Editorís column

from the Bridge Bulletin

October, 2019


Records, titles and ratings


††††††††† Our cover feature this month is a congratulatory nod to the ACBLís youngest Grand Life Master, Zach Grossack of New York City, who recently earned the title at the record-breaking age of 22 years and 3 months.Much of Zachís success on the tournament scene has been achieved playing with his older brother, Adam, who also became a Grand LM last month, although he did so at the hoary old age of 27 years and 7 months.


††††††††† For those who know the Grossack brothers, the occasion of their mutual promotion to Grand LM status is a cause for celebration, as they are well-regarded not only for their skill, but also for their pleasant deportment.They are an ornament to our game.


††††††††† To earn the Grand Life Master title, a player must accrue 10,000 masterpoints and win an unrestricted NABC event.Zach has four open NABC titles, Adam three, so the limiting factor for them in becoming Grand LMs was the acquisition of the 10,000th masterpoint, and it is this part of the title requirement that I wish to focus on.


††††††††† In chess, the player who holds the record for becoming the youngest grandmaster in history is Sergey Karjakin of the Ukraine, who earned the GM title in 2002 at the age of 12 years and 7 months.Since then, others have come close to breaking the age record without succeeding.Regardless, there are some three dozen chess players in the world who acquired the GM title before the age of 15.This is not possible in bridge because of the time required to amass 10,000 points.Itís not possible in the ACBL because we still conflate masterpoint acquisition with skill. Itís not possible because we donít have a rating system.


††††††††† In chess, players who score a certain percentage against already titled players over the course of several events can earn titles themselves.The process is not dependent on how frequently someone plays, but rather how well someone plays against top-level competition.If bridge had had a rating system in place, the Grossacks (and other young, talented players) would have become Grand LMs much sooner.It is my view that our top classification should no be linked to masterpoint totals.


††††††††† Although attaining the rank of Grand LM is an admittedly narrow topic, the lack of a rating system is negatively impacting our game in much broader ways, primarily in the manner that current stratification and flighting rules work against longtime players whose MP totals outweigh their skill level.The rationale for a rating system has been explored in this column before, as well as in a host of letters from members, including some new ones this month on the following page.


††††††††† An ACBL Board committee is actively working on this topic, and particular interest is being paid to the possibility of adopting some of the existing systems in use by freelancers who have decided to move forward with their own rating methods.Letís hope some tangible progress happens soon.


††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††† Paul Linxwiler, editor@acbl.org



††††††††† Letters to the Editor on page 7

††††††††† Howard Jacoby


††††††††† Ping Hu


††††††††† Chris Champion

Editorís column

from the Bridge Bulletin

October, 2017


How good are you at bridge?


The ability to honestly evaluate one's game is important to many players, especially for those who enjoy the competitive side of bridge. And since the birth of the ACBL 80 years ago, the tool that players have used for this evaluation is the masterpoint. As experienced players know, however, this measuring stick for progress has notable problems.


Even if we set aside the reality of masterpoint inflation ó masterpoints earned before, say, the mid-'70s were much more difficult to come by - any system that is based simply on accumulation of points eventually creates a problem. Members who play actively and/or those who have played for decades will inevitably accrue lots of masterpoints even though their skill levels may not have appreciably changed,


The effect of this accumulation ó which the late, great Paul Soloway jokingly dubbed "the attendance award" ó is felt acutely by these players late in their careers, especially in the context of tournaments. Stratification and bracketing rules are based on masterpoint holdings, forcing these players to compete in games against top-level players. Some of those affected enjoy the challenge, but many do not.


Despite membership totals staying constant for years, attendance at regional tournaments has dropped. There are likely many factors for this decline (some of which are location specific), but members, tournament organizers and ACBL officials all suspect that players who are "upside-down" in the skill-to-masterpoint department are choosing to play less frequently (or not at all) in regionals.


Other games - chess, for example ó have rating systems that estimate a player's strength based on their recent performances, A player's rating fluctuates based on how well they perform, and it yields a much more accurate method of determining how good that player is. Also, it allows players to compete in events with similar skill levels. Imagine bridge tournaments that featured stratification and bracketing based on recent performance instead of lifetime achievement, Advocates for a rating system began making serious proposals to the ACBL Board of Directors 20 years ago, but the momentum was not yet there for such a change. To be clear, no one wants to get rid of masterpoints. The discussion now is whether there should be an additional method for determining player strength.


See the Letters to the Editor on pg. 7 for a sample of the correspondence on this matter. The arguments for such a change are persuasive.

Paul Linxwiler, Editor

††††††††† Letters to the Editor on page 7

††††††††† Barry Elberg

††††††††† Marty Deneroff