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Back to the Future

On a post about the Fall NABC schedule, Robb Gordon posted something that resonated for me. Though I didn't start attending tournaments until the late 70's, I was fortunate that the "old ways" were still in place then. Regionals often had only one event a day. Winning a regional event was a big deal. And playing against top players? Pretty much, if you wanted to play, then you were going to play against very good players.

Back then, we really viewed playing against the best as a positive feature, not something to fear. That was one of the many beauties of bridge; you could play against the best, learn a lot, once in a while actually best them - and the only cost involved was your entry fee. Such a deal!

Somewhere along the line, things began to change. Since masterpoints were exciting and fun to get, those in charge judged to create schedules and conditions of contest that allowed us to get them more easily. Tournaments had more and more events. More people were able to do well - and win. And fewer people ever had to compete against the top-notch experts.

For a while, it seemed excellent; make everyone happy by doing better! Yet, many of us realize that ultimately, this is a path that cannot continue forever. When you devalue something, as we did with both the concept of winning, and with earning masterpoints, they become less valuable and prized. When you remove newer and less expert players from competition against tough ones, it becomes more difficult for them to actually learn skills to beat others. When you allow people to get big masterpoint totals and wins, but not have the knowledge and abilities that used to come with them, ultimately frustration hits.

We all know people who got more and more masterpoints - then suddenly "priced themselves out" of their protected environment. Now, if they wanted to compete, it was against the really good players. But because of the system, these players often didn't have the required skills to do well against the tougher competitors ... so many quit. Not a good scenario for the growth of our game.

Unfortunately, we've had masterpoint and event inflation for quite some time now - and, if anything, the situation seems to exacerbate. I realize we can never go back in time. Still, I wonder if it is possible to recreate some of what made bridge so thrilling and such a challenge to those of us who began in the 60's and 70's. Can we instill the desire to face the best and better hone our own skills - even if it means for some time, we win less and earn fewer masterpoints? Is it possible to change people's goals, so that love of the game and understanding it more outweighs the artificial gaining of inflated points and titles?

I would love to hear people's thoughts and suggestions on these issues - and I would love to see more of us excited by good bridge than by artificial incentives.

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