from the Bridge Bulletin
How good are you at bridge?
The ability to honestly evaluate one's game is important to many players, especially for those who enjoy the competitive side of bridge. And since the birth of the ACBL 80 years ago, the tool that players have used for this evaluation is the masterpoint. As experienced players know, however, this measuring stick for progress has notable problems.
Even if we set aside the reality of masterpoint inflation — masterpoints earned before, say, the mid-'70s were much more difficult to come by - any system that is based simply on accumulation of points eventually creates a problem. Members who play actively and/or those who have played for decades will inevitably accrue lots of masterpoints even though their skill levels may not have appreciably changed,
The effect of this accumulation — which the late, great Paul Soloway jokingly dubbed "the attendance award" — is felt acutely by these players late in their careers, especially in the context of tournaments. Stratification and bracketing rules are based on masterpoint holdings, forcing these players to compete in games against top-level players. Some of those affected enjoy the challenge, but many do not.
Despite membership totals staying constant for years, attendance at regional tournaments has dropped. There are likely many factors for this decline (some of which are location specific), but members, tournament organizers and ACBL officials all suspect that players who are "upside-down" in the skill-to-masterpoint department are choosing to play less frequently (or not at all) in regionals.
Other games - chess, for example — have rating systems that estimate a player's strength based on their recent performances, A player's rating fluctuates based on how well they perform, and it yields a much more accurate method of determining how good that player is. Also, it allows players to compete in events with similar skill levels. Imagine bridge tournaments that featured stratification and bracketing based on recent performance instead of lifetime achievement, Advocates for a rating system began making serious proposals to the ACBL Board of Directors 20 years ago, but the momentum was not yet there for such a change. To be clear, no one wants to get rid of masterpoints. The discussion now is whether there should be an additional method for determining player strength.
See the Letters to the Editor on pg. 7 for a sample of the correspondence on this matter. The arguments for such a change are persuasive.
Paul Linxwiler, Editor
Letters to the Editor on page 7