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Flipping for Winning

Or: You be the judge of the fairness of the ACBL policies in national events

         20 minutes before game time, as we were walking towards the playing area in Toronto, Rose Meltzer and I ran into May Sakr and Justyna Žmuda who were about to play the Wernher Open Pairs while we were headed towards the regional KOs. In the spur of the moment I suggested that now we have just the right amount of girls for the Mixed BAM and everyone took me seriously. We quickly split one of the male pairs on our team and assigned them to the girls while the girls went on to withdraw their entry from the pairs. Everyone was very excited that we were playing the most meaningful event we could enter.

         Day one was fantastic and day two was going great. We posted a winning score only to find out that after a full board procedural penalty we were demoted to 2nd, ½ of a board after the official winners. Suffice to say that we barely mustered our smiles for the picture for 2nd.

         From here on I will tell you all about our penalty: It was the first NABC tournament for the other two men on our team – Vladimir Marashev and Ivan Tsonchev. Since they were staying at a different hotel, we asked them to get a phone for contact and I was the only one contacting them about our playing schedule. Additionally, I take it as my job to personally tell everyone to turn off their phones before the session and I double check on that. The afternoon final session of the Mixed BAM was no exception. After the session was over, our teammates told me they got a cell phone penalty – “Impossible!!!” I said until they explained how it happened. During the session 3 times phones rang loudly in the relatively quiet room. So the directors were pissed off of sorts but I saw only one other adjustment on the recaps. This means that two phones rang unpunished. While our teammates were playing a hand, a sound was overheard from the pocket of the jacket of our teammate by the director who happened to stand right by them in that very moment. Vlado was wearing a soft and tight short jacket with higher side pockets. While he was playing a hand, his elbow must have triggered the on button in that very moment. The sound the director heard was from turning the phone on. How stupid is it to turn your phone on with your elbow right in front of the director?!? The director did not bother to establish the facts and only asked for the number of the table and did not inform my teammates about the penalty until they went by her after the session to ask what happened. We claimed it was a malfunction of the device because it was a very cheap phone but the directors would want to hear it. Additionally, the phone was not operational until it booted up. What if your phone drops out of your pocket and hitting the floor lights up? Is this an automatic procedural penalty? What if the phone resting in your pocket feels uncomfortable and you take it out and put it in another pocket – is that a penalty? Or only when the director is next to you? Whatever the semantics of the regulations are and their respective interpretations, to our best intentions we were abiding by the regulations and we were the ones to get penalized while two other unmistakable phone rings during the same session were not pursued. We even offered to submit the official call records from the cell phone provider to establish that there were no calls made and no data transmitted but we were told that it wouldn’t matter – penalty stands! It feels that the directors acted with a lot of prejudice in this matter, partially because the pair was non-fluent in their English and partially because of the preceding infractions of other phones ringing and now all they needed was a scapegoat. Right after the session, I approached the director with our side of the story only to hear a reply in passing “Be grateful that you didn’t get an additional slow play penalty”. Contrary on what people may assume, we were not due for one. Everything aside, how do we have to interpret this reply: maybe “We had to penalize someone for something so we picked your team as a suitable target. We think you deserved some penalty so we gave you one at random”. What if we offer to trade our undeserved cell phone penalty for ¼ board adjustment for a slow play – WE WIN, YAY!

         We played honestly and well and in good team spirit and we posted a score that would have been enough for FOUR! of our teammates to win their first national title. Did we just happen to be in the wrong place in the wrong time? Or it had to happen so that we discuss here the fairness of the game and the imposed penalties? We all heard about Spingold incidents where phones rang and matches were being decided on issuing the procedural penalty or not. Needless to say, this far from uniform practices pollute the game we love and leave unpleasant taste for the losers, the winners, and all the people who hear about it afterwards. 

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