Ray Lee

Be kind to your commentators

I’ve always wondered where BBO gets its VuGraph commentators from — you know, those folks who are allowed to talk in the VuGraph room when no-one else can, but mostly seem to get things wrong, much to your frustration as an informed kibitzer.  Well, ‘now I are one’, as they say, and it hasn’t taken long for me to realize just how tough a job it is.

This all started a couple of weeks ago when Roland Wald (el supremo of BBO VuGraph) was asking for more commentary volunteers.  Linda signed up, so I applied too since I thought it might be fun to do it together.  I knew Roland would never have heard of me, so I gave Eddie Kantar, Fred Gitelman and Bobby Wolff as personal references. That worked 🙂  Suddenly I was assigned to several sessions of the US Women’s Trials this week.

My first panel included Kit Woolsey and a couple of other heavy honchos.  Clearly, I wasn’t going to out-analyze these guys, and I decided not to try.  Instead I slipped into the role of the colour man ( think Vic Rauter on the curling broadcasts, for Canadian readers), trying to ask questions that would get my illustrious colleagues to discuss something that would interest the kibitzers.  For example, West on one deal held

♠AJ432 ♥QJ95 ♦A ♣10 9 6

and over RHO’s 1opening chose to overcall in spades.  It seemed to me that a takeout double was a better call, so I raised the issue, and a good discussion ensued.

Later one player opened 1 with 0-4-4-5 shape (and good clubs, headed by the AJ10).  I asked if I was the only person who still refused to open 1 with this shape.  Some of the kibitzers told me I was, but many sent me supportive messages, and Chip Martel also said he much preferred to open one club on this hand.  That felt good — always nice to have a World Champion agree with you 🙂

I’ve been surprised at how many personal messages you get from kibitzers — they want to ask a question, perhaps about the auction, or something you’ve said, or point out something in the play that hasn’t been mentioned yet.  And I’ve also found it’s very easy to upset people.  This morning one deal was being played in 3, and in the ending declarer could have claimed an overtrick.  However, if the cards were played as we saw them, he actually was going down 1 — then we were given the result as just making, after a claim.  We got a lot of questions about that, and I suggested that perhaps the final sequence of plays was not what we had seen.  That got the VuGraph operator in Latvia upset (“I’ve been doing this for 5 years and have never been criticized’) and I had to apologize profusely to her, and assure her no slight was intended.  It wasn’t — I’ve been a recorder at the table in World events, and I know that sometimes the play just goes too fast for you to keep up — sometimes you can’t even see exactly what card was played, then there’s a claim and everyone throws their cards in.

And another kibitzer took exception to one of my attempts at humour, I think feeling that I was making fun of the players.   I wasn’t — the hand was over and declarer was playing out her long suit, but no-one had any problem discards.  So I was just trying to fill the dead air.  Whoops; going to be more careful in future, I guess.

Once or twice I did make analytical comments, and I’m going to do much less of that in future too.  There’s so much going on (especially with all these private messages from kibitzers to deal with all the time) that it’s hard to stop and really think something through.  At least for me.  So a couple of times I had an exchange like:

(Ray, out loud): There are two ways to play the trump suit, but only one works on this layout.

(Linda, out loud, but kindly)  Well, cashing the AK is the percentage play, and that works here.

Ray (out loud)  Yes, you’re right.

Kibitzer to Ray: He doesn’t have a dummy entry for the other play anyway.

(Ray thinks furiously, spots an out, sends back to kibitzer): He could overtake the spade queen.

Kibitzer:  Oh yes, you’re right, sorry.

Ray (thinks): Phew, a narrow escape that time.

But some I didn’t get away with, like the time I commented that without the eight of diamonds, declarer wouldn’t have made her contract, much less the overtrick she was collecting.  Several kibitzers corrected me quickly (luckily their messages can’t be seen by anyone else). I did get one right though, when an internationalist colleague suggested that a slam depended on a finesse, and I was able to point out a line of play that didn’t require the finesse.  I’m probably well behind overall on analytical accuracy, however.

As far as I can see so far, there are at least 3 kinds of commentator:

1) People who just want to talk all the time, whether or not they have anything useful to contribute.  Often their comments and analyses are wrong (Linda hates these guys and gets into fights with them…)

2) Top experts who have important insights to contribute

3) People who can offer insightful commentary and some entertainment too.

I’m not sure I’m yet in category #3, and I’m trying to avoid Category #1 at all costs (won’t ever qualify for #2). I’d like to think I can maybe develop into a type #4 — someone who can recognize interesting issues and get the Cat#2 people to talk about them, for the edification of all.  With perhaps the occasional bit of humour thrown in.

In any case, it’s been fun so far, and I’ve certainly got a much better appreciation of how tough a job it is.  So next time I’m on, and type something stupid, please be nice to me 🙂

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