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Finding your current form
All about the NGS
All about the NGS

Historically, we were all after Masterpoints. We'd collect up the vouchers and then post little stacks of them every few months to the EBU for counting ... and every so often clunk up to the next grade. Then along came electronic scoring and it was all done for us. Magic. 

Masterpoints are OK as far as they go. They provide a record of how well (and how much!) you've played in the past – but they're simply cumulative: they don't give an accurate picture of how good you are now. If your partner's been playing for 30 years longer than you, she'll have a vastly higher rank than you do, even if you're just as good as she is – or better. So how to find out your current form?

The answer is the National Grading Scheme (NGS), which the EBU introduced in 2010 – yes, all those years ago. The NGS is pretty handy, in that it provides a live ranking for every EBU player from bottom to top, based on your performance in your last 2000 boards (that's your last 80 or so sessions). *

NGS grades

Imagine you're playing in a vast pairs event consisting of every member of the EBU, and that your partner's exactly as good as you. What percentage would you expect to get? That percentage is your current NGS grade, and it'll range from around 39% (or a bit less) at the low end up to 67% (or a bit more) at the top end.

For quick reference, these grades are divided into 13 playing card ranks, going from 2 (less than 39%) at the bottom end right up to Ace (more than 61%) at the top end, each rank covering a 2% range. At the top end (not that it will concern most of us!), the Ace rank subdivides into ♣A, A, A, and ♠A, the last being 67% plus. So effectively, that's 16 grades in all. Here they are:

2 <39%     3 39%–41%     4 41%–43%     5 43%–45%     6 45%–47%     7 47%–49%     8 49%–51%     9 51%–53%

10 53%–55%     J 55%–57%     Q 57%–59%     K 59%–61%     A 61%–63%     A 63%–65%     A 65%–67%     A >67%

What's the average grade, then?

Technically, 50%, which is a mid-8. But given the high number of players at level 2 (we all have to start somewhere!) and the much smaller numbers in the rarefied Ace grades, the mean grade is more like a lowish 7 – see the chart at the top, which was correct in April 2019.

How does it work?

I don't know exactly how the maths works (nor do I want to!) but roughly speaking ...

  • Let's say you're playing on a Wednesday evening, where the 'strength of field' (ie the average playing grade) is a bit over 49%.
  • Say your grade is 49% and that of your partner is 43%: that's an average of 46%. 
  • You're a below-average pair, then, in the current field, so are expected to score (say) around 47% (or whatever).
  • If you score higher than 47%, your (and your partner's) NGS ranking will go up – the better you've done, the more it goes up.
  • And vice versa.

And, of course, if you're an above-average pair (say 53%), you'll be expected to score better than average in order to break even.

What's good about it?

Well, the main benefit is that it provides an accurate measure of where you are as a bridge player. If you're an 'improver', this is particularly useful as you can use it to follow your progress as you become a better, more experienced player. If you're playing in a field of better players, you won't be walking away with fistfuls of masterpoints (yet, anyway), but if you punch above your weight you'll see an immediate improvement in your NGS grade. And the best way of improving is, as we all know, to play against players who are better than we are.

Eventually you'll reach some kind of plateau where it'll level out, of course, and – like stocks and shares – your grade can (and will!) go down as well as up. Most people settle down in one or two adjacent bands: "I'm mainly a 6, but sometimes I'm a 7"; "I was a King for a few days once, but now I'm working my way back up from a Jack ..." But wherever you find yourself, it'll be a reflection of your current form.

Read on ...

If you'd like to know more, see the Frequently Asked Questions below.

Chris Jones, April 2019

* Your grade is a weighted average: the weighting of older sessions declines linearly so that once you've played 2000 boards more recently, they no longer affect your grade.

FAQ – your questions about NGS answered 

Q  Why can't I see my name?

A  If your name isn't there, you're either not an EBU member (unless you've opted for privacy), or you haven't yet played enough competitive boards. Your grade isn't published until you've played at least 150 boards at events for which masterpoints are awarded, and isn't regarded as 'mature' until you've played at least 1000 boards in the past 3 years.

So if you haven't got a grade yet, keep playing!

Q  What information does it show?

A  Imagine that the table on the right is yours. It shows your last 5 sessions, with the most recent at the top. The important columns are your score (47.34%) in the last game, the strength of the opposition (SOpp: just under 51% that night) and your current NGS grade: 52.54%. The Par column shows by how much you exceeded or fell short of your expected score. A pretty disappointing evening, then, resulting in your grade falling by almost 1%.

In fact, you've had a bit of a roller-coaster over the last few sessions: a modest success, bringing you up to 51.6% (that's a 9), followed by a really nice 60.7%, which not only earned you 20 masterpoints but also raised you a whole grade, up to a 10. Then a poor one – down to a 9 again! – followed by a good one – back up to a 10! – and finally a descent back into a 9 again. But hey – not so bad overall, as you're still nearly 1% higher than you were at the start.

Q  What else does it tell you?

A  Click on NGS, and it'll show you your grade history since the beginning of time (well, back to 2010, anyway). The example shows a player who improved rapidly a few years ago, briefly touched glory as an ♣A, and is now (by just 0.01%) a Queen.

Usefully, you can also see how well you've been doing with your regular partner(s).

And you can also check your Masterpoint tally and current ranking.

Q  How soon can I get the latest figures?

A  Almost immediately. At Bath, we upload each result to the EBU at the same time that we upload to Bridgewebs – as soon as the event ends. The EBU updates its statistics overnight, so you can check things out over your morning cup of tea, if you're that keen ...

Some other clubs (and Wiltshire County) wait a day or two before uploading, in case there are any score corrections to be made, so you sometimes have to wait a bit longer.

Q  What's the average strength of field of the sessions at Bath BC?

A  Day to day, it depends on who turns up, of course. Here's a rough average covering the first few months of 2019:

  • Thursday morning Gentle Duplicate: around 44.5% or grade 5.
  • Tuesday morning Social Duplicate: around 45.7 or grade 6.
  • Wednesday evening Social Duplicate: around 49.3 or a lowish grade 8.
  • Tuesday & Thursday evening Duplicate Pairs: around 54.9 or on the cusp between grades 10 & Jack.

Q  Supposing my partner's grade is lower/higher than mine?

A It shouldn't make any difference. The NGS takes into account the grades of both players, so if your partner's not as good as you, you won't be expected to score as highly. Conversely, if your partner's better than you, you have a better chance of reaching NGS's correspondingly higher expectations of the partnership.

The same applies to a partnership who are noticeably weaker or stronger than the average in the room. Playing against better players, you can improve your grade with a less-than-average score. And conversely, if you're expecting an easy victory, remember that the NGS are expecting corresponding more of you in order to maintain your grade.

In other words, as far as your NGS ranking is concerned, you should always find yourselves on a level playing field.

Q  Does it matter?

A  Not in the least. Bridge is a competitive game, so it's handy to be able to know how well you're doing. Masterpoints give you a historical perspective on your achievements, and the NGS gives you a snapshot of your current prowess.

But it's not something you'd want to get under your skin. In the words of the gambling ad: When the fun stops, stop. No, don't stop playing, for goodness sake – just stop looking!