VVBC Swiss Teams: What Players Need To Know
Swiss Teams Games on BBO: (information you will need to know)
- A Quick Overview: Swiss Teams on BBO are fun events! Quite often all or almost all of the players in a game earn at least some masterpoints for winning one match, even if they don't make the overalls. Recent changes now allow stratification if there are enough teams in a game. The sign-up process is a little bit different and can be confusing, and there are potential glitches at gametime that can (but haven't yet) make things go awry if there are missing players. But once the game starts, each pair is moved to new tables automatically, and the scores are IMPed for you and displayed in your History. With six boards in a match it is possible for some teams to get quite far ahead and other to get behind, and the speedy ones will spend some time waiting since the traditional round-end discussion with teammates is not a part of the online game (although you can discuss the deals with your opponents as you wait if you wish). But team games to tend to go very quickly, with most tables able to play boards in an average of six minutes: we usually finish a 24-board team game in about the time it takes for a 20-board pairs game!
The Monthly Unit Games in March, July and November, on the first Saturday of the month, will be BBO Swiss Team events for as long as we need to stay online. As well, the extra masterpoint weeks that ACBL runs every month will feature an extra VBC game on Saturday which will be a Swiss Team event. (Pairs games have some online bonus that inflates the awards that is lacking in Swiss Teams, so running the occasional games during bonus weeks compensates a bit.)
Unlike an offline Swiss, where teams are matched randomly in the first round, a BBO Swiss matches teams in the first round by masterpoint levels, giving strat B and C teams a slight edge in the quest for match wins. After the first round, teams are matched based on the current Victory Point standings, and sometimes there are re-matches among the teams near the bottom in the later rounds. As you complete boards, you can review them in your History tab, and once a new match begins, you will find the boards played in previous rounds have been scored for you in IMPs, and what happened at the other table can be viewed. (Be sure not to lose time on the current board when you check previous results, wait for a moment when you are dummy. If there is a correction to be made, there is plenty of time to get to it.)
- When's the Next One?: The next one will be on Saturday Afternoon, January 26 (1:15 pm start) and will be part of the ACBL's double points Week, so there will be extra masterpoints available. We're told that stratification has been added to the games but is not evident on ACBL Live for Clubs yet unless you look very closely and improving the ACBL Live for Clubs results will be the next step.
- Will they be regular games?: Our plan is to make them monthly games, held on the Saturday Afternoon late in the month where the ACBL is running some special extra masterpoint week. We don't plan to replace any of the pairs games with team games.
- What Do I Need To Know?: Lots — read on:
- A Work In Progress: Swiss Teams on BBO were approved for Virtual Clubs in early 2021 but are a bit more confusing (the first time) to play in and a bit different to direct than pair games. We solved many of the pair game issues in the first six or seven months of Virtual Game play, and Swiss Teams have gone through that process as well, although since there are fewer team games, it may be a bit of time until all the difficulties are solved.
The good news is that a large majority of those who have already tried it enjoyed it. The main hurdles appear to be in registration, in understanding the way the scores are displayed, and in the lack of a way for a team's two pairs to meet somewhere when a round is completed early, to compare results and chat. But being auto-placed into the correct table at the beginning of a round solves a lot of time-consuming problems that happen in offline Swiss Team games, and keeps things moving nicely.
- Signing Up: Signing up for a BBO Swiss Teams, once you have found the game listing on BBO, is a two-step process. Step 1 is to invite your partner just as in a pairs game, or be invited. As always, both partners have to be online (remember, the casual area of BBO looks 'offline' to the competitive area), and whoever is paying the entry fee for the pair (not the whole team, the other pair pays their entry fee separately; as in pairs, you can have both partners pay, or one pay for both partners) must have enough BB$ in their account, for an invitation to occur. (It checks your BB$ account but does not pay the entry fee until you complete the first board.) Step 2 is to go to the new tab, to the right of Register — Details — Entries — Partnership Desk: called Select Teammates and look for pairs there to invite as teammates. Here is where things get tricky! One member of each pair is the inviter, the other is the invited. Only the inviters can invite a second pair or be invited by another pair to form a team. The invited players simply wait and see what happens, although they can certainly chat with the inviter and give advice as to who might be a good pair to team up with. Of course, the best way is to pre-arrange with another pair and give yourself plenty of time to go through this, especially the first time you try. But we also want pairs without teammates to be able to look through the list and team up with others in the same situation.
One difficulty that has been reported is that sometimes BBO kicks you out of the game area and back to the list of Virtual Games after you complete one of the steps. If this happens, best is to find the game again and check the Entries and Select Teammates tabs to see where you are, and continue if needed. Entries will list complete teams that are registered, while Select Teammates will list unteamed pairs looking for other pairs. Singles can sign up at the Partnership Desk and have a good chance of being invited at gametime even if there are no pregame takers (see below for more).
- Register early and be online well before gametime!: This really is vital! In pairs, BBO can hold the start and tip off the Director when a player is offline as the game is ready to go, allowing a short delay to solve the problem. In Swiss Teams, this function is not activated, and gametime is gametime, no matter who is on and who is not. People accustomed to signing up for a pairs game early and then logging off to watch a soap opera, then getting back online a minute before the game will find this a risky proposition in Swiss Teams, because the BBO clock is notoriously unreliable, and there is no leeway as there is in pairs. Plus, it does take longer to sign up, especially if you are the inviter. So let's be sure that we are signing up with lots of time, all team members in place and ready to go five minutes minimum before the game begins. It is far better to remain with a weak connection until the game begins and you are set as one of the players, than to try to improve your connection in this critical period and risk missing the start. As I often say during pairs games, having sounds on (even at a low volume) will alert you if the game begins a bit earlier than you expected.
- "Singletons" may be needed!: As you will see below, some team games begin with no less than SIX sitout slots that need to be filled with actual players. (I know some games fill these with robots, but we prefer to fill slots with real people.) If you put yourself on the Partnership Desk, there is a good chance you will get into the game somehow. Stick around for five minutes or so after the game starts: you may receive an invite to fill in!
- And They're Off!: When BBO decides it is time to begin, all sorts of things happen very quickly. Unmatched pairs who have registered but not found teammates are combined with other such pairs into teams based on ACBL masterpoints. If there is a pair left over, they form a team with two Sitout slots. The system now counts the teams and sorts them into ACBL masterpoints and matches the two top teams together in round one, and so on down the line. This is different to our process in offline team games, where round one matchups are random. If there is an odd number of teams, a full team of Sitout slots is added to make things even. This means there could be as many as six Sitout slots for the Director to fill! Adding so many substitutes to fill holes is going to be quite time-consuming for the Director, so be patient! We probably will add a bit of time to the first round if it takes a while to get started (luckily, this hasn't happened yet). We really need to depend on players to be in place at that crucial moment when BBO starts the game: if your connection is tenuous, do what you can locally to strengthen it during this critical period.
The importance of being online at gametime may be even greater if you have pre-set teammates. If two pairs agree to play as teammates, but one of the four players is offline, the game will start and the online pair may be suddenly teamed with a different, unmatched pair. The partner of the offline player will be left out of the game (if that is you, message me and I will try to get you in if there are sitout spots to fill). This will probably be looked at for improvements at some point, but players should do whatever they can to avoid disconnection in the critical minutes just before a game is scheduled to begin. Be sure your Wifi range (distance from you to the Wifi antenna) is suitable and your connection is good. Many cable modems work better with what I call the "Shaw prime directive" (because this is always what their support team gets you to do first...), a weekly unplug - wait a couple of minutes - replug - wait about ten minutes for it to restart—but this is NOT a good idea a few minutes before the game: it will leave you offline as the game begins! If you are playing on a tablet or (horrors) a cellphone, make sure you have enough battery power to actually drive the Wifi, and plug in a charger if this may be an issue.
- Organization: As in pairs games, BBO automatically places you at the correct table each round. There are no team numbers or table markers with letter and numbers to seek out and find, teams playing against one another are placed at tables 1 and 2, 3 and 4, 5 and 6, and so on. As in pairs games, all tables play copies of the same deals at the same time. The matchups are all done by the software and the event leaders will be at tables 1 and 2 playing against the highest-ranked team they have not yet played. Then the next-highest team will be at tables 3 and 4 playing against the highest-ranked remaining team that they have not yet played. And so on down the line, but at some point the system will discover that there are no matchups left that are not repeat matches from previous rounds. In an offline Swiss the Directors would re-match teams before putting matchups on the display board when this might happen; online, the BBO matchmaker just gives up and matches the rest of the teams by current ranking order. So in the later rounds you may have a rematch against a team or two, but the top of the table should see new opponents each round.
- Scores from Previous Rounds: In your History tab you will be able to see your results in real time, and the results from the other table in the match will also be viewable, but not until the next round begins. (This means that fast players and teams have to wait a fair bit with little to do. I'll try to keep things moving and let everyone know what's happening if we get out of sync. This might mean scrapping a board in slow matches just to keep things moving if the other seven teams have been finished for some time. Players who use every second of every round will see this happening often, I'm afraid.) The former problem where the E-W pair on a team needed to look in the "They" column to see swings for their side has been solved by renaming the columns "N-S" and "E-W" (do you know how to tell which compass position you are in at a virtual table? Look to the left of your BBO name above the cards...). Your team's current VP total and rank is displayed under the board number (great for players, but Directors don't see a leaderboard anywhere: I have to check results from each team and tally them on a sheet as the game progresses!). We'll be using the 20-point VP scale, but it is not the "every IMP counts" scale we use in the IMP League, and might be slightly different from the one on your convention card (if you can still find it!), but it appears to be the same 6-8 board 20 VP scale.
- Missed Boards: With at least six boards in each round, we will reduce the time to six minutes per board. This works well in smaller pair games and has worked well in team games so far. Extra time can be added if many tables are behind, but I usually don't if only one pair is holding things up. If your table loses track of time completely and is unable to finish the boards, call me early to monitor the situation if it is mostly the opponents and I will try to speed them up. If only one table gets to play a board, I can adjust the result at the other table based on who is mostly at fault, or a likely favourable situation at the table that did complete the board, but I'll try to avoid that if I can and get boards played.
If you are deemed to be at fault in a situation where a lot of time is needlessly lost, the penalties will be severe. Internet difficulties are not what I refer to here; those will be dealt with as fairly as possible. But we do have a few players feel that they can ignore questions and requests for information, and others who will hold things up until they get an answer to their (sometimes rather silly) question. In these types of conflicts I will come down surprisingly hard on the side I deem to be at fault (possibly both sides), and there has already been one incident of this type where the penalties I imposed (before seeing what effect they would have) moved a team from first to second.
- Communications with teammates: BBO has not yet found a way around this key difference between online and offline Swiss Teams. A team that finishes early at both tables will see their results, but cannot discuss them with their other pair, nor even see how many IMPs were won or lost, until the next round begins (and at that point, you are usually busy deciding what to bid on the next hand). This is a drawback for many players who love to discuss the deals as they wait for others to finish and report, and it may be the next thing to be fixed. (For now, it is an advantage for pairs who agree to play as teammates with someone they dislike, under the sound theory that they will not have to communicate with them!)
Of course, with the matches automatically scored and IMPs on each board as well as VPs earned appearing once the next round begins, the game will not be delayed as most offline games are. Plus, since the teammates cannot see how precisely 15 IMPs went away on Board 4, they can't really form an opinion on who has to buy the beer until the game ends and all of the results can be perused. I'm guessing many teams will open a teaching table [Play or Watch Bridge / Practice / Start a Teaching Table is the way to do this. Put in the table description that this is just for chatting about the team game and all can join!] and go there for some post-game chat. That may be the best way around the problem, a free-for-all post-game chat table discussing the results deal by deal!
I'll try to update this page as more information comes in about online teams, their quirks, and the process of making them work better (which will probably be slow). For team games I'll be online quite early, at least 45 minutes or more before gametime, to answer questions and guide players as they negotiate the signup process. VACB154971 is my BBO directing name, chat with me when you have a problem and I will do what I can.
It really is a lot of fun and a good occasional alternative to pair games. Find some friends and give it a try!