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Tournament Travel Histograms
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In a previous post I examined tournaments table counts. That post generated a number of interesting questions some of which I answered in the comments. Gene Saxe asked questions that got me interested in examining travel distances to tournaments.

I present a full set of 126 travel distance histograms for all 2015 NABCs and open/split regionals on the La Jolla unit website along with district by district commentary and notes on the analysis methods. Here I show some representative cases.

A healthy NABC

Tournament travel histogram for the Chicago NABC

Chicago is illustrative of a healthy NABC, combining good attendance from an extended metropolitan region, roughly one third of the participants, with many visitors. Presumably the locals find the commute acceptable and the visitors find the destination has more appeal than simply as a place to play bridge.

Observe that the distance bins are logarithmically spaced which tells a better visual story than linear spacing would. Distances are as the crow flies rather than the actual commute distance and are computed as the distance between the tournament city and the tournament participant’s city. Participants residing outside the United States, Canada, or Mexico are ignored. The two times displayed on each histogram are the two most common event start times.

The New Orleans NABC (11,402 tables) lacked the locals. The profile for Denver (9059 tables) is similar to Chicago but scaled down, both in terms of the number of locals to draw upon and its draw to visitors.

Two extremes

Tournament travel histogram for the Honolulu regional

Honolulu and Southampton (Bermuda) are the purest examples of destination regionals. The Honolulu participants average about 8 sessions. Seaside, on the coast of Oregon, is a destination regional that also draws well from its district.

Tournament travel histogram for the Newton, MA regional

Newton, a suburb of Boston, is the clearest example of a locals only regional. Even isolated Anchorage draws more non-locals. The 544 table attendance is pathetic and is partly attributable to an average of only 4 sessions per player. Boston, a historical and cultural city with strong universities and many Ph.D.s should do much better. Downtown Boston is accessible via commuter rail with a station less than two miles from the playing site. I think the biggest problem is the time of the year. Low attendance can't be blamed on the Blizzard of 2015 which didn't begin until January 23, 2015 but D25 should do whatever it can to move this regional out of winter.

The remaining D25 (New England) regionals suffer in a similar manner but actually manage to do slightly better despite lacking the base of a major city such as Boston. But overall, D25 is failing to thrive.

D23 (Los Angeles) and D24 (New York City) also have locals only regionals. Los Angeles traffic is probably the largest deterrent for D23. Expense is probably the largest deterrent for D24. Why pay $350+/night to stay at the New York City host hotel in December when you could fly to Palm Springs in the same month and play for more days for the same total cost?

A powerful combination

Tournament travel histogram for the Lake Buena Vista, FL regional

Regionals that have destination appeal and strong local support do very well. Lake Buena Vista (near Orlando), shown above, had almost 3000 tables. Palmetto with 3148 tables, also in D9, has similar characteristics. Tucson, Albuquerque, Rancho Mirage (Palm Springs) also fit this pattern.

In-district destination regionals

Tournament travel histogram for the Taos, NM regional

Tournament travel histogram for the Myrtle Beach, SC regional

A regional need not be a destination for the entire ACBL in order to have the characteristics of a destination regional. Providing a destination for your own and neighboring district's players can be quite effective. Consider Taos, at the top, a small town get-away in a beautiful place scheduled at a beautiful time of the year. Local support is negligible but hundreds of players are willing to travel hundreds of miles and stay for a while, an average of 8 sessions per player, about the same as the Honolulu destination regional.

The masters of in-district destination regionals are D7 (Carolinas and Georgia area) and D6 (Virginia, Maryland, D.C.), until recently united as the Mid-Atlantic Bridge Conference (MABC). For D7, I show Myrtle Beach rather than Gatlinburg because I want to point out that their histograms are quite similar. Gatlinburg may be less an exceptional case rather than the biggest payoff of a good strategy. The MABC alliance strategy of drawing players out of the large metropolitan areas such as Washington D.C. and Atlanta to what are sort of bridge retreat destinations is something D23 and D24 might consider and something that would be very sensible after a redistricting that swallows these city-districts into larger districts.


Midwest regionals

Tournament travel histogram for the Elizabeth, Indiana regional

The Elizabeth, Indiana regional is representative of many midwest regionals. Players will travel up to 100 or 200 miles but there is little pull outside the district. Table counts are modest.

Commuter regionals

Tournament travel histogram for the Irvine, CA regional

Irvine, in Southern California, is a classic commuter regional. The playing site is just off a freeway. There are many locals and many people who will drive up for the day with a sharp cutoff around 100 miles. The table count is high (2035) but the average number of sessions per player is only 6. Many player drive back and forth a couple of days or stay a minimal number of nights at the host hotel. The area is around the tournament site is devoid of life. Why would anyone want to stay?

Adventure or business

In response to the Tournament Table Counts article, David Wetzel asked, “What's an appropriate distance to drive to a regional?” For me the answer depends on whether bridge is an adventure or “business". (Of course if you are a pro and it is business without the quotes you should travel anywhere for the right fee.)

Back when I lived in Salt Lake I assembled a team where everyone was under 35 and three of us were under 30. This had nothing to with the ACBL or its junior program or any such thing but rather was the result of upgrading some rubber bridge players at a local university hangout to duplicate bridge. We had learned a thing or two but were clearly Flt C players. Bridge was fun and an adventure.

A four hour drive to a sectional in St. George? Sure. It will be warm in January and red rock country is beautiful. A similar drive to the Grand Junction sectional? No problem. Six hours to a regional in Boise? Wow, I got eight young people, two full teams, let's do it! Drive all the way to San Diego for the Nationals and an OKbridge meetup? Sure, at least I have a free place to stay. Win or lose, I'm with friends and we'll have a good time together. And the Vancouver NABC? A great and fun location, the ACBL needs to hold another NABC there.

And amusing things would happen. Both our pairs did well on Saturday in Grand Junction sectional and the non-playing wife of a teammate shows up with a ridiculous amount of booze. So here I am at 4:30 am watching Rick smiling maniacally as he finished off a fifth. He had consumed 60% of it to prove to the true alcoholic on the team that he could, if really wanted to, outdrink him. Man Sunday was a hard game of bridge. I don't know how Rick made it through the day. Or here we are the lowest seed in the Boise Swiss, so round one was against Bobby Wolff's team. We got our clock cleaned but it was an education. The hands weren't dramatic. We could see afterwards that a few different actions on our part, accessible to mere mortals, would have resulted in only a small IMP difference.

Now bridge is “business”. The time for beating up on the inexperienced is past. But playing in open pairs is a lost cause unless in a well established partnership or with a strong player who really will stick to whatever card we agree to. Partners are acquaintances rather than friends, very much bekannte rather than freunde if you know a little German. Many of the opponents are "on spectrum" in the modern parlance. Some are unfriendly, some are unhappy with how their session is going, some are arguing with each other, some are berating their client, gently or otherwise. It's a humorless affair.

Well it's a competitive group... but perhaps we can enjoy dinner or break the ice with people over drinks. Not in D22. Every tournament is on the commuter schedule. No sectional feels at all special because there are so many of them and they are all right in town, often where we hold club games. Everyone scatters immediately after the second session.

The D22 regionals aren't any different. Everyone drives home immediately. Hard to blame them. The Irvine host hotel is a wasteland for miles amidst the jewel of suburbia. Riverside has a single interesting structure, the Mission Inn and has gussied up a small area of downtown. But after a short walk north of the host hotel, one partner summed up the town as, “the place where dreams go to die,” a fitting epitaph. San Diego is more appealing but we corral the players in dreary Hotel Circle. Palm Springs is a get away and the resort is nice but the town makes me feel a 105 year-old. It's just a collection of golf courses and hospitals. They even named a major thoroughfare after Gerald Ford. Gerald Ford?! Couldn't they have been more imaginative?

Maybe I shouldn't be too hard on my district's regionals. They address the bottom of Maslow's hierarchy well: they are easily reached, have reasonably priced parking, sufficient floor space, acceptable lighting, air conditioning, and clean cards, bidding boxes, and tables. But is this enough? For some, yes. Given the Skinnerian motivation of masterpoints, there will always be a group we could place in a concrete bunker with cards and toss bread crumbs in occasionally and still have a decent turnout. But as an organization we might do well to learn from D6 and D7 and some of the other destination regionals. To grow we need bridge to be fun, to be an adventure.

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