January 2010 Sectional Frequently Asked QuestionsMatthew Kidd
Published Dec 14, 2009
What is Board-a-Match?
Board-a-Match (BAM) scoring combines the camaraderie of teams with the woolly ride of matchpoints. The movement is similar to the Mitchell movement used in pairs games with eight or more tables though half of the East-West pairs will find they are moving to the next lower table instead of the next higher table. On each round you are playing 2-4 boards against one other team. But instead of the usual IMPs scoring in teams, the boards will be scored matchpoint style, i.e. your team will either win, lose, or tie the board, regardless of the difference between the raw scores.
Many of the usual matchpoint issues are relevant in BAM events. For example, +620 loses to +630, but wins against +600; thus converting an eight major suit fit to 3 NT will be a win if playing in a trump suit does not produce an extra trick. The low level skirmishes around +80, +90, +100, +110, +120, and +130 remain very important. But there is no sweet middle spot. In a pairs event it is often right to shoot for the middle of the road average plus (Ave+) result based on your understanding of the field. This is not true in BAM. Every board is head to head with another team and you probably know something about their skill level. One consequence is that one frequently plays and defends doubled contracts. If your side can not bid on and you feel there is a greater than 50% chance to set the contract, the correct strategy is double. Otherwise, for example, your +50 will lose to the other team’s +100.
BAM events are not new. The Reisinger BAM event is considered by many experts to the hardest event in the country. It occurs just once a year at the Fall Nationals in six sessions over three days. The Nickell team (Eric Rodwell, Jeff Meckstroth, Ralph Katz, Bob Hamman, Zia Mahmood, and Nick Nickell) won at the San Diego Nationals against a world class field.
And yet sadly, BAM events are seldom seen below the National level. How would one ever get any practice? I hope to rectify that a little bit here at this sectional and hope you will take a chance on BAM. You just might like it!
Why have a two session event?
So far as I know, the two session events at the La Jolla sectionals began when Nate McCay was tournament director. A two session event is a place for the best to show their prowess, with luck minimized and field equity nearly maximized. Unfortunately, the masterpoint awards are not commensurate with the field strength; see Masterpoints or Glory. Still, I like the idea of having one very strong event in the tournament and past turnout indicates there are enough players with the same attitude.
Why aren’t there any 499er, 749er, 999er events?
The short answer is that I think they are bad for bridge in the long term. This is my view and may or may not be embraced by my fellow board members, though I know I am not the only one thinking along these lines.
Beginners need a place to learn the game and to learn the mechanics of duplicate without feeling they are walking through a minefield or being pressured to hurry along by fanatics. To this end, I think 99er and 299er events are important incubators of future bridge talent. But anyone serious about the game—and anyone with more than 300 MPs is probably somewhat serious—needs to play in stronger fields to improve. Of course many would feel frustrated if they never earned any masterpoints; therefore stratification has an important role, giving less experienced players a shot at placing in their strat while being exposed to stronger players. And when they do really well and place in the higher strats, the payoff is quite good, much better than in a limited game. To encourage new players to participate in the open events, the lowest strat has been dropped to 500 from 750 in previous recent La Jolla sectionals.
But simultaneous with masterpoint inflation has come a sheltering of players in limited games with increasingly high masterpoint limits. Bit by bit we are creating two communities that do not interact much with one another, the less experienced players afraid to play against the more experienced players. This can not be good for bridge.
Let me pick on Adventures in Bridge, not because I think it deserves to be singled out but simply because I know more about it than say some club in New Jersey. Adventures has done a great job bringing new players to the game. In due course, the club created a 0-500 game. After playing against each other long enough and accumulating masterpoints, the limited game had to be increased to 750. Then 1000. I think it might have reached 1500. But according to ACBL masterpoint statistics, only 9.7% of the membership has more than 1500 MP, so this now seems a bit ridiculous.
I played in this limited game three or four times before I swore off it. First off the play was glacial, about 9 minutes per board. Some sessions were only 21 boards, 20-25% fewer than a normal session and thus 20-25% less experience. Claims were rare, no matter how clear the situation. Being dummy was torture; one had way too long to contemplate one’s mortality. Basic questions about defensive carding were usually poorly answered, even if “standard” would have sufficed. In some cases opponents seemed disinclined to say anything even though many were regular partnerships and clearly had some understanding — unethical if not outright illegal behavior.
Some of these problems would go away with active education. The slow play might be curbed by a prominently displayed countdown timer and a few late penalties, nothing severe, just enough to bite. But more than anything, I think open fields would address most of these issues. Just get the two communities to interact. Most players are addicted to the game. What are they going to do? Quit with 500 MP because they can no longer play in a limited game?
I’m writing this partly out of self-interest. I am forty and would like to play another 30, 40, even 50 years (if I can live up to Anne Terry’s example); hopefully, at seven minutes per board or faster and in strong fields. Otherwise, I guess it’s shuffleboard.