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A Tale of Masterpoints



Act I: The ACBL solves a problem

Someone notices that there are not many new bridge clubs. New bridge clubs mean growth. Growth means money. So the ACBL Board of Directors decides that it wants to support new clubs. They double the masterpoint awards for clubs that are less than 1-year old.

As an aside, the current masterpoint policy indirectly punishes new clubs. New clubs cannot immediately get large attendance. Without large attendance, they cannot award as many masterpoints per person, because the current club formula gives more points per person to larger fields. When they are awarding fewer masterpoints per person, it is more difficult for them to attract new members. The masterpoint policy of course should be changed, so that the number of masterpoints per person is independent of how many people show up. This is perfectly consistent with doing the right thing and making masterpoint awards depend only on merit.

But doubling awards isn't the "right thing". Now players are receiving twice the awards for going to new clubs. They are not being twice as meritous. They are not being any more meritous. The political reality is that they ACBL might on occasion engage in a little social engineering. A 10% increase would be reasonable for purposes of social engineering; a 100% increase is not. The integrity of masterpoints is compromised.

Because masterpoints are relative, rewarding the new clubs means punishing the old clubs.

Act II: The immediate consequences -- everyone is happy

Players flock to the new clubs. The new clubs are happy. The ACBL is happy, because more new clubs form. The players who attend the new clubs are happy, because they are winning twice the masterpoints.

The players attending the old clubs are not unhappy. They are still winning the same masterpoints. Technically those masterpoints are not as valuable, but what counts is perception -- as long as they are perceived as having the same value, they have the same value.

Act III: The Long-term Consequences -- oh oh.

Once players attend both old and new clubs, then their perception changes -- the old clubs are not offering as many masterpoints (perceptually speaking). In any case, they attend new clubs because there are more masterpoints.

Some of the old clubs go out of business. But no problem! They just form new clubs, which players then flock to. Some clubs go out of business on purpose, just so they can re-form and offer new masterpoints.

Out in Portage Michigan, there is only one old club. The players are content until they realize that most clubs offer twice as many masterpoints. Some of them drive 45 minutes to a new club in Kalamazoo. The rest are just angry. Until they discover online bridge, then the old club closes and does not reform.

Club managers become tired of the time and effort needed to close their club and start a new club. They become angry with the ACBL. Players have adapted to the new level of masterpoints and are no more happier than they were with the old level. They have become experienced at avoiding clubs that do not give the new-club bonus. They get used to clubs going out of business and reforming and accept that as a way of life.

Act IV: Trying to Correct the Mistake

The ACBL realizes its mistake. Does it eliminate the award for new clubs? It could. It should. But that would mean decreasing masterpoints. The immediate effect of decreasing masterpoints is the opposite of the immediate effect of increasing masterpoints -- the people who experience the decrease are immediately unhappy, and the people who benefit from the increase don't know about it.

To avoid this problem, the ACBL decides to double the awards for old clubs. And now it is the exact same story. In turns of immediate perceptions, the people playing at new clubs are not unhappy, because their perception, at least at first, is that nothing has happened to them and nothing has been taken away. The people playing at old clubs are happy, because now they are earning twice as many masterpoints.

And the situation has improved, because now club managers do not have to keep closing their clubs, and players can play at whatever club they want.

Great! But all this work is just to get back to where the ACBL started. And it could have all been avoided by realizing all of the consequences of changing the masterpoint policy, and it could have been avoided just by doing the right thing.

But the ACBL is not exactly where it started. It created massive masterpoint inflation at the club level. Massive inflation compromises the integrity of masterpoints.

Act V: Still Trying

But there is still a problem. Masterpoints are relative, so if the clubs are offering twice as many points, masterpoints are less valuable. The tournaments did not increase their masterpoint award during the new-club fiasco, so less people are attending tournaments. Actually, more nonlifemasters would be attending tournaments, because they would easily get the black points they need for lifemaster and then would need just colored points.

But for those members interested in just points, the tournaments are not important, and so attendance would be reduced. Which would mean less money for the ACBL.

Fortunately, there is an easy solution -- return the club awards to their original level. Ha ha, just joking. The ACBL will now double all the awards at the tournaments.

Act VI: The Happy Ending and adding up the wreckage

The ACBL has now doubled all awards. That makes masterpoints half as valuable, so everyone is about back where they started.

But let's add up the wreckage. There was massive inflation, which undermines the integrity of masterpoints. There was the disruption of clubs closing and reforming, and there was the disruption of players driving farther to attend new clubs. The club members are angry at the ACBL for being incompetent. The tournament directors are angry at the ACBL for their loss of income. Or maybe the tournament directors will be happy with the ACBL for correcting the problem and not notice that the ACBL caused the problem.

Of Mice and Men

This was a tale, designed to illustrate how masterpoints work. Could this actually happen? In this tale, the ACBL board of directors was acting in good faith, trying to make things work better. However, they violated the underlying principles of masterpoint integrity. Would the board of directors actually act this way? In my opinion, they already did with their new policy to allow any club at any time to give sectionally-rated black points for an additional dollar a person.

But the ACBL members were just as at fault. They were being happy when they got more masterpoints and unhappy when they get less, meanwhile showing no appreciation of the underlying principles of masterpoint awards and masterpoint management.