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Player-Based NABC Appeals Committees: Time for a Change?

NABC Appeals Committees

The 2013 Vanderbilt was marred by a 4 AM Appeals Committee decision that reversed the outcome of a match in the round of 16. Team Monaco was eliminated while Team Auken advanced to the round of 8 and ultimately went on to win the event.

Expert bridge players with far more ability than I have told me this ruling was one of the worst decisions ever made. ACBL TDs with far more knowledge of the Laws than I have concurred.

These situations, whatever side you may be on, are very bad for the game. This is not the first time a highly controversial ruling has affected the outcome, indeed the winner, of a major NABC Championship. But I hope it will be the last time.

Here is a brief historical summary:

I served on the ACBL Board of Directors from 1994 - 2008. It became clear to my fellow Board members and me that there were significant flaws in player-based Appeals Committees. On the simplest level, they are user unfriendly. Many local players at an NABC may be unable to attend. The post-midnight hearings cater to the players staying at the host hotel or nearby.

The ACBL Board of Directors approved the change from player-based appeals to Tournament Director Panels in the Fall of 1998. The system was implemented at the Vancouver NABC in the Spring of 1999.

Since 1999, ACBL TDs have been handling all appeals at NABCs below the NABC+ level. We have now had almost fifteen years of discussion, implementation, and improvements.

Cases are very well documented. Screeners use tape recorders. Expert players are consulted without knowing the names of the individuals involved. There is no bias or conflict of interest. This is a major improvement. The TD panel system is working better than it ever has. It is time to expand the process to the final level and include all NABC events.

In 2006, I co-sponsored Item 062-90: NABC Appeals:

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The following post was added to Bridge: Tournaments on May/25/06 01:41pm

Name: kmcguire
Subject: Item 062-90: NABC Appeals
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Submitted by: Bill Cook, Jerry Fleming, Jim Kirkham, Roger Smith, Jonathan Steinberg, and Management Date: May 15, 2006

Item 062-90: NABC Appeals

Moved that:

ACBL Tournament Directors shall hear and rule upon all appeals filed at North American Bridge Championships. All NABC+ appeals shall be heard by Tournament Director Panels in a manner similar to regional appeal hearings (Ref: 983-02, 992-02). All conduct and Ethics matters shall be referred to and heard by the NABC Tournament Committee or to their assignees.

Effective date: January 1, 2007
Estimated savings: Approximately $15,000

Discussion:

Bias and conflict of interest remain real problems with the current system. No such issues can ever be raised if we allow ACBL officials to rule the game, as do officials in all other sports. (Note: The appearance of bias is a myth: we have bias, it exists in many cases; we have conflict of interest in almost all cases.) A review of the NABC Appeals casebooks reveals a wide divergence of opinion among the expert commentators. Any single case may depend upon who the committee members happen to be on any given night.

Tournament Director Panels offer far more consistent rulings than a random collection of 'good' players who may be selected to serve on a player committee. In Dallas, there were just seven appeals at the Regional level, a clear example that the panel system is working. The new NABC+ model for appeals of a table ruling would be virtually identical to the current regional appeal process.

NABC+ appeals will be resolved much more quickly. Unauthorized information (UI) and misinformation (MI) cases will almost never entail players endlessly repeating the exact same arguments over and over again. TDs can get the issues from the table director, question players, conduct player polls, and make a decision, in some cases by the end of the same session.

The ACBL has a trained and dedicated group of Tournament Directors who are capable of handling all bridge appeals. More than 30 TDs have been cycled through the regional panel process for hearing appeals. ACBL TDs, our employees, have prepared for this responsibility. ACBL management strongly favors this motion.

NB: The actual cost in 2004 was $22,439.23. The fine print from 2004 can be found in the Atlanta Journal, Bridge, page 5.4-5.5

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Unfortunately, a strong orchestrated campaign by the defenders of the status quo (player-based Appeals Committees) succeeded in getting the motion defeated – I believe the vote was 13-12 or 14-11. It was very close.

At that time, the ACBL Board was assured that NABC Appeals Committees would improve and that the problem of finding competent players to serve would be resolved. I do not believe that these promises have been fulfilled. The TD panel system is by far the fairest and best method for resolving appeals at a bridge table.

The Cavendish Calcutta (now moved to Monaco) involved large sums of money. Appeals were heard by the Chief TD, in conjunction with his fellow TDs, along with input from top players.

Most bridge players are aware that while the World Bridge Federation events allow players to appeal, it is almost always futile.

Yet the ACBL still uses a player-based system, rife with inconsistencies, randomness, and conflict of interests. Old habits die hard.

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If you want your voice to be heard by the ACBL Board of Directors who make policy decisions, I urge you to copy the individuals below.

Paul Janicki, who succeeded me as the District 2 Director, is the Director of NABC Appeals Committees. He welcomes input from concerned ACBL members. You can reach him at: Paul Janicki: p_janicki@hotmail.com

The ACBL CEO, Robert Hartman, can be reached at: Robert Hartman: robert.hartman@acbl.org

The full ACBL Board can be reached at: bod@acbl.org
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