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Why Players Don´t Come Back
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I read in a thread on Bridge Winners that sometimes if directors give a harsh (but correct) ruling against a player, he won´t come back to the game. This is a conviction that many people have (TDs included), that I think is far from the true reason(s) why they don't come back (when they don't come back). In my experiences as a director, I can list a few.

1 - Good for Both is Bad for All

2 - It´s all in the package

3 - Never-ending story

4 - Heeerrreee's Johnny

I´m sure this list is not complete, but if all clubs (and larger organizations) addressed these four problems, we would be far ahead in terms of "customer loyalty".

1 - Good for Both is Bad for All

Directors that try not to rule against a player because they are afraid that the player won´t come back are,in my opinion, adisgrace to the game. You can easily spot TDs like that by examining the score sheets, or just by adding the total matchpoints and divide by the total of pairs (when the TD is acting like Santa, you see this quotient becoming significantly higher than average). When adjusting a score, the TD should rarely give more that the total MPs in dispute on a given board.

Artificial adjusted scores should be 40% for a contestant at fault, 50% for a contestant partially at fault, 60% for a contestant not at fault. So, 60/60 should be given when players can´t get a result for no fault of their own (because of a director´s error, for example). I see 60/60 given to pairs because they don't have time to play the board due to slow play, or because they called the TD due to a misexplanation, or other similar motives, which makes no sense at all and is *unfair* to the rest of the contestants in the tournament.

Adjustments can be of many different types, but what we call good/good, where we give the best of both worlds to defenders and to declarer, only happens in very specific cases, a bit like the 60/60´s. For example, someone is playing a slam on a two-way finesse and someone in the room screams that the queen is on the left. A TD that gives good/good because he doesn´t want to hold an appeal, or because one of the parties involved is the owner of the club, or the person he needs to impress to get a promotion, or something like that, should have no place in the game as a TD.

Stuff like this always makes me cringe. Rulings like these drives more players away that the TD realizes, because they are extremely unfair to the field, at matchpoints, IMPs, or any other form of scoring. What will the TD do, for example, after giving good/good on a board for any of the above reasons and one of the beneficiaries wins the event by a fraction of a matchpoint? Tournaments have to be run in equitable conditions for everybody, not in favorable conditions for some. A player that perceives a tournament as unfair will never go back for a second one.

2 - It's all in the package: The "I´m not coming back" problem with a ruling is not the ruling in itself, usually, but the way that the ruling and the players involved are handled. Players like to feel welcome, "at ease" and "at home" in the club. They want to feel that their opinions and points of view are taken into account. They want to know that when they feel that a rule is unfair, even if correct,that opinion is heard. In my opinion, here is where many TDs fail. They oftendeliver the rulings without taking into consideration the people they are giving rulings to: "This is the decision, this is the law". Of course, there are many great opposite examples:TDs that care, cherish, comfort, sympathize with their players, without corrupting the application of the law.

It has a lot to do with social intelligence and emotional intelligence applied to the game.

I directed many years at the club level, and one of the things that I slowly picked up through trial and error was that each player has a special chord that vibrates to a different frequency. It is our job to find out how to strike the right chords with the right players. Often, listening to them (not pretending, but actually listening) is a good way to start.

The same techniques can be applied at every level of the game. I was Chief TD for the Estoril BB Transnational in 2005. It had zero appeals up to the last day, when a player from a team way out of contention said to one of my field TDs that he wanted to appeal a decision. I don´t remember the case or the decision, anymore. I remember that I thought the appeal didn't have a chance. I sent the field TD to prepare the appeal, anyway, as the standard procedure, checked it with him for correctness, told the AC coordinator that we might have an appeal, waited for the end of the match and went tothe player to ask why he wanted to appeal. We talked frankly and in a friendly manner about the case for 10 or 15 minutes (they ended the match early). In the end, and this I won´t forget, the player in question, some inches taller and many pounds largerthan me, put one hand on my shoulder and said: "I know that you´re right, but I just needed someone to talk about it. I was so distressed, and my partner just compounded it. Can you believe what my partner did?" He didn't appeal, and in the endwe ended up with zero appeals in the whole Transnational. The player just wanted to be heard, to get it off his chest. Why did I take time to talk with the player? Because I had time (maybe if all the TDs were running around with too many cases, that would not have been the case) and because I genuinely thought that the player should understand why the ruling went that way before contesting it. If I thought that he had a case it would be a different story.

On the other end, last year I saw a TD at one of the nationals handling a lead out of turn by a foreign defender with very bad english (I know, players should speak the official language of the tournament) more or less like this: "Ok, it´s a penalty card. Do you accept the lead?" And the defender, trying to hear what was being said, hears "You have to wait, shhh" "But what is he saying?", asks the player to his partner, and this goes on. Declarer doesn´t accept, says lead anything, other defender leads the suit of the penalty card and the incident finished. I was at the next table and was thinking to myself about how that player was feeling inside. I woudn´t be surprised if he never returned...

Even if the player was a local, the way the TD handled the case from start to finish was not good, and it was a simple lead out of turn! TDs are often overworked, tired, running around filling little forms with line-ups and doing lots of administrative work, and I understand that it is very easy to forget who the "customer" is. But that should not happen.

Players walk away because TDs don´t use the right approach, not because the ruling is not favorable to them.

3 - Never-ending story: On a completely different note, tournament bridge is also about rhythm. A tournament starts at a given time and finishes at a given time. This is essential to make a regular tournament, or the activities of a club in general, thrive. I´ve seen 24-board tournaments drag for 4h30 hours. I´ve played in some, but only once. I would never return to a tournament that finishes one hour over time. The TD must know how to maintain the rhythm of the tournament. Slowness is an infectious disease in a tournament. There are some medicines available to cure it:

a) An announcement 5 minutes before the move. Players sometimes play slowly because they are not aware of how much time is left.

b) Not having the opening lead or results of other tables on the bridgemates speeds up procedures quickly. When using paper scoresheets, the TD must go around and curtail hand discussions as much as possible.

c) When the table starts late, try to take one board away preemptively: "Ladies and gentlemen, if you don´t speed up a little I will not be able to let you play the last board of the set"... This usually works like a charm!

d) Encourage players to claim whenever possible. Some players don´t claim ever, and it slows down the game a lot.

e) Be smart with the layout of the room. I am always amazed when I go and play in a small club, and the TD sets up the Howell with a table in the middle where everybody collects and deposits the boards, instead of instructing the players on how to move them between tables. Also, be smart with the movement. Don´t choose a movement that shows how clever you are as a TD, choose a movement that is easy for the players and as technically sound as possible.

f) With newcomers, instruct them gently on how bridge is a timed game. They should be aware of the rhythm of the positions, of the consequences of slow play, and not feel ashamed or embarrassed for losing one or two boards during a session. Try to make it like a practice target for them, to be able to play all the boards in time.

g) Help the players to move as much as possible. It makes a big difference in the end.

There are more ways to speed up tournaments so that they run on time. All of them revolve around an important idea: The TD should be in the field, accompanying and helping the players, for most of the session.

A story that came to me through TD friends, was that Harold Franklin, when teaching new TDs, would start by showing them a pair of socks and shoes. And he would present them to the assembly as the "TD's best friends". Be there for the players. At all times.

4 - Heeerrreee's Johnny: (fromJack Nicholson's character in "The Shining"). This is probably the most critical aspect of "customer retention" at the bridge club (and at any level of competition). A player that is aggravated by the opponent´s behavior, or by the overall conditions of play, or even by the "mood" of the waiter if the club is fortunate enough to have one, is not going to come back. It is difficult to "tame" some players into a nice (or at least not "un-nice") behavior at the table, but all efforts must be done to achieve it. "Zero tolerance" and similar approaches like that help, but only with a proactive approach curbing the bad behaviors and encouraging the good ones will something useful be achieved.

Let´s face it, if the approach is to file a report every time there is bad behavior, and act on it, we are just trying to achieve something through punishment, and not an iota through a positive approach. I can draw an analogy with organizations where a mistake is used as a base for learning ("How can we avoid this mistake from happening again?") and organizations where the mistake is the base for punishment ("Who did IT?"). Which of the two types will thrive the most? Bridge clubs are similar. A positive and proactive approach works much better than a punitive approach.

There might be creative ways to reach to the "grumpy" ones. Like for example instituting a prize once in a while for the nicest player in the club, or for the player which improves behavior the most. Make the player feel more appreciated when he behaves nicely. Show him another point of view. Once again, each player has his sensitive chord, we just have to find it.

I once was TDingin the club, and this player (not exactly known for good behavior) was doing his usual number. I threatened a huge penalty, and the reply surprised me: "Gimme whatever penalty you want, I don´t care" Of course I could kick him out of the event on disciplinary grounds, file a report, throw the whole book at him. Would this accomplish anything positive? Maybe. But when I replied to him "I know you don´t care, I´m giving you the penalty the same. But do you think that your friends in the club enjoy having to put up with your behavior?" he was startled. After this conversation, the player became (almost) a model of behavior (at least by comparison to what he was)

When newcomers are in the game, they demand extra attention. If they are seasoned newcomers(coming to the club for the first times but familiar with tournaments) it is mostly a matter of making them feel welcome, because they know their way around tournaments. When they are beginners, we need to make them feel welcome andwanted, but we also need to protect them from many evils that potentially lurk around: Distasteful commentaries about their game, intimidating TD calls, intimidating behaviors, etc. And that feeling of being singled out by everybody as beginners... Boy, that feeling hurts! When possible, a previous talk with the most influential players in the club will go a long way. Arrange for them to be invited to play the following week, try to show them how nice and welcoming is a club game. Not the opposite!

Of course, the TD can´t do it always only with niceties. But he needs to give the player a chance to behave civilly and follow the rules. I always remember an old case, often told by one of the parties involved:

Declarer played from dummy, intending to finesse the 8. Whenrighty didn't play an honour, declarerfollowed his plan and played the 8. Except that righty had played the 9... Declarer now gets flustered, wants to change his card, opponent calls the TD. The card is played. Declarer refuses to play. "You have to play that card. I know it sounds unfair, but I´ll show you the rule, and I´m very sorry, butit´smandatory, I can´t allow you to change your card".Declarer still refuses to play the 8. What to do now? Once again, there are many ways to proceed... I simply said something like: "I showed you in the law why you need to play that card. Now you have two choices, either you play it and game continues, or you don´t play it. In that caseyou forfeit the match. I will take care of the ensuing disciplinaryconsequences, andfurthermore I don't thinkyourteammates will be very happy with you for refusing to play that card". Declarer looked up, looked down, and said: "Oooookkkkkk, I´ll ... I´ll play that card". Would the outcome have been better with a "tough, strict, automatic disciplinary approach"? Should I have "thrown the book" at declarer? Would it have achieved any good? In some jurisdictions we are mandated to do it, in similar situations. I think it does more harm than good. I prefer the "first be human andhumane" approach. Usually it works better. And regulations should cater for it.

To conclude: In a club, in a sectional, regional, national, international event, TDs have to take time to care for the players, taking into account the diversity of their needs. The star of the show is the player, not the TD, nor the Laws. The Laws and regulations are there, and the TD has to follow them, but there are many different ways to approach a table before, during, and after a ruling. Retaining players has much more to do with justice, equity, andfairness, than with giving each player the ruling he wants.

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