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Vugraph thoughts

Years ago, I fell in love with BBO Vugraph. In addition to being a bridge fan in general, when at home with a young child, it was fantastic to watch Michael's big matches live, rather than waiting by the phone for a result. And even some of our non-bridge playing friends and family enjoyed watching when one of us was playing.

I was enthusiastic about Vugraph for my own sake, and for the sake of bridge. Serving as a commentator, which I did only on occasion, felt like a great way to give something back to bridge.

Over the years, I’ve recommended watching vugraph to hundreds of friends and students.

On another thread -, I mentioned that I find it understandable that not all events can provide quality vugraph shows.

While it’s understandable, that doesn’t mean I like to watch. Sadly, I have come to have much less desire to watch vugraph, unless I know the operator is especially capable, or I have a strong rooting interest (so I’m watching mostly for the score).

For me, it’s not enjoyable to watch, when every card played is dubious. Or, for example, when there is an interesting play problem, and I’m eager to see how the best declarer in the field will approach it, only to have the vugraph operator lose track at the key point, and merely enter a claim. This frequently happened to me watching the European Championships round robin.

Even “pretty good” operators, who aren’t making numerous obvious errors, or completely missing the play, are often getting spots, or plays from equal honors, wrong. I know this from experience playing matches on vugraph, then looking at the archives later.

I don’t feel I can be a good commentator anymore, largely because I’d be a broken record (“we don’t know that was really played”, over and over). Recently I discussed this topic with Kit Woolsey, BBO vugraph commentator extraordinaire. I left the conversation with the feeling that Kit is fooling himself, but that it’s great for the bridge world that he can. Kit sees that not infrequently the vugraph operator has obviously clicked a card that the player certainly did not play. Yet his default assumption is that any play which might be accurate, is what it appears. This is probably great for the bridge world, since it allows him to provide his excellent commentary, without calling nearly every card into question, as I would feel compelled to do.

I'm particularly sensitive to assumptions by commentators that a player has done something silly, when it is often more likely to be operator error. Experienced commentators can be quick to reference operator error when OBVIOUS, but hardly ever seem to consider it when less than obvious. Of course when a player really has done something apparently silly, it would be nice to be able to discuss it (and maybe even sometimes figure out why), without having to wonder if it's true.

Whether vugraph is worth watching, and perhaps commentating on, in spite of this uncertainty as to accuracy, is a personal choice. And I’m glad that people have the choice to make - at no charge, no less. For myself, I eagerly await some sort of electronic recording, where we know for sure exactly what bids and plays were made.

My understanding is that BBO provides a platform, along with a good deal of technical support, free of charge, to anybody who wants to broadcast. It's up to the event organizers to arrange operators. I’d suggest that organizers consider broadcasting only the number of tables for which they can guarantee highly skilled operators. While a few individuals might prefer to see their favorite players more often, surely most would prefer quality over quantity.

Particularly in WBF/EBL events, where we have easy access to running scores from all tables, there’s not much point to putting a table on vugraph unless there is good reason to believe we will accurately observe at least most of what transpires.

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