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The Kids Table: There is Such a Thing as Bad Publicity

Disclaimer: I don’t apply any of the following sentiment to “Double Dummy” and I haven’t seen “Jacks and Knaves” yet, unfortunately.

I recently attended a screening of The Kids Table shortly before it was scheduled for release on many streaming platforms. I attended with bridge players in metro Detroit, as well as other community members. I represent multiple voices in response to the scenes, themes, and commentary presented in the film. I couldn’t find a proper channel to contact the producers, so perhaps this critique will reach them and other potential moviemakers in the future.

I. The overarching theme is anti-bridge, although presumably the intended audience is bridge players or those interested in learning the game.

a) The current bridge demographic was needlessly demonized. This was not only offensive to the older generations viewing the film, but also triggering for younger players who have grown close to (and in some cases lost, physically and/or mentally) dear friends in the >50 crowd.

b) The level of necessary commitment is exaggerated, and likely off-putting to potential young players. The stars state multiple times (including during a live appearance by one actor) that you cannot become successful at this game while having a full-time job, and that continuing with the game would be impossible while working a 9-5 M-F job. I know this is untrue from both personal and secondhand experience. The message should be about priorities rather than time and commitment constraints.

c) There is a comparison drawn between learning to play bridge and learning other card/board games as an explanation for why the game is “dying.” These are apples and oranges – if you want to become competent enough to compete in regional or national tournaments for tennis, taekwondo, poker, chess, or so many other (mind) sports, you’d need just as much - or more - time and effort as for duplicate bridge.

d) There was a significant scene explaining the clever ACBL marketing tool of Masterpoints, and how these do not function as well for younger players. The scene was an unnecessary, combative effort to justify why the young players featured were unmotivated to continue the experiment at various times during the stint. In my experience, competitive players do not pay much mind to Masterpoints, but rather have other motivators.

 

II. The stars may not have taken the best route in trying to learn the game.

a) I realize all instructors have different methods and often base these on their students, but some of the interactions between teachers and students were surprisingly critical, harsh, and demoralizing.

 

b) Some of the concepts introduced to the new players (e.g. odd-even carding) in the film are controversial, and likely not recommended by most teachers for players at novice/intermediate levels.

c) There was some uncertainty and animosity among the team about the goal(s) of the experiment. Further, there were no interviews featured about why competitive young players started to play, and why they stuck with it. Tangible goals are a relevant and important conversation when breaking into a new industry of any kind.

d) The social aspects of the game mentioned represent an exclusive, bridge-obsessed, stodgy population (e.g. the decorum on joking and celebrating victories, socializing at the bar at the end of the day). For one, listening to experts talk about their various bridge problems is a surefire way to improve. Further, from what I’ve heard and experienced, the stars did not try to engage other players (of any level or age) in conversation or form connections on non-bridge topics.

e) The actors’ time spent traveling and on activities away from bridge is celebrated as a necessary reprieve from the long game days, but there is no appreciation for the opportunities created in traveling to tournaments near and far. I’ve been to countless cities (and made time to explore, stay, and eat outside of the immediate site vicinity) as a result of playing bridge (in addition to my participation in the USBF junior program that resulted in multiple international excursions).

 

III. There is no mention, commendation, or even knowledge cited of the many current successful junior programs underway around world. In reality, there are young people learning to play, and instead of focusing entirely on the barriers to entry, a nod to the successful efforts (and how/where/why they are working) would have transformed the film into a feasible effort to encourage young players.

TL;DR:

If you view this film as an older player, younger player, or potential player, please don’t take the opinions of four frustrated, uninformed, media/arts millennials to heart.

If you’re looking to produce a documentary about duplicate bridge, please take care to explore and educate yourself about the industry you are attempting to document before spreading the opinions of four frustrated, uninformed, media/arts millennials as gospel.

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