Ray Lee

Deep Thoughts on Washington

Back in the days when COI (an organization dedicated to improving the ACBL) existed, Allan Falk used to write an assessment after each NABC.  He would, from a player’s point of view, comment on the good, the bad, and the ugly, and offer constructive criticism in the hope that future events would improve.  Sadly, the COI newsletter and Allan’s articles are no longer being produced.  So instead, here is my take on the Washington NABC, which is still in progress as I write.

The Good

1)  Washington is a great place for a convention of any kind.  Lots to do, good transportation –  and pretty much all the museums etc. are free!  What’s not to like?

2)  The Marriott is well located – there are lots of restaurants nearby, literally within 2 minutes walk, and plenty more if you are prepared to expand your radius to 10 minutes.  Other facilities, such as a drug store and the subway, are also close at hand.  There is food for every budget – from the organic Chinese tucked away in a basement next to McDonalds to the more pretentious Italian and French locales across the road.

3) While parking at the hotel was not cheap (this point should really be in the next section), the locals had organized a system where you could drop your car on someone’s street or driveway for the week.  Well done.

4)  The tours and entertainment were terrific, as they always seem to be when the NABC hits Washington.  For me the highlight was a performance by the Capitol Steps, a political satire comedy group, who had several hundred people rolling in the aisles on Saturday night. None of us who were there will ever think about Barack Obama or Sarah Palin the same way again.  I first saw these guys at a Nationals in 1993, and have been a big fan ever since – thanks again to the organizers for bringing them back.

5) The kids program was great – my son brought his 5- and 3-year-old kids, and they couldn’t wait to get back to the playroom while mom and dad had fun at the bridge table.

6) The Daily Bulletin has got better over the last few years, I suspect partly because Brent Manley is now regularly in charge.  My friend Mark Horton was also contributing entertaining pieces daily, so there was much more to it than the usual pages and pages about who came 6th in section in each side game.  The presentation has improved too, with more photographs, and a neat graphic display of the pairings in the big KO events like the Spingold.

7)  More BBO broadcasts of both major KO events, from an earlier stage than usual.  The more the merrier, I say – the top players in the world come to the NABC tournaments, so let’s watch them in action.

The Bad

1)  Yes, we had all the events in one hotel (trust me, don’t go to any Nationals where that doesn’t happen), but boy were they scattered all over the place.  I spent an awful long time going back and forth through the lobby and up and down escalators.

2) The lighting in the main Ballroom, where most of the National events took place, was quite poor.  The combination of a very high ceiling and chandeliers wasn’t good.  I always know when I can’t take photos without a flash there’s a problem…

3) Internet charges at the hotel were $12.95 a day.  Now while it also gave you free long distance within the USA, that feature wasn’t any use to me, nor to some of my American friends who had their own long distance plans.  My son commented that the previous night on the road he’d paid $100 rather thas $150 for his room, and got a better room, with a free breakfast and Internet.  My room didn’t even have a fridge…  And there was nowhere nearby with a WiFi hookup either – even at the local Starbucks you had to have an AT&T subscription.  C’mon guys – in this day and age, everyone wants to stay connected, so negotiate it into the deal with the hotel.

4)  A Chinese trade delegation arrived after a couple of days, and became ensconced on the top two floors of one of the towers.  That resulted in people being ‘incentivized’ to move to another hotel, two elevators being reserved and out of action permanently, and sporadic security shutdowns of much of the lobby area and one of the key entrances during the day.  I suppose this is par for the course in Washington, but it sure was annoying.

The Ugly

1) The National events now bar cell phones and other electronic gadgetry, at least in theory.  I confess that several times I forgot and walked into the room with a turned-off cell phone in my briefcase, and no-one was the wiser – there’s no actual detection gear.  One Spingold team was penalized 12 IMPs for cell phone violation, which cost them the match – presumably it rang, because I don’t know how else it could have been discovered.  Recognizing that technology presents security issues, I think we’re a long way from solving them yet.  Right now I think we’re in the same state as the airports – attempts at increasing security make life very uncomfortable for everyone without really doing much to deter the bad guys.  I note, for example, that there is nothing to prevent a player wearing in his or her ear a device which is ostensibly a hearing aid.

2) Since Linda was playing in it, I watched some of the Wagar women’s teams event for the first time.  The obvious flaws were (a) a Nationally-rated event with only 14 entries – at least one decent women’s team played in the Spingold (good for them – that’s what the top women’s teams should be doing) (b) apparently random seeding points assigned to a number of top European pairs.  Couldn’t help but notice that a young Dutch pair with one European title to their names got 50 SP, while the French pair who own three world championships were awarded only 20 – and this wasn’t the only anomaly.  Linda has talked at length about this event in her blog, and there’s an interesting discussion going on there.

3) I got the sense from several incidents that I observed, and from listening to other stories, that the quality of table rulings is going down.  (It was noticeable that in all the Appeals cases published in the Bulletin in the first few days, the table ruling was overturned.)  The primary concern of the director seems to be calm ruffled feelings rather than to pay attention to the bridge issues.  I saw a well-known woman player make a false claim, then brazenly lie to the director about what had occurred.  He really wasn’t interested in doing anything but making her happy; indeed, he would barely listen to the opponents, let alone ask me (as a presumably disinterested observer) what I had seen.  I recognize that directors need to prevent hurt feelings from escalating into major confrontations, but there are bridge rulings to be made, and it’s not clear that that is being done very well any more.  A couple of years back, the director who was called to my table in a Swiss teams never actually returned with a ruling.  When I finally ran him to earth, his excuse was that the round was over and that my partner and I had left the table.  “We were EW at table F7,” I said. “Where did you think our home table was?”  Just a worry right now, but I’ll be paying more attention to it in future.

4)  There has been some effort to use technology better, but the ACBL is still a long way from where it should be.  Bridgemate score reporting was tested in Boston, but absent here (presumably if it works for world championships, it should work in the ACBL).  With Bridgemate, we could have barometer scoring in the final session of pairs events, for example.  Hand records are being posted on the Internet (yay!) but again, with Bridgemate, every result at every table could be there, as happens elsewhere.  Every time I see a director wade through the room with the results on a big sheet off his dot matrix printer, I wonder what the Europeans think of us.

5)  My final gripe: system issues and alerting.  Every time it gets changed, it seems to get sillier; no-one knows what to alert anyway.  Linda came across a new one: she and her partner got into a slam-going auction and she alerted her partner’s 4Cx bid at one stage.  The director was summoned later (for reasons unrelated to this story) and commented that Linda’s alert of 4Cx was delayed.  “But I did it as quickly as I could!” she protested.  “No,” said the director, “ you should have delayed the alert until after the auction”.  That one’s new to me too, and pretty stupid to boot.  Defenders need to have some idea of what is going on in these auctions.  I came across one where South opened 1Cx, which was alerted.  West bid 1Dx, and East was helpless – if 1Cx was forcing, then he needed to alert 1Dx, but he wasn’t allowed to ask until it was his turn to bid!

We also discovered that using 2Dx to show a single-suited major hand over 1NT (as an overcall) is a pre-alert.  Using 2Cx to show any suit (i.e. Cappelletti) is not. Nor is an opening 2NT showing a weak hand with both minors.  Go figure.  Then there was the pair who arrived with a little card covered in pre-alerts – and seemed to think this absolved them from actually alerting any of these things whern they occurred…

To sum up

In summary, this was an above-average Nationals, and as always, what made the difference was the work of the local volunteers.  The above comments are offered in the spirit of constructive criticism, in the hope that these events can be made even better for the players – that, after all, should be everyone’s objective.


LindaAugust 1st, 2009 at 1:46 pm

Players are clearly completely confused about the alert system. Twice we had people make “semi-alerts”. This occurred when they felt that the bid might be alertable but they weren’t sure.

On another occasion one player had his card marked as three card club suits, five card majors and four card diamond suits – clearly impossible. With a full opening bid, he opened one club on two which was not alerted. When this caused a problem during the play of the hand he said it was a pysch. He also had marked on his card frequent pysch’s with responses. When I called the director I asked only that the card be changed so that it was correct and that they remove the controlled pysch’s. While the director did say the controlled pysch’s were illegal he made no attempt to get the players to change their cards despite my repeated attempts.

Once again even in team games players found it very difficult and unpleasant to play against 2D showing either a weak two in hearts or spades. This is not that difficult people. Using the printed defense causing them confusion and makes me feel bad. If you can cope with suction and 10-12 notrump surely you can handle a two way weak two bid. Get over it.

My personal impression was:

a) the entire field from pro to novice is confused about the alert system

b) this is especially true about prealerts

c) the directors need to make more effort to ensure players have correct convention cards when this is pointed out to them

d) using a printed defense provided by your opponents is not the best way to handle defending against opponent’s system. It is worth being prepared for bids that are fairly frequent.

PS I had a great time. I forgot how much fun it is to play in Nationals. Given the good the bad and the ugly I say: “how long is it until San Diego?”

PaulAugust 1st, 2009 at 2:31 pm

Cell phones – just get over it. If you play in the top European events they are banned, although you do not have to pay $5 to store them – there are also bag searches at random tables. I find the hysteria that this subject raises just unbelievable given that no-one had a phone 15 years ago.

As true aliens we know the pre-alert and alerting system better than 99% of the locals as we prepare for the (foreign) event properly. It is disappointing that we suffer a load of abuse because of this, combined with the ‘that is not bridge’ treatment of our ‘european standard’ system. The top players in the Spingolds are fine, but get down to the brackets and it is persistent abuse.

In summary, anything that is different is subject to sarcastic comments and/or veiled accusations of cheating even when we are the ones providing the fullest disclosure possible. I really feel that the middling players will suffer next year in Philadelphia when they are not protected by their written defences and Mid Chart/GCC and actually have to play bridge for a change!

But I love the Nationals despite all this.

ShazAugust 2nd, 2009 at 7:06 am

I’m surprised about the wifi situation. The Omni Shoreham offered wifi for either $10/day or for free upon signing up (also for free) as a member. This only involved filling out a form upon trying to connect to the internet and took only a few minutes. And the Washington Marriott had free wifi in the hotel lobby. If two other good hotels in the city can offer this, it’s strange that Marriott Wardman Park did not.

Luise LeeAugust 2nd, 2009 at 2:35 pm

If the washington marriot had free wifi in the hotel lobby, I never found it… I brought my laptop down and sat at those computer tables next to the bar and I couldn’t get connected to anything — I kept getting the browser window pop up that required me to “buy” my internet time.

It was extremely frustrating.

Overall, I had a great time in Washington. Though, at times, I wished that we had opted to visit another Club Med resort or another cruise as our vacation instead of choosing a “Bridge” holiday… But I suppose I have many many more of all three to look forward to in the future.

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