What is this Web movement?

Tournament players have mostly seen Web movements by now. For most larger events, at least one section in the game will be set up using this unfamiliar pattern of play.

In this case, I’m talking about the order of the boards and the players in a duplicate bridge game. The two most common movements in bridge, Mitchell and Howell, pre-date the game of bridge itself, and were used for duplicate whist tournaments.

In the 1970s, a director named John Harris, who went by the nickname of “Spider,” invented a general movement that would have every player in the game playing the same group of boards. We call them Web movements in honor of Spider.

The problem with Web movements in Spider Harris’s day was that they require two or sometimes three sets of boards that are exact copies of each other for each section. Creating copies of bridge deals is an arduous process by hand! Spider didn’t stay around to see how duplicating machines and electronic scoring would make his invention practical.

Web movements have a beauty and comfort because mostly the movement of boards and people between rounds remains familiar: boards (usually) move to the next lower table, people (always) move to the next higher.

The exceptions to the board movements take some focus and concentration on the part of the director. But the presence of electronic scoring devices (Bridgemates) make it possible for the stationary players to be sure they’re playing the correct pair and correct boards.

Creating the movements

Over the December holidays and break, I started toying with the idea of using Web movements for the BridgeMojo game. After studying the movement and the math, it seemed like it would be possible.

The movements for fourteen boards had not been written for ACBLScore, but the program has a good mechanism for designing “external” movements, and it could check a movement to see that players would not meet a board twice or an opponent twice.

With fourteen boards, seven tables is the perfect game. Every player plays every table and every board. If I have fourteen tables, I can split the game into two seven-table sections. So in ACBLScore I created Web movements for eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, and thirteen tables. Each movement has seven “board groups,” so they could be used for games of 21 or 28 boards as well, by playing three or four boards per round.

So I had my movements. Was I brave enough to try them? The tricky part is the initial “boarding” — the placement of the first boards for the first round. I could create an unholy mess by getting that wrong.

The biggest stage I can find

Audrey Grant had asked me to come to her annual Sea Island Bridge Festival to direct games in January. It was an honor, privilege, and opportunity I couldn’t refuse.

I exchanged email with her partner David Lindop, and timidly suggested that we could try my newly created Web movements at the festival. The format was perfect: several two-hour games, 14-15 boards, usually two games a day. He (wisely) said, “Let’s just keep it simple.” He was bringing two board sets, and I was bringing one. Each set was boards 1 through 36. We had plenty for three sections of Mitchell movements.

My first evening with the Festival team, I told Audrey about the movements I had available, and she got really excited. She immediately saw something of great value.

Audrey realized that with this movement, we would have 100 or so bridge players who had all played exactly the same boards, one through fourteen. At the end of the night, we would never hear, “Oh, we didn’t play that board.”

The postmortems, hosted by Robert Todd for the first three games, would have everyone’s interest — there were only the fourteen boards everyone had played.

The idea was irresistible.

Add some duct tape and bailing wire

There was a problem. With three sections of players, about 25 tables, I worked out that in some scenarios we would need six sets of boards. We only had three.

As it turns out, boards 17-32 are identical to boards 1-16 — the same dealer, the same vulnerability. David found scissors, and sheets of adhesive labels. I spent the afternoon before the first game putting labels on boards 17-30 and turning them into boards 1-14. We split our three board sets into six.

Now we were committed. There was absolutely no going back. We were going to sink or swim.

The moment of truth

The first Festival game had twenty tables. With one more table, we could have had three seven-table sections.

I organized the room as a seven-table section and a thirteen-table section — a straight Mitchell movement, and a Web movement for the bigger section.

The odd-number of tables calls for three sets of boards, so we would immediately use four of the six sets I had prepared. I mentally rehearsed the initial boarding and instructions to the North-South players several times, and with a deep breath, started the game.

Audrey commented on how quiet the room was. Everyone was playing two-board rounds. The boards and players moved in their invisible maze through seven rounds. Never once did I hear, “Director! We’ve already played these boards!”

The postmortem and aftermath

I combined the two sections into one scoring pool, and every board had a 19 top. The game was truly a thing of beauty.

Robert Todd took the microphone through the postmortem and had a rapt audience. Everyone had seen the board on the screen. Every board had been played twenty times.

We repeated the exercise over the festival for a total of seven games. My friends on the Better Bridge team helped me out, often by bringing me a “doggie bag” after I skipped the team meal to duplicate boards for the evening game.

My biggest game was 26 tables, and two games used all six duplicated board sets I had available. I used sections of eight, nine, and ten, and they all worked fine.

Starting immediately, I will use these movements for all of the Monday night BridgeMojo games. My hand records will be one-sided, with boards 1-14 only! Everyone will see every board, unless there is a half table, and my sit-out rounds will never be longer than fifteen minutes.

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