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Rosenberg's Active Ethics - Expounding on Hand 2

I was going to type this up as a reply to Debbie Rosenberg's Active Ethics article, but my reply got way too long so I decided to write it up as an article.

I fully understand Rosenberg's point about Hand 2. Because of the alert, you can be confident you and partner are on the same wavelength and can make a risky bid that not everyone would have made. The alert eliminates all worries about getting dropped in 4H, so it can be made in comfort.

And yet, it got my blood boiling. You did nothing wrong; you simply followed your agreements and the Alert procedures as designated by the ACBL. How can it be wrong to exercise judgement?

It took me a while to realize why it got my blood boiling so much; it reminded me of another hand I read about some years ago that was brought to a committee.

So, you're playing at the 2005 Pittsburgh Nationals. You get dealt this hand:


You open 2H. Your long-time partner bids 2NT, which by agreement (and has always been your agreement and is on your card as such) is Ogust, asking you to describe your hand.

Well. You don't have two of the top three heart honors. Your hand is closer to 5HCP than 10HCP. So you dutifully bid 3C, which is alerted by partner and, when asked, is properly explained. Partner then bids an in-tempo 3H.

You look at your hand and think. Despite missing the two top honors, your heart suit is pretty good. And despite technically being closer to 5HCP than 10, it actually is a pretty good hand. Your points are all working together and you have some unexpected shape for partner. Maybe you should have bid 3D, showing a bad suit but a good hand.

After thinking it over, you decide to risk a 4H bid. This didn't have to work but it did; partner has the AK of hearts, the Queen of your KJxx suit, and an outside Ace. You score up +620 when your judgement pays off.

So how did this get to a committee?

Oops, I'm sorry, I have the minors reversed. The actual hand was:


The opponents called the director and said that *clearly* 3C was meant as a feature, not as Ogust, and that the alert "woke up" West, who then tried to make up for the mistaken bid by correcting 3H to 4H.

The director *bought it*. The result was changed to 3H+4 for +170.

East/West appealed. They explained to the committee that Ogust was all they had ever played and showed their convention card that showed Ogust clearly marked. The committee changed the result back to +620.

I used to frequent the Usenet group What astounded and frustrated me was how virulent some people were in insisting that 3C *had* to be a feature. I mean, *look* at the hand! Never mind that it meets the requirements for a 3C bid, that 3C was properly alerted as Ogust, and that their convention card was marked as Ogust. None of that is relevant; because the West player coincidentally held a club suit and then later exercised judgement, it clearly means Unauthorized Information *had* to have been used.

What frustrates me about the Alert procedure is that even when properly used, anytime someone exercises judgement or makes a bid not everyone will take, too many people will leap to the conclusion that UI must somehow be present. And even if UI isn't present, there will be grumblings such as Debbie's that the risky bid wouldn't have been made without the comfort of the alert.

It seems that we're trying to legislate against judgement. Even when all the rules are faithfully followed, no one can feel comfortable making a bid that isn't 100% clear-cut.

*That's* what the Alert procedure has done to us; now we're leaping at shadows.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against the Alert procedure. What I'm against is people using the Alert procedure as a bludgeon, trying to beat up on anyone who uses judgement for any reason whatsoever.

Does bridge have to be so litigious? Can't we find a balance between enforcing some necessary rules and crying foul every time we get a result we don't like?


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