Playing with novices and how it affects NGS grades

The EBU’s National Grading Scheme (NGS) is a great way to see how your skill at bridge compares with others. Every member who plays regularly in EBU sessions has a grade based on the last 2000 boards (approximately) that they played, weighted to the most recent boards. The grade is a percentage that represents what percentage the player is likely to get in a session with average players.

Bridge of course is a partnership game, so the NGS algorithms make allowance for how good your partner is. If you play with a stronger partner, you need to get a better result to maintain or improve your NGS grade. If you play with a weaker partner, your NGS result will improve without you needing to get such a good result.

It is natural for players to value their NGS grade and to want to improve it. What happens though when a club decides to help its novice players migrate towards playing in full club sessions, by asking experienced players to pair up with them to guide them through the session?

Some players worry that the performance of the novice will drag down their NGS grade, making them reluctant to participate.

That is a shame, since these kinds of sessions are a valuable means of helping players make their journey from classroom to clubroom.

Fortunately there are several ways to reassure members who are concerned about the impact on their NGS grade.

  • When an experienced player partners a novice in a graded session, the first 150 boards have no impact on the experienced player’s NGS grade. That is around six typical sessions.
  • The NGS algorithms are designed to cope with this scenario. So far, the EBU has not seen any evidence that playing with weaker partners is bad for a member’s NGS grade, even though this has been studied carefully.

It is also possible to run sessions that are completely excluded from NGS. The EBU’s guidance on these novice sessions is here. Provided your session meets the guidelines, clubs have three options for these sessions:

a) Do not upload them to the EBU at all

b) Upload them with a special code (04) which excludes them from both payment and NGS

c) Upload them with a different special code (22) in which case it is half price, counts towards members receiving the English Bridge magazine, but is excluded from NGS

That said, the restrictions on novice sessions are considerable. No more than three players may be above Area Master (they must be below 1000 master points), which means most regular players cannot play.

Do not panic! The EBU has a further session type which does not have a name other than the very sexy description Code 11. A Code 11 session is for a supervised or assisted play session and can be used when there are too many stronger players for it to be considered a novice session. It does not count for NGS or master points, is charged at normal rates and counts towards receiving the magazine. There is no restriction on how many experienced or expert players participate provided it is a proper supervised session.

Next, there is always the option of actually including novices in a normal club session. This is the end goal after all. In this case though, it does of course count for NGS (subject to the 150 board rule described above). It must also be played to normal EBU standards; though note that simple best behaviour suggests not being too hard on novices who slip up with hesitations or glancing at their convention card during the bidding; after all, they are unlikely to be challenging for the top spots and your club will want to make them feel welcome and that they can enjoy their session of “proper duplicate bridge.”

One way to prepare them for this is to introduce the concept of “duplicate” events from early on in their bridge lessons, possibly as early as having duplicate mini-bridge sessions. That way the first visit to a regular bridge session will not be so daunting, since the concept of duplicate will be familiar.

Quick summary then:

  • Novice sessions do not count for NGS but have certain restrictions
  • The first 150 boards played by a novice do not impact their partner’s NGS grade
  • Code 11 sessions do not count for NGS and have no restrictions on who plays as long as they are supervised sessions
  • Normal sessions do count for NGS, but our data suggests that players need not worry when partnering novices
  • There is a further concession available for a single host player in each game to exclude themselves from the NGS when playing with an unfamiliar partner, providing they tell us at the start of the game that they wish to do so

Finally, why does the EBU have all these rules? It is because members expect the EBU to maintain a high standard for the game. A pair turning up at an EBU club can rightly expect a game played according to the rules. And the NGS would soon lose its value if there was any possibility of players arranging to exclude themselves from the risk of bad results.

That said, we want to do everything possible to support clubs as they bring new players to the game, which is the reason for all the various approaches outlined above. Further, if they can be fine-tuned and improved we want to hear from you so let us know.

8 thoughts on “Playing with novices and how it affects NGS grades”

  1. Bridge is a partnership game, not an individual game and the concept of an individual grade is meaningless. Why doesn’t the EBU publish partnership grades and get rid of individual grades. Players will therefore have a number of different grades, with each of their partners, and it would irradicate any problem over playing with weaker partners. I know my grade goes up and down depending on how well a weak player I play with regularly plays while my performances with my stronger partners will be pretty consistent.
    Brian Johnson, Salisbury

    1. Partnership grades are published, but most people have a number of partners so their partnership grade is not often based on sufficient results to be as accurate as their individual grade – leaving aside that we want to be able to grade two established players when they play together for the first time.

      It is certainly not true to say that individual grades are meaningless – a look at the top 50 list will show that it does a pretty good job of assessing who the top players are.

      1. Come on Gordon. The top 50 players play only with other good players. If a player rated as a king for example plays with a player rated as a five and the lesser graded player makes a series of mistakes and the partnership score is in the high thirties or early forties then the grade of the higher rated player will suffer although he/she has done nothing wrong. The NGS reflects how well the weaker player has performed.

        1. This is completely incorrect Tony. Of the top players, many of them play professionally with partners who are on significantly lower grades than they are, yet they maintain their own grades – they don’t get to opt out. Of course on average if you play with a weaker partner you will score less well, but the beauty of the NGS scheme is that their NGS will allow for this to happen without it harming your own grade, since you won’t need to score as well to maintain or improve your grade.

          I had a look recently at the record of the person who I think plays more than anyone else I know with partners of a very significant different grade than her own, because she runs a teaching club and tries to partner all her students once they reach the point of playing in graded games. Her grade has remained steadily around Ace of Clubs/Diamonds while she has played regularly with inexperienced partners, many of whom have grades right the way down to a “2”.

          I do think it’s a shame that there are those who deprive novices of a game with a mentor, and themselves of the opportunity to take a rewarding role in someone else’s development, because of a groundless fear about their own grade. Of course you can have a game that damages your NGS, but you are as likely for that to happen with a strong partner as with an inexperienced one, and when it does happen it will recover soon enough.

  2. Having played with many different partners (43 at the last count) over the past two years, many of whom are inexperienced or low ranked players I feel I am well placed to have a view on how my NGS grade is affected by playing with a wide variety of players. My conclusion is that playing with lower ranked players does not have a detrimental effect on my NGS ranking. Interestingly I have only ever played one session with a player with a higher ranking than me and never with a player with the same grade as me, so my rise to a King ranking has been as a result of playing with partners lower ranked than me. Unfortunately many people who are a bit precious about their NGS ranking do not share my view and seem to pick their partners with great care! My only suggestion would be to raise the number of sessions which do not count towards a novice’s partner’s NGS grade from 150 to say 500 boards. This might encourage more players to play with novices as they learn the game. We desperately need to encourage new members and the support of playing with and learning from more experienced players is surely the best way to encourage them.

  3. I believe the main obstacle to providing suitable competition for inexperienced players lies with the initiation of new players’ grades at an NGS of 42 percent. This maintains the NGS of sessions suitable for novices (gentle or restricted systems) well below 50 percent. This deters higher ranked players and partnerships from these sessions limiting the opportunities for novices to gain experience that will help them develop quickly and progress to tougher sessions.
    This is particularly evident in clubs offering busy teaching programs with a knock on effect on their counties. The median NGS of published grades in Surrey is roughly 48 percent.

  4. two thoughts:
    1. i would be interested to know how the ngs ‘start a new player at 42%’ stacks up against the actual results. if it is about right, as an estimate of initial ngs strength, then new players will typically perform at or about that ranking in their first 5-10 sessions.
    2. i would expect -median- ngs rankings of -people- to be slightly below 50%, simply because stronger players tend to play more frequently. a median of 48%, or even a bit less, for established players, can be explained by this.

    1. Hi David,
      The 42% figure was a change to the original start point and was made in response to the actual results during the initial period of the scheme. It is kept under review but is still thought to be a fairly accurate basis for those playing their first game in an affiliated club. Of course the range of abilities of those players is quite wide, but by the time they have played 150 boards the system will have been sufficiently responsive that we can expect their grade to be accurate enough that their partners’ grades can start to be affected by it.

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