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SLOW PLAY - THE CONSEQUENCES
At the club, each round is timed on the basis of taking an average of 7.5 minutes per board, that is 15 minutes for a 2-board round, or 22.5 minutes for a 3-board round - both equivalent to '8 boards an hour', and if that target is achieved then 24 boards will be played in three hours, and play will finish by 10.30 on a club night.
As is evident, not everyone plays at this rate, and it is often the case that play finishes after the scheduled 10.30 end-time. It is also self-evident that all it takes is for the players at one table to take longer than they should to play one round for delays to escalate.
Consider this simple example. On the first round, all the tables but one finish on time, but that one table over-runs by 5 minutes. The immediate consequence is that the table that is expecting the moving pair will be held up for five minutes, and the pair moving to the 'late table' will also be held up for 5 minutes, so for the second round, there will be TWO tables starting late, and unless there happens to be a sit-out or a thrown-in board, both those tables are likely to finish the second round late. Clearly, that then means that THREE tables will start the third round late, and so on. If there happened to be two late finishing tables from the first round, then by the third round there could be up to SIX tables starting late. This logic assumes that a Mitchell movement is deployed: if the movement happens to be a Howell then the 'cancer' of late-starting tables can spread even more widely and more rapidly.
Most players who start a round late will endeavour to 'catch up' - but the restricted time may well mean that play is rushed, and perhaps Declarer will fail in a contract that should be made, or if the Defenders are pressurised, they may 'let through' a contract that should fail, for example. Either way, one pair may get an unexpected 'bonus', and the other will get a poor score - simply due to having been held up by someone else's slow play. But it doesn't stop there...
Pairs competitions are scored on the basis of relativities to all the other tables, so if one pair has achieved an 'unfair' good score simply due to time pressures caused by someone else, then every other pair playing the same orientation on that board will effectively get a small 'penalty' . To illustrate, consider an example where there is a 'solid' 4H contract on for NS, that will be routinely bid and made at every table. If the board is played 12 times then a 'top' on the board would be 22 match points, but if all 12 scores are identical then everyone scores an average - here 11 match points. But at one of the 12 tables, the defenders lose concentration due to being rushed, and at that table Declarer makes 11 tricks. That Declarer will now take all 22 match points on offer and the rushed opponent will take zero. All the other Declarers should by rights have won 11 match points, but as a result of the single 'freak' result they will each only get 10. Furthermore, all the other Defenders will have scored 12 match points rather than the 11 expected. So all round the room, scores have been adjusted up or down, albeit marginally, simply because one Defender was rushed, due to earlier slow play by some other player.
The 'Laws' allow the Director to take action, such as penalising a slow pair, perhaps 10% of a 'top'. However, such action does not help anyone to 'catch up' so it does not immediately solve the problem. Furthermore, it is not always clear which pair caused the hold-up, in which case it could be judged unfair to penalise either pair. An alternative way of allowing the pairs to catch up would be to scrub one board at the table that has fallen behind and award 'averages'. But that approach too has consequences all around the room...
Move away from the slow table to another one, at which everyone has been playing to time all evening. Let us now say that we happen to be playing a board that was, or is going to be, 'averaged' at another table, due to the slow play. As it happens, North / South bid an exceptionally fine contract, which Declarer then augments with a really clever play to bring the contract home. North / South are absolutely convinced that nobody else in the room will bid and make that contract, and they confidently look forward to collecting the full 22 match points at the end of the evening by beating all eleven of the other scores. But hang on a minute - they only actually beat ten other scores, because the board was not played at the slow table. The computer scoring algorithm takes that point into account, in effect arguing that no matter how splendid the bidding and play actually was, there is always a small chance that had the board been played the 12th time then an even better score could have been obtained. So our hapless North / South find that they have been awarded not 22 match points as expected, but only 21.7. Conversely, their opponents may be pleased to discover that they actually scored 0.3 match points rather than the expected zero. But not only our hapless pair and their opponents will be affected - all the scores that were above average will have been 'docked' a fraction of a match point, and all those below average will have gained a balancing small 'bonus'.
I hope by now that you are convinced that just one over-running pair can cause adjustments to all the scores in the room - possibly just the odd match-point, or even a fraction of a match point up or down, but if someone has gained or lost through being pressurised due to someone else holding them up, then it could be a lot more than just the odd match point - enough to make a difference, perhaps, to final rankings.
So you think it all sounds far-fetched, and isn't going to happen in practice? Well it DID happen very recently on a night when the top two pairs might have finished level had one of them not 'lost' 0.3 match points due to the award of average scores at another table... At our club we offer wine to the winning pair, and we also operate a policy of not 'splitting ties', so the pair that were listed as finishing second might well have argued that someone else's slow play cost them a bottle of wine each... Not only that, it also affects the Master Points awarded and the contributions to the season and month long ladder awards. All because somebody on the other side of the room took longer to play a board than they should have done...
'Fines' and 'averages' do not solve the problem, though they may act as a deterrent.
If both pairs agree, the two pairs involved could 'skip' a board - and then reconvene to play it at the end of the evening. That way, they inconvenience only themselves.
There is no real substitute for just trying to play more quickly. Some contributing points are:
It is courteous to greet your opponents at the start of the round. However, extending the conversation, e.g., to enquire about a recent holiday, or to enquire after someone's health - though polite and sociable - should be left to the end of the round, if there is time, or to the end of the evening otherwise. Look on it as a reason to finish the round early!
The hand on lead ought to select the lead BEFORE 'clerking' the board on their personal scorecard - something that can then be done while Declarer is contemplating Dummy
Many of the hands raise interesting points - but any 'inquest' / discussion should be held back to the end of the round, if there is time
If a pair arrives late they must try to make up time - and definitely must NOT continue a post mortem on the previous hand.
Score the hand quickly, give East / West a chance to verify the entry on the traveller, but then move onto to the next board smoothly.
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