Silver Points are a Pain in the Butt

ACBL Redeems Itself, a Bit

Why did this column, which started out to be a rant against ACBL, turn into mild praise?  And why does a Nobel Prize winner praise ACBL for its Choice Architecture?  Read this column for the answers. 

I played bridge between 1955 and 1970, then gave it up to pursue my academic career.  I resumed in Winter 2021 as cure for Pandemic Boredom.  I began with BBO in June and in-person play about the same time.

Between 1955 and 1970, I won 60% of the master points for Life Master status, including more than 50 red and golds--fifteen years earning points at the rate of about 12 per year.  They came hard in those days to a student and beginning academic with small salary.  My big win was in with the University of Chicago’s Commercial Team of Four at a Nationals in Chicago. 

When I resumed play, I learned first-hand about master point inflation, parallel to the grade inflation that has infected my academic career, where the expected grade in my classes has risen from C to A-.   My experience is that in the six months since I resumed play, emerged from hibernation, playing with and against robots, finding new partners to play in club events, I’ve won in six months what it took ten years in the olden days.  That’s master point inflation.

The ACBL requirements for Life Master have inflated to include a new requirement, put in around 1980, for Silver Points.  To be Life Master, a member like me has to accumulate 50 Silver Points among the 300. (If you joined the ACBL after 2009, then you need 75 Silvers among the 300.)

In my day job, I did some consulting for professional sports organizations.  One day, I attended a meeting of some high-ranking lawyers from the sports teams and some of us consultants.  One of the consultants started a question for a lawyer, “Why does ….”  The lawyer interrupted, “Before you finish, let me respond by saying that the answer to every question you ask that starts with ‘Why’ is one word: ‘Money.’ “ 

When I started to ask, “Why did the ACBL institute the pesky Silver Point requirement,” I didn’t finish the thought before I recalled the lawyer’s answer:  Money.   This new requirement increases attendance at tournaments that award Silver Points.  We all can see that the ACBL is geriatric and needs to extract from us oldies whatever it can while we are still capable of shelling out for the events.  

 In order to reduce the gripes from existing members, not then Life Masters, the ACBL grandfathered those who were already members, with some Silver Points equivalents based on a formula that may be public, but I’ve not seen it.  My award back in the 80’s was close to 60% of 50 and my master point total was close to 60% of 300, so the formula might have been as simple as:  compute the fraction of the closeness of the member’s progress towards LM status and award Silvers according to that closeness.   That computation based on total points, with no consideration of the gold and silvers earned at that time, so I feel hard done by.  60% of the way to 300 but 100% of the way to Red/Gold, is closer than 60% of the way.  Nuts to ACBL.

Consider the choices ACBL faced when it put in the new requirement in 2009, for new members to earn 75 Silvers as a condition of LM.  The existing requirement had been for 50.  It could have granted existing members 25 additional Silver point equivalents without changing the burden on old members or it could have retained the 50-point requirement for anyone who had been a member prior to 2010.   Both ways of dealing with the 75-point-requirement place the same burden on the old members—the additional silver points each needs to earn to achieve LM status doesn’t change.   Which way feels better to the existing members?  That question is called, by Nobel Prize Winner Richard Thaler in his book co-authored with Cass Sunstein, Nudge, one of Choice Architecture.  Designing choices for people can affect their happiness with the process and the efficiency of the outcome.  Professor Thaler has told me that he thinks the ACBL got it right because, to put it in lay terms, people don’t like moving the goal posts.  

Well, here we are with the old goal posts for old members and moved goal posts for new ones, except they barely notice.  ACBL, recall, put in the Silver Points requirement to raise money.  They designed the tournament structure so that you can win those Silvers only at Sectional tournaments—a money boost for sponsors and sanction-holders of Sectional tournaments.  The Club owners wanted in on the action, so the ACBL allowed the local clubs to run so-called STaC games, Sectional Tournaments at Clubs, where the usual Club games award Silver Points.  So far as I can tell STaC games occur in May and December.   

You don’t need me to tell you that the Pandemic has interrupted the scheduling of in-person bridge, from the Club level on up—for sure with the scheduling of Sectional tournaments.  The printed ACBL Bulletin shows three sectional tournaments scheduled over the next two months within reasonable driving distance in my area—tournaments I could attend without having to stay overnight at the site.  When I look at the ACBL tournament listings on-line, only one of these shows as still scheduled.   If you win every STaC game at my club, you will accumulate about 15 Silver Points, maybe 20.  That would take two years of exceptional luck and play. 

An earlier draft of this column included this sentence at this point:  If the ACBL doesn’t soon increase the number of Sectionals, it will hear real gripes.

Well, the ACBL must have heard those gripes because it has caused there to be so-called Silver Linings Week.  During Silver Linings Week, which was January 17-23, all on-line Club games award Silver Points and some bonus multiplier amount.  My amateurish investigation suggests that:

  • There was little advance notice of Silver Linings Week, and
  • ACBL does not have a regular schedule of such Weeks; it slots them in at its own cognizance.

Given the discretion ACBL has, I suspect it scheduled Silver Linings Week to deal with the multiple cancellations of Sectional Tournaments.   I cannot be the only old person waiting around to win Silver Points to complete LM requirements.  The gripes must have been piling up. 

Silver Linings Week is a splendid way to deal with the Pandemic and the gripes.  Hats Off to ACBL.  No more gripe here.

As I write this, Silver Linings Week is underway.  Here’s a deal from my play therein, with a question for you.

NV vs. V, you hold as West: 

The auction proceeds:

What do you think?  I think partner likely has at most one heart and at least three spades.  If I play 4♠ doubled, will I lose six tricks for a good score or seven tricks, or more, for a bad one?

Pass for an average score.  Double for top or bottom.  What are the odds?  I have asked my partners which side of an even-money bet would they like.    What about you?

I’ll put the actual outcome in the replies in a few days, but I don’t want the results merchants having their opinions warped by the deal.

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