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Back to the drawing board

At a meeting of the English Laws and Ethics Committee this afternoon I was presented with the 2017 Laws. There are areas of considerable improvement, on which the WBF Laws Commission is to be warmly congratulated. The new barking mad 50E apart, the major changes that have been made are for the better, and the clarity of language has been much enhanced.

Even Law 1 has undergone a revision. A Regulating Authority may now "require the face of each card to be symmetrical".  As for the backs:

The backs of all 52 cards in a deck should be identical. They may incorporate words, a logo or a pictorial design but the image used should possess a centre of symmetry. (Law 1C, 2017 version)

For the benefit of any laymen who may have wandered in, the idea is simple enough: imagine a card-sized rectangle on the table in which you must place any card you play (the idea being to prevent "Fantunes signals"). An unscrupulous partnership might still gain an advantage by placing an asymmetrical card (such as the ace of spades in most commonly-used decks) one way "round" or the other to convey some binary message.

Moreover, a villain might sort his cards such that the asymmetrical backs are distinguishable by his partner across the table - one way up corresponds to the bit 0, the other way up to the bit 1. A total of 8,192 orderings are possible, giving rise to the possibility of levels of communication undreamed of even by the recently unmasked agents of the ungodly.

We don't want this. Have we prevented it?

No, of course not. The face of the ace of spades in most commonly-used decks already is "symmetrical" - it has reflectional symmetry about the vertical axis. What the Law wants in addition is rotational symmetry about 180 degrees (or, what is the same thing, reflectional symmetry about the horizontal axis). So, the Law should ask for it by name.

A "centre of symmetry" (or "center" if you prefer) is a technical term that (for the most part) means to technical people working in two dimensions a point within a closed curve such that any given line through the centre intersects the curve at two points equidistant from the centre. Rectangles, such as playing cards, obviously have no centre of symmetry. Circles do, and so do what are called "curves of constant breadth" (look this up, or if you are British think of the new £1 coin or the old 50p or 20p piece).

The Law as stated means that I can put a logo on the back of a playing card such that the logo conforms to Law 1C, but the back of the card is clearly asymmetrical ("the image" in the Law must refer to the logo, since it would be meaningless if it referred to the card, which cannot have a centre of symmetry).

Even if I had to put the centre of the logo in the place where the diagonals of the card intersect, I could use a Reuleaux wheel (again, look it up) or a Canadian loonie. In the place where the real work of the L&E is done, the pub after the meeting, the chief TD of the EBU explained to me that what was meant was that the entire back of the card had to be rotationally symmetrical through 180 degrees. Of course it was. Then, why not say so?

Is this nitpicking? Very much so. But the Laws ought to be free from nits. Before they are issued, they should be read by a patent lawyer who doesn't play bridge. That way, doubt about what they "really mean" might for the most part be eliminated to the everlasting benefit of all.

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