Join Bridge Winners
All comments by Richard Willey
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Golf is experiencing an enormous contraction in its player base
Oct. 2
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FWIW, the reason that we differentiate between contracts is that it makes it much easier to understand bidding if/when this were to be introduced.
Oct. 2
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FWIW, we always used an even simpler version of minibridge

Everyone looks at their hand.

Step 1
The pair with the higher number of points declares
The player with the higher number of points is declarer

Step 2:
Dummy gets tabled

Step 3: Declarer decided strain an level. They can choose between

1N
2M
3m
Any game
Any slam

Step 4:
The hand is played out

if folks know trick taking games, you can be up and playing in 5 minutes
Oct. 2
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Two important comments:

1. The survey is rather biased. The individuals who were surveyed were all at a “modern gaming” gathering.

Modern gaming is very much focused on games that game be learned in 10 minutes and played in an hour or two (Think “Settlers of Catan”). Players who have a strong bias towards these games aren't a good candidate for games that require large amounts of time and effort to master.

Note: There are lots of complaints about conventions in that write up, but just as many about having to learn nuances of playing cards properly. These players don't want to learn finesses or endplays, let along squeezes.

2. Lots of complaints about the bridge community being toxic and full of old people.

In short: These aren't the players that you are looking for. You can't change the game enough to attract them without killing it altogether…
Oct. 2
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I (mainly) play at home, versus “Jack”…

I play a little bit online
There's a game a lunch meets once or twice a week
Oct. 2
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No doubt, however, I am unconvinced that this is what we should be striving for. Board by board results allow us to dive much deeper into any kind of analysis.

For example, wouldn't it be nice to understand how the likelihood that team A beats team B changes depending on whether we're playing a 64 board match, a 96 board match, or a 128 board match? For that we really need to look at results board by board - first to understand stuff like the variance in the results, but also to try to understand whether these numbers change based on the state of the match? How does Team A's performance change when they're down by 25 going into the last set and suddenly need to start swinging?

At the end of the day, ll we really care about it matches won and I understand why it is attractive to focus on this result. However, I have to believe that increasing the size of a data set 20 fold has to make life better..
Oct. 1
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A whole bunch of different wheels may have been invented, however, I don't have nearly enough information to determine whether Colorado Power Ratings or the National Grading System are particular good choices.

If the ACBL decided to go down this path, I hope that they do so in a serious and responsible manner.

From my perspective, this means doing three different things.

1. Hire someone with the appropriate skill set to evaluate existing rating systems, recommend if any of them are worth pursing, and (potentially) develop a new one. I I got to wave my magic wand and pick some to do this, I'd hire Mark Glickman (formerly of Boston University, currently of Harvard).

2. Dramatically improve record keeping.

A rating system is only as good as the raw data that gets feed into it. Many of the techniques that would work best for a bridge rating scheme working very well if you have lots of data points and comparatively poorly if you only have a small number. Consider a typical two session pairs event: On the one hand, you can consider this as two sets of 27 boards that happen in a short period of time giving 2x54 sets of pairwise observations. As an alternative, you can record this as 2 single observations (your overall score for session 1 and your overall score for session 2).

Guess which system is going to perform better…

3. Start by developing a system that can do a good job ranking pairs.

Here's how I'd proceed:

1. Start by hiring a good data scientist. (If you can get Glickman, great, if not, maybe you can get one of his grad students)

2. Provide said individual with an anonymized version of results from all those online tournaments that the ACBL has been running.

3. Let loose a neural network or whatever form of Bayesian voodoo seems most appropriate and see how well your system does.

If you are able to provide nice accurate ratings, great! Then you can roll the system out on a more wide spread basis. Alternatively, if the problem seems intractable then its back to the drawing board.

Couple quick notes:

1. If the ACBL is either unwilling or incapable of providing access to board records, this is actually really valuable information. It means that the organization isn't serious about a rating system and its better to discover this early in the process rather than later on.

2. If you play your cards right, you might be able to get BBO to pony up some money. I suspect that BBO would see some real value in having a rating system that was appropriate for the information dense platform that they manage. Making sure that the results were open and the rating system was freely shared would have real value to the bridge playing community as whole.
Oct. 1
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I started playing a bit in High School and a bit more in undergrad.

However, I didn't start playing seriously until I went to grad school which had a well organized bridge club which ran a duplicate every Wednesday night.

So, the actual gap was 6+ years, however, the critical issue was one of availability rather than desire. (Had there been a bridge club with duplicate when I was at Wesleyan I would have played. Lots)
Sept. 30
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I think that a lot of the people who were playing social or party bridge 20-30 years ago are dead. I don't think that they migrated into playing in ACBL events, nor do I believe that their modern contemporaries have done.

Rather, the quality / sophistication of our new members has decreased dramatically.

20 - 30 years ago, novice bridge players tended to

1. Have experience with trick taking games like Hearts, Spades, Euchre, Pinochle
2. Be significantly younger

Someone who takes up a game in their teens or in college is going to develop into a stronger player than someone who does so in their mid 50s. At the most basic level, people who start younger are going to be able to play the game for much longer.

However, dig a bit deeper. I don't think that any of us would disagree that young “plastic” brains are much better at mastering new skills.
Sept. 29
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Hi Linda,

When read the description of the game that you are describing I can’t help but feel that

1. If this is “bridge” then the game does not deserve to survive
2. I don’t see the point in trying to preserve (this version of) the game

The ACBL has all but killed the game in North America.

Most of the players who actually knew how to play have either died or will do so soon. We have replaced their ranks with hordes of 65 years who will never have the time, the faculties, or the opportunity to develop into good players.

Let it all crash and burn.

If people actually want to preserve the game of “bridge” as it is played at the top levels today and was played by most folks 20+ years ago the first thing that you need to do is write off the overwhelming majority of the existing membership. They aren’t playing the same game, nor do they want to. Let the ACBL devolve into a “social division” where idiots can pony up $$$ and be told that they are electrum life masters with a spade belt… In the mean time there might be some hope of carving off Flight A, moving it to a separate organization, and keeping the actual game alive. It won’t be the same game. It will be much smaller and I doubt that the player base will be large enough to support full time pros. But you might see the game itself live.
Sept. 29
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> I have created large data bases for every d16 player at
> tournaments and clubs and will post then soon.

What information do these data bases contain?
Why are you collecting them?
Why are you posting them?
Sept. 27
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I suspect that I make less money than H+H in a typical year.

I still hire a tax professional to handle my filings and the like…
Sept. 26
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> Hundreds of thousands of people in North America play
> social bridge. They enjoy it but seem to have no motivation
> to become ACBL members.

How old are these hundreds of thousands of players?
How much longer do you expect them to be playing bridge?

The two big ideas that I am most interested in are the following:

1. How will you effectively manage the transition of bridge from a mass market form of entertainment to a niche game?

2. How will you downsize the ABCL to allow it to continue to function with a fraction of the resources that are available to it today?
Sept. 26
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With respect to documenting the health benefits of bridge:

Color me a cynic, but

1. I don't trust information like this when it gets delivered by a party with a vested interest in the results

2. I don't need more pamphlets in my life

3. This very much strikes me as a distraction
Sept. 26
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I really don’t see this expert player’s guild as remotely workable.

The cynic in me thinks that the primary motivation behind creating the Expert Player’s Guild is to be able to exclude members from some set of ACBL events. Why would a pro ever volunteer to decrease the set of events where they can sell their service? Coupled with this, membership in such a guild seems like a good way to get audited.

If the ACBL were actually able to offer some amazingly compelling benefits for Expert players I could, perhaps, see the pros outweigh the cons. However, what is currently being described sure doesn’t sound very attractive to me, especially give the ACBL’s incompetence at basic governance. (The ACBL’s own TDs are suing the organization for reneging on benefits. Why would anyone ever want to get in bed with such an organization?) Of the various options that you have described, the only one that really sounds attractive is “Support the guild with tools that will encourage responsible marketing and enable transparent feedback on expert player performance.” However, there is this nagging little voice in the back of my head saying “Isn’t the ACBL already planning a dynamic rating system for its members?”

And all this for a very very low $500 a year…
Sept. 26
Richard Willey edited this comment Sept. 26
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Related to Kevin's point:

My department is responsible for a lot of the internal audit and project reviews at Akamai. One of the tools that we use is something called Heilmacher's Catechism.

George H. Heilmeier, a former DARPA director (1975-1977), crafted a set of questions known as the “Heilmeier Catechism” to help Agency officials think through and evaluate proposed research programs.

What are you trying to do? Articulate your objectives using absolutely no jargon.
How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice?
What is new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful?
Who cares? If you are successful, what difference will it make?
What are the risks?
How much will it cost?
How long will it take?
What are the mid-term and final “exams” to check for success?

The proposal drafts contain some of this information, however, there is also a bunch that is missing. It would be useful if some more information were to be added to the write up.
Sept. 26
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I would like to start by thanking the ACBL leadership for the degree of transparency that they are providing.

For my first post, I'd like to focus on the proposal for strength based ratings.

There are three parts to my response

1. In theory, I believe that a ratings systems would be extremely valuable for a variety of reasons.

2. In practice, I believe that a dynamic ratings system will cause enormous amounts of trouble. In particular, you're going to have two very big sources of trouble

A. Roughly half of your players are going to be rated as below average and they aren't going to like this. (You might be able only provide ratings for the top third of players or some such and leave everyone else in the dark, but even here people aren't going to like what you are telling them)

B. Any rating system worth its salt is going to be sufficiently complex that you can't explain its innards to the average ACBL member. I remember the “joy” trying to explain something as simple as the Lehman system to the members on OKB 15 odds years ago. I'm thinking about trying to explain a Kalman filter or a neural net to Aunt Maggie and my blood pressure is spiking. People aren't going to trust a system that they can't understand and almost no one really understands recursive Bayesian filters.

C. The proposal that you are describing appears to suggest that pre-generated and pre-analyzed boards will be seeded in tournaments. The is really problematic on multiple levels.

Its gonna be expensive - Computers aren't good enough to analyze bidding and play. Real experts costs real $$$ and cheap experts are more trouble than they are worth.

It potentially violates the Laws of the game

Its going to result in all sorts of bizarre conspiracy theories that the ACBL is rigging boards

It creates all sorts of new security issues

If you really want to go down this route, then I STRONGLY recommend that you create a system that takes the scores that people generate as the raw inputs rather than doing orders of magnitude more work to try to diagnose elements of bidding and play. At the end of the day, people are here to win matches. On average this requires good bidding and play.

The single most important thing that you can do to make this type of system work is to create a system that is tracking results on a board by board basis rather than game by game. Machine learning algorithms work best with lots of data and this will give you 7 - 27 more data points per match.

I strongly recommend that you start by building a system that tracks the performance of PAIRS rather than individuals. Its much much more easy to do so and if you can build a good system to rate the strength of pairs you can then use this to rate individuals.

Please note: If you end up with separate and distinct populations of players that don't compete against one another then ratings won't necessarily be comparable across the two pools.

Richard E Willey
Senior Data Scientist Akamai
(Ex) Product Manage MATLAB Statistics Toolbox
Sept. 25
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On the few times that I have been able to interact with Geir and Tor, I've always found them very pleasant.

At the same time, tax fraud is tax fraud. And if they're guilty I think that the Norwegians are justified in throwing the book at them.
Sept. 25
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FWIW, if I am dealing with people who have that little idea about regarding bridge, I'm not teaching them anything about bidding. I'm having them play minibridge instead.

After a several sessions of minibridge, once they have an idea about how to declare and defend and when you want to play 1NT versus 2M versus 3m, THATS the time that you can start talking to them about bidding.

And, in general, once I am introducing bidding, I'm normally introducing a decent number of artificial concepts like transfers and stayman over NT openings. Ultimately, I think that its a lot better to teach them something that is playable up front…
Sept. 25
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Once again…

EHAA is a very very natural system. Beginners will hate to play against it.
Acol is a very natural system. Beginners will hate to play against it.
I can create a canape based 4 card major system that would be even more amusing.

Natural versus artificial is, at best, a distraction.

What folks hate is people who play anything different than they do…
Sept. 25
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