Club Table Counts

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by Matthew Kidd

There were just over 3000 sanctioned ACBL clubs in 2015. This seems like a promising number if you are interested in selling a product or service to clubs. But instinctively you probably realize that many clubs are small, a fact that can be confirmed using the ACBL Club Finder service and then examining how many sessions per week randomly chosen clubs have. The situation becomes even clearer if you are a tournament chairman deciding how many flyers to mail to each clubs within say a 100 mile radius. Moreover many bridge clubs are invitational, for example games held at country clubs, and many clubs are at senior centers, both places where adoption of new products and services is unlikely. It doesn’t take an MBA to dampen enthusiasm for any such business model.

What does the distribution of club table counts look like across the entire ACBL? The recently overhauled ACBL website allows one to query club table counts for all clubs, for example for 2015. It is easy to cut-and-paste this output into a spreadsheet, clean it up sightly, and do some analysis.

Histogram of club table counts in 2015 using linear binning

The rightmost bin contains only the Honors club in New York City with 20190 tables. Only nine clubs fall in the 10000–15000 bins. Overall it is hard to glean much from this plot due to the preponderance of clubs with low table counts. This shortcoming can be addressed either by making the y-axis logarithmic or by logarithmically spacing the bins along the x-axis. Taking the latter approach yields this figure:

Histogram of club table counts in 2015 using logarithmic binning

A typical club has only 350 tables per year. This can be observed either as the table count of the median club (357) or the geometric mean of the club table counts (351). The typical club is quite small, equivalent to running a seven table game once a week. Only 572 clubs exceed 1000 tables per year and only 149 clubs exceed 3000 tables per year.

Cumulative distribution

A small percentage of the clubs represent most of the table count. This can be examined in more detail with a cumulative distribution plot.

Cumulative distribution of club table counts in 2015

The top 300 clubs (306 for picky people), which have 1600 or more tables per year, represent 50% of the total club table count. This observation has some bearing on who should represent clubs in ACBL governance if clubs were to be given direct representation, along the lines suggested by Ellis Feigenbaum in a recent Bridge Winners comment and also Chris Compton, instead of indirectly through the unit boards. The club size disparity is too great to give each club equal weight. Weighting by club table count or some function of club table count that gives larger clubs more representation seems fairer.

Where are the 306 top clubs? 53 are in Florida, 33 are in California, 27 are in Ontario, 21 are in New York, 12 are in Arizona, and 12 are in Texas. These are predominantly states with large populations but also places where there are many retirees. Ontario may be an exception, cold weather perhaps the best explanation. Canadians clubs represent 14% of the table count from the top 306 clubs versus only 7% of the total club table count, indicating Canada has a tendency to have large bridge clubs.

Frequency of Club Play

Large clubs are hubs of bridge activity. One might expect that districts which have many large clubs to have a higher average number of club sessions per player. The following table tests this hypothesis based on 2015 club table counts and the March 2016 district populations. Districts are sorted by decreasing average number of club sessions.

Dist Region Sessions Pop #Big #BigSc
1 Eastern Canada 89.00 5717 15 17.5
9 Florida 68.11 20157 53 17.6
2 Ontario, Manitoba, Bermuda 67.55 7667 24 20.9
23 Los Angeles County 60.04 3357 7 13.9
22 Southern California except LA 59.71 6989 11 10.5
18 Northern Rockies (US & Canada) 58.03 3944 7 11.9
17 West and southwest states 57.49 9255 19 13.7
3 Eastern New York, Northern NJ 53.38 6514 11 11.3
10 Mid-South 55.14 6654 11 11.0
20 Oregon area and Hawaii 55.23 3925 8 13.6
15 Missouri and Kansas area 53.96 3312 4 8.1
8 Illinois area, except Chicago 53.80 3538 5 9.4
5 Ohio and Pennsylvania area 52.77 3378 4 7.9
4 Eastern Pennsylvania area 51.69 6624 13 13.1
24 New York City 51.61 5716 13 15.2
11 Kentucky and Ohio area 51.56 4584 7 10.2
16 Mexico and most of Texas 50.80 8857 14 10.6
19 Pacific Northwest (US & Canada) 50.77 6632 12 12.1
7 Carolinas and Georgia area 49.62 13640 22 10.8
21 Northern California and Reno 48.29 8770 16 12.2
25 New England 46.57 7843 9 7.7
14 Iowa and Dakotas area 45.53 4025 5 8.3
12 Michigan and northwest Ohio 44.75 3642 4 7.3
6 Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. 43.08 7129 8 7.5
13 Chicago and Wisconsin area 39.50 5060 4 5.3
All U.S., Canada, and Mexico 52.34 166929 306 306

Those snow bound eastern Canadians sure do play a lot of club bridge, 70% more than the ACBL-wide average. The #Big column gives the number of big clubs per district. This will naturally tend to be larger for a bigger district. The column #BigSc (#Big scaled) corrects for this by predicting how many big clubs a district would have if its membership were equal to average district membership (6677 players). Plotting the average number of clubs sessions per year versus the scaled number of big clubs yields the following:

Scatter plot of the number of big clubs (scaled) per district versus average number of club sessions per player per year

The two columns are well correlated (r = 0.76 for stats nerds) and the best fit line is shown. D24 (New York City) is a significant outlier with fewer average club sessions than expected despite its number of big clubs. The Canadian districts D1 (Eastern Canada) and D2 (Ontario, Manitoba, Bermuda) are also outliers in opposite directions from each other.

Get the data

Download a zip file containing Excel and tab delimited text versions of both the 2015 table counts for each club and the data table appearing in the section Frequency of Play above.