Bridge players can be very competitive, similar to players in all sports. Some players temper the competitive drive with an enjoyment of the game itself. Again this can be seen in most sports. For example, the tennis player can love the game itself and the excellent exercise it allows and be relatively uninterested in the outcome and whether they beat the opponent. There are many bridge players who have that attitude, being happy to play a mental sport with pleasant and sociable opponents. For such players a grading system of ability is at best irrelevant and at worst anathema.
We have had for very many years the master point system beloved by the EBU (and its members) which is related to ability but also strongly dependent on how long the player has played in an EBU affiliated club. The number of points accumulated determines the grade such as Club Master, RegionalMaster, Intergalactic Master, etc. At the higher levels the grade seems to berelated to the strength or ability of the player. But it is probable that thereis not a straight forward (or linear) relationship between number of pointsaccumulated and present ability.
The real points addict can effectively buy points by payingto play with strong partners and avoiding weaker partners, but this is anotherstory, and most are honestly earned over the years. But I mentioned present ability or strength of theplayer and this is not so much reflected by master points.
So the EBU have tried to determine a grading system that isdependent on recent results and is modified by changes in form as the monthstick by. And a system that takes into account the strength of the oppositionand of the partner. That seems a tall order but they have put forward in recentweeks such a system.
There is an excellent account of the maths and statistics ofthe method on the EBU website. I will try very hard to summarise it in English.When you look at any range of marks, values, percentages over a largepopulation, they will often take the shape of a bell like distribution withmost of the values being in the centre and the tail ends at the extremes. Thisis likely to be the case with these values of abilities or strengths of playersand indeed is the case. They then divide the bell shape or graph into 13divisions, and allocate to each division a label, each one being the value of aplaying card, 2 at the lowest up to an ace as the highest. The strongestplayers are in the ace category. And because there is great interest in thevery best players they subdivide the ace category into 4, a club ace up to aspade ace, the very best.
How do they place you in this range and how do they takeinto account the grade or strength of your partner and of your opponents? Theylook back at the last 1000 boards you have played at a club, any club, or evenin a team and give you a mark for every time. But the most recent mark is themost important and the 1000th mark the least important, so the marksfor each board you have played are “weighted” by that principle, the mostrecent being the most important and the earliest being the least important. So if you had an excellentscore 1000 boards before you would not be scored as highly as if you had thesame score last week. So your score is a compound of the last 1000 boards. Theydon’t rate every board separately but group them into the evenings you played givinga single mark for each session of 24 boards.
They start everyone’s score or percentage at the average,50%, right in the middle of the grades, the card 8. Where else could they startyou, given that at the start they have no idea how good or bad you are? Theyalso assume all your opponents and your partner are average at the start forthe same reasons.
But as soon as they start to mark the 1stsession, taking into account the strengths of the opponents and of partner,your score will change and so will the opponents’ (in the opposite directionaccording to whether they did better or worse). You do not need to worry aboutthe arithmetic itself and how on the earth they do all the sums over the last1000 boards. Computers love to do lots of calculations, they are food and drinkto the little fellows, and they never get them wrong, provided the creators ofthe sums or calculations instruct the computers correctly.
But some of you will say “I haven’t been playing long enoughat the club to have played 1000 boards”. Well they will not give you a gradeunless you have played a minimum of 300. If you have played between 300 and1000 you will have a grade but it will not be classified as a mature gradeuntil that 1000 mark has been reached. My guess is that many of you will haveplayed 300 boards at the club which will take about 30 sessions. Those of youwho haven’t had 30 sessions yet, look on it as a challenge to do as well aspossible over the next few months!
How do you find out what your grade is? Go to the EBUwebsite. Find the members’ page (top left). Type in your EBU number andpassword. Hey presto!
There are lots of questions to be answered over the teethingperiod of this grading system, some answerable now and others not answerableyet.
How do you categorise who are the opponents? Apparently itvaries according to the movements, etc. for that session. The commonestmovement we encounter is the 2 winner Mitchell duplicate. In that movement youropponents are those playing in the same direction as you, i.e. if you are E/Wthen the other E/Ws are the opponents. This kind of detail has been well workedout.
Another problem is the one that has bedevilled the clubhandicap system, namely that if you play only in the afternoons, those sessionsmay be deemed as being a little easier than the evening sessions, andpreviously that fact made the handicaps of the afternooners seem better thanperhaps they should have been. It is a phenomenon rather like having 2 clubsrather than one. If a group never mix with another group, afternooners withevening players, or one club with another, how do you establish the relativestrengths of the separate groups or clubs. They started with the same group at50% and have never been exposed to a better or worse field. This is so far anunresolved problem as far as I am aware. It will be tested out over the comingmonths and I am sure they will find some kind of answer.
There is likely to be the kind of human question that willaccompany any grading system, namely that individuals will be unhappy ordisgruntled with it. “My grade is 9 but his grade is a Jack. How is thatpossible when I am the better player?” As Carol on Little Britain said“Computer says no”. The EBU computer will only analyse the data we send it. Youmay be the better player but the grade has not identified that.
As with shares your grade can go up or down. That will posea practical problem for any handicapped competition: who should be included orexcluded? The grades will have to be taken on a fixed date and by the time ofthe competition the grades may have changed. The grading system will throw uprelatively unexpected results that previously may have been dealt with morediscretion but less objectivity. Members’ views welcome.
The system makes one type of competition easier, namely whenwe pair inexperienced players with the more experienced players. Some of thelatter may have been concerned that it would drag down their handicap but overtime it should not affect their grade, because the strength of your partner istaken into account in scoring the session.
Lastly (for me) the changing or swinging nature of thegrades can be dampened or increased according to the weighting included in themaths. Should the grades be very swingy or labile or more stable? If your gradetoday is low your answer might be to make the grade more labile but if your gradeis high today you may wish to keep the system more stable. Answers on a postcard please but not to me.