Howard Weinstein, D22 member
May 12, 2011

This is in response to Mr. Monzingo's May Forum editorial. I believe a fair exchange of alternate views is appropriate once this subject has been broached in the Forum. I hope you will publish this letter in its entirety, as well as personally consider its content. Should you choose to edit this in any way, I request my approval of those changes before publication.

Howard Weinstein

To the editor:

Last month, Mr. Monzingo, our District 22 ACBL Board of Directors representative (and also our District 22 Forum editor), wrote an article criticizing the ACBL's support for international bridge, specifically, the funding it provides to the World Bridge Federation ("WBF") and the United States Bridge Federation ("USBF"). The WBF runs all world championship competitions. The USBF runs the competitions to select US international teams, and administers expense reimbursement for players who represent the US in those events. Besides the open, women's, and senior teams, this includes various age groups of juniors, where the USBF provides our best young players with coaching, competition, and the opportunity to represent the US in world class international events. Additional info about the USBF is provided at the end of this letter.

The ACBL's mission is to promote the wonderful game of bridge in North America. A vital part of this promotion is US success in major competitions on the world stage. When Bobby Fischer started achieving success in the 60's, culminating in his 1972 world championship, membership in the United States Chess Federation went up five-fold in about five years. Golf enjoyed an amazing renaissance as Tiger burst upon the scene. Each Olympics, sports barely on our radar the rest of the time draw large audiences onto the edges of their chairs, creating renewed interest in those sports as competitors vie for medals as representatives of their country.

If you ask the average person on the street about bridge, the all too frequent response is, "I don't play, but my parents or grandparents did." The ACBL is aging. With competition from TV and video gaming, it is hard to get anyone, especially youth, to see that bridge is the best game out there --- far more exciting, thought provoking, and multi-aspected than anything else. Ultimately, the merits of a sport will rule, but people have to try it first. To get people hooked on our game, we need to provide a hook, and if image isn't everything, it is a big part of it. We need to be successful on the international stage. We need stars as a draw to the game. It has to be perceived as cool, not a game largely played by old people to pass the time.

We are starting to make some progress on that front. Bridge recently began participating in the World Mind Sports Games, a competition run by WBF and world organizations in other mind sports, under the auspices of the International Olympic Committee. Its initial competition shortly followed the 2008 Olympics, at the same Beijing venue. Later this year, Beijing will host the new SportsAccord Games with bridge as one of the events. Indeed, the Chinese government has become so interested in bridge that it is now spending millions of dollars to sponsor bridge in China, including world class competitions.

Our "stars" need the ACBL, but the ACBL also needs our stars. It is a symbiotic system, each relying on the other to prosper. The stars comprise the majority of the ACBL's standing committees. They write many articles, both in local publications and for the ACBL Bulletin. They give lectures at numerous ACBL tournaments. They are active players in ACBL tournaments, paying significant entry fees. Hands played by the stars, both US players and international players (who frequent our NABCs), provide content for the ACBL Bulletin and bridge columns in newspapers. Without one of our stars, we would not have BBO. Many bridge players may be unaware of the substantial time and service our "stars" donate, because they do so without seeking publicity, yet they make significant contributions that benefit all of us.

Likewise, support for junior bridge is very valuable. Seeing our juniors succeed (or even just seeing them) helps draw other junior players into our fold. If enough juniors participate, bridge starts to become "cool" again. An early junior program helps our country compete internationally, as the junior players eventually become our top players. The more junior players who participate and gain experience, the stronger our teams will be in the future.

So, in my opinion, ACBL should be doing all it can to encourage North American participation in World Bridge and to support our "stars," both present and future. Instead, Mr. Monzingo sponsored a motion at the last ACBL board meeting which would jeopardize funding for international bridge. After listening to his arguments, the ACBL Board overwhelmingly rejected his motion, by a 21-4 vote. Unhappy about that rebuke, he is now using his position as Forum editor to continue his campaign against the ACBL's support of North America's role in international bridge.

To put this funding issue in perspective, only 3% of ACBL membership dues go to support the United States', Canada's, and Mexico's participation in world bridge events through WBF dues. We do pay the highest total dues to the WBF, because the ACBL has more total members than any other country. But we pay the same pro rata share as other countries. We are part of the world bridge community and have a strong, even outsized voice in the WBF, with far more WBF board members than any other country. Additionally, under the WBF's rules, the United States is automatically entitled to enter two teams each time the most prestigious world championship events are contested (the Bermuda Bowl, the Venice Cup and the Senior Bowl) , while all other countries are limited to at most one team and are not guaranteed any spots.

In sum, even if some of our members have little or no interest in our international players or their success, they are still vital for attracting people to our game and to the ACBL. We should all be proud to say "I am a bridge player," without having to explain "what in the world is bridge?". Attempts to divorce the ACBL from the international stage should be anathema to the ACBL's raison d'etre. I have no doubt that Mr. Monzingo sincerely believes in his proposals which try to reduce ACBL support for the international bridge community . But I strongly disagree with him. I believe that over the long haul, jeopardizing the ACBL's funding of the WBF and the USBF would be disastrous for bridge in this country, and consequently for the ACBL's long term financial health. Just when bridge is ramping up its worldwide visibility, with countries like China leading the charge, retreat should not be an option.

Howard Weinstein

FYI, I am a relatively new San Diego and District 22 resident, so many readers probably don't know me. I am one of the seven USBF Board members, each elected for 3 year terms, with a 6 year term limit. Each of us devotes many hours of volunteer service to the non-profit USBF. I have occasionally represented the US as a player or captain in international competition. Beyond that, I chair the ACBL's Ethical Oversight Committee, serve on the ACBL's Laws Commission, and previously chaired the ACBL's Competitions & Conventions Committee.

About the USBF: Mr. Monzingo did provide his "two minute tour", but here is some more background on the USBF and its role. We invite also invite you to visit our web site, which includes the upcoming schedule and results of USBF competitions, among much more, at www.USBF.org.

The ACBL is a zonal organization, also representing Canada and Mexico. The USBF was formed a few years ago by the ACBL board, so the United States would have their own designated national bridge organization (NBO) for international competition. An NBO was a requirement in the Olympic charter, and this served as the catalyst for the formation of the USBF, but having a separate organization for the United States has proved beneficial.

It is cleaner to have the USBF as the ACBL's designated NBO. This helps avoid potential conflicts of the multi-country ACBL administering the selection process and funding of the US teams. The USBF exists at the behest of the ACBL board, and continues to provide functions which the ACBL board used to provide. The USBF is closely related to the ACBL. Byes and seeding for USBF Team Trials are based on performance in NABCs; the trials use ACBL directors and supplies (paid for out of entry fees).

USBF Trials to select the Open, Women's, Senior, and Junior international teams are open to any WBF eligible US citizen or permanent resident who meets the gender and age restrictions. Those Trials are primarily paid for by the participants entry fees, occasionally the USBF General Fund.

Reimbursement of part of the travel expenses for US international teams is also under the auspices of the USBF, but it is functionally equivalent to the pre-USBF arrangement, where the ACBL covered these expenses. Contributions to the International Fund ("IF") are forwarded to the USBF to help defray the cost of teams representing the United States. All funds received from the IF, or similarly designated junior funds (or individual contributions earmarked for that purpose), are disbursed to the players on those teams, with ACBL review.

The extremely minimal administrative expenses of the USBF are covered by USBF member's dues and donations. Membership in the USBF ($50 per annum) is open to anyone, but is required for anyone participating in the Open, Women's and Senior team trials. Other than reimbursement of out of pocket expenses, contracted legal/accounting fees and web site support (all provided at below market rates), all work done for the USBF is on a voluntary basis, including that by Jan Martel, acting as COO and of all of the USBF Board members and Committee Chairs. The USBF arranges the myriad of details involved in coordinating and running several events each year. It provides extensive BBO Vugraph coverage of multiple matches, typically with several thousand watching. It maintains a website with information about USBF events and International tournaments.

The USBF also has a separate junior committee, with Joe Stokes as its coordinator, undertaking organizing the Junior trials, arranging for captains and coaches, and coordinating Junior practices. Some of these competitions are held on-line to reduce expense (and time) for both the USBF and competitors. Often, the juniors (or youth) are segregated into under 21 and under 26 age groups, with occasional other cut-offs. Besides world championships, USBF sends teams to bi-annual World Youth competitions and University games.