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Essay: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the BBO Bots
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For much of my bridge career, masterpoints meant very little to me. My goals have always been self-improvement, learning about the game and passing on what I have learned to others. That has changed. Now I care about masterpoints and their accrual. Why? There are four reasons, which I will give in reverse order of personal importance.

4) The Future

I found out a couple of months ago that my job will be ending. The timeframe is about three or so years. I won’t be retired at that time. What happens if I want to teach bridge, for example? Whoever does the hiring will want a teacher who has a lot of experience. A cruise line, for example, would rather hire someone who has 10,000 points than 1,000 points.

3) Respect/Fear

I always tell my students to never fear a strong opponent and to treat any hand played against experts as a learning opportunity. Some players, out of fear, make mistakes against strong players that they would not make against their peers. This is not because the expert does or says anything to intimidate weaker players. Experts have a certain “aura” that does something to the weaker player.

2) Partnership Desk

I have picked up many partners over the years. Some good, some so-so, and some not so good. But, the partnership desk may tend to provide a better partner for me if I had more points, especially at nationals and larger regionals.

1) Bracketed Round Robin Team Events

This is the biggie. Bracketed Round Robins have taken over tournaments where I live. Low level players love the event because they can play against their peers. The highest level players like the event because they can play against their peers. This kind of event works against me. I want to play in the top bracket but I get put in the second or even the third bracket at regionals. Yes, I could play pairs and I do love playing the A/X pairs at regionals, the field is always very strong. I attended a regional in San Antonio this summer which was a smallish 1400-table regional. I figured that my team with 14,000 points might have a shot at getting into bracket 1. Not even close. There was a team there in bracket 2 with 24,000 points. When I heard this I despaired. How was I ever going to get into bracket 1? Someone suggested lying about the point totals but I think ACBL might audit that and also it wouldn’t be fair to the team we bumped down to bracket 2.

My answer: I need more points. A lot of them.

Now that I care about getting Masterpoints®, naturally I want to find the most efficient way to get them. In the past, you could get points at the club, at sectional tournaments, regional tournaments, or national tournaments. Now, of course, we have BBO. When we think about efficiency, we think about minimizing the time and money it takes to earn one masterpoint.

Time Efficiency

I have a full time job. I work during the day, which means that the only time I can play bridge, teach, or tutor is at night or on the weekends. My children are grown but I do have a spouse whom I enjoy spending time with. I have other time commitments as well. My wife says I have five jobs. Weekend time, therefore, is at a premium.

Playing a session of face-to-face bridge requires a significant allocation of time, upwards of five hours depending on how far away I am playing, traffic, how many boards are played, and so on. Playing in a tournament requires most of an entire day. Two sessions will take 10 hours. For me, I live 45 minutes from the site where most local tournaments are played, so that adds another 1.5 hours. So call it 11.5 hours for one day at a tournament.

During the last sectional tournament I played in, I got about 20 points. This is pretty typical for me. This was a four day tournament, so the time commitment was 46 hours. Points per hour was 20/46, or about 0.43 points per hour.

Regional tournaments give more points. This year I’ve gotten about 100 points at regionals, over 13 days. That works out quite a bit higher, 0.67 masterpoints per hour compared to 0.44 points per hour at sectionals.

Playing two instant tournaments on BBO (24 hands) takes 45 minutes or a little less. I average about 0.44 masterpoints® per 12-hand instant tournament, so 0.88 points (two tournaments) for 0.75 hours is 1.17 points per hour.

I can get a lot more points per hour playing BBO instant tournaments than playing in tournaments. Plus, the free time I have is nights and weekends. I can squeeze in one hour to play bridge at night very easily, compared to the five hours it takes to go to the club and play.

1.75 points per hour on BBO / 0.67 points per hour at regionals / 0.44 points per hour at sectionals

Financial Efficiency

How many masterpoints are available at face-to-face bridge per dollar spent? Or, how much money does a masterpoint cost?

You can play at NABCs, in-town regionals, out-of-town regionals, in-town sectionals, out-of-town sectionals, or at the club.

Consider the cost of playing at a NABC. I will use round numbers but you get the idea. Let’s say the cost of the hotel is $100 per day, entry fees are $40 per day, food is $40 per day (remember, round numbers). For a 10-day tournament that comes to $1800. Add in $200 for airfare and that’s an even 2 large. My personal best number of points at a NABC is 76 (I am not Wooldridge/Hurd) but let’s assume you get 100 points. Dollars spent per masterpoint would therefore be $20.00. ($2,000.00 divided by 100 poiints)

The problem is that sample sizes for tournaments is small. There are only three nationals per year, and It is not a given that you come back with 100 points from the nationals.

Daily costs for playing at an out-of-town regional or sectional might be slightly less, but not too much. Entry fees are likely to be lower and the hotel most likely is cheaper.

For a regional in your home city, the transportation costs are much less. If you play seven days with entry fees of $26 per day, transportation costs $10 per day (parking/tolls), food $40 per day, that comes to $532.00. For me, 50 points is a pretty good regional, my personal best is 60. A ballpark figure for cost per masterpoint at a hometown regional might therefore be about $10.00. I would guess that hometown sectional tournaments cost roughly the same, on a per-day basis.

Playing bridge at the club is not cheap, either. For a session of bridge I pay anywhere from $7 to $20. To get to some locations requires going on toll roads, plus you have entry fees. I am not counting the cost of gasoline and other vehicle costs. I have had two cars damaged (one dent in hood, one windshield) by stones kicked up by cars going to and from bridge games.

How many points do I get at the club? I got about 90 points last year on the Ace of Clubs report. If I played at the club 80 times last year at an average cost of $13, that comes to $8.89 per masterpoint. 80 club games a year is 1.5 games a week. Sounds about right.

For those players who live near a community center where they have two-section games for $3 and can drive for a mile and get there, more power to you.

Let us compare these figures ($20/point for NABC, $10 for hometown regional or sectional, maybe $8 per point for the club) to how much a masterpoint costs on BBO.

Playing two instant tournaments on BBO (24 hands) costs $2.50, and I can earn up to 1.8 masterpoints. I have kept track and in June I averaged 0.44 masterpoints per 12 hands, or 0.88 masterpoints per 24 hands. This works out to about $2.84 per masterpoint. You can play many more sessions on BBO than you can at any tournament or club, and therefore the variance in the number of earned points is much less.

$2.84 per point on BBO / $8.89 per point at the club / $10 per point at hometown tournaments / $20 per point at NABCs.

Conclusion:

BBO points cost much less than face-to-face points cost, and I can get them much faster. It is not surprising to see that face-to-face play at clubs is decreasing and play at BBO is increasing. Perhaps some of the change is due to demographics. For me, it’s a simple matter of efficiency.

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