A Rocky Mountain Hi - February 2011
The Open Pairs is once again being considered for surgery, and here's the whole story:
Before 1970 the Open Pairs wasn't just the best game in town, it was the only game. There were occasional variations such as the Mixed Pairs or the Unmixed Pairs. Sometimes the field was divided into Men's Pairs and Women's Pairs or Masters Pairs and Non-Masters Pairs.
There was but one knockout, and that was relegated to the morning hours. The concept of brackets had not yet been invented, so it was one winner take all. First round fields of 30 or 40 teams were not unheard of, and they would play as many days as necessary to determine a winner. Six days were not uncommon at a large regional.
My first strategy for KO's was to hope that we would draw the very best team for the first round so I could quickly get back to my normal tournament discipline of party until four and sleep until noon.
Board-a-Match was common on Sundays and sometimes on Thursdays, but this was (and is) a competition that rewards matchpoint skills more than IMP strategies. There was always a side game, but rarely more than eight or nine tables. I/N Pairs and stratified events had not yet arrived on the planet.
The supremacy of pairs was so clear cut that during the 1960's U.S. teams for international events such as the Bermuda Bowl were selected by a pairs competition, with the three top finishers being formed into the team, whether they liked each other or not.
Swiss Teams were invented in 1967 and had become almost universal by 1970. A very popular feature was that they awarded a small number of masterpoints for each match won, in addition to awards for finishing high in the overalls.
None of these innovations affected the size of the Open Pairs field, and four or five sections of 13 tables each were common at even a mid-sized regional. I once played in (and won) a pairs event with 24 sections (300+ tables). The addition of I/N pairs in the 1970s reduced the Open Pairs field by about one section, but as long as there were still at least two full sections nobody really noticed the difference.
Beginning in the 1980s the two-session pairs field at most District 17 regionals was chopped in two by spinning off Senior Pairs at 10 and 3. Don't get me wrong, 10 and 3 makes a lot of people happy and there's nothing wrong with that. But we must also recognize and weigh the fact that new events inevitably subtract from and dilute existing events which make a lot of other people less happy.
A second massive change occurred in the early 1980s with the advent of Prime Time Bracketed Knockouts. No longer did you have to finish first in the entire event in order to win points, but if your bracket was composed of teams ranked 33 to 48, 33rd was good enough to make you a winner. This was immediately a big hit.
Las Vegas was among the first regionals to introduce the concept of Bracketed Knockouts during the afternoon and evening sessions, appropriately named “Prime Time”. The 1990 Las Vegas Regional was 1,722 tables, the smallest in District 17. When Prime Time Bracketed KOs were added in 1992 the size almost tripled to 4,877, which was the largest regional in the ACBL. They were just warming up. The next Las Vegas Regional hit 6,044 tables, once again #1. Co-chairs Martha Beecher and Grace Mathews and many volunteers demonstrated what a combination of boundless enthusiasm, competence, and hard work can produce.
With a regional the size of Las Vegas, events can be added without subtracting from existing events, but smaller regionals proved to be a different story. The double-whammy of Senior Pairs and Prime Time Bracketed KOs often left the Open Pairs or the Senior Pairs with insufficient entries to provide two thirteen table sections in both events.
26 tables is a magic number for a two-session pairs event because anything less means less boards against less pairs, and at some point there are insufficient tables to avoid players in the afternoon having to play against the same players in the second session. Some movements require three or even four-board rounds, and players really don't like spending the entire session facing only seven or eight different pairs.
The latest craze is what is called the Gold Rush Pairs. Basically, the field is divided (there's that word again) into two events with 750 MPs being the dividing line. Due to a quirk in ACBL rules, this division allows gold points to be awarded to the sub-750 winners. The top flight gets masterpoints based on the lower flight as well, just like our traditional Sunday Swiss. (Tip: The most masterpoints per day are to be found in the Sunday Swiss.) Gold Rush Pairs has been a big hit at Gatlinburg, and a few other 2,200+ table regionals.
None of these regionals have already divided their Open Pairs fields into two. Senior Pairs (or Daylight Pairs) at 10 and 3 together with 1 and 7 simply does not exist in most of the country. Almost every District 17 regional simply cannot again divide the Open Pairs field without causing serious damage to existing events.
The results of every event at every ACBL regional going back to 2004 are posted on the ACBL website. I don't think it's asking too much to expect tournament planners to take the simple step of looking at past performance before advocating any changes. In 2010 there were zero cases where the field was sufficient to support three 26 table sections.
If we're going to add Gold Rush Pairs something's got to give. The Senior/Daylight Pairs? The Open Pairs? Is it worth it? What do you think?
It's easy to overlook the fact that the number of players who have any interest in Gold Points is probably less than 15%, while more than 90% of our players qualify for Senior events. (Based on the assumption that players with less than 200 MPs aren't close enough to the 500 now necessary for Life Master for it to be a major factor in their lives.)
And speaking of the Internet, District 17's website has been changed to d17acbl.org and continues to contain a wealth of information about bridge in District 17 and elsewhere. contractbridgeforum.com contains several years worth of past issues of the ScoreCard and other information of interest.
Jerry Fleming created the District 17 website around 2000 and has maintained it ever since. Measured by ease of use, accuracy ,and being up-to-date it is one of the best I've seen. Jerry's terms on the National Board, the District Board, and the Western Conference Board have all ended, and he has served us well. The amount of intelligent effort he put into the many duties he performed will never be fully appreciated by more than a handful of people.
Jerry set the standard for intelligent, courteous, and principled decision making, and fair play towards all. As District President I often called upon Jerry for helpful advice. I can't say I agreed with his views (or anybody else's) 100% of the time during the 18 years I've worked with him, but his opinion was always worthy of respect. He never hesitated to take on any job requested and could always be counted upon to do the job promptly and competently. Jerry could always be trusted to put the best interests of the district and the game of bridge number one. Thank you, Jerry, for the thousands of hours of service. We're going to miss you.
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