We informed you in an earlier post of our agreement with BBO to authorise CBAI-affiliated clubs as virtual clubs on BBO, the benefits of this status, and how to apply to become a virtual club. We are pleased to report that we are now getting on for 100 CBAI virtual clubs, including those in the process of being approved, and as a result many of our members will be enjoying the closest thing to real-life bridge that we can offer in the current circumstances. However, 100 clubs is less than 20% of our entire cohort, so if your club would like to consider going virtual, please take a look at what’s involved and contact us if you would like further details. A list of the clubs that has been approved is available here.

The BBO platform is becoming extremely busy, for obvious reasons, and things are changing rapidly, so we felt it might be useful to summarise the up-to-date position. No new tournament organising privileges are being allocated by BBO, in light of capacity constraints, so if you are not already on record as a tournament organiser, then the CBAI virtual club agreement is the only route to go.

If you do already have tournament organiser credentials, then you are free to run your tournaments as normal, but unless you are an approved virtual club, it will be impossible for you to hold a tournament at peak times (4-9 p.m. here in Ireland).

So the main benefit of the virtual clubs is the guarantee that your tournaments will take place at the days and times that you wish. For an ongoing club situation, this seems to us to be vital, which is why we spent the time and effort negotiating the virtual clubs arrangement with BBO. To benefit from virtual club status, you will need to charge table money for any event you run, even at off-peak times; there are no more free virtual club tournaments (apart from three free tournaments that we have negotiated for new sign-ups to allow them to get used to the system). The table money is paid in BB$, and the minimum charge is BB$1; from what we have seen most clubs are charging between BB$3-5 for peak hours events, and the minimum BB$1 for off-peak ones, but that is up to the clubs themselves. The table money is split 60/40 between the CBAI and BBO for moment, and the Association will rebate its element to the relevant club in due course; at 1 September, the split will shift to 50/50, and we will continue to rebate the share paid to us back to the clubs.

As a general rule, players need to pay the table money themselves, using BB$ that they can fund to their BBO account using a credit card. The cheapest way to do this is to use the link on the BBO website itself.  (You can see exactly how to do it in this video.) There are other methods, via apps, but the app provider applies a surcharge in these cases. Some clubs have enquired whether it is possible for the club to make a block payment on behalf of its members; we have agreed an arrangement with BBO in this regard, so if you wish to avail of it, please let us know and we will organise it for you. Please note that any such tournaments will carry a per player charge of BB$1 per player, which will be charged to the club, with no rebate applying.

Any tournament on BBO needs an organiser, who should not be playing in the event themselves. Given that the software eliminates many of the infractions that can happen in real-life bridge (for example, revokes, plays or bids out of turn, insufficient bids), it is not necessary that the organiser be a qualified Tournament Director. Being familiar with BBO and how its tournaments work is much more important. There is an excellent guide to what is involved in running tournaments on BBO here and if you are new to doing this, we’d encourage you to take a look at this guide first. It includes a section on how to limit participants in your tournaments to your members, if desired, using an approved list, which most of our clubs are doing. Another point to note is that Howell competitions are trickier to run than Mitchells, and there is a separate set of instructions to run a Howell available here. All CBAI and NIBU clubs have been approved to run Howells, and you will not need to approach BBO for permission to do so. We are exploring the possibility of a tuition session on Zoom in which some of our experienced BBO tournament organisers will share their wisdom with anyone wishing to learn more about it.

We would reiterate our previous advice that prizes of value, financial or otherwise, should not be offered for games played online, given the impossibility of ensuring the integrity of the competition. Your games can be used to award Masterpoints within the CBAI scheme if you wish. If you do want to award Masterpoints, we recommend that you keep a record as you would with a real-life game, at least initially.

If anyone has any questions in relation to playing on BBO, or becoming a virtual club and running tournaments on it, either Dermot (087-9075663) or Paul (087-6996686) will be happy to help. Before you call us, though, take a look at the material that Margaret Forde, Secretary of the Western Region, has developed on this topic for their website, which may answer a lot of your questions. You can also hear an interview about BBO that Margaret did on local radio in Galway, thanks to the recommendation of a grateful bridge club. (The more observant of you may note that, in the interests of time and getting her core message across, Margaret chose not to correct the interviewer’s misconception that she had personally created the BBO platform – we’re sure BBO will forgive her!)