Ray Lee

Moral IMPs

Hearty congratulations to ex-Canadians Fred Gitelman, Geoff Hampson and their team for today’s Rosenblum win.  It did not come cheaply, as they defeated Lavazza earlier in the event, followed by Zimmerman in the semifinal and finally Nickell to take the trophy.  Linda and I were musing today about why other bridge mercenaries (like the Norwegians, for example) seem to be able to make a good living without transferring their allegiance to another country for WBF purposes — but that’s the subject of another blog. In this one I want to analyze the Rosenblum final from the point of view of ‘moral IMPs’ — a phrase a BBO commentator used when one team bid and made a poor slam in another match; ‘Lose 14 moral IMPs,’ she said,’ but win 13 real ones.’

The idea appealed to me immediately. Moral IMPs, in essence, quantify the element of luck in the game.  In a match as well played as this one, it’s perhaps inevitable that Lady Luck has a hand in the final outcome.  Nickell gave up fewer than 2 IMPs per board (usually good enough to beat most opponents), but remarkably could score barely more than 1 IMP per board themselves.  The final tally was 121 to 78 for Diamond over 64 deals.  Real IMPs, that is.  Just for fun, let’s look at the Moral IMPs on five big swing deals, and see what might have happened.

On Board 9, Gitelman-Hampson bid a slam that essentially depended on 3-2 trumps, which weren’t there unfortunately. They lost 10 RI’s, but I’ll award Diamond 11 MI’s.

Board 32 was a biggie.  Hampson-Greco pushed to a poor grand, needing either to drop the HQ missing five of them or a finesse and a squeeze; Rodwell misread the ending, made the wrong discard, and declarer got home when he should not have. There was some discussion about misinformation with the director, but no redress was forthcoming.  RI’s: 10 to Diamond: MI’s, 14 to Nickell.

Bd. 52   Gitelman and Hampson bid a grand with A10xxxx of trumps opposite KJ, and were favoured with a trump lead.  Lose 17 MI’s as far as I’m concerned, but Diamond won 13 RI’s.

Now we come to two boards that are harder to score morally.

Bd 31.  Katz-Nickell got to a makeable 6D, but Katz misplayed and went down.  10 RI’s to Diamond.  It’s not that great a contract, but once you’re there, it can and probably should come home.  Let’s leave the MI’s on this one for now, and move on to Bd 49.

Bd. 49.  Meckwell had two 9-card fits, spades and diamonds.  They were missing the DA and the SQ.  While their opponents reached only game, Meckwell played in the inferior slam in spades, where they needed avoid a diamond ruff as well as pick up trumps.  As the cards lay, there was no diamond ruff, but having no reason to take a trump finesse, declarer went one down.  11 RI’s to Diamond.

So these two somewhat murky boards could potentially award Nickell 23 MI’s, but I don’t feel comfortable giving them as much as that.  Let’s compromise and make it about half of 23: 11MI’s.

Where does that leave us?  On these five boards, Diamond won 47 (real) IMPs and Nickell 11, a difference slightly less than the margin of victory.  In fact, removing these IMPs, we have a total score of Diamond 74  Nickell 67 with five boards to be scored.  Now let’s look at the Moral IMPs, which total 42 to Nickell and 11 to Diamond, giving us a final Moral result of Nickell 109 Diamond 85.

Let me say again that this (I hope) entertaining analysis in no way detracts from the winning performance of the Diamond team against arguably the world’s best team over the last decade or two.  It just goes to show that bridge, like many other sports, does indeed have a luck element.  Any time two world-class teams face off, especially in a game of percentages, like bridge, the winner will almost always be the one to whom Luck has been a Lady — this time.


LindaOctober 14th, 2010 at 2:54 pm

There is luck in just about everything in life (even who you marry, dear). While it is interesting to assign moral imps to specific boards you really ought to measure all boards against some imaginary par to be fair and not just the spectacular ones.

Let’s look at a simple example. Suppose that pair A arrives in 3D which is cold on any break and pair B arrives in 2S which needs a 3-3 trump break and more. Both make +110 but really pair A should have won MI. You wouldn’t even notice that.

We never play bridge against par except perhaps in specially designed par contests.

I think the idea is silly. Long live luck.

Ray LeeOctober 14th, 2010 at 5:13 pm

You misunderstand the concept — not talking about par, but about actions that have a reasonable expectation of gain, but that end up losing IMPs. It’s not the same thing at all. Do you remember the Spingold match we lost many years ago because we bid a good slam that the opps didn’t and then the trumps didn’t break? That’s what I’m talking about…

Andy BowlesOctober 19th, 2010 at 11:46 am

I like the concept, but you have to compute each side’s MIs independently.

On 32, for example, both sides are -14: Diamond for bidding a poor slam, and Nickell for letting it through. A similar argument may apply to 52, depending upon how sensible the trump lead was.

In general, the total MIs in a match will be a large negative number.

PaulOctober 19th, 2010 at 2:44 pm

When I was a (Scottish) selector, I used this concept to help analyse each pairs’ performance. I think Linda and I would do this in a similar way, as I used actual imps, butler imps and the score against par to identify the boards of most interest.

It doesn’t pick up everything, but it does give you a good idea whether a pair has been exceptionally lucky or, as they all say, unlucky.

MichaelOctober 21st, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Great concept Ray.

Too often we take the percentage line and go down in a makable contract. Now we can console ourselves with MI 🙂

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