Ray Lee

A learning experience

Back in January, I posted part of an editorial from Australian Bridge by Paul Marston where he talked about his experiences playing in an NABC tournament in the USA.  He listed some of things he liked, and some of the things that he felt could stand improvement.  Having just spent a delightful 10 days in Sydney, Australia, one weekend of which was at the Spring Nationals there, I am now in a position to return the favour.

My overall impression of playing bridge in Oz was how friendly everyone was.  Part of that was engendered by the format (Swiss Pairs, playing 10 boards against each set of opponents), where we had time to chat.  But I’ve played many long team games here where barely even a ‘Hello’ was exchanged.    Nowhere was this relaxed atmosphere more evident than in the technical aspects of the event: alerts, explanations, and rulings.   The ABF is fairly permissive when it comes to conventions; we didn’t come across anyone playing forcing pass (not because it’s illegal, but because it’s outmoded), but we did, for example, encounter many flavours of two-bids that couldn’t be played even in the Spingold Final here.  No-one knew their alerting rules any better than anyone does here, so basically you alerted anything you thought the opponents should know about, and that was fine.  I was never afraid that I would be penalized for alerting a non-alertable bid, as has happened to me here. There were no silly announced bids, and no requirement to tell the opponents your notrump range every time you opened 1NT.  Stayman was categorically never an alert, whatever its nature or implications.  In other words, there was an assumption that both pairs knew something about bridge, and had a responsibility to understand some of the basic implications of the opposition bidding.  And of course, you were still entitled to ask questions at your turn.

We had two incidents which would probably have ended in committees in a N. American tournament.  One, which Linda has described elsewhere, occurred when I did not see her takeout double and thought I was passing out a partscore.  When I discovered that I had passed out a doubled partscore, my reaction made it clear to everyone that I was horrified (yes, I know it shouldn’t have, but it’s tough to maintain a poker face under those circumstances).  However, instead of recording some large minus number ending in 70, we actually scored up +500 due to a very lucky lie of the cards.  I just know that over here, the opponents would have screamed blue murder about UI affecting my partner’s defense, and it would have got very ugly.  The other situation involved a hesitation by an opponent and a completely ludicrous action by his partner subsequently.  After the director arrived, everyone agreed the facts amicably, accepted the ruling in our favour calmly, and we actually ended up having lunch with the opposing pair, a very nice retired couple.  Again, I am certain that here, there would have been a initial dispute over whether there had been a hesitation, and the final ruling would have been appealed.

It’s always been my feeling that part of the litigation problem in N. America is the large number of weak pro-client pairs, where the pro has to try to gain any edge he (usually it is a he, but not always) can to win his client a few points and ensure another payday.  Yet in Sydney, there were also a surprisingly large number of such pairs, and it didn’t seem to poison the atmosphere.

For me, it was a throwback to the days when I used to enjoy playing in tournaments, which alas are now long gone.  Another throwback was the non-proliferation of events — they basically run one at a time.  Remember those days here?  You went to a Sectional or Regional, and Saturday was the Open Pairs (or the one-session side games)?  The Sydney tournament started off with the Open teams, then came the Swiss Pairs, then the Senior and Women’s teams ran concurrently.  And while they like to have your entry in advance, they were able to accommodate Tom and Jenni Carmichael, who showed up unexpectedly for the Pairs event (right off the plan from Atlanta!), by the simple expedient of having an ‘house pair’, who would play or not as necessary to eliminate a half-table.

I’m sure there are all sorts of reasons why bridge can’t be this way over here again, but it doesn’t stop me feeling nostalgic.  However, let’s move on to something that we can and should do here, which is make much more and better use of technology.  What happened in Sydney is routine in tournaments there.  First, the pairings for each round of the Swiss Pairs were posted electronically, via a projector screen (in much the same way that the WBF uses TV screens at world events).  But the major thing was that immediately after each session, the hand records, board-by-board results and scores were available on the internet.  So not only could people around the world follow the event closely, but we could look at them in detail ourselves when we got home that night.  We didn’t have to hang around to stand by a dot-matrix printout, writing down our matchpoints, and trying to figure out what others did on each board from a raw score.  We could look at every contract and result throughout the room.  Now, how hard can this be to do?  The scoring is all done by PC, the deals are computer-generated, so all the data is there — it just has to be interfaced to the internet and uploaded promptly.  Oh yes — every tournament there uses pre-duplicated boards, even for large team events.  So not only are the same boards played across the field, the players aren’t making them up for the first 10 minutes of the game.

Now I know that N. American tournaments are an order of magnitude larger than those in Australia (at least some of them are — their Summer NOT event will draw between 400 and 600 teams), but I don’t think there’s anything I’ve just suggested here that couldn’t be done pretty easily.  And think how much it would add everyone’s enjoyment.

I do think the ACBL is very good at running tournaments — but there no reason it can’t get even better!


LindaNovember 10th, 2008 at 7:34 am

I loved playing in Australia. I enjoyed playing longer rounds with opponents in a matchpoint events. I found everyone very friendly. The use of the Internet to review results and boards was great. I liked getting hand records after each 10 board round although getting the detailed results of the round in the middle of the next round was a bit distracting.

There is a lot I like our Nationals though. I like reading the Bulletin each morning. I like having coffee always available. I like the volunteers who help you find your way around the city, the registration package, the excitement of the big events, the way you can come in the last minute and pick up partners or a team, the nightly entertainment etc. Of course, the bigger tournaments in Australia might have more of these items. I don’t know.

So each venue has something to offer. I noticed that hand records, team roster, brackets and results are now available online for past NABC+ events. That’s a move in the right direction but here’s hoping the ACBL puts a lot more on the Internet soon.

Peter GillNovember 20th, 2008 at 1:50 pm

Yes Linda, the bigger tournaments in Australia do have a large Daily Bulletin, coffee available

all the time and the excitement of big events. They are January’s NOT in Canberra with about 220 tables in play at any time, and the week-long Gold Coast Congress in February-March

with over 400 tables and plenty of overseas visitors …. http://www.qldbridge.com/gcc/

Quite a few Aussies went to the US Nationals for the first time in San Francisco. Afterwards,

I asked three of them from different teams for their impressions. “Not worth coming back to when there are so many great tournaments in New Zealand, Australia and Asia”, was the unanimous response, to my surprise. I like American Nationals. From Peter in Sydney

Leave a comment

Your comment