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Questions about substituting

#1 User is offline   driver8 

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Posted 2021-June-11, 13:11

Can anyone explain why substitutes are always counted as "A" strat regardless of masterpoint total in North American virtual club stratified pairs games? Is it so that the regular members of a virtual club who would fall into the "B" and "C" strats are given more leeway to achieve masterpoints?


EDIT 6/15/21: Just wanted to update this thread for anyone who may read it in the future.

While it is still a guess, I believe the most likely culprit is the "sitout" seat (as discussed briefly in a couple of the other responses to the thread).

For the first time ever, today, I subbed in a game and placed in A,B, and C. I went the usual route of getting on the main subs list and was invited to a fairly large Open Pairs game. After the game ended and I saw that I wasn't only placed in "A," I bothered the TD about it and they were kind enough to answer some questions.

It turns out that the seat I was placed into was previously occupied by another player who, with their partner, would fall into "C" in this open game. That pair had decided last minute that they would rather play in another game so the director found subs to fill those seats. So, my also sub partner (from France) and I ended up occupying those seats and ultimately being placed in the proper strat by accident because those seats were previously occupied and not Sitout seats.

Well, technically not the correct strat I guess. Unless my French partner was also an ACBL member. Ironically we probably should have only been placed in "A".

Anyway, I think the sitout seat is the issue. Or not the seat itself but rather the fact that the system doesn't stratify after the game starts. There is no further check or verification done so the sub will always be placed in "A" strat when invited and occupying a sitout seat.

It'd be nice if BBO would fix it but it may not really be feasible to do so.
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#2 User is offline   barmar 

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Posted 2021-June-11, 22:36

I'm not sure why that would happen. Strata are assigned to pairs when the tournament starts. So a sub should be the same stratum as the player they're filling in for.

#3 User is offline   driver8 

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Posted 2021-June-12, 07:31

View Postbarmar, on 2021-June-11, 22:36, said:

I'm not sure why that would happen. Strata are assigned to pairs when the tournament starts. So a sub should be the same stratum as the player they're filling in for.


Virtual club Tournament Directors often pull in subs from the beginning of the game. In other words those subs start the game with the other players and the only thing they "replace" (if anything) is a "sitout" seat. I have subbed many times when I was not "filling in" for anyone but was invited and added along with another sub to fill out a table for the entire game.

Regarding that though, maybe there is some insight in the statement "strata are assigned when the tournament starts". Subs are technically added after the tournament starts so maybe the system doesn't know what to do with players who aren't preregistered for the tournament? And the system just defaults to placing those subs in "A"? Whatever the case, unless it is a TD issue and they should be making some entry (checking some box or something) to ensure the correct stratum placement, the system has a flaw and is placing all subs - those subs that start the game from the beginning anyway - in strat A regardless of total masterpoint count or level of game. I have asked a few North American TD's why that happens and those few who did seem to realize it was happening said that it was a "BBO feature" that they had no control over and then suggested I "ask BBO".
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#4 User is offline   armantt2k 

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Posted 2021-June-12, 07:39

I suspect this is to prevent a pair registering with low MPs entering as a Strat C, and then one purposely drops out allowing their friend to get an Expert partner and rack up some easy MPs.
Next time, the benefiting player returns the favor.

Unfortunately, some people think along these lines, basically trying to "game" the system any way they can. Online cheating takes many forms. BBO probably had to implement an "all subs are Strat A" policy to prevent this type of cheating.
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#5 User is offline   driver8 

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Posted 2021-June-12, 07:55

View Postarmantt2k, on 2021-June-12, 07:39, said:

I suspect this is to prevent a pair registering with low MPs entering as a Strat C, and then one purposely drops out allowing their friend to get an Expert partner and rack up some easy MPs.
Next time, the benefiting player returns the favor.

Unfortunately, some people think along these lines, basically trying to "game" the system any way they can. Online cheating takes many forms. BBO probably had to implement an "all subs are Strat A" policy to prevent this type of cheating.


Then wouldn't the TD have to be in on the scam too? The TD's have to go out and find the replacements after all. It doesn't happen automatically and, as I understand the system, depending on time of day and other factors there are multiple subs waiting on a list to choose from. How often would it happen that, by chance, the TD would choose the desired "expert/fake novice" from the list?

I understand your cynicism regarding cheating but I don't think that scenario could possibly happen without the conspiratorial participation of the Tournament Director.

That does bring up another thing though. BBO should code into the system an automatic masterpoint check and retrieval done once a week by the system and then a player's masterpoint total should at least be available to the TD's as a hidden category to BBO users profile page. Then TD's wouldn't have to ask or wonder. I have had several TD's ask me about my masterpoint count so I know they don't know.
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#6 User is offline   armantt2k 

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Posted 2021-June-12, 09:51

View Postdriver8, on 2021-June-12, 07:55, said:

Then wouldn't the TD have to be in on the scam too? The TD's have to go out and find the replacements after all. It doesn't happen automatically and, as I understand the system, depending on time of day and other factors there are multiple subs waiting on a list to choose from. How often would it happen that, by chance, the TD would choose the desired "expert/fake novice" from the list?

I understand your cynicism regarding cheating but I don't think that scenario could possibly happen without the conspiratorial participation of the Tournament Director.

That does bring up another thing though. BBO should code into the system an automatic masterpoint check and retrieval done once a week by the system and then a player's masterpoint total should at least be available to the TD's as a hidden category to BBO users profile page. Then TD's wouldn't have to ask or wonder. I have had several TD's ask me about my masterpoint count so I know they don't know.


I'm not a TD, but I understand (perhaps incorrectly?) that people can "volunteer" to be on a list of Substitutes for a specific game, so if the list is short (I suspect such list is most often empty), the expert may be the 'next up' or 'only' sub available. TDs are under time pressure (6-7-8 mins per board) to keep the game moving to the next round, and have many other chores - they may simply put whoever is 'next up' into the empty seat without a lot of checking.

Perhaps the only subs that should be allowed are Robots - which also should probably re-classify the pair as Strat A, especially in limited games.
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#7 User is offline   driver8 

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Posted 2021-June-12, 10:33

View Postarmantt2k, on 2021-June-12, 09:51, said:

I'm not a TD, but I understand (perhaps incorrectly?) that people can "volunteer" to be on a list of Substitutes for a specific game...


Actually what's interesting is that, in my experience, the only people who can volunteer to sub for specific virtual club games are players who are already "members" of that club (players the VACB account has "friended" via the profile). In which case, the TD's know the user names and players for the most part and would know a players basic true level and perhaps even approx masterpoint holding.

Meaning, when I have tried to volunteer for already running games I always get a "this game is closed to the public" (or something along those lines) message. Which leads me to believe that one has to already be a "member" of that particular club. And there is no other way, barring PMing a TD directly, to volunteer to sub in a specific game before the game starts.

So, I do think you are incorrect in thinking that just anyone can volunteer for specific club games via the substitute button for said specific game. What I was and have been referring to is the main sub button that you can click when you go to main page-> virtualclubs-> and then selecting any region. So, say North America, there will then be a substitute button on the bottom. And by selecting that, you get put on a list of subs. And to my knowledge that is the only list of subs that exists. And that list wouldn't be for only North American Pairs games btw. It adds you as a sub for any and all games. Which is a whole problem in and of itself.

I am beginning to believe the problem of not putting subs in the proper stratum has to do with a flaw in the system. That once a game starts and TD's then invite and add players they need to fill out a table, that the system defaults those subs to "A" for some reason. Because they weren't pre-registered? I don't know exactly. I hope they can investigate and fix the issue though.
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#8 User is offline   themarc 

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Posted 2021-June-12, 13:00

I both direct an ACBL virtual game and often sub in other virtual games to help out other directors. I'm not a BBO expert, but have a few insights that might help you. Strats in virtual club games are assigned based on ACBL masterpoint holdings. Players who do not have an ACBL number recorded with BBO are automatically placed in Strat A, as are robots. This might not be totally fair, as I have had some beginning players who were always assigned to Strat A prior to joining ACBL and registering their number with BBO, although they could have placed in Strat C. It may be that the "sitouts" positions are likewise assigned to Strat A since they could not have an ACBL number. This would make sense, since although possible, restratifying an already running game after the game has started based on who the substitutes are would require some additional server resources.

To a second point, it is not just club members who are allowed to substitute in a virtual club game. Players from anywhere in the world can be seated by the director. As most of these will not have ACBL numbers placing them in Strat A also makes sense. Also, virtual Club directors do have a tool available to check on the masterpoint holdings of potential substitutes in their games if they are ACBL members. So it would take some collusion on the part of the director to place experts in Strat C replacement seats as a strategy, although this might sometimes happen of necessity if substitutes are scarse when a player is dropped.

Finally, IMHO, our substitutes are valued and much appreciated as they make our games run much smoother and eliminate boring sitouts which would detract immensely from the online game; but they do get to play for free, and while I do not begrudge them the masterpoints they earn against Strat A players if they are able, it seems to me that preserving our lower strata paying members' ability to earn a few fractions of masterpoints in the lower strats is not an unwise business decision. I even played in one club where our pair was later assigned adjusted average minuses on our good boards, so that we fell out of the scratching ranks. Might be carrying it a bit too far, but I was advised by the director ahead of time and understand.
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#9 User is offline   mycroft 

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Posted 2021-June-12, 14:27

The problem with "non-ACBL members in Flight A" is that "new players who we're hoping to get into the ACBL" are one group who don't have an ACBL number. "Winners of Polish Div. 2, who aren't quite good enough to get sponsorship for the NABC" are another. Hard to tell automagically.
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#10 User is offline   driver8 

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Posted 2021-June-12, 21:20

First, thanks for the response. Truly.

View Postthemarc, on 2021-June-12, 13:00, said:

It may be that the "sitouts" positions are likewise assigned to Strat A since they could not have an ACBL number. This would make sense, since although possible, restratifying an already running game after the game has started based on who the substitutes are would require some additional server resources.


This is what I am beginning to suspect too. You'd agree that is a flaw in the system though correct? I mean you get an intermediate player with 200 masterpoints playing with novice with 50 in an Open virtual club game and they are auto-assigned "A." That just shouldn't be. It is unfair and if more <advanced substitutes realized that is the case, you may have a good number fewer subs to choose from pretty soon there after. Yes subbing is doing a service but there are a good number (thousands?) of ACBL registered members who are "free agents" due to the way the ACBL and local clubs and BBO set up the parameters when all of this started. "Free agents" who can play in any virtual club game and yet are not necessarily a member of any "local" virtual club. So, they end up subbing a lot and get screwed by this flaw.

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To a second point, it is not just club members who are allowed to substitute in a virtual club game. Players from anywhere in the world can be seated by the director.


Yes, by the TD. But not by navigating to a "running" game and hitting the substitute button. I am not even sure why that button exists because by that point the TD is already in active search mode for subs and the only people who can make that particular list are those who are already friended by the TD account for that particular virtual club, yes?

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As most of these will not have ACBL numbers placing them in Strat A also makes sense.


Agreed and I find zero problem with that.

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Also, virtual Club directors do have a tool available to check on the masterpoint holdings of potential substitutes in their games if they are ACBL members.


That is interesting. Is it onerous to use or something? Why are TD's asking me my point count if they can check is what I don't understand. And if it is onerous to use then BBO should upgrade the feature.

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So it would take some collusion on the part of the director to place experts in Strat C replacement seats as a strategy, although this might sometimes happen of necessity if substitutes are scarse when a player is dropped.


Yes, that makes sense and is what I thought too.

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Finally, IMHO, our substitutes are valued and much appreciated as they make our games run much smoother and eliminate boring sitouts which would detract immensely from the online game; but they do get to play for free, and while I do not begrudge them the masterpoints they earn against Strat A players if they are able, it seems to me that preserving our lower strata paying members' ability to earn a few fractions of masterpoints in the lower strats is not an unwise business decision.


Haha, they are valued and appreciated but not that valued and appreciated. They ain't payin' so they should take what they can get. I get it.

But to this exact point - was it a business decision to your knowledge? Speaking directly to my second question in my original post - was that the plan all along? I would actually be ok with that also if that is indeed the intended compromise and it was made plain. I don't like it being a coding/software problem and I don't like that no one seems to know exactly why (or can't give an simple answer as to why) it happens. Again, take out the international players. Take out the non-ACBL members. Two subs who are ACBL members with a total of 250 masterpoints between them playing in an virtual club Open Pairs game - why are they automatically placed in "A"? I would just really like to know the answer to that and I would like BBO to actually know the answer and be able to explain it. I don't think that's too much to ask for them to know their system.

Again, thanks for your insights.
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#11 User is offline   themarc 

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Posted 2021-June-13, 12:53

A couple of more clarifications.

Yes I agree that the system creates inequities, but I am not sure if the computer coding to fix it is cost effective or very high on BBO's to do list. There are other system issues that might be considered more pressing. Perhaps a "squeaky wheel" question.

As far as I know, only the director can seat a substitute in a virtual game whether by choosing from the list of available substitutes who have clicked the "substitutes" button, or PM'd them prior, or are on a club list of substitutes. The director can elect to default and let the server choose any available sub from the list. You are probably right about the lack of utility of the sub button by navigating to a running game, because as you note the director is usually already - sometimes frantically - searching for substitutes, and unless your volunteering during that process just happens to catch their eye it will probably not result in a seat. But, using the substitute button just for general games and not a particular running game has other issues, such as constantly being sent to team games not tournaments, as I have previously complained in the forum. However, substitutes do not have to be previously "friended" by the director to be seated, in my experience. The tool to check ACBL member's status is not onerous to use, but it does require additional time, and directors' might find it easier to just ask as to your masterpoints.

Lastly I understand your "free agent" issue. It is possible for you and a partner to request to be included as a friend in a club for which you are not a member and play in their game as a guest, as long as the club does not exceed the ACBL's 15% guest limit. (Another issue which I have complained about to ACBL, and was definitely a business decision). Some clubs are amenable to this while others are more inclusive.

And as a postscript, do not let these issues discourage you from this fascinating wonderful game whether online or F2F. Things look like they are likely to change in the future as there develops a hybrid model of online/F2F bridge, and some of these issues may go away.
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#12 User is offline   driver8 

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Posted 2021-June-13, 17:43

View Postthemarc, on 2021-June-13, 12:53, said:

As far as I know, only the director can seat a substitute in a virtual game whether by choosing from the list of available substitutes who have clicked the "substitutes" button, or PM'd them prior, or are on a club list of substitutes.


That is my understanding too.


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You are probably right about the lack of utility of the sub button by navigating to a running game, because as you note the director is usually already - sometimes frantically - searching for substitutes, and unless your volunteering during that process just happens to catch their eye it will probably not result in a seat... However, substitutes do not have to be previously "friended" by the director to be seated, in my experience.


Yes, I totally get that TD's can seat anyone and the player does not have to be "friended." My comment about players having to be previously friended was regarding getting on the "club list of substitutes" as you called it. By navigating to a running game and clicking that sub button. Meaning I don't think - and I could be wrong about this obviously - that non-club members (non-friended players) can even get their names on that particular list. It has never let me do it anyway. Not when I try to volunteer for an already running club game. I always get a "this game is not open to the public message" so I am not sure how you, as a TD, would even know I was trying to use that button to volunteer for one of your specific games that was already running.


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But, using the substitute button just for general games and not a particular running game has other issues, such as constantly being sent to team games not tournaments, as I have previously complained in the forum.


You and me both! At the very least BBO could separate the random Team Games from the virtual club pairs games. Being bombarded by repeated invites from "Untitled" team games is irritating.

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Lastly I understand your "free agent" issue.


For the record I have a "home" virtual club that I value a great deal and play in probably an average of 4 times a week. But I know folks who don't have a club. And what about all of those players who have joined after the parameters were set? They are all free agents as far as I can tell, aren't they?

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And as a postscript, do not let these issues discourage you...


Not a chance. And I like BBO. It could just be better is all. And I think they should know of "bugs" or flaws that could irritate players who use the system.

Take care!:)
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#13 User is offline   armantt2k 

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Posted 2021-August-07, 11:25

View Postdriver8, on 2021-June-12, 07:55, said:

Then wouldn't the TD have to be in on the scam too? ...

I understand your cynicism regarding cheating but I don't think that scenario could possibly happen without the conspiratorial participation of the Tournament Director.


Actually, if the pair does it [what I hypothesized] often enough, they will on many occasions just randomly get a strong partner as a substitute. The times when it doesn't "pay off" only serves to help by "covering their tracks".

A TD who is very dedicated might notice this, but the TDs are usually working too hard on keeping the game going to be so aware.

A sign of such a player with a low completion rate (or a regular pair with both having ~50% completion rate). Another sign would be they consistently Register together, but one (or the other) frequently drops out or disconnects after playing only 1 or 2 rounds - this might indicate an attempt to maximize "riding the back" of a good substitute.

I am sorry if I seem so focused on the possibility that cheating might actually be happening and going undetected. The info that could reveal this is already being captured by the BBO computers - an algorithm to trace such behavior should be possible. Despite their statements to the contrary, I am concerned that perhaps BBO and ACBL are too busy counting $$$ to invest what is necessary to detect and root out such behavior.
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