotten into this if it weren't for a friend group that liked playing the game til 2am over drinks. It's hella fun, to the point that "board game night" turned into "bridge night with some board games thrown in."

I love the game, but it seems like too few of the people are doing it to have fun. Those people got scared off because we told them it was hard and pure skill like chess and only the truly brilliant could even understand it let alone play.
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#2 User is offline   cencio 

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Posted 2019-September-07, 01:18

Card games are disappearing in Italy. Young people are more attracted to video games. The old inns where old people played cards and taught young people are less and less. Bridge in Italy has always been a game considered elite. To learn bridge in Italy you have to pay for a course.
Then there are some inherent problems with bridge. You have to be in pairs, you need to have the boards , you have to have the bidding boxes also to calculate the results is not simple. And then we must not hide that to learn a good system of bidding in two people it takes a lot of time and constancy.Induced advertising should be used, put it in commercials spot, in the movies, associate it with some famous person. I see a difficult future for bridge.
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#3 User is offline   FelicityR 

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Posted 2019-September-07, 02:43

Given that bridge is a social game about communication (bidding, signals, etc.) it doesn't surprise me that it is slowly dying a death socially. There are always younger players coming into the game, but so many young people these days seemed to be wrapped-up with social media, their phones, video games, etc. and as a result society as a whole is becoming more 'single-person orientated'.

I know of a number of families (including my own family: son and daughter) where sharing a kitchen table for food with their children happens very rarely, so sharing a kitchen table for a game of cards just isn't on the menu, excuse the pun. And even when they share food at the kitchen table, our grandchildren have some electronic game nearly, sometimes playing it between courses! Or rushing off immediately after the meal to play their X-box game.

I also doubt if bridge is taught much in schools these days. Maybe both chess and bridge should be compulsory and on the school curriculum (says me very much tongue in cheek). And bridge might make some sort of revival if it was.
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#4 User is offline   hrothgar 

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Posted 2019-September-07, 03:54

The method that I have long used to introduce friends to playing bridge is to use Minibridge instead.

I think that it is hopeless to try to teach bidding to people before they can look at two hands and have some understanding of level and strain.

So, start things off with minibridge. If folks find the game interesting, point them at Bridge Master.
And, after a bit, you can try to show them how bidding works.

With this said and done, I do think that bridge has a problem.

When I get together with friends for game night, we play Gloomhaven or, on occasion Spirit Island.

Simply put, the world has moved on and folks have come up with games that outcompete bridge in its natural ecosystem.
Alderaan delenda est
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#5 User is offline   MaxHayden 

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Posted 2019-September-07, 03:55

View PostFelicityR, on 2019-September-07, 02:43, said:

Given that bridge is a social game about communication (bidding, signals, etc.) it doesn't surprise me that it is slowly dying a death socially. There are always younger players coming into the game, but so many young people these days seemed to be wrapped-up with social media, their phones, video games, etc. and as a result society as a whole is becoming more 'single-person orientated'.

I know of a number of families (including my own family: son and daughter) where sharing a kitchen table for food with their children happens very rarely, so sharing a kitchen table for a game of cards just isn't on the menu, excuse the pun. And even when they share food at the kitchen table, our grandchildren have some electronic game nearly, sometimes playing it between courses! Or rushing off immediately after the meal to play their X-box game.

I also doubt if bridge is taught much in schools these days. Maybe both chess and bridge should be compulsory and on the school curriculum (says me very much tongue in cheek). And bridge might make some sort of revival if it was.



The thing is that social games with lots of parts and deep strategy are popular right now, despite all of those problems. I think bridge could be. But maybe we need the kind of minor tweak that Vanderbilt used to jump start it originally. I'll think on this and talk to dome game designers I know.
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#6 User is offline   HeavyDluxe 

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Posted 2019-September-08, 11:58

I think Max is onto something...

My family attends a summer camp week with a bunch of other nutty, nerdy homeschool families... A few years ago, a couple of us who were interested in bridge started teaching some of the other people to play. All of them love games, and many appreciated games that make you _think_ (like Catan and other eurogames)

What hooked them was focusing on the cardplay elements first. I'd put up a single-suit play problem and people started to see the beauty of the game. Move that into minibridge and then help people see the way duplicate norms out great/bad runs of cards and allows people to really pit their wits against one another. Then, finally,move onto the 'additional codebreaking challenge' of the bidding system.

That order of operations, combined with the social element of bridge that I think people ARE craving in our disconnected culture, seems to be a winning recipe.

We went from two people three full tables in a couple years. No one's competing in the Spingold or anything, but people are enjoying the game and looking forward to playing every year.

A smaller handful would play more often if they could, but bridge also has a culture problem. It's hard to break into the social circle of the game at a club level and even I've found (as a slightly more intermediate player) how intolerant most players are of new people. Online is better if you know were to look, but unless you do you're likely to get booted from a table or have a revolving run of partners as people bail on playing with you when you make your first mistake.

That latter part of inclusion is something we all do well to watch out for...
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#7 User is offline   pescetom 

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Posted 2019-September-08, 14:24

View PostHeavyDluxe, on 2019-September-08, 11:58, said:

A smaller handful would play more often if they could, but bridge also has a culture problem. It's hard to break into the social circle of the game at a club level and even I've found (as a slightly more intermediate player) how intolerant most players are of new people.

That's one of the two key problems of bridge IMO. The others are that the rules are too complex and often ambiguous. Both are eminently solvable, but so far nobody (with the exception of the well-intentioned but over-zealous "Zero Tolerance" policy of ACBL) has done anything concrete and time is running out.
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#8 User is offline   HeavyDluxe 

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Posted 2019-September-08, 19:29

View Postpescetom, on 2019-September-08, 14:24, said:

That's one of the two key problems of bridge IMO. The others are that the rules are too complex and often ambiguous. Both are eminently solvable, but so far nobody (with the exception of the well-intentioned but over-zealous "Zero Tolerance" policy of ACBL) has done anything concrete and time is running out.


Yes.

I _really_ don't think the rule complexity is a problem... If you look at the interactions in the most popular card (or card-style) games right now - MTG, Keyforge, L5R, Netrunner, etc - there's plenty of complexity and complex interactions. I think the problem is the in the way many people play gatekeeper with those complexities and go out of their way to make the game as demanding as possible on the newbies.

My son got into MTG and similar things. They don't really appeal to me much (though Keyforge is fun once in a while), but I've gone with him to a number of game nights just to be part of his thing. The community there is tremendously welcoming. Willing to share, will happily play "nerf'd" decks for a round against you to make it fun, actively encouraging people to come back, etc.

It's something we need to learn from... Desperately.
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#9 User is offline   nige1 

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Posted 2019-September-09, 01:46

Current Bridge rules are complex, sophisticated, over-subjective, and fragmented into WBF laws, Minutes, Local regulations, and Conditions of contest. Bridge-rules are in urgent need of radical unification, clarification, and simplification -- to the point that the average director and player can understand most of them. Law-makers, Administrators, Directors, and Secretary-birds defend the status quo but the current mess is killing the game. A game is its rules and the rules of Bridge deter would-be players and reduce the enjoyment of existing players.

Bridge-authorities have been reluctant to pursue cheating allegations. Bridge-winners has many threads, by Avon Wilsmore and others, detailing flawed official "investigation" of world-class suspect cheats from most NBOs (especially USA and Italy), usually ending in horrific farce. For example The Burgay Tapes. Typically, the panel include judges with obvious but undeclared interest in the outcome. The WBF should belatedly start to take responsibility for drafting watertight rules and appointing dedicated officials with the power and resources to investigate and deter cheating in a timely efficient way. Prosecution should be robust and fair enough to have a prospect of being upheld by civil courts and arbitration. Players and would-be players are put-off a game where some of the most successful pairs are accused of cheating and coffee-housing, with official tolerance, if not active protection.
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#10 User is offline   VJ 

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Posted 2019-September-09, 06:55

In my opinion, one possible solution is to teach bridge at school. Not any bridge though, logical bridge with not the slightest requirement for swallowing anything by heart. I am about to write a book that will show the method I use. Minibridge? Hell not! Pure logic, that could be taught at school for great benefits. After 1 hour, my young students go to the local club and perform reasonably well, usually fazr above 50% if not on the podium. Then the following lessons build up seamlessly on their bidding system and improve their play of the cards.
This being said, I agree on being harsh on convicting cheaters and players consistently lacking ethics. I also agree on simplifying side rules and local regulations.
If interested in this book, look for my name at amazon.com 6 months from now.

John N. Nève de Mévergnies
Systems architect
Currently playing for Alsace, France
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#11 User is offline   pannai 

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Posted 2019-September-09, 09:24

The topic – Why do people make learning this game so hard – has also been bothering me for some time now – and in response I have created a board game, HOOL, which sits somewhere between MiniBridge and Bridge.
http://youth.worldbr...resh-deshpande/
(You can also read the rules of HOOL on the site.)

While the board game has been out for about a year, we have just released the beta-test version of online HOOL.
It can be accessed at: hool.org
(The site will say 'not secure' but thats only because we haven't got the certificate yet - the site is safe)

The software currently has limited capability, but in time we hope to offer functionality similar to BBO. The software works best on windows laptops, macbooks and ipads – and soon we will be releasing the Android and iOS app for mobile phones.

It would be great if you guys can test the HOOL software and send me your feedback at:
amaresh.deshpande@gmail.com
(For testing you will need 4 players, since no one knows about it yet.)

Amaresh
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#12 User is offline   nullve 

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Posted 2019-September-09, 11:52

View Postpannai, on 2019-September-09, 09:24, said:

The topic – Why do people make learning this game so hard – has also been bothering me for some time now – and in response I have created a board game, HOOL, which sits somewhere between MiniBridge and Bridge.
http://youth.worldbr...resh-deshpande/
(You can also read the rules of HOOL on the site.)

While the board game has been out for about a year, we have just released the beta-test version of online HOOL.
It can be accessed at: hool.org
(The site will say 'not secure' but thats only because we haven't got the certificate yet - the site is safe)

The software currently has limited capability, but in time we hope to offer functionality similar to BBO. The software works best on windows laptops, macbooks and ipads – and soon we will be releasing the Android and iOS app for mobile phones.

It would be great if you guys can test the HOOL software and send me your feedback at:
amaresh.deshpande@gmail.com
(For testing you will need to be 4 players, since no one knows about it yet.)

Amaresh

View Postnullve, on 2017-July-14, 07:31, said:

After, or instead of, minibridge, how about teaching the small children a game just like bridge, but with simplified scoring and a two-staged auction phase, e.g.

North: "clubs"
East: "diamonds"
South: "spades"
West: "diamonds" [ends EW's discussion about which denomination to play in]
North: "hearts"
South: "spades"
North: "notrump"
South: "notrump" [ends NS's discussion about which denomination to play in]

followed by

North: "five" [North is willing to contract for five tricks in notrump]
East: "six"
South: "eight"
West: "nine"
North: "pass"
East: "pass"
South: "double"
West: "pass"
North: "pass"
East: "pass"

?

Could this game be just as easy as HOOL, but more similar to real bridge than HOOL is?
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#13 User is offline   eoht 

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Posted 2019-September-09, 12:10

The problem with teaching bridge in schools is not that it is difficult and in fact I find that students grasp the play almost straight away and the bidding is not too difficult if they understand basic rules.
However, there seems to be a lot of prejudice against bridge as many young people seem to believe that the game is only played by old pensioners with nothing better to do. As a child myself and a bridge player, it is obvious that this is completely wrong as I enjoy playing the game competitively and know many other children who love bridge.
To make progress in teaching bridge I have found the best way to encourage people to learn is show how the game is not just about playing but about socialising. Combining cards with talking and a place to hang out means that people may come along just to talk to their playing friends but end up joining in and soon are hooked.
This process has worked excellently at the school bridge club and we regularly get 5 or more tables playing bridge, minibridge or similar card games.
To increase the number of people playing therefore, I believe we first need to eradicate the myth that bridge is only for the elderly and publicise youth bridge more than is currently being done.
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#14 User is offline   HeavyDluxe 

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Posted 2019-September-09, 13:05

View Posteoht, on 2019-September-09, 12:10, said:

To increase the number of people playing therefore, I believe we first need to eradicate the myth that bridge is only for the elderly and publicise youth bridge more than is currently being done.


I'm not sure I really agree with this foundationally, but I'm not a kid/youth so stay off my lawn, etc.

I do _know_, however, that the only way this is going to happen is if a sufficiently motivated, media-savvy group of youngsters do it. There have been many efforts by old farts to market the game to young people, but all our efforts are clearly tinged with kistch, look like out-of-date parodies of what is current, and smell vaguely of mothballs and Brut aftershave. Nothing is more tiresome in our current media environment than something that is clearly inauthentic.
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#15 User is offline   pescetom 

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Posted 2019-September-09, 15:16

View Posteoht, on 2019-September-09, 12:10, said:

The problem with teaching bridge in schools is not that it is difficult and in fact I find that students grasp the play almost straight away and the bidding is not too difficult if they understand basic rules.
However, there seems to be a lot of prejudice against bridge as many young people seem to believe that the game is only played by old pensioners with nothing better to do. As a child myself and a bridge player, it is obvious that this is completely wrong as I enjoy playing the game competitively and know many other children who love bridge.
To make progress in teaching bridge I have found the best way to encourage people to learn is show how the game is not just about playing but about socialising. Combining cards with talking and a place to hang out means that people may come along just to talk to their playing friends but end up joining in and soon are hooked.
This process has worked excellently at the school bridge club and we regularly get 5 or more tables playing bridge, minibridge or similar card games.
To increase the number of people playing therefore, I believe we first need to eradicate the myth that bridge is only for the elderly and publicise youth bridge more than is currently being done.

Well done for writing here.
I agree that youngsters rarely find anything about bridge difficult, except for the most occult laws.
Socialising is also the element that they seem to look for and sometimes not find.
What little youth bridge we have should be publicized, for sure. The way that social media work these days, the message is going to get across however ingenuous marketing efforts by the old may be.
Another thing to consider is that any youngster exposed to bridge is a potential player, even decades later. The seed is sown.
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#16 User is offline   thepossum 

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Posted 2019-September-09, 21:03

As someone returning to the game after 30+ years I think maybe part of the issue is the loss (to most) of rubber bridge which is, from my point of view, a far superior way of learning the game compared to jumping straight into duplicate.

I would also add the trend towards unnecessarily complex systems/coventions, the tendency to tell people that they need classes when they dont even learn the basics, philosophy and ethics. It seems to me that a huge self-interested industry has grown up, mystifying the game, intimidating newcomers, and over-complicating the game. There is an obsession with the technicalities of conventions and the mechanics of the game when greater emphasis could be placed on the ultimate goals (eg part scores, games, and slams; and defence) and encouraging hand evaluation, creativity, risk taking and fun. Many have also lost sight of the social aspect Very sad really.

Unfortunately sites such as BridgeBase contribute somewhat to the intimidation when everyone is expected to play an unnecessarily complex convention card - albeit with tooltips (FunBridge at least acknolwedges three different levels, and the existence of alternative systems). Also those who ask questions on novice/beginner forums are intimidated by more advanced players who seem to have a very strange view of what beginner, noveice, intermediae, advanced and expert (even world class) mean. I suspect most dont have a clue :)
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#17 User is offline   HeavyDluxe 

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Posted 2019-September-10, 14:14

View Postthepossum, on 2019-September-09, 21:03, said:

As someone returning to the game after 30+ years I think maybe part of the issue is the loss (to most) of rubber bridge which is, from my point of view, a far superior way of learning the game compared to jumping straight into duplicate.

Especially on the bidding side of things. Simple 'natural' methods is the best primer... And, after some times getting cold cards the idea/appeal of duplicate is easy to see. I'm glad I still had 'Kitchen Bridge' in my early days as a player.

Quote

I would also add the trend towards unnecessarily complex systems/coventions, the tendency to tell people that they need classes when they dont even learn the basics, philosophy and ethics.


This...
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#18 User is offline   MaxHayden 

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Posted 2019-September-11, 16:00

I agree with the above about the game seeming like an old-person's game and not being packaged for today's generation.

Conceptually, there's nothing that stops you from having a card "shuffler" that deals out semi-random deals such that both sides get "shots" at similar contracts. Or that can deal out easier or harder contracts for you to just play. Or a card tray that can read the cards you've got and make some bidding suggestions. Or even some nice manipulatives like with Hool.

But it's going to take a new generation to take that stuff and make a marketable game.

View Postthepossum, on 2019-September-09, 21:03, said:

As someone returning to the game after 30+ years I think maybe part of the issue is the loss (to most) of rubber bridge which is, from my point of view, a far superior way of learning the game compared to jumping straight into duplicate.


I'm going to go further and say that *as a game for entertainment*, rubber is objectively better.

Duplicate is just a necessary evil. Rubbers is fun because it's random. But it's so random, that without duplicate, the winner of the tournament wouldn't be remotely based on skill. It takes an unreasonable number of hands for that to happen.

But volatility is the "sauce" that makes games entertaining to watch and to play. And taking it out is inherently removing the fun. As a game of pure skill, duplicate bridge isn't particularly good.

Most of the hidden information is trackable. Good players pretty much all do the same things. A single dummy evaluator that has near-perfect play isn't some engineering marvel. And there aren't constant innovations in card play. Watson's is and always will be good and mostly comprehensive.

So while tournaments are fun for people who love the game. I think they really should be seen as lagniappe instead of the game itself.

Quote

I would also add the trend towards unnecessarily complex systems/coventions,


One thing that Culbertson and Goren got right was that the bidding needed to be something that could be explained in a few simple principles.

The true problem is that we teach bidding using their general ideas but use systems that don't work by that logic. Adding the separate strength of each hand will never lead you to a modern system, no matter how many complications you add to TSP or Zar.

Modern bidding is based on figuring out how well the hands work *together*. So distribution usually matters more than points. (Literally every widespread convention is about conveying good or bad fits that are hard to communicate naturally. And as we've gotten further and further away from "adding hands" we've needed more and more complexity to account for this.)

E.g. For trump contracts, you primarily want to know the difference between the combined lengths of your partnership's longest and shortest suits. No amount of counting and adding points does this. 5 card majors with limit raises and splinters do.

So we need a modern way to convey our tacit knowledge and intuition like how Culbertson and Goren did. I doubt either of them rigorously adhered to their point counting; like most good players, they just visualized the play. The point counts were *intended* to be a heuristic and a crutch.

My tickler file has an entry for getting a well constructed database of hands and doing some advanced statistics to try to come up with some new "key principles" that can give us something remotely reasonably for beginners.

I *think* this works.

Look at a "modern" major suit auction: a single raise says 3 cards and not much else to add. A double raise says extra trumps and extra high cards. A splinter says "trump support and a singleton".

These *are* doing what Culbertson and Goren were doing -- adding the hand strength and bidding accordingly with higher bids being more rare and therefore easier to make decisions about.

It's just that they are communicating *different* information. So we need new principles of bidding and hand evaluation to explain it.


Quote

the tendency to tell people that they need classes when they dont even learn the basics, philosophy and ethics. It seems to me that a huge self-interested industry has grown up, mystifying the game, intimidating newcomers, and over-complicating the game.


I think the problem is one of economics -- people who go to tournaments are the ones spending the most money, so that's who gets catered to. The less randomness the game has, the higher the ROI on making all of these small bidding refinements.

That's probably why many rubber bridge players are still playing Goren or Bill Root -- the effort to change doesn't really seem worthwhile.
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#19 User is offline   hrothgar 

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Posted 2019-September-11, 16:05

View PostMaxHayden, on 2019-September-11, 16:00, said:

That's probably why many rubber bridge players are still playing Goren or Bill Root -- the effort to change doesn't really seem worthwhile.


I suspect the difference has more to do with the frequency with which people are playing in established partnerships
Alderaan delenda est
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#20 User is offline   AL78 

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Posted 2019-October-14, 02:03

View Posteoht, on 2019-September-09, 12:10, said:

To increase the number of people playing therefore, I believe we first need to eradicate the myth that bridge is only for the elderly and publicise youth bridge more than is currently being done.


That is going to be very difficult to do, because elderly people ARE the dominant demograph in most bridge clubs. Telling someone it is not only for the elderly is going to fall flat on its face as soon as they step into a bridge club.

The main problem with duplicate bridge as I see it, it that it is optimised for retired people, and very sub-optimal for younger people with day jobs and children/babies. The problem is the rigid structure. You HAVE to turn up at a specific time, once there you HAVE to stay there for a minimum of three hours, there is no turning up and departing when convenient for you (e.g. when I played badminton, I could turn up any time during hours of play and leave when I'd had enough). This means someone who has a day job, doesn't get home until 6:30 or 7 pm doesn't have time for a proper meal if they wanted to play bridge in the evening. If I want to play bridge on a working day, I pretty much have to take a full days food supply with me. Then there is the issue with childcare in the evening, their partner might resent being left holding the baby if they wanted to go out as well.

If a game is structured optimally for retired people, you should not be surprised to find it dominated by retired people.
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