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Match-Deciding Appeal: USBC Seniors

M. Cohen
K82
J975
1084
A73
A. Fisher
AJ1064
1064
A95
J5
S. Beatty
Q5
A82
KQJ76
Q102
F. Hamilton
973
KQ3
32
K9864
W
N
E
S
P
P
1
P
1
1
X
1NT
P
P
P
D
84
1NT South
NS: 0 EW: 0
5
1


Bidding explanations

Double: Support
1NT: S to W: transfer - either a club suit or lead directing in clubs with 3 spades
N to E: no alert or explanation

Lead: 5

Table Result:Making 1 - N/S +90

Director's Ruling:No adjustment

Director's Statement of Facts:

After the lead, when dummy was tabled, West called the Tournament Director to ask about what was explained on the other side of the screen. The TD directed play to continue without letting information cross the screen and asked the players to call him back after the hand if needed. There was no subsequent call.

After the teams had compared, the TD was summoned again and asked to make a ruling.

The TD consulted other players and some of them said they would balance regardless of the meaning of 1NT, others would not balance regardless of the meaning of 1NT, others would balance without the information but would pass with the information.

Appeals Committee Ruling

After the opening lead, West (who was on South’s side of the screen and therefore had received the correct explanation of the 1NT call) felt that it was likely from North's pass of 1NT that East had received misinformation (“MI”) from North about the meaning of that call. Accordingly, West called the director to ask whether East had been given the correct information on the other side of screen. At this point, North-South became noticeably agitated at West for calling the director. During the back-and-forth which ensued, North made some statements to East to the effect of “I forgot” and “he probably has clubs.” The director ruled that play should continue without additional information passing from one side of the screen to the other and instructed East-West to call him back after the hand if needed.

East-West did not call the director at the conclusion of the deal, but they did ask for a ruling after the comparison. They argued that had East known the meaning of the 1NT call, he might have balanced with 2. Also, in defending 1NT, East argued that he would have won the Ace of Hearts and easily defeated the contract with the K return had he fully understood the meaning of the auction.

North-South argued that East was substantially in possession of the correct information given North's statements at the table and should have found the diamond shift with the information he had, and also that West could have defeated the contract later in the play instead of making a “give up” play attempting to save overtricks. Additionally, they asserted that a 2 balance by East would likely have led to a 2 contract by North, making two on normal play and defense.

On the question of score adjustment:

We considered the following issues:

1) Was East given MI?
Clearly, the answer was yes-- during the auction, East undisputedly was not in possession of North-South's correct agreement as to the meaning of the one notrump call.

2) At what point did East obtain the correct information as to North-South's agreement?
We felt that East never obtained a fully correct explanation of the 1NT bid before the conclusion of play. While East knew that something was amiss with the 1NT bid due to West's director call and subsequent statements by North, the testimony indicated that North-South never made the nature of their agreement completely clear to East.

3) Was East damaged by the MI during the auction?
We felt that passing 1NT with the East hand was more attractive with the correct information than without it -- if the opponents were having an accident, 1NT was more likely than otherwise to be a silly contract. A poll conducted by the directors confirmed that East's peers found it more attractive to pass out 1NT with the correct information than with the MI. Therefore, we found that East was not damaged by the MI during the auction, and we did not need to analyze the possible results had East balanced with 2.

4) Was East damaged by the MI during the play?
We felt that when East discovered after the opening lead that 1NT had been intended as artificial, he had enough information about North-South's agreement that it should have been clear to switch to a diamond at trick two. Some committee members thought that knowing the specific North-South agreement would have made it slightly easier for East to visualize the actual position, while others thought not. After some discussion it was agreed by all that the failure to shift to the K was an equally clear error with the partial information East held as it would have been with full information. So, we felt that East had not been damaged in the play by the partial disclosure he had received.

There was some discussion of whether East felt he was ethically constrained from taking advantage of the information gained from the director call and subsequent statements by North. The director had made a vague statement upon leaving the table which East may have interpreted in that manner based on his testimony in committee. However, even if that were the case, we had no authority to grant East redress for his own misapprehensions about the Laws in the absence of a clearly misleading statement by the director.

So, given that East had not been damaged by the MI, we found no reason to adjust the table result of +90 for North-South.

On the question of proper procedure:

The committee also considered the issue of North-South's behavior in this matter. We felt that at the close of the auction, if either North-South player strongly suspected that there had been a misunderstanding, it was his duty to ensure that both defenders had the correct information about the North-South agreement. Quoting from the ACBL Alert Procedure pamphlet, "When the auction is over, the declaring side MUST reveal to the defenders, after first calling the Tournament Director, any errors of explanation (including Alerts or Announcements that were omitted) before the opening lead is faced." (emphasis in original)

In this case, we felt that both North and South were negligent in discharging their disclosure duties. South should have strongly suspected a mix-up when his partner passed one notrump. After the final pass but before the opening lead was faced, it would have been appropriate for South to ask North, "did you alert my one notrump bid?" or something of the kind. (Among other benefits, such action would have reserved East's right under Law 21 to change his final call.) And once the director call and subsequent discussion woke North up to the fact that he had failed to alert, North should have done whatever was necessary to make sure that East had the correct information while defending the hand, procuring South's written explanations from the other side of the screen if necessary.

Both North and South are extremely experienced players who should have been aware of their disclosure obligations. The committee felt that not only was there no proactive disclosure by North-South in this case, but much of North-South's conduct at the table was likely to have (and in fact did have) the effect of preventing East from obtaining a complete and timely explanation of North-South's agreements. In light of those findings, we felt that a procedural penalty against North-South was warranted. We consulted the director to determine an appropriate scale for such a penalty and were told that no fixed scale exists. However, we were given some guidance about previous penalties for negligent non-disclosure assessed in the same event, and we determined that a penalty of 3 IMPs would be equitable relative to that guidance.

Appeals Committee

Marty Fleisher, Chairman
Dan Morse, Member
Chris Willenken, Member

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