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Point - Counterpoint: To Claim or not to Claim
Author’s note: I first wrote this as a standalone article. When I shared it with Michael Rosenberg he responded to the points that I made and also included many of his own. What you now see is my article with his comments (represented in blue).

I was watching the 2nd half of a quarterfinal match-up of the Transnational Open Teams between GORDON and ANGELINI when this hand came up:


Rodwell
K108
J1097
876432
Rosenberg
A92
K6
AQJ4
AKQ9
Meckstroth
Q743
Q8532
7532
Willenken
J65
A4
K10986
J105
W
N
E
S
 
P
P
2
P
2
P
2N
P
5N
P
6N
P
P
P
D
23
6NT North
NS: 0 EW: 0
2
1

As you can see 6NT is absolutely cold and there is virtually no chance for an overtrick. So, what’s so interesting about this hand? I estimate it took 15 minutes to play out. Declarer, Michael Rosenberg, did not take any of the time himself but he did allow his opponents to agonize over their discards.

I obviously saw I had 12 tricks, with no legitimate chance for 13. However:

a) People often misdefend hands even (shockingly) Meckwell. Maybe they each think I have Ax, Kxx in the majors and each hold hearts. Maybe the hand over me bares the K "early" and his partner doesn't realize it. Maybe they think of a problem I don't think of.

b) Overtricks are part of the game. Matches can be won by an IMP.

c) Players often allow impossible overtricks to be made in an effort to defeat the contract.

d) I have made many, many (and then some) impossible overtricks - I wish I had a record of them. I remember playing one hand out against the Clerkins while Debbie was kibitzing. She couldn't believe I played it out. I made an extra trick on a pseudo-squeeze.

In my view this hand is a clear claim and to torture my opponents by playing it out—although not against the rules—feels very wrong to me. As I see it, the problem isn’t this hand but rather where to draw the line.

Please clarify what you are saying here. Is it (A) It's within the rules, but I was wrong to do it? Or is it (B) that I did nothing wrong, but you are advocating for a change in the rules?

Say you had a threat card in hearts, is it appropriate to say, “You’re not beating me”? What if we had the 10 and the Q, would that be enough to to justify how long this hand can and did take? Is the information you give your opponents when you claim, or say, “I am cold” too much info for meta-game purposes on future hands?

As you can see from what I said above, the degree of likelihood does not enter into it for me - there simply has to be some possibility.

Some people are comparing what I did with not claiming when I had thirteen top tricks (or all the rest). There are also players who will never claim when their opponents have the lead (even when they have the rest). Although I can see an argument for this, I don't agree with it and don't do it. In my "chess clocks" world (see below), the time taken here would be assigned to the player who had the rest of the tricks

There are some advantages to playing the hand out. Your opponents can waste needed mental energy, which might cause them to make a critical error later on in the match. The directors were giving IMP-based time penalties more frequently at this particular tournament. Does this become a case of do unto others as you would have them do unto you?

My reason for playing the hand out had absolutely nothing to do with time penalties. I simply wanted to make an overtrick.

Ethics and Laws are not the same. Although it’s legal to play the hand out, is it ethical? I know that Rosenberg is an actively ethical player, so therefore he must consider his behavior ethical. However, it’s more of a grey area for me. As the time to play a hand is a communal resource, allowing time on ‘nothing’ hands just doesn’t feel right.

Anyone who knows me knows I don’t accept penalties for irrelevant revokes. If anyone, even Meckstroth, revoked against me in the final set of the Trials Final, I'd tell him to pick it up (assuming I was not actually damaged). I think this is a silly law (the automatic penalty for an illegal play) and I am doing my (small) part to try to have it changed. So its not as if I'm someone who looks to win by any means.

One might say that Rodwell, who knows me well, might realize that as I have not given any thought, the contract is likely cold. Perhaps his spending more than ten minutes is not sensible (though it's obviously up to him).

If I say "You can't defeat me" it should speed play up. However, it also means that when I don't say it, the defenders know I am not cold. This is like an alarm bell. Yes, I know we "should" always defend as if we can beat the contract, but sometimes we just give up.

Having said that, I have sometimes said to an opponent "you can't beat me" to speed things up (especially when I or my partner have been responsible for the slowness up to that point in the session). However, this was not true in the actual session - Rodwell had already been responsible on a couple of hands. Also, I was playing against Meckstroth - someone who I feel tries to take every advantage (within the rules). In recent years, there has been no love lost between us, and I am not disposed to do him any favors.

Three hands later, I was thinking for a while about how to play 3NT (not cold). Meckstroth (incredibly, to me) asked for a time monitor. When my partner pointed out that, before this hand, their side had taken all the time, Meckstroth complained that I spent more than 10 minutes playing 6NT with 12 top tricks. I then pointed out that I had taken zero time myself playing the hand, and I asked the director if there was anything wrong with playing for an overtrick while taking no time myself. The Director confirmed there was nothing wrong with that. After that, with the Director present, they both took quite a long time defending 3NT (here, I was not cold, so there was no question of my saying anything).

Some points that I think need to be discussed are:

1. Should one claim in this situation or allow for a colossal screw up?

2. Is it okay to try to have your opponents ‘waste’ their energy on a mundane hand?

3. Is it okay to try to get your opponents into time trouble and therefore possible penalties?

4. Should the players have any obligation to claim in order to keep the game interesting for the spectators?

5. Kit Woolsey has suggested changing the rules to have overtricks not count. Personally, I think this changes the game too much, but it’s worth discussing.

Here are my specific answers:

1) My experience has taught me that "colossal screwups" are not that uncommon.

2) As I said, this was not my intention.

3) Again, not my intention - I just wanted the overtrick.

4) I don't think so - any more than it is their obligation to lose IMPs when way ahead, to make the match more exciting.

5) While this would be "fair", in the sense that it would be the same for everyone, I agree with you here, as it would really change the nature of the game. Not only would the dynamics of what to think about on defense be different, but bidding would be changed too - since 2NT making would now gain an IMP against 1NT plus one. (At least my favorite contract - 5NT - would get some reward!).

Slow play is a serious problem in general, and I think it has not been handled properly so far. Problems with the current method include:

1) Tables aren’t monitored until after a time monitor is requested. So, players who use more than their fair share of time early are effectively starting over with a clean slate once the monitor arrives.

2) Once a table is monitored, slow play penalties are assessed based on the opinion of the monitor. It’s sometimes unclear how to determine whether subsequent slow play is “justified” or not. My general feeling is that time spent thinking about solving problems faced at the table is "justified". Time spent discussing previous hands, arguing with partner, thinking about previous hands, failing to get the board on the table, writing in your scorecard when you could be bidding, etc., is not. But there are also grey areas, such as thinking over a bridge decision that another player might find automatic. If a monitor has to determine which of these grey areas are “justified”, this could lead to charges of bias.

With the current, flawed, time regulations, having a match decided by a time penalty is repugnant to me. Here is my proposal for proper handling of slow play:

* When we need events to be timed, and we want to assign score penalties for slow play, WE MUST USE CHESS CLOCKS - or some equivalent device. I think we now have the technology where this is possible.

* Chess clocks would allow for a table finishing ahead of time, with one pair getting penalized for slow play. I see nothing wrong with this scenario. If you have the more difficult hands, so what? So do your counterparts in the other room.

* Chess clocks would eliminate the need for subjective decisions based on whether time taken was “justified” or not. If you want to argue with your partner while the clock is ticking, go ahead. The one case where the clock would be overruled is when the outcome is absolutely certain (like if I had 13 top tricks but did not claim) -- then the time gets credited to the player who should have claimed.

The only real problem I see with chess clocks is the issue of system questions and explanations. Who should that time be assigned to? I don’t have a good answer here yet.  I welcome the BridgeWinners community to weigh in on this or any other parts of my proposal.

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