Judy Kay-Wolff

Things which bug me about bridge!

This is not the same majestic game to which I was introduced some fifty years ago.  Although modernization of technology and a multitude of clever innovations have vastly improved the presentation and communication to the public, I still find many quirks in “the system” that distress me.  In effect, the dignity of the game and accompanying pride is rapidly dwindling and IMHO, the following are some of the causes. 

The glut (and ever increasing number) of masterpoints flooding the market is a major factor. If you want to be realistic, you’ll admit they have become a joke and though they bolster one’s ego, the avalanche of points up for grabs and excuses for their issuance have debased their value.   I remember the excitement of looking forward to Masterpoint Night (once a month) when the whole city gathered at a bridge club above a local movie theater near my home to see if they could garner the top spot and be awarded one whole masterpoint.   We normally amassed them in fractions and when enough were accumulated, we mailed them to the ACBL (then in Greenwich, CT) and usually the next postcard from the League would reflect their entrance into the member’s bridge vault.  Believe me, back then, it was a big deal!!!   Today, you just look on your computer or await your Monthly Bulletin to view your accomplishments in living color.  In fact, I laugh about the times when I had delayed registering a host of accumulated fractional slips but found comfort in sending them certified mail (RRR) to assure their safe arrival.  How times have changed — with the proclamation of  ‘special games,’ triple points and other gimmicks to catch your eye!  

I remember many years ago that a fairly well-known player was discovered getting his sticky fingers on (and forging) masterpoint slips (inserting his name and manufacturing some number of points won).   However, when caught, he was brought to task and appeared before a committee but the softies ‘let him off easy’ because they didn’t want to infringe upon his ability to earn a livelihood from the game.   How’s that for integrity?   Eventually, he was found guilty of something else sleazy and the powers that be eventually lowered the boom.  

And, what about the issuance of club points (usually in the ‘C’ stratum) to people who come in First with well-below average scores.   I find it disturbing to reward 40% games with master point recognition.  Now we are stooping to award disgustingly poor performances because they placed well ahead of the other underachievers in their category.  Something about the nauseating plethora of points available at the drop of a hat undermines their value and importance.   However, the benefactors are the club owners/directors/managers as well as the sponsoring organization — the ACBL.    By cheapening the value of these meaningless pieces of paper, they have found a way to keep the game going and built up their own treasury in the process.   I don’t blame the club personnel as they are just rolling with the punches to keep up with the competition.  The whole concept destroys the pride of true achievement in this once fabulous game.  The League has made masterpoints many members’ god!

Now lets turn to On Line Bridge.  The computer age has introduced a method of communication and play to performers throughout the world.   It is incredibly wonderful for the elderly (I should talk), shut-ins, people without access to easy transportation or merely participants who enjoy the relaxation of playing at home without the normal dress code and no desire to socialize with friends or strangers.  Besides, there are no exorbitant card fees (as exist in some metropolitan areas), no travel time and no parking problems.   On Line Bridge has a multitude of advantages and is a sensational opportunity for both old and new partnerships to practice or for John Q. Public to just pass the time of day by picking up a random partner on line. I believe Internet Bridge is one of the most brilliant, ingenious creations of our age and certainly has accomplished linking bridge players together from all over the universe — similar in fashion to the rather novel idea of bridge blogging.   

However, from my perch, the most exciting pleasure derived is watching important matches on BBO.   The comments are not always necessarily on target — but often clever and amusing.   I often wonder what (or who) passes on the qualifications of a commentator.   Perhaps I am just spoiled and remember the early days of the Vugraph* where an array of celebrities adorned the podium at the nationals and world championships with microphones — such as Ron Anderson, Edgar Kaplan, Mike Ledeen, Eric Murray and a guy named Bobby Wolff (plus several others) who were truly great professional analysts. (*  Incidentally, a point of interest which continues to disturb me:   Peter Pender, one of our leading bridge personalities, died long before his time in 1990 while in his mid-fifties.   Through the urging of some close bridge buddies, he agreed to make a healthy bequest to the ACBL for which it was agreed to rename the vugraph “The Pendergraph.”   However, I haven’t heard that term in years.  Shouldn’t the ACBL follow through with what they promised Peter during his lifetime?  I think it is the ACBL’s moral, if not legal, responsibility to do so.   This is not hearsay, I assure you.  Bobby was one of the ACBL’s spokesmen when the arrangement with Peter was made!

Back to On Line competition (particularly where championships are being determined) — the primary problem that troubles me (and many others) is the absence of total security (almost impossible to obtain and even harder to sustain) to protect the safety of the operation as there are a multitude of manners (some very creative) in which to illegally communicate with the contestants.   I am sure you are familiar with many of those scenarios as most are public knowledge.   The encouraging news is that the coordinators are earnest in their awareness and efforts and are constantly and feverishly working on the solution.   Unfortunately, devious individuals try to find a way to circumvent the roadblock and throw a monkey wrench into the preventatives.   Since I do very little traveling these days, I am a big proponent of viewing major On LIne contests on my little laptop and look forward to the day the problem is permanently resolved.

Before we leave the subject, something else bugs me — and that is earning points for playing on line while it is common knowledge that many partners (though obviously comprising a small minority of the thousands who avail themselves of the facility) can be sitting at computers side by side or in a nearby room — and certainly there is no denying that in this modern day and age everyone has the use of the Graham Bell or a cell phone.   This negates the assurance of a ‘kosher’ contest.   I have never played on line but I do know at one time masterpoints were being issued despite the many complaints from astute observers although I am not cognizant of the prevailing policy.    I imagine over the course of time hosts of players were victims of such atrocities as lucky leads, brilliant switches and downright amazing jumps to what always turns out to be the best contract.  It is difficult to moderate or adjudicate such fortuitous moves, but I suppose it is something with which players who choose to compete must contend.   That element of “luck” goes with the territory!

It’s been a long weekend.   Sunday I watched my beloved Eagles get trounced by Bobby’s Cowboys — but, in fact, “there’s always next week.”   More to follow.   Sadly, I’m afraid I am just getting started.


Riki TikiJanuary 5th, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Yes, the selling of master points, which is what the stratified system brings about is certainly not a good thing. A reward for being below average does seem extreme. I think that the education system of today contributed to it. No child should be allowed to fail and the “social d’s” abound. The ACBL has only one thing to sell and that is Masterpoints. Without those they are at a loss for a marketable item.

Judy Kay-WolffJanuary 5th, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Riki Tiki:

Regarding your zeroing in on the masterpoint issue, I must say the ACBL has done a great job in promoting bridge and bringing happiness into many homes and lives. However, at this point, perhaps whomever is in charge should re-think the wanton issuance of masterpoints. They have opened the floodgates and it is time they put up the dikes. If it is about making money — that is one thing. If the main consideration is encouraging and preserving the importance of achievement and the dignity of the game — that is another story.

Winning points for being under average is comparable in my mind to the dubious distinction of making the list for the Worst Dressed People of the year. You get your name in print — but so what! I’d rather be incognito.

John Howard GibsonJanuary 6th, 2010 at 2:54 pm

You should read my blogs about the ludicrous absurdity that exists within the EBU master point rankings……rankings that have much to do with volime attendance at congresses, as the quality of one’s skill and technique at the game. Players can get hold of greenies despite being total and utter bumbledogs. Similarly, modest players get get hold of greenies and/or gold points on the backs of professional giants they pay to play. The whole ranking system over here is designed to make the EBU a lot of money. Congresses need big attendences, and that requires giving out greenies to everyone who attends. Hell, when people splash out £100 for a weekend bridge away without a cat-in-hell’s chance of winning, a few greenies seem to make all worth while. Yours Howard Bigot Johnson ( I love your blogs )

JUDY KAY-WOLFFJanuary 6th, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Dear John Howard Gibson:

If I were not a happily (very happily) married old lady, I think I could fall in love with you and your refreshingly realistic manner of thinking. Although I do not know you and am not accustomed to your British terminology, I was exhilerated by your humorous eloquence to see acknowledged publicly the similarities and pitfalls of the master point rankings in your neck of the woods. I am unfamilar with the word “greenies” and am not sure exactly what they are, but your message rings through loud and clear. Your description of sponsors — alluding to their attempt at success as “on the backs of professional giants they pay to play” made me laugh. I usually refer to sponsored teams (for the most part — with a very few exceptions) as being dragged in on a dogsled by five professionals. By the way, in my long list of “Things which bug me about bridge,” I will be discussing the sponsor/pro issue from different standpoints. Since the appearance of rampant professionalism, I feel the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow has lost its luster and glory and the dignity of the game has been challenged.

I would enjoy reading your blogs. Please tell me where to find them.


CJJanuary 7th, 2010 at 7:47 am


You bring up subjects others think about but wouldn’t dream of discussing openly.

I am an old-timer and certainly agree with every point you made. Bridge might have

a better destiny if some of the glitches in the game were faced, addressed and dealt

with. Can’t wait to hear your future pet peeves.

PegJanuary 10th, 2010 at 3:11 am

Judy, given that a good player today can win more masterpoints in two or three decent sized regionals than the leading masterpoint achiever in the nation could earn forty years ago, clearly we have enormous masterpoint inflation. From everything I can gather, however, that horse long left the barn – and I don’t see too many in charge who seem interested in altering avalanche of masterpoints today.

Needless to say, better players “know” who the stars are, irrespective of how many masterpoints they have. It is unfortunate, however, that we don’t have some sort of superior system for ranking. I’m not smart enough to know what it should be. I only know that you are utterly correct about the masterpoint. I, too, am ancient enough to remember how excited I was when I won my first ENTIRE masterpoint at one sitting … and how placing second in my section used to be a badge of honor!

MichaelJanuary 11th, 2010 at 10:17 am

The fact that being below average can some times get you master points (in stratified games) is hardly the huge problem with master points. Master points are simply not a strictly valid measure of quality. Someone might earn some master points for a 49% game, but that doesn’t mean they are less deserving than their friends who had a 51% game in a different game. Strength of field isn’t taken in to account with master points, so one can’t compare apples to apples anyways. At our local club games the difference in quality of field from one night to another can easily be worth 15%. That is the quality of play that would earn one a 60% on Monday night could expect to receive a 45% on Friday night. This isn’t always even because of limited games, but sometimes just a result of director quality and/or momentum (the good players like to play when the other good players play).

To say nothing of the “problem” of quantity of play (I say “problem” because it is only a problem with using master points to signify quality, it isn’t a problem from the POV of the ACBL since they presumably want to encourage attendance and all the table fees it implies). A person who has been playing 5 times a week for 30 years and has 1200 points is likely significantly worse than the person who has been playing 2 a week for 2 years but has 200 points already.

And of course there is the other problem of quality of partners and team mates. At the extremes you have the clients hiring pros and getting lots of master points even when the clients (some of them) are not any good. At the lower end you still have unequal partnerships and teams where lesser players get master points not for their at the table skills but for their partnership and team arranging skills.

Fortunately, of late there are alternative rating systems that try to measure quality of play as opposed to quantity. These can take into account strength of partner and strength of field and can equalize for quantity of play. The one I now follow most is the power rankings tracked at http://www.coloradospringsbridge.com/pr.htm. While unfortunately these only follow match point events currently, these take all the results in sectionals, regionals, nationals, and some clubs (including the two I play at most frequently) but they track play over the past two years and can judge how good a player really is. Playing down or winning awards in the C flight will not help your rating if your game wasn’t really worth it. Conversely a 49% in a good field (say day 3 of the blue ribbons) is likely to suggest a very good player. If you look at the top individual players at http://www.coloradospringsbridge.com/PR_FILES/WEBPAGES/ALLPR.HTM and the top pairs at http://www.coloradospringsbridge.com/PR_FILES/WEBPAGES/PAIR_PR.HTM the names are suggestive that the system is working pretty well (note some names, especially in the individual, might be missing if they haven’t played enough match point games with enough different partners to be in the overall list, the web site explains in more detail, but that is why Meckstroth and Rodwell are not on the individual list – if you hunt a bit more you’ll see Meckstroth is rated right around Eddie Wold who is #1 on the individual list amongst qualified players). And if you check out your local unit and sectionals you will likely see that the non-elite players are rated similarly with how you’d expect.

JUDY KAY-W0LFFJanuary 24th, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Sorry, Peg, I was so involved with the current blogs, I must have missed your response. It is not like the good old days when points were sacred and meant something. The McKinney was a big deal. You practically get points now for showing up but I don’t think the sophisticated player puts much stock in them. It is comparable to an attendance record — especially for awarding points for under average performances (relected often by score) I think if you are under average — the buck (and masterpoints) should stop there. But, it is a way of luring people to the game — especially the local duplicates and even on line bridge. The bottom line is the money it brings in, not the honor and glory of the accomplishment. We are just two old timers taking a trip down memory lane and remembering the good old days before the almighty dollar entered into it. What does it all mean? To me, it is a big joke!