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The Hand That Changed The World (of Claims)
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Reprinted from the Bulletin of the Australian Bridge Directors’ Association, August 2018, with permission.

The 11th World Bridge Team Olympiad took place in Maastricht, The Netherlands, during the distant year of 2000. On the Open Series, during the KO stage, Round of 16, England vs Belgium, Gunnar Hallberg (North) was playing with the late Colin Simpson against Engel and van Middelem, when the following happened. Near to the end of the segment, on a tight match and playing in four hearts, Hallberg reached this end position:

West
4
KQ8
9763
North
3
Q9
A5
KJ5
East
QJ98
762
10
South
AK10762
9
2
D

Having already lost three tricks, Hallberg stated that he would make the contract on a double squeeze, provided that the information given to him about the East hand was accurate (East had shown a weak hand with spades and a minor). At the time of the claim, East/West requested North to play the hand out. North continued playing and… misplayed the final two cards!

As they were leaving the playing area, North-South inquired a director about “having to play the hand.” At the time, the laws (1997 edition) stated that any play following a claim was void and the Director (or a Committee) was to adjudicate the claim based only on the claimer's statement.

North said that he agreed to play the hand out but was somewhat upset that his claim had been contested (although this was not personal against the East/West players). He cashed his two top hearts and two top clubs and East was forced to come down to three spades and a singleton diamond. He then crossed to dummy with a spade and cashed the second top spade in the three-card ending, squeezing West between the minors. However, because he was unsettled about having to play out what he considered an obvious claim situation, he lost his mental focus and discarded the wrong card from his hand, thus failing by one trick.

The director at the time ruled that the play after the claim was void, and judged that without the “play on” the claim was good, considering the level of player involved. The ruling was confirmed by the AC at the time.

However, this decision sent shockwaves rippling through the bridge world. Some people felt that the play after the claim should somehow count, and thus on the next iteration (2007) the relevant law (68D) was changed to: “After any claim or concession, play ceases (but see Law 70D3).”  And now 70D3 read: “In accordance with Law 68D play should have ceased, but if any play has occurred after the claim this may provide evidence to be deemed part of the clarification of the claim. The Director may accept it as evidence of the players’ probable plays subsequent to the claim and/or of the accuracy of the claim.”

If the “Hallberg Double Squeeze” had happened under the 2007 laws, maybe the decision would have remained the same, because the director would probably not accept the play as evidence, due to the reasons alleged by Hallberg for the misplay However, the modification was a sign of things to come.

Fast forward 10 years, and here come the 2017 laws. 68D was modified again. The title changed from “play ceases” to “suspension of play,” and it reads like this:

If the claim or concession is agreed, Law 69 (agreed claim or concession) applies. If it is doubted by any player (dummy included), the Director may immediately be summoned, no action should be taken pending his arrival, and Law 70 (contested claim or concession) applies. Alternatively, upon the request of the non-claiming or non-conceding side, play may continue if all four players concur (otherwise, the Director is summoned and proceeds as if the claim was initially contested). If play continues, the prior claim or concession is void and not subject to adjudication, laws 16 and 50 do not apply, and the score subsequently obtained shall stand.

So, if this case happened after September 1st 2017, the final result would have been completely different. Declarer would be stuck with going down and the winner of the match would probably have been different (England won by only 5 IMPs, and proceeded to finish 4th behind Italy, Poland, and the USA).

These changes in the new laws are highly relevant. It is important to note that now, if play continues upon the request of the non-claiming/non-conceding side, and when all players agree, then:

·        The initial claim statement is void,

·        There is no UI (law 16 doesn’t apply),

·        There is no penalty for any exposed cards (no law 50), and

·        The final result stands, come hell or high water.

This means that the claiming player can change his line of play, for example, based on what he saw on the table after his claim. Also, if a defender exposed any cards, they are just picked up and play continues.

However, there are two conditions that always need to be fullfilled in order for those four consequences to occur: It is the non-claiming/non-conceding side that requests to continue, and all four players concur. Some questions may arise under this new 68D, precisely because of these conditions. Four examples:

1.      Declarer claims, defender disagrees, declarer suggests to continue playing, everybody agrees. In the end, a defender (or dummy, or even declarer) checks with the TD about what happened. Decision: Because it was not the non-claiming/non-conceding side that requested to play on, 68D2b doesn’t apply. We are back into law 70 (contested claim or concession)

2.      Declarer claims, defender disagrees, TD is called, a defender says to the TD that he wants to play on. Decision: 68D2 states that either the TD is summoned or play continues under some conditions. Therefore, if the TD is called, play does not continue! Back to law 70. It is important to note that 68D2 never applies if the TD is called

3.      Declarer claims, defender says “play on,” three players agree, but dummy tries to call the TD. Other players quiet him down and play. After the play, dummy checks it out with the TD.  Decision: There was no concurrence of all players. Therefore, the play after the claim is void and we are back to law 70.

4.      Declarer claims with AJTx in front of K9xx, missing the Queen. Leftie requests the play to continue, and declarer finesses him for the Queen. Leftie calls the TD. Decision: Score stands. Law 16 does not apply!

This was a major change to the claim laws (laws 68-71) on the 2017 Code. The seeds of this change were sowed under the 1997 edition of the laws, during that distant day of September 2000, in Maastricht, by Gunnar Hallberg and Bill Schoder (Chief TD of the event). David Burn immortalized it on a poem (excerpt shown below):

Directors came from far and wide Out of some dark infernal lair. "He can't do that!" the Belgians cried, "It's not allowed! It isn't fair!" Bill Schoder fixed me with a glare: "What were you doing, if you please?" "It's quite all right - don't lose your hair - I claimed it on a double squeeze."

They called Committees to decide If I was mad, or took no care. "And are you normal?" I replied "I try to be, when I declare." "Are you inferior?" "What! You dare To ask me questions such as these? The end position wasn't rare - I claimed it on a double squeeze."

Some other changes were introduced, or minor significance but worth noting anyway:

1.      68A, clarification that it is a player that claims, not a contestant (check the definition of contestant and the reason for the change becomes clear)

2.      68B1, clarification that dummy cannot claim or concede tricks (only declarer or a defender)

3.      68C, the player making a claim or concession must show his cards. This was not completely clear in the 2007 laws.

4.      69A, “agreement” was defined in 2007 as referring to a “contestant.” This was corrected in 2017 due to the definition of contestant. Now 69A establishes that agreement occurs when a side assents to an opponent’s claim or concession and raises no objection before making a call on a subsequent board or before the round ends, whichever occurs first.

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