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Why I hate duplicates.


No one loves games more than me. I have played chess at school level, gin rummy for high stakes, the backgammon world championships seven times and poker, winning a world-series bracelet. Anyone fancy a combo game of scrabble, monopoly, klobiash and all of the above? I have played them all and bridge is the most fun, intellectually challenging and addictive of all. But why do I hate duplicates so much?

My grandfather was a high stakes bridge fanatic, my parents met in a rubber bridge club, and I love gambling on risk reward games, so I must confess I have a clear bias towards rubber bridge. Sadly, this is a dying game. There are only two rubber clubs left in London and their popularity is waning by the month to the point of extinction as members wither. Perhaps, this form of the game will never reach its former glory as it has to compete with poker, computer games and all of life's other distractions. But aren't there aspects which could be incorporated into duplicate competitions?

The easiest read-across would be the moolah. The Cavendish aside, why are there so few tournaments with entry fees and prize money comparable to backgammon and poker? Master points and the respect of other player's doesn't really turn me on. Bridge is susceptible to cheating especially when the stakes are high, but there are ways around this, such as the use of screens. If people can gamble on poker on the internet, surely a well policed tournament could work. Turning up to an EBU congress and paying a £35 registration, plus travel expenses and other sundries is quite an expensive hobby. The hope of virtually no return even in the almost impossble scenario were I to win, is not particularly appealing.

Money isn't everything. The social aspect of duplicates is more than depressing. Turn up, sit down, and opponents greet you with, "Hello, playing Benji Acol mini no trump, weak twos", at best. Score up, on to the next. Twenty four consecutive boards of this and do I really feel like coming back for the second session? Contrast this to rubber bridge where you can turn up, kibitz a hand or two, cut in, tell a joke as you are shuffling, order a drink, chat in between hands. Is there a compromise? Could you allow talking during bridge tournaments instead of sitting in monastic silence. How much richer could the game be even, if coffee-housing was allowed in some tournaments, allowing the bluffing and double bluffing element, similar to "moody's" in poker. Zia and Chagas aside, there are too few characters in the tournament bridge world. Is this because bridge doesn't attract colourful exponents or rather these characters are driven away from the game?

Playing in a duplicate is a huge time commitment to a rigid format. You have to be there at the start (on time!) and stay until the end. It doesn't have to be this way. A swiss format could be adopted where you can drop out if you are not in contention as in most other sports. In rubber bridge you can pop in after work and play a few Chicagos on the way home or stay all night, the choice is yours. Duplicates could have official start times but if you are late, you could join in and make up the boards at the end with other late comers or even skip missed boards being allocated a below average score. Perhaps four hour sessions without an intermission takes too much concentration and is only for the most hardcore players. Could there not be a break every hour and a half? There is a fear that boards will be discussed. Trust competitors not to cheat or for example, have 8 sessions of 6 boards with a five minute coffee break in between each rather than two sessions of 24. Every pair does not need to play every board or come up against every other opponent. It may not be the purest form of duplicate, but so what? There is plenty of randomness involved anyhow. If say, you only count your best 16 out of 24 boards, it wouldn't be a disaster if you even decided to sit some boards out. This theme applies to local duplicates as well as congresses. The Young Chelsea is the busiest duplicate club in London and events typically begin at 7.30 and finish at 11. If I come straight from work there is no time to eat dinner before and I wont be tucked up in bed until midnight. Bridge could still be competitive, conducive to people that work during the week and be more sociable if events began at 7, broke for dinner at 8.30 and resumed from 9 until 10.30.

Bridge is a beautiful game but unduly complicated. How many can tell me the score for making four clubs redoubled vulnerable with two overtricks off the top of their head? Simplify the scoring system so it is accessible. More importantly, standardise bidding, so there can be a level playing field. How can I enter a tournament and be competitive in an auction against Meckwell for two hands without dedicating my life to studying a thousand plus page of their system notes? It is not as if they need any advantage. If all were to use rubber bridge methods, Bridge World Standard or any universally recognised system, the game would be about judgement, flair and technique and many more would be encouraged to compete, and even watch bridge tournaments. How many people like me that struggle to find a partner, could just turn up at events with a pick up partner and be instantaneously competitive. Believe me, the same top pairs would still come at the top of the leaderboard. Read any Master Solver's Club and it is clear there is more than enough scope for disagreement and playing the game in your own style, under a universal bidding system, especially as card play remains untouched.

All of these points pale into insignificance compared to my biggest bugbear,"DIRECTOR!!!". There are more rulings asked for in one average duplicate than I have seen in over ten years of playing competitive backgammon, poker and rubber bridge in their totality. Duplicate players have become nitwits. When I play a duplicate, I feel like I am back at school and my classmates are calling over the teacher to get you in trouble. Bridge can be competitive yet fun. When not playing behind screens in a Bermuda bowl final does it really matter if you score 52.8% or 54.2%? Please, please, think about the spirit of the game and if you think others are taking advantage, good luck to them, they will get their comeuppance eventually. Many will disagree with this stance, so I propose an idea: anyone that asks for a ruling which is not upheld should be penalised by a reduction to their overall score. I estimate this will cut down on at least eighty percent of pettiness.

Hopefully see you over a rubber bridge table or a more cohesive modified duplicate structure soon.

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