By Bill Michael, Colorado Springs, Colorado

I received the following letter:

“Dear Bill,
Since the incident I describe here bridge has lost a bit of its fun for me. I start each game now with sadness instead of with hope and determination.
I picked up S - H AJxxxxx D - C AQJxxx. I figured that if the suits broke nicely, I had 11 winners as declarer. As a defender the outlook was bleak. We were vul, opponents were not. The auction began with my right hand opponent opening 1D and proceeded Double (by me)-3S-Pass-4S-5H-5S-Pass-Pass to me. Before passing the second time, my partner went into drawn out anguished thought. If he did anything but bid six hearts, I was going to bid six clubs. I had plenty of time to think about dinner, the effect Obamacare would have on the nation, and to wonder if it wasn’t time for me to start composting my eggshells .I bid 6C, as planned, and the opponents called the director. After I played out 6C doubled the director was called back to the table. I displayed my hand gladly. I had my bid. The director ruled that the opponents should have a score of five spades making.
I feel that I am now forever labeled unethical. A cheater. Shamed. I am sad. I would really like your opinion, Bill.”

This player’s name is omitted by request. The director in this case was not named.

Let’s not discuss the specifics of the ruling itself, and focus on the plaintive cry for help drifting across the wilderness. It is easy, and gets easier as time marches on, for directors and players alike to forget how things look to the up-and-coming player. This dovetails nicely with last month’s article - it is another duty of directors to help players learn all the mechanics of the game and the ways in which the laws are applied. This can, at times, seem a daunting task when the director considers how much information needs to be imparted to the player who is still learning the rules.

This is one of the cases where it is incumbent on a director to bend over backwards to explain the ruling - both the rationale behind it and the law(s) applied to arrive at the decision. The director in this case needed to take the time to quote (or read from the lawbook)

Law 16.b.1.a: “After a player makes available to his partner extraneous information that may suggest a call or play, as for example by a remark, a question, a reply to a question, an unexpected alert or failure to alert, or by unmistakable hesitation, unwonted speed, special emphasis, tone, gesture, movement or mannerism, the partner may not choose from among logical alternatives one that could demonstrably have been suggested over another by the extraneous information.”
The director in this case should have explained how he felt that Law 16 was violated and, more importantly, that it was a close decision and that there is no suggestion that this player committed an intentional violation of our laws. With the hand described, I cannot imagine it was not a close decision. Please remember that all of the information provided was from one perspective only, and the director involved may very well have had more, or different information available when making his decision. I invite the director involved to send his perspective of the ruling to me privately.

I have been directing for many years now, and have delivered a number of these types of rulings to players of all levels. In cases where players have great experience, I don’t “waste my words,” or the players’ time going into great and gory detail of how Law 16.b was applied unless I’m asked. However, whenever I deliver a ruling and get the impression that a player doesn’t understand, I always try to take the time to explain as fully as possible what the rationale of my ruling is. One of the main things I try to avoid is inducing exactly the feeling this player has - that he tried to do his best, didn’t think he was doing anything wrong, and got chopped down, mistakenly reading it as, basically, an allegation of cheating. I would want that player to know that he did nothing wrong, simply that his hand wasn’t found to be good enough to overcome the Law 16.b test. Additionally, I am never afraid to include as part of my delivery of the ruling words to the effect that “it was a close decision.”

This ruling would be appealable in all tournaments and in any club game that allows appeals (clubs are not required to allow appeals - but I strongly suggest to all club managers, owners, and directors to allow them; it creates a wonderful safeguard for players, and helps to take personality issues out of the ruling process, a good thing for customer relations). 
In conclusion, I strongly advise all directors to take the time to consider what effects the delivery of a ruling may have, and to remember that your words carry more weight than another player’s might. You are the face of the game to your players, and it is important to remember that, in many cases, they don’t have as much knowledge about the laws and their applications as you do. Try to think of what you are going to say in advance of the actual delivery, then rotate your perspective and try to decide how the words you are thinking about saying would make you feel. Even with 20 years of experience, I still do this myself. If you have any questions about delivery of rulings, please feel free to email me - let me know if it needs to be private, or if I’m allowed to consider it as fodder for this column.

See you at the bridge table.

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