Jeff Lehman

The Marketing of Master Points

Let’s assume that you subscribe to the view that the purpose of the ACBL master point award and rank advancement system is to increase the amount of bridge being played. 

Perhaps you do not subscribe to that view.  Perhaps you prefer an award system that acts more similarly to a rating system.  Or perhaps you feel that the playing of bridge does not require any validation by the accumulation of master points and the advancement of rank.  I don’t belittle your view, but this blog is about using master points and rank advancement to “put fannies in the seats”.

(By the way, the stated mission of the ACBL is “to promote, grow and sustain the game of bridge and serve the bridge-related interests of … Members”.)

How the master point award and rank advancement system can increase the amount of bridge being played requires taking a long-range view that considers the motivations of bridge players.  Looking at players who are already ACBL members, one must be just as concerned with addressing motivations that extend the duration of time in which they remain interested in playing tournament bridge as with addressing motivations that promote the volume of tournament bridge they play currently.

What promotes interest in playing a game?  An article I read about the popular Candy Crush game app (by Dana Smith from The Guardian, April 1, 2014) talks about the effect of games on the brain.  Among the quotes from the article are these:

  • Initially, the game allows us to win and pass levels with ease, giving a strong sense of satisfaction.  These accomplishments are experienced as mini rewards in our brains, releasing the neurochemical dopamine … Despite its reputation as a pleasure chemical, dopamine also plays a crucial role in learning, cementing our behaviors and training us to continue performing them.
  • As we play, the game gets harder, the wins (and those bursts of dopamine) becoming more intermittent.
  • The reward schedule becomes unexpected: we lose more often than we win and we never know when the next triumph will come.  Rather than discouraging us from playing, this actually makes the game more enticing than if we won easily.

Much of Smith’s writing is over my head.  But I think, in layman’s terms, what is being said is that the pleasure of the game player is increased over the long term when the game becomes harder and the wins, although achievable, become less regular and thus more satisfying.

Accordingly, I think the master points award and rank advancement system should not only offer the opportunity for beginning players to enjoy some success but (the rank advancement system if not the master point award system) should also entice the no-longer-beginner player to improve enough to achieve some success in harder fields.

My proposal for master point awards and rank advancement focuses on retaining the interest of the no-longer-beginner player.  Because I am personally disposed to be concerned about what I perceive as fairness, my proposal also addresses issues of equity.

  • Amount of points. 
    • Should be directly aligned with an estimated measurement of the merit of the accomplishment.  The measurement of the merit of the accomplishment, in turn, should be based upon three factors:
      • Strength of the field.  Perhaps that could be measured by the rank of the competitors: NLM<LM<gold LM, etc.   Perhaps also there should be bonus measurements for certain accomplishments, akin to the seeding points for NABC+ events.
      • Duration of the event.
      • Size of field; that is, more precisely, the number of competitors.
    • Other comments:
      • Eliminate the consideration of tables from other events.  Why should your award be affected by players against whom you are not competing?  Of course, the absence of those players would be expected to affect your event’s strength of field measurement.
      • Eliminate artificial caps on major events such as NABC events.  Some have tougher or larger fields than others.  Why should that not be reflected in the points awarded?
      • Eliminate biases toward certain forms of scoring.  Why should not awards for KOs. Swisses, pairs, even individuals be based upon how many competitors you beat and the strength of those competitors, rather than being affected by the form of scoring?
      • Consider a player’s participation contribution.  In a team event, each teammate should be awarded ¼ of the points awarded to the team.  If the team has more than four players, each teammate should be awarded a portion of the team’s master points that reflects the number of boards or matches in which such player participated.  In a pairs event, each partner should be awarded ½ of the points awarded to the pair.
      • In considering the size of the field, apply a constant scale, such that – everything else assumed to be equal – an event with 20 tables in play awards to first place an amount twice that of an event with 10 tables in play.
  • Pigmentation of points.  Pigmentation should not only be based upon the type of tournament (club vs sectional vs regional vs national event) but also upon the strength of the field.  Gold points, for example, should be awarded only in regional events and only to the extent one’s results exceed some threshold measuring the strength of field.  Platinum should be similarly restricted, in unlimited NABC events.
  • Rank advancement.  Each rank advancement should, as is the case currently, be based upon accumulated total points and, for some more advanced ranks, accumulated points by pigment.  (Should there be a parallel rank for those who have satisfied the total points but not the pigmentation points?  Not sure.  But for purposes of strength of field measurement, only the with-pigment ranks should count.)


  • Application to flighted, bracketed, and stratified events
    • Flighted and bracketed events continue to be offered, of course, with their total master points and the pigmentation of master points being determined as above.
    • Stratified events require special attention. The best way to describe my proposal is by example.  Assume an AX pairs event with the following conditions:
      • A would award ten overall places
      • X would award ten overall places
      • The best finish by an X pair is 8th overall
      • The second best finish by an X pair is 13th overall
      • The award to the winner of the event is x mps.
      • The award to each of the other nine pairs finishing in the top ten is determined by a formula (x)(.9)n-1 where x is the award to the winner of the event and n is the overall finish of the pair in question.  Hence, if x = 20 mps, 2nd overall receives 18 mps and 3rd overall receives 16.20 mps, etc.  (Yes, I am sure that this is not how overall awards are determined, but there must be some formula in place that calculates a pair’s overall award based upon a percentage of the award to the winner.)

My proposal is that the top X pair, who finished 8th overall, receives mps equal to (x)(.9)8-1.  That is, such X pair receives more mps than if they had won X with a 9th overall finish but fewer mps than if they had won X with a 7th overall finish.  My proposal is that the second top X pair, who finished 13th overall, receives mps equal to (x)(.9)13-1.  That is, the second place X pair not only receives more mps than the 0 mps that would be awarded to an A pair who finished outside the top ten but also more mps than had such second place X pair finished 14th overall but fewer mps than had such second place X pair finished 12th overall.

Of course, the determination of what award equals x is significantly dependent upon the strength of the AX field.  Hence, my hope is that under my proposal the two top X pairs (and, in fact, all X pairs who choose to enter the AX event) receive mp awards that are equivalent to the mp awards they might have expected to receive had they entered an event that was for X pairs only.



1 Comment

Bill CubleyJanuary 24th, 2016 at 5:23 pm

I like size of the field as a way to rate games a good idea. If a club can upgrade a game to sectional or regional status because it both has the space and attracts the players, this helps bridge. If a sectional can draw lots of players it can award regional level points.

As for events, point are insufficient. Keeping track of Blue, Red, and Silver qualifications might be better. Change titles of National, Regional, and Sectional Master to mean you played very successfully at that level and ignore points won, just prior results.

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