New Player Guide to the LA Regional, Dec. 2017

The view from inside a large bridge tournament.

Regionals and Nationals are great places for new bridge players to play!

Seriously, newer bridge players are treated like royalty at the bigger tournaments. They usually have gifts and S.W.A.G. to give out. There are celebrity speakers every day. You get your own events and your own partnership desk. The Novice/Intermediate games at the NABCs are just about the only games that have trophies!

Imagine a ballroom full of players who are your peers, with lots of big games to choose from. The masterpoint awards are bigger, and these are the only place to get the coveted RED and GOLD masterpoints that you'll need to become a Life Master.

Nearly all tournaments have a tournament flier that features the events scheduled  for play. The flier for the LA Holiday Regional is at this link. I'll help decipher some of the shorthand below.

All tournament games are played in sessions of 24-27 boards or so, about 3-1/2 hours of bridge. Some events are played over a single session, and some may be as many as four sessions if you keep doing well.

What does 299er mean?

A "299er" is any player who hasn't yet crossed that threshold of 300 masterpoints.

299er is bridge shorthand for players in the general category of "Novice/Intermediate" player.

In the old days, before 2010, the total masterpoint requirement for Life Master was 300 points. Because of masterpoint inflation from new events, and especially the advent of online bridge games, that requirement was raised in 2010 for new members to 500 points.

What are GOLD masterpoints and how do I get some?

It just makes sense: In order to become a Life Master, you should be required to demonstrate skill playing against other Life Masters.

GOLD points are awarded at Regional tournaments in events where (theoretically) you are competing against other Life Masters and do well.

(I say "theoretically" because there are some events where it's possible to earn GOLD points while playing only against players at your own level. More about that later.)

All of the ACBL Masterpoint Ranks and their requirements are listed here.

What events should I enter?

Here's the thing about bridge: You can always play up! There are no events at a Regional that have a minimum masterpoint requirement. Players with 1 masterpoint are welcome to compete in the Open Pairs against players with thousands of masterpoints.

This is a good thing to do! It's good for your game to play occasionally in open games. Playing against more experienced players will make you a better player.

And here's the unexpected part: The best players also tend to be the nicest.

That said, here are the games to come back to. These are the ones the "pros" can't play in because they have too many masterpoints.

299er pairs (single session)

This is the game that's closest to what you play on Mondays in the BridgeMojo game. The LA Regional has one starting every afternoon.

It's true that the game is open to players up to 300 masterpoints, but in fact most of the more experienced players will be off playing in the Gold Rush Pairs or the Bracketed Teams. Most of the players in this game will be newer to the game, much like you.

All points won in these games are RED masterpoints.

Gold Rush Pairs

If you're a player who has their eye on the next ACBL rank, this is one way to earn some GOLD.

There are Gold Rush Pairs events every day except Friday and Sunday. It's a two-session pair game, with matchpoint scoring, just like you play at the club.

Because it's such a familiar format, it's by far the most popular event for intermediate players at Regional tournaments.

To earn GOLD, you need to get a section top in the 0-750 flight of one session, or you need to place in the overall awards in the 0-750 flight of the combined sessions.

Part of what makes the Gold Rush Pairs popular is that the real pros, with over 750 masterpoints, are excluded from the event. You will definitely compete against some Life Masters, but most of your opponents will be your peers in experience level.

Here's something you might not know: Gold Rush Pairs are not the easiest way to win GOLD points! For that, read on ...

Bracketed Swiss Teams (0-3000)

Here I have some splainin' to do. Here's how it works:

When the teams buy their entries for the event, they provide the total number of masterpoints held by the team members as part of the entry. The directors take all of the entries and sort them by masterpoint total, then they break the field up into brackets with similar masterpoint totals. Each bracket has seven or eight teams.

Suppose 50 teams enter the event. The directors will sort all of the teams by masterpoint total. The top bracket will probably have eight teams, followed by six brackets of seven teams each. Each bracket may have teams that are all within a hundred or so masterpoints of each other.

Then in each bracket, every team plays ever other team, usually for seven or eight boards, in a big two-session round-robin. Each seven-team bracket, in effect, has its own little tournament event. Every match win gets a masterpoint award, and the top three teams in each bracket will earn some GOLD points.

Why is this a big deal? You can win GOLD points here by doing well against only your peer teams. The pros are all in higher brackets!

It's quite a remarkable offer for anyone looking to become a Life Master.

Friday and Sunday are featuring the "Bracketed Swiss Teams" events. Play here instead of the Gold Rush Pairs.

(The name of this event is a misnomer. This is not actually a "swiss" tournament, where winners play winners, and losers play losers. The original "swiss" tournament format comes from chess. The correct name of this event should be "bracketed round-robin teams.")

Bracketed Knockouts

This is another team-of-four event that can be like magic for winning GOLD points.

Very much like the "Bracketed Swiss Teams" above, team entries are sorted by their masterpoint totals, and divided into brackets of peer groups. The more teams enter, the more brackets are created. Brackets may have up to 16 teams, which enables a four-match knockout tournament.

In a full knockout event, each match takes an entire session, usually 24 boards. In a compact knockout the matches take half a session, or 12 boards. A compact knockout can finish in a single day, whereas a full knockout requires at least four sessions to crown a winner.

As the name implies, once a team loses a match, they are knocked out of the event, and are free to go enter some other event.

But if your team manages to win the first and second match, you will be one of four teams remaining to play in a semi-final. You can place no lower than 4th overall for your bracket. You've just won some GOLD points. If you go on to win the semi-final and the final, you'll win a lot more.

When I was a non-Life Master, Bracketed Knockouts were my main source of GOLD masterpoints. You don't have to win the event, just make it to the semi-final. Everything after that is gravy! (I had some first place wins along the way, too.)

The main difference between "Bracketed Knockouts" and "Bracketed Swiss Teams" is that the brackets are larger, which can mean a bigger disparity in experience levels from the highest team to the lowest team in each bracket.

Am I ready for this?

In a way, that's the whole point of the BridgeMojo game!

I set up my game to be like a mini-tournament every Monday night -- from buying entries to using Bridgemates for scoring. My clock is set for the same timing as the tournament directors will use at the games.

The only real difference will be the length of the games. On Monday evenings, we play 14-15 boards. At tournaments they will always play 24-26 boards per session, about 3-1/2 hours.

If you've played in my game, the answer is YES you are ready for this!

For more opinions, ask Jane, Kim, Candace, or Jill -- all brand new players, all who played this past month at the North American Bridge Championships in San Diego!

See you at the LA Regional!