By Bill Michael, Tournament DIrector from Colorado Springs, Colorado

Playing matchpoints, at unfavorable vulnerability you are South and hear the bidding go:P-1D-1H-3D-3H-5D.You ask whether the 3D bid is weak, and are told “I hope not.” Your hand is S AQ H A9853 D T5 C A875; decide what action you’d take before reading on.

Have you decided on your action? At the table, South elected to pass. The auction was passed out in 5D undoubled, down four. But the explanation of the 3D bid was incorrect. According to the East/West convention cards, 3D was a weak raise. The explanation of “I hope not” is very suggestive that the agreement was not a weak raise, and constitutes misinformation. After the hand was played, I was called to the table by South and the facts were explained and verified by all. South said she would have doubled the 5D contract had she not been misinformed as to the meaning of the 3D bid.

When ruling in mistaken explanation/failure to alert situations, the director must determine that three things have occurred before the law allows him to adjust a board in favor of the non-offending side:1) There must have been an actual infraction of law.2) The infraction must have actually caused damage.

Law 12.B.1 states that

“Damage exists when, because of an infraction, an innocent side obtains a table result less favorable than would have been the expectation had the infraction not occurred - but see C.1.(b).”)3) The damage must be directly related to the infraction. (Law 12.C.1.(b) states that “If, subsequent to the irregularity, the non-offending side has contributed to its own damage by a serious error (unrelated to the infraction) or by a wild or gambling action, it does not receive relief in the adjustment for such part of the damage as is self-inflicted. The offending side should be awarded the score that it would have been allotted as the consequence of its infraction only.”)

Buttressing the Law 12.C.1.(b) caveat is the following excerpt from the tech files - a comprehensive set of rulings interpretations promulgated by the Board of Governors and the Laws Commission, and considered “official” when making rulings/interpretations of the laws. “RESPONSIBILITY OF PLAYERS TO PLAY BRIDGE.

At the 1992 Indianapolis NABCs, the ACBL Laws Commission reaffirmed the position that in order to fully protect their rights, bridge players are under an obligation to play at a reasonable level commensurate with their expertise. A serious misplay can be cause for a player to have to accept a bad score that was actually achieved even though the offender’s score should be adjudicated. The position that any result achieved after a to-be-disallowed action is not to be considered (because the non-offenders should never have been in a position to commit the egregious error) was declared invalid. When the director decides that there has been a violation of law resulting in damage to an innocent opponent, he shall adjust the score using the guidelines of Law 12.C.2.…”
From a ruling standpoint there are three issues:

  1. Was there an infraction of law? Yes, there were at least two infractions by East/West:
    (A) Saying “I hope not” is a patently incorrect answer to the question of the meaning of the 3D bid. An explanation is to be firm and complete, with no waffling. As an aside, note that your mistaken, or even correct explanation may constitute unauthorized information to your partner (such as when he had forgotten your agreement(s) and the explanation reminds him what you’re playing).
    (B) West failed to fulfill her duty to correct a mistaken explanation by the declaring side before the opening lead has been made.
  2. Was there damage? Probably. Had the mistaken explanation not been given, there was a much higher likelihood that South would have doubled 5D, leading to a much better result for North/South than was actually obtained.
  3. But there was a problem with then third requirement for adjusting a board, that the damage be “directly related” to the infraction. South failed in her duty to continue to play analytical bridge, commensurate with her ability, even in the face of a mistaken explanation. In the scenario presented, South is looking at 14 HCP, including 3½ defensive tricks, 2½ of which are outside of her suit. East has opened, putting a reasonable guess at 12 HCP in her hand. We’re up to 26. If LHO has a limit raise, there should be around 10 HCP in her hand. This leaves only four points or so in partner’s hand, yet partner found a vulnerable 3H bid. This information, which should have been worked out by a player of South’s caliber, flies in the face of the given explanation.
I’m guessing that most of you doubled 5D, even with the mistaken explanation. You do have to continue to play bridge on the available information, and your partner’s free bid at the three level, vulnerable, makes the penalty double of 5D very attractive. To follow the wording of the law: I believe that South’s pass of 5D is “a serious error, unrelated to the infraction,” which made the damage of failing to double the 5D contract “self-inflicted.” In short, South didn’t believe the clues given by the auction, and rested simply on the explanation given.

However, East/West don’t get off scot-free. Had the mistaken explanation not been given, it was much more likely that East/West would have ended up with -800 (5D doubled, down four). Therefore, “The offending side should be awarded the score that it would have been allotted as a consequence of its infraction only.”

Actual ruling: N/S +200, E/W -800.

See you at the tables.

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