For a long time, I mulled over whether to write this article. Having decided to do so, I then ended up vacillating on whether or not to publish it.
This article is about the way the Laws of Duplicate Bridge and ACBL Regulations are applied at a local club.
One of my issues is that I’ve only been present at the club when a few of my examples occurred, having heard about the others second hand. There’s danger in using second hand descriptions of what happened at the table and what the Director said and ruled.
Having said that, my examples only assume the gist of what happened is correct — if, in a particular example, it isn’t correct, then that example is simply a hypothetical discussion.
The other thing you need to know is that there is a mix of inexperienced and experienced Directors at the club.
An Aside on the ACBL Version of the Laws of Duplicate Bridge
The copy of the “Laws” on the ACBL website, indicates on the cover “2016 Revised Authorized Edition“; however, it is the 2008 edition with revisions (corrections?). There is no indication what those revisions were. The WBF have published a 2017 edition of the Laws, which I have downloaded, that indicates an effective date of March 2017.
This month’s ACBL Bulletin has the following statement in the “Ruling the Game” column: “The Laws of Duplicate Bridge 2017 are scheduled [to] take effect in the ACBL in late September. An exact date will be announced in an upcoming issue. The new Laws will soon be available online and in printed form…”.
My personal copy of the Laws is the 2008 edition. I have downloaded the ACBL’s 2016 “Revised” edition and all references in this article are to it.
The following examples are in no particular order, not even chronological. They are not intended as negative criticism (at least one indicates why the Director ruled correctly), but as instructive — which, of course, assumes I know and have interpreted the Laws correctly.
Law 21 Call Based on Misinformation
In “strata terms”, North-South are C-level players. When it became apparent what West had bid 3♦ on, N-S summoned the Director. At the table, the West player said they played Super Transfers.
The experienced Director ruled that the result stood and there would be no adjustment.
Discussion of the Ruling
Supposedly the Director did not check the pair’s Convention Card.
There are several issues in a case like this. N-S clearly believe they have been damaged by receiving an incorrect explanation of West’s 3♦ bid. So we start out with Law 75 — Mistaken Explanation or Mistaken Call
- What is the actual partnership agreement? If it was that 3♦ is a natural bid, then the ruling should be that West made a “Mistaken Call”. In that case, the ruling should be exactly the one made by the Director and we have no need to consider this any further.
- On the other hand, if the agreement was, as West declared, Super Transfers, then East provided a “Mistaken Explanation”. Note: West has heard the incorrect explanation and is in possession of unauthorized information — an awkward situation, but not one we need worry about in this particular case.
So, which of these two cases applies? Clearly, if we believe West, then (2) applies. However, maybe West has had a golden moment and the pair doesn’t play what West thinks they do.
This is where we consult the pair’s Convention Card to see what it says. This was supposedly not done. Perhaps there was no CC or it was incompletely filled out (or perhaps there were two CCs, but filled out differently — a violation of ACBL Regulations).
How do we resolve this dilemma? This is the point at which we get involved with Law 21B — Call Based on Misinformation from an Opponent. Law 21B1(b) states, “The Director is to presume mistaken explanation rather than mistaken call in the absence of evidence to the contrary” (my emphasis). No evidence the agreement was that 3♦ is natural, so mistaken explanation.
Would North have made a different call knowing that West was showing a long heart suit rather than a diamond suit?
Remember these are C-strata players, which is maybe why North failed to double a 3-level contract when the opponents were vulnerable and they were not. North should have been expecting 3♦ Doubled to be a blood-bath (assuming their agreement would be that double is for penalties). [Aside: A strong North player may very well suspect that East-West have their agreements mixed up and elect to simply Pass, assuming they can beat 3♦ by at least 4 tricks.] North could reasonably assume they have two diamond stoppers and has no particular reason to expect the doubleton ♥ Q-J to be a liability. So a bid of 3NT is not unreasonable.
On the other hand, given the explanation that 3♦ is a transfer to hearts, would North have bid 3NT anyway? There are two laws, Law 84 — Rulings on Agreed Facts and Law 85 — Rulings on Disputed Facts that apply. In case you believe Law 85 applies, the first part of that (Law 85A) is Director’s Assessment. 85A2 states, “If the Director is then satisfied that he has ascertained the facts, he rules as in Law 84“. [My emphasis]
This is important because Law 84D — Director’s Option explicitly states, “The Director rules any doubtful points in favor of the non-offending side. …”. So, here we should rule in favour of N-S because North may have made a different call with the correct explanation (and it is pretty clear North would have claimed such if asked and may even have said so at the table, but since it would be a self-serving statement, we cannot be sure, hence the “doubtful point”).
We return to Law 21 again, as we are finally ready (in this critique) to make what, in my opinion, is the correct ruling.
Law 21B3 — “When it is too late to change a call and the Director judges that the offending side gained an advantage from the irregularity, he awards an adjusted score.“
Law 36B — Inadmissible Double and Redouble
The Director was called at this point, with West (the directions may have been rotated) not having made a call. The Director was currently making a ruling at another table and requested another, playing, director to attend.
The experienced Director ruled that the Double was inadmissible and would be cancelled, that South could substitute any legal call, and then the auction should proceed normally. When asked were there not restrictions on North’s actions, the Director said no.
Discussion of the Ruling
I was playing two tables away from this table and heard the director call and saw the Director head over to the table. After the game was over, I was approached and asked about the ruling (I regret having explained the Law and pointing out the applicable Law in a copy of the Laws that was laying around, as there are some personal dynamics among the people involved).
Unless the Director determined that West had, in fact, made a call (West told me they had not), then the Law (36B) is absolutely clear: North must Pass throughout the remainder of the auction. The ruling was incorrect.
Law 16 — Authorized and Unauthorized Information
The club uses BridgeMate remotes at each table to enter the score after each deal is played. A stationary pair seated not far from the computer used to run the scoring program notice a player going up to the computer a number of times during the game to check on their score and complain to the Director several times (at least 3) about this, especially as they claimed the player had actually used the keyboard to bring up information. The complaining players stated they believed players were not allowed to do this.
The experienced Director said it was alright and something about the player being an ACBL official.
Discussion of the Ruling
Although this was not something that happened at the complaining pairs table, it is clearly appropriate for them to bring the issue to the Director’s attention. My personal take on this is that, had I been directing, I would have done two things the first time this was brought to my attention:
- Award the player who had accessed the computer a disciplinary penalty.
- Warn the player that a repeat of the behaviour would result in their being banned from the club and reported to the ACBL as the actions are tantamount to cheating.
If the person were, in fact, a visiting ACBL official, it makes the behaviour inexcusable.
I believe ignoring what this player was doing was incorrect and, as well, sets a dangerous precedent. What happens when a regular club member does the same thing?
By the way, when I said “tantamount to cheating” it is because Law 16A(1) says, “Players may also take account of their estimate of their own score, …” (emphasis mine). So, any other knowledge of their score is Unauthorized Information. In this instance, it has been sought deliberately and is a deliberate breach of the Laws.
Note: There is one form of scoring and board movement, so called Barometer Games, where players are allowed, by the ACBL, to know their actual scores at the end of each round. In this form of the game, the players all play the same set of boards on a given round (it requires multiple sets of boards along with sharing boards).
Law 90A — Director’s Authority
While playing, the inexperienced Director called for participants to move to the next table. After waiting a minute or so for the table we were supposed to move to which was still in the middle of playing a hand, and seeing that the other tables were already playing, my partner approached the Director and said we would like protection.
We don’t give that protection. If you cannot finish the last board, you can have a late play (the alternative being a no-play).
Law 90A — Director’s Authority, states: “The Director, in addition to implementing the rectifications in these Laws, may also assess procedural penalties for any offense that unduly delays or obstructs the game, inconveniences other contestants, violates correct procedure or requires an adjusted score at another table.” [My emphasis]
At a previous club we played at, it was standard to request protection. Basically, if you are delayed starting a round because the table you are moving to is still playing, you want the Director to be aware of who caused the delay in case you cannot complete the round in a timely manner and thus end up not playing a board. As well, either a late play or not-played board inconveniences you. However, that previous club allowed the request for protection, purely as a courtesy to the players.
The Laws do not provide for requests for protection (well, there is an exception — when there has been a break in tempo), only rulings when there has been an infraction. So, in this case, if a board cannot be played as a result of starting the round late, the Director is summoned and makes a ruling.
For clubs with “No late plays”, here’s a quote from the Club Director’s Handbook: “It is possible to run a duplicate game where late plays are not allowed. The director can award an adjusted score for boards that are not started before the round ends. The offenders receive Average minus and the non-offenders receive Average plus, or a percentage of their game. If neither pair is deemed to be at fault, the board is scored as No Play.”
So, the Director’s ruling was correct.
Note, however, section B of the above Law gives examples of Offenses Subject to Procedural Penalty, one of which is “2. unduly slow play by a contestant.”
There is a reason for penalizing in this situation. The slow play disrupts the game, not only inconveniencing the pairs playing at the table against the offenders, but causing a domino effect that ripples through all the tables.
Various Laws — Psychic Calls and Zero Tolerance
This is an awkard one as it involves discussing a particular player’s ongoing behaviour and also rather tricky areas of the Laws and ACBL Regulations as far as they relate to club games. Although I am using one player as an example of dealing (or not dealing) with certain behaviours, aspects of this discussion apply to other players and to other bridge clubs in the ACBL (and other zones as well — I encountered these issues in Costa Rica).
What prompted me to discuss this player’s behaviour was a recent incident at the local club. Playing with an occasional partner this player make a psychic call (it did not hurt us — my partner realized the psyche while declaring the hand and we had reached the right contract anyway). While we realized we had not been hurt, and may even have got a good score, my partner called the Director to report the psychic bid as we both knew this player’s ongoing behaviour, as do a number, but not all, of the players at the club.
The inexperienced Director checked the player’s hand, noting it was a clear psychic bid and asked the player if they had psyched previously in this session. The player denied having done so. The Director noted the psyche, but to the best of my knowledge, did not record the psyche.
Apart from the above incident (which is just a lead-in), there are various other things to discuss.
Discussion – Psychic Calls
Psychic calls, contrary to some players’ beliefs, are not against the Laws. Law 40 — Partnership Understandings states clearly (section A3) that “A player may make any call or play without prior announcement provided that such call or play is not based on an undisclosed partnership understanding.” [My emphasis] Law 73E — Deception (in the Proprieties section) states, in full, “A player may appropriately attempt to deceive an opponent through a call or play (so long as the deception is not protected by concealed partnership understanding or experience).” [My emphasis].
The Definitions section (Chapter 1 — Definitions) contains the following entry:
Psychic call (commonly “psych[e]” or “psychic”): A deliberate and gross misstatement of honor strength and/or of suit length.
According to Law 40B — Special Partnership Understandings, the ACBL “… is empowered without restriction to allow, disallow, or allow conditionally any special partnership understanding.” (Law 40B2(a)). The ACBL Club Directors Handbook in a section called Common Rulings: Dealing with Psychic Bids, states “In general your call is a gross misstatement, and therefore considered a psych, if the call varies by at least two points in strength or two cards in length from your agreement.” Presumably “.…two points…” means HCP.
In the ACBL Club Directors Handbook, the section on Prohibited Bids and Procedures contains the following points (I have selected just a few of the points):
- Systems based on extremely light initial action combined with frequent psychic opening bids are barred from any ACBL-sanctioned event.
- An opening one bid (in a suit or notrump) which by partnership agreement may contain fewer than 8 HCP is prohibited. This is not intended to bar psychic opening bids. Psychic natural opening bids are allowed.
- The use of excessive, frivolous or unsportsmanlike psychic bidding is disruptive to the game and can subject an offender to disciplinary action. (See discussion in this manual under Law 4o.)
So, getting back to the discussion of Law 40, the handbook mentions in a section called What can be done to keep psyching under control?, three things:
- Legal adjustments
- Possible expulsion
That last point says, “If a player is found to be psyching excessively, frivolously or in an unsportsmanlike manner, the director should inform this player that if such tactics continue to be used, the player faces suspension from the game”.
Where am I going with this? The player in this instance has, on a number of occasions stated that they can bid anything they want in 3rd position. Additionally, on a number of occasions, this player has berated their partner (the player’s spouse) for taking particular actions because the partner knows the bid may not have any values. I have first hand knowledge of this.
Let me state what I find distressing about this player’s behaviour and the Directors’ (i.e. in general, not simply this incident) handling of this behaviour.
- In this incident, there was no recording of the psychic bid — without a record, there is no clear-cut evidence of the player’s proclivities. Hearsay is inadequate.
- At the end of the session, as players were milling around before the scores were posted, a number of players asserted this player had psyched against them earlier in the session. Remember this player thinks they can bid whatever they want in 3rd position (and perhaps thinks doing so is not a psyche?).
- Strong players can generally handle psychic bids; weaker players may not even realize they have been psyched against. If they do realize, they feel they have been robbed.
- This player psyches frequently and plays with one partner (their spouse) a lot. The spouse is, essentially, required to field psyches (if not in general, then third position psychic bids). Even without this explicit (and illegal) agreement, the partner must be aware of the frequent psyching and consciously or not, treads carefully in the auction in case the player does not have the values or suit length (or both).
Discussion — Zero Tolerance
This player frequently berates his partner (contrary to the ACBL’s laudable Zero Tolerance policy). The player also criticizes their spouse’s bidding and play while at the table.
The player has been known to be discourteous to a Director, though I am not aware of any recent incidents (but have not been playing much in the last year or so). This is actually against the Laws — Law 74B5: “summoning and addressing the Director in a manner discourteous to him or to the other contestants.” Note regarding all players: Whether the player is a certified director or not, players are obligated to be civil with the director. They can ask (politely) for the Director to clarify the Law for them. If they believe the Director has ruled incorrectly, the right way to discuss this with the Director privately, between rounds or at the end of the session.
Discussion — Handling Players’ Behaviour
I would like to end this discussion with a longish quote from the ACBL’s Zero Tolerance Handout for Clubs:
Although no club is required to adopt the Zero Tolerance Policy as written by ACBL, no club director should feel handicapped if such a policy is not in effect. Everything you need to administer effective disciplinary action resides in the Laws of Duplicate Bridge. And ACBL does mandate that clubs apply each and every Law within.
A. Proper Attitude
- A player should maintain a courteous attitude at all times.
- A player should carefully avoid any remark or action that might cause annoyance or embarrassment to another player or might interfere with the enjoyment of the game.
Law 81, paraphrased in Duplicate Decisions
The Director should never tolerate improper behavior in his game. He should not allow his authority to run the game to be challenged, or he will lose control of his game. Since he has absolute authority during the game, such challenges may be dealt with politely but very firmly. Laws 90 and 91 outline the Director’s powers to penalize or suspend a player during the course of the game.
A. The Director, in addition to implementing the rectifications in these Laws, may also assess procedural penalties for any offense that unduly delays or obstructs the game, inconveniences other contestants, violates correct procedure or requires the award of an adjusted score at another table.
A. In performing his duty to maintain order and discipline, the Director is empowered to assess disciplinary penalties in points or to suspend a contestant for the current session or any part thereof. The Director’s decision under this clause is final and may not be overruled by an appeals committee.
ACBL Handbook Excerpt (Chapter IV)
The club manager can handle many behavior problems by discussing them with the offenders, by issuing a warning or declaring a period of probation.
In extreme cases or cases of repeat offenses, the manager can bar an ACBL member from the club game for a stipulated period of time or permanently. (See handbook for process.)