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.
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:
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.