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Instant Replay

an editorial by Jason Feldman with the views of Steve Weinstein and Gavin Wolpert

There is nothing more frustrating to a fan then seeing a favorite team lose because of a blown call by an official. As a result all major sports now utilize some form of instant replay to a varying degree including football, hockey, baseball, basketball, tennis and NASCAR.

While bridge is not such a fast pace game that it needs instant replay per se (one might argue to the contrary for disputes about hesitations or shady behavior), but it does need modern technology to correct pure errors in scoring, i.e. VuGraph. And like other sports, Bridge would also benefit from an omnipotent observer, similar to that of slow motion and multiple camera angles in physical sports.

Our game (or "mind sport") does not have a referee or tournament director that is constantly monitoring play at the table, although arguably it should during the late rounds of important matches.

No one wants to see a team win or lose because of a scoring error, similar to the travesty endured by the Canadian team in 1990 . Other less infamous stories abound, such as one scoring a Matchpoint game for the wrong side, a kibitzer noticing and not saying anything. Miscounting tricks is common, and frequently these get corrected as players typically behave with integrity and both sides try to correct an incorrect score. But often such occurrences go unnoticed. In lesser events it may not be tragic, but if we deem a bridge event important enough to broadcast over the internet then why not take advantage of our technology to correct inequities?

A similar situation that occurs frequently is the mis-claim. This should NOT be confused with a mis-scored hand. The issues surrounding mis-claims are a bit trickier as there are several possible reasons for the mis-claim, and often only the declarer knows the reason for the mis-claim. Mis-claims occur because the player: does not realize his winners are winners, miscounts outstanding trumps or high cards, is the victim of an unestablished revoke, or it may occur simply because a player miscounted tricks

Current State of the Rules

The WBF and ACBL use the same rules Laws of Duplicate Bridge. Currently spectators and vugraph operators are expected to remain quiet and not draw any attention to any aspect of the game including irregularities. Rule 76B5 states " A spectator at the table shall not draw attention to any aspect of the game. " In practice, if a spectator does say something regarding a scoring error, the players will usually correct it. If a spectator says something about a mis-claim, the players reactions vary wildly depending on the circumstance.

In some ways the rules are a bit contradictory as law 81c3 states that " the director has the responsibility ... to rectify an error or irregularity of which he becomes aware in any manner , within the correction period established in accordance with Law 79C." (Law 79C states that errors in score may be corrected).

The rules as to what should happen at the table to correct the inequities are not altogether clear. Without clear rules, consistent enforcement by directors and consistent behavior by kibitzers and VuGraph operators is also not possible.

Spectators Influencing the Results?

The upcoming November Bridge World references a famous hand defended by Zia in the 1983 Bermuda Bowl where he revoked to over-ruff (without the opponents knowing he revoked) and thereby defeated an impermeable doubled part-score. After the score was entered, the Swedish captain, who was kibitzing, called attention to the revoke. The director ruled the result should stand. Zia both then and now was unaware of the correct procedure as to whether he should call attention to the revoke.
Sportsmanship and gentlemanly behavior suggests that he should have called attention to it, but the rules and giving total commitment to helping his team win suggested that he not say anything after he realized on a subsequent trick.
The Bridge World editor Jeff Rubens comments "Zia was not at fault-he was a victim" as "following the requirement to try to win under the rules conflicts with personal ideas of how the game ought to be played".
Here is an example of a VuGraph Operator (Joanna Stansby) who almost informed declarer of a misclaim. Pay particular attention to the commentary (click next)

In this instance, the VuGraph operator, Joanna Stansby almost told declarer, Walter Johnson, that spades were 4-4 after the segment, but heeded other online kibitzers urgings to stay quiet. Joanna believes that once the match is over, she is a spectator, and that there are no rules preventing her from telling him. Fortunately, in this circumstance their teammates brought up the hand and the other side agreed to an adjusted score.

Even expert players are not sure of the right course of action, but seem to want equity. Something is seriously wrong with the rules if VuGraph operator and/or spectators have to decide between following the rules and achieving a fair result for the players.


In the interest of equity and fairness, we at Bridge Winners advocate for the VuGraph operator, a tournament official, and/or potentially kibitzers to be permitted to report an irregularity. We are not alone in this belief.

Jeff Rubens suggests that "there must be a mechanism for anyone to report an irregularity. Imagine that someone revokes in front of hundreds of spectators on VuGraph. Would the defenders of the status quo have it that there should be no adjustment unless one of the players notices the revoke prior to the nonoffenders' making a call on the next deal (or end of the round)?"

Gary Blaiss (former Executive Administrative Officer of the ACBL, ACBL Recorder, and Chief ACBL Tournament Director) states "in my view, regulations should allow spectators to bring errors or irregularities (at least some) to the Director's attention." Gary also believes that "when an operator notices an error or irregularity that he or she has been instructed to report , a tournament director should be summoned and informed in accordance with the regulations enacted by the regulating authority or tournament organizer."

The Bridge Winners staff proposes that the VuGraph operator or tournament official should act similar to a line judge or referee in another sport. At the moment a scoring error or what appears to be a mis-claim occurs the vugraph operator should submit the hand to a director electronically. The director will examine the hand and then discuss with the players at the end of the segment.

Mis-scored boards should always be corrected.
Mis-claimed hands should be automatically corrected under the following circumstances:

  1. When there is no possible way to achieve the table result, or
  2. When a defender revoked, but the revoke was not established, or
  3. When an adjustment is not disputed by either side.

If neither of these situations applies, then a score shall not be immediately adjusted if there is a reasonable, even if improbable line of play, that would allow the person to achieve the table result. If whether the table result should stand is disputed, then a minimum of 3 directors will discuss and decide whether the score should be adjusted, with a bias towards allowing the agreed upon table result to stand. All 3 directors must agree that the basis for the mis-claim stems from a mis-counting of tricks, or based on dishonest information about how the opponents cards lie.

While this is not a perfect or by any means a complete solution, we believe this represents a step in the right direction and a significant improvement over the current rule. And yes, some matches will not have the advantage of a tournament official or a VuGraph operator watching to report an undiscovered revoke or misclaim (just like instant replay does not exist to correct referee mistakes in minor league sporting events). But this does not mean we should hesitate to restore equity where we can.

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