Important Update: For those of you who are here for the Masterpoint Committee’s report and proposal to the Board of directors on strength of field, here it is.
Bridge isn’t life… but I know people who might disagree, and sometimes I might too. Moreover, a great deal of my life has been devoted to bridge lately — to teaching, directing, administering, and (thank goodness!) playing, albeit much much less of the latter than I’d like. (I don’t love internet bridge but it’s what we have.)
While my teaching and directing is local, much of my administrative work is at a national level, for the ACBL:
- I am Chair of the ACBL Board of Governors.
- I am ACBL District 17‘s 1st Alternate to the Board of Directors.
- I am Chair of the Masterpoint Committee, a seven-member committee established by the Board of Directors to handle all questions involving masterpoints and to present recommendations thereon to the Board. Last year I led the effort to write a strength of field measure into ACBL’s tournament masterpoint calculations; my proposal is now how we do things in theory. (In practice, it hasn’t been coded yet.)
I first played in a home game starting in 1995, but really took the game up in 1998, playing in church-basement games in rural Pennsylvania. About a year after I began I worked as a tournament assistant at a local sectional (The Seven Cities Sectional at Cross Creek, near Titusville, PA), which led to me getting hired as a part-time tournament director. I directed tournaments in the Pittsburgh/Buffalo/Cleveland area (Districts 4, 5, and 11) and then later in Texas and Oklahoma (Districts 15 and 16). I directed at thirty or so tournaments, all of them regionals or sectionals. I stopped doing that in 2002; I preferred playing.
I did a great deal of club directing and eventually helped manage a club in the Arlington, Texas, though I was not formally the manager. I did that for about three years.
From the beginning I traveled to tournaments regularly. My first NABC was Fall 1999, in Boston. Most of my early play was with pickup partners, which is great for one’s game… and also for learning patience. I’ve attended about 25 NABCs.
I haven’t won any major events yet, but I represented District 16 in the Grand National Teams (flight C), getting all the way to the final match. What a disappointing loss… but that was also probably the single most exciting event in my bridge career and it helped hook me forever on the game. I think the GNTs and NAPs are two of our best events for promoting our game.
I was involved in some of the appeals casebooks back in the early 2000s, but never got to the level of credited “expert panelist”. I do love the intricacies of bridge law (but I’d like our laws to be simpler for all but the highest level play, and have suggested a hybrid system to accomplish that).
I then took about a dozen years off when life intervened but started playing again about five years ago. I soon became interested in governance issues and joined first my unit board (Unit 502), then the district board (District 21). I was elected 2nd Alternate to the Board of Directors from D21 two years ago, and based on my resume and Board of Governors work (I attend and am active at every meeting, of course), Richard Popper nominated me for the Masterpoint Committee, which I now chair. I am also a member of a committee that is considering restructuring the Board of Governors itself, and of a working group that is addressing issues related to but different from those dealt with by the Masterpoint Committee. When I moved from the San Francisco Bay area to Tucson I aligned with my new district (17) and unit (356), and I went from being 2nd Alternate in one district to the holding the same position in another. I am now District 17’s 1st Alternate; bylaws changes mean this position will disappear in another year as the Board of Directors is reorganized, but as Board of Governors Chair I now have a permanent position on that body.
I teach bridge classes (beginning and intermediate) in Tucson and lecture now and then at out of town tournaments (when those happen again…). I run a weekly play-and-learn game for beginners and intermediates. I play both for fun and professionally; when face to face play was a thing I was at the tables almost every day, and I hope soon to be there again.
Rather famously (infamously?), In March I contracted SARS-CoV-2 at a bridge tournament (the Tucson Regional). At the time coronavirus was just hitting our collective consciousness and we in the bridge community didn’t know for certain whether it was safe to play; also, health officials in my area were claiming incorrectly that there was no community transmission here. I made the very difficult decision to go public about my experience so people throughout the community (bridge, and everyone else) could make more informed choices; this spawned a thread on the Bridgewinners website and I even became, to my considerable consternation, front page news.
I am a ruby life master.
Non-bridge background stuff:
- I operate my own private tutoring business, specializing in graduate admission exams (the LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE). You probably figured this out when you found yourself at DougCouchman.com; I built this website about five years ago but I’ve been tutoring since 2001.
- I’ve held a variety of other jobs, some of which involved management (I once had 200 employees) and others of which required a lot of spreadsheet and other data work, but I think working as a waiter prepared me better than either of those for directing at bridge tournaments.
- My undergrad degree is in math and economics. The math has been useful for Masterpoint Committee work; the economics isn’t good for much except knowing when TV pundits are oversimplifying. I also attended Berkeley Law School and clerked for a federal judge, but never practiced law.
- I have one son, who recently graduated from college. (Yay!) Single parenting had a lot to do with some of my career choices because teaching afforded me flexibility I needed. (He used to sit in my classroom playing with Legos.) No, he doesn’t play bridge, but it’s not for lack of me trying.
Most importantly: I love bridge.
Why Me? My Board of Governors campaign. (now unnecessary, but still all true)
Why should anyone vote for me, when there are candidates who’ve been around so much longer and have so many more connections throughout the bridge world?
Actually that’s part of it. I have been involved in bridge for a couple decades, long enough to know a great deal about what is and is not important. But at the same time I bring fresh perspective to the game and its administration. I still remember well the difficulty I had finding my first bridge partners and my first bridge clubs, and what it felt like to attend my first tournament and soon thereafter my first NABC. Every time I attend a tournament (please, oh please, let us hope we can do that again soon) I see old friends, of course, but I also revel in the excitement of our triannual celebration. I know more than I ever thought I could about the game but it retains its novelty and its wonder.
I have seen bridge from so many perspectives, and I believe each needs to be kept in mind as we navigate these difficult times. I have played in everything from newcomer games to the Spingold and Reisinger. I know what it’s like to show up at the partnership desk with no idea what I’ll play in or with whom, and I know what it’s like to go as a representative of one’s district in the GNTs. I have played with hundreds of people, many of whom were better than I and many of whom were just learning. I know what it’s like to play for pay, and to pay someone else for help. I read books on the game (so many books…) and am working on my own (an audiobook on two over one, aimed at fairly new players).
I have helped run a club so I know about the issues club owners face. As a former tournament director I understand what goes on behind the scenes. Before the virus hit I was playing six days per week most weeks (it would have been seven if there were a Sunday game here in Tucson) at a couple different clubs, was traveling to sectional and regional tournaments throughout my district and to every NABC, and was playing online as well. Now that our world has moved almost entirely online I still play in save your club games and the ACBL online tournaments, when I have time in between committee meetings…
I am already working hard on ACBL-related issues; at times it feels like (and some weeks it is) a full time job. As Chair of the Masterpoint Committee I’ve led the presentation to the Board of Directors of several important motions, some of which were technical corrections but others of which will, if passed, affect everyone’s masterpoint awards for years to come. (If you like the upcoming changes I give credit to the rest of my committee — we all work very hard — but if you hate them go ahead and blame me.)
If you’ve attended a Board of Governors meeting the past couple years you’ve seen me — I speak at many of them. I ask questions and present commentary when it’s relevant. I offer technical corrections when procedure requires them and have crafted motions (which passed) on the fly. But I always try to make my contributions as efficiently as possible, because I understand that time and patience are limited. (As you can see, I’m more long-winded when I write.) And of course I am respectful even of those with whom I disagree… but I make my disagreements known, as clearly as possible. I want us to do the right thing, always.
I have been running meetings in a professional capacity for many years and have been doing so on Zoom since well before coronavirus made that into a way of life. As Chair I would continue to be efficient and effective while maintaining the courtesy that is so necessary in our volunteer-based organization.
What Would I do?
As anyone on the Board of Governors knows, we are not always the most relevant body. In theory we oversee the Board of Directors and ensure that it meets the needs of its members in a legal and ethical manner; in practice our meetings tend occasionally toward grumbling and the Board of Directors routinely rejects our advice. But at our best, the BoG is an effective force for positive change, including lately in the structure of the organization itself, and I want to continue to move us in that direction. In short, I will work to ensure that the BoG, which often represents the needs of the members better than the BoD, becomes more relevant. (The foregoing assumes that the Board of Governors will continue to exist in approximately its present form, which isn’t at all clear given the restructuring motions that are now being considered.)
Well, that’s nice, but what should we do? The questions facing is now are obvious to everyone; the answers, of course, are not. But what we must do is ensure that the pandemic not only doesn’t break our organization and our game, it makes it stronger. Internet bridge must be nurtured both as a vehicle for serious competitive play (once security is in place to make cheating more difficult) and also for bringing the game to a new audience.
But face to face bridge will come back — I believe it has to if the game is truly to survive. Internet bridge is a fascinating game but nothing can substitute for the pleasure of sitting down with your partner and your opponents. We’re going to have to make sure that when we reopen we do so safely (of course) and also that we are fair to everyone. Club owners, who for years have shouldered much of our burden of bringing new players to the game, will need to be taken care of in the face of cheaper online options… but at the same time we can’t stifle the biggest group opportunity of my lifetime just to protect an entrenched group. I don’t know exactly how to do that but I do know that whatever we do will have to maximize the number of ways people can play bridge while making things fair — whether we are talking about dollars, masterpoints, what have you – to everyone. (I know, good luck.)
I invite anyone, from brand new member to Board of Directors rep, to let me know what you think. I respond to questions and concerns all the time (and in fact I think one of our Board of Director’s historical collective failings is communication — some reps are great about letting their members know what’s going on while others seem content to take their stipends and their free plays and stay mostly silent), and I definitely want to do what the membership wants, provided it works. I will always put the game above my personal preferences, as I did when I went public about my having contracted coronavirus, and to do that I need to know what people want.