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My previous tip was never read Bridgewinners, for it can be depressing Wink

I failed to heed that advice last night. As with most, I believe my advice is best meant for others. My activity pop-up on Bridgewinners indicated that Chip commented on Debbie Rosenberg’s Claim Poll. (A post that now rivals Tuesday’s turnout.) As what Mr. Martel has to say on bridge matters is always of interest to me, I went to see what it was about.

Chip was providing information on a specific sub-topic regarding some details of a 1983 Spingold claim appeal.  He also provided a link to Truscott’s NYT article on the affair:  http://www.nytimes.com/1983/08/14/arts/bridge-awaiting-the-verdict.html

I had never seen the hand and appeal as I taking a hiatus from bridge a that time. It was interesting stuff and grist for the thought mill. However, I could not subsequently fall asleep. The hand and appeal kept running around in my mind. There was something wrong with the analysis. I kept waking up from time to time, trying to retire and get my sleepy brain off the subject.  Eventually, I just gave up, got up, made a pot of coffee and tried to identify the cause of my semi-conscious consternation. I therefore spent much of today in a sleep deprived and therefore depressed state. I am also too tired to edit this, so no comments about my sepllign.

But sure enough, I discovered that “Everyone was wrong - ‘cept me. . .” (That was also a previous post.  I really hate to beat a dead horse, though it is much kinder than beating a live one.)

As the NYT archive is without hand diagrams, this was the deal and bidding:

West
AJ75
J10
9762
953
North
K108
94
AJ3
AK842
East
2
AQ76532
Q10
QJ10
South
Q9643
K8
K854
76
W
N
E
S
1NT
2
2NT
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
P
P
D
4 South
NS: 0 EW: 0

Marty Bergen was in 4-X on the lead of the J. The play started heart ace and a heart continued to the king. Declarer played A & K, ruffed a club and then played a spade to the ten. The K was next, losing to West’s ace. At this point Bergen tabled his hand and claimed: “I am not going to do anything stupid.” This comment apparently provided the basis for some later sarcastic remarks. Perhaps also in a Bridge World write-up on the hand. (I have not seen that article.)

The Issues

With West to lead the position was now:

West
J7
9762
North
8
AJ3
84
East
Q762
Q10
South
Q9
K854
D

As reported by Truscott:  “The opponents properly summoned the director and West indicated that he would lead a diamond. This was not strictly relevant, for by law the play was over. The director asked Bergen to state his line of play. He now realized that he had a major problem and spent eight minutes responding to the request.”

Bergen finally stated that he would play the J. If that was covered, win K, then play Q and another. This works on the layout and wraps the doubled game. 

Truscott wrote: 

“But now consider what would happen if West began with three hearts and three diamonds. In that case Bergen's play would result in a penalty of 800 when he could easily escape for minus 200 by preserving his nine of trumps.” . . . “A reasonable alternative play was to win with the diamond king, cash the spade queen and finesse the diamond queen, losing as the cards lie but limiting the possible penalty to 200.”

“The committee consulted some legal authorities and established that the statement of play and the length of time it took were not really relevant.” (Me=Really?) “They had to judge what would have happened if there had been no claim.”  (Me=Really??)

“The play Bergen stated was the best try to make the contract. But would he have settled for down one to avoid 800? The committee thought he might, and the laws require that doubtful tricks in such cases should be awarded to the defense. A reasonable alternative play was to win with the diamond king, cash the spade queen and finesse the diamond queen, losing as the cards lie but limiting the possible penalty to 200. With 18 international match points at stake, the verdict was a compromise: Four spades doubled would be scored as making, but Bergen would be penalized 9 points.”

So I ask you, what’s wrong with this picture?  (not the verdict, what is wrong with the analysis)

(Ed Note: If you clicked “Next Page” without giving the matter much thought, just chalk it up not being too tired to think about it - because you were up too late reading Bridgewinners too.  That and you are engrossed and captivated by the writing)

Here is the actual 4-card position had declarer played low from dummy on the return, with the ten forcing the king and after South cashes the Q

West
J
9xx
North
AJ
84
East
Qxx
Q
South
9
854
D

Here is what the committee, world class teams and distinguished commentators were positing was would be the position had West started with three hearts and the above line of play was followed.  In this position exiting a spade will lead to -800.

West
J
x
9x
North
AJ
84
East
Qxx
Q
South
9
854
D

The reader will note that the only difference is exchanging one diamond card in the West hand for a small heart because W "might have" started 3-3 in the red suits instead of the actual 2-4.  Players, TDs & ACs often think this way and it can often be wrong.  

We do not reach end positions in a bridge game by transposing defensive cards.  In bridge, we reach an end position after playing one card at a time in rotation, with a deck of 4 suits containing 13 cards in each suit.  It sounds simple and yet this simple fact is what makes the posited position completely IMPOSSIBLE.

Reality

On the prior trick with five cards remaining, declarer played the Q.  West played the 7 and North followed with the 8.  East needed to discard a heart because the only non-heart card in his hand was the Q.  It should not need mentioning how that discard will work out for the defense.  Two tricks earlier, when declarer played the K from dummy, East did in fact pitch a heart as part of the play record. 

We started the hand by playing two rounds of hearts with all followings, then East pitched two hearts during the play and we are left with a room full of bridge geniuses discussing an end position in the wee hours of the morning that contains four hearts.  (Oops)

I used calculators, my fingers, an abacus, a slide rule and an Excel spreadsheet (the coffee hasn't woken me up) and I still get a deck with 14 hearts and only 12 diamonds for the posited end position to be possible.

It is either that or, if W holds J x and 9x then East must be Qx / Qx in the reds.  This means that Bergen's line of the trump end play will never be worse than down two.  And the proper assessment of the risk of being wrong is -500 and never -800.  

If the A/C overestimated the risk of Bergen's stated line of play and ruled in his favor, it must have been a slam dunk then if they were thinking properly, right?  Wrong.

Fantasyland

I find the process by which a decision was made to be bereft of any logic and I am as befuddled as Mr Bumble at the application of our laws in this matter.  But before we look at the A/C process, I need to address the elephant in the room.  My earlier claims about "Everyone is wrong - 'Cept me (and a few)".  This is a true statement.  The reason this is so is because I am not very bright.  If I were, I probably would not have placed this section about me under the header:  "Fantasyland".  (But I am too tired to move it).

Not having a lot of friends also helps.  I do have some.  Though I take a Marxist type view on the subject.  I never listen to someone dumb enough to want to be my friend.  (That Marx).  And that helps because some my my friends are really, really smart.  The problem is that smart people in groups can trample just about anything.  Yates' Observation of Life #42 states:  "three geniuses is the functional equivalent of a village idiot".  And 42 really does answer everything.  If stupidity cannot explain why something is messed up, a group of smart people addressing a problem does.

An A/C is a group of smart people.  And they have a smart TD testifying and all sorts of bridge geniuses contributing their two cents.  The process started with the legal eagles proclaiming "time doesn't matter".   Against this group of geniuses on the Laws Commission, I will quote one and only one smart guy:  "Time is relative" - A. Einstein.   And in this particular case, I beleive time was very relative.

WT$#%# was Bergen thinking about for eight whole minutes?  Probably stuff that would take me 15 minutes.  Now I know some players who could take 8 minutes playing out the last six cards.  Bergen is not one of them.  He takes some time at the beginning perhaps, but I found him a fairly quick player.  What he was thinking about is (a) what did I screw up? (b) how do I unscrew the pooch? and probably (c) am I even allowed to stick the J in on the diamond return now?  He knows he can no longer do it later.

What they actually did in this case was to first require Bergen to state a line of play.  That line of play becomes limited by his legal options because he made a mistake of facing his hand prematurely.  BTW, "I am not going to do anything dumb" is a brilliant statement at that point, even if unintentional.  I know that if I said that I would simply claim my bridge game is so deep, it even amazes me.  That effect of that statement later will be addressed later.  Suffice to say for now, that our "legal process" regarding the claim was:

  • First require a line of play from declarer that is legally permissible
  • If that line of play succeeds, then. . .
  • Perhaps rule against declarer if a line of play he is not allowed to take fails

And this makes sense because?  To begin with, it is 180 degrees contrary to the philosophy of a misbid.  If a player misbids and lands on his feet, that is part of the game and everyone knows and excepts that.  Why would a misclaim that ends up succeeding because the now illegal line of the delayed finesse would have failed be any different?   The process is absurd.  It is not backed by anything I see in today's laws.  I have no idea what the specifics of the situation was in 1983 except that our country was in the midst of a crack cocaine epidemic.

If this procedure is still relevant we are still smoking something.

  

Understanding Errors

I will contribute an error I made (OK, so it does happen and I need not look very far).  First round, bd3 Sunday CG.  I held AK107.  Ops auction was RHO opened 1, then 1; 1-2*; 2-2; 4.  LHO spent forever and sadly elected to pass.  I was doubling anything higher and then playing AK and heart to ruff.  Against 4 that was the start.  Dummy hit with Q654, partner followed J-8.  I pulled out the 7. . .

Declarer was Kay Schulle and she stared at the the 7 spot mystified.  She asked my partner about carding.  ("standard")  Then she sat and thought and thought.  I thought she was just about to figure my partner blew the signaling with J108 and call for the Q when my partner decided not to wait anymore and just played a spade.  So Kay said, "OK, play low".  I bust out laughing.  The good news was Kay plays well enough to have prevailed on what would otherwise be a very difficult hand.  Also, note that my partner - with two NABC seconds and nearly 10,000MP - is as challenged on that rotational play  concept as were the Spingold A/C and players)

So, was I an idiot who cannot work out the distribution or sleepy because I was up all night reading posts on Bridgewinners?  Neither.  (Or both.)  But the main reason was  that many years ago, I thought it would be useful to learn how to read upside-down.  I practiced reading books and newspapers upside-down on the train to the city.  I guess lots of people thought I was illiterate and trying to fake it. 

Somehow, people just think I am too dumb or too lonely to be right.  So when I present my solution to problem of erroneous claims, it will be a simple, elegant, efficient answer.  And I guarantee that all of you out there in Bridgewinners-land will hate it.  Just like you folks hated all my other bright ideas.  Because individually, you are each an everyone an incredibly bright person.  Collectively, however. . . 

The main point on errors is that often we do not know exactly why someone had a brain fart.  The side-effect of reading upside down is not some horizontal dyslexia confusing u's and n's or w's and m's.  Because when we read, we process words, phrases and sentences as a unit.  But numbers are different, each one is a place holder and gets processed.  So I sometimes ditz on 9 and 6.  Most recently on this Tuesday, when they could not find me listed at the polling station table.  I finally said:  "I know I am registered in District 6".  Everyone stopped, looked at me and then pointed at the huge 9 on the wall behind the table.  I looked at the number and declared:  "This is my partner's fault for always making me sit North".  I shrugged and walked away.

Some of my best material is just wasted on people.

In any event, I thought dummy was Q954.  The pips on the 9 were covered by other cards, and the top of the 6 & 9 cards are otherwise identical.  I did not notice my mistake until I started taking out the 7 and dummy was actually removing the previous covering card.  Thinking someone might have seen the card just put it on the table rather than try to change it.  I'll get back to errors, especially as it relates to the hand in the poll.

Understanding E.I.

There is a problem with a contested claim that may, or may not be adequately addressed by our laws.  A contested claim will produce extraneous information.  Whether this information is U.I. is not clear to me.  (I have to admit that L16A1(c) makes no sense to me not matter which way I try reading it).  This is especially relevant if you have high-level opposition.  A contested claim at the club is usually something like:  ". . . and dummy is high".  Op:  "Don't I get the Q?"  "There are no spades in dummy".

But, against high-level opposition, especially in a KO match if you set yourself up on the ball-tee with a comment of "I am not going to do anything stupid", what is not going to happen is a TD call if the claim is erroneous.  It isn't hard to figure out - and certainly a world-class player will figure this out in eight minutes - that if East held Qxx that

  1. It is impossible to make the contract
  2. The K was a mistake
  3. Playing a and pitching a was cold
  4. One or both of your WC ops know this
  5. No chance they are both not razzing you

The really polite guy was sitting North.  I have no idea where Chip was.  But I think he would have been way too amused to let this go if he or pard had Qxx in E.  Chip would definitely razz you for the statement.  It is just that he wont say:  "what?  Like butcher a cold doubled contract?  E has Q-third of .  You are down now."  Chip can make fun of stuff nicely.  He is an artist.  (Larry might be able to do that as well.)

It is almost certain that when a top pair calls a TD over a claim, it is not that you must lose a trick only that you might lose a trick.  As a practical matter in this case, the E.I. on E/W exercising the appropriate legal action is that East does not have Qxx.  IMO, Bergen's comment was unintentionally brilliant.  And it seems that L16A1(c) makes that A.I. as well:  L16A1 "1.A player may use information in the auction or play if: . . .  (c) . . . arising from the legal procedures authorized in these laws and in regulations (but see B1 following)"  As B1 refers only to partner, it appears that Bergen would be perfectly entitled to argue that he was never playing East for Qxx because of his inferences of the table action.

If this seems wrong to you, the reader, there is a lot more that is wrong about the application of our current claim laws.

Moving on to the claim that started the poll. . .

Claim Ruling Poll Results

As of right now 58% of those polled would not allow five tricks with K76xx opposite AQ8x.  This is a rather large group of really smart people.  (I smell trouble. . .)  It includes current Bermuda Bowl Champion Michael Rosenberg.  If I can articulate his view on the claim (hopefully this is accurate enough) the view is that allowing a sloppy claim eliminates the chance of an error and this creates a distortion of the reality of our game.  Bridge is a game of errors.

I believe this view is TRUE.

However, I also believe the cure is worse than the disease.  When the method for addressing this issue is to significantly magnify the frequency of errors by legally requiring the scores reflect the worst possible outcome - without respect to the probably of that event - the distortion we create is to artificially benefit litigious pairs at the expense of non-litigious pairs.  This is due to the fact that a litigious pair, whose score is the inverse of the penalty, now enjoys a success rate they would never achieve in a world without erroneous claims.  That distortion is always higher than the problem we are trying to address anytime the chance of a score adjustment is greater than the chance of the error.   (Which is pretty close to always). By extension, it forces today's non-litigious pairs to become more argumentative about claims simply to deny the major league complainers an edge.  Complaining now becomes a twisted, moral imperative.

In this example, I cannot believe the chance of screwing this up is greater than 10% even for club most club players.  I see nothing but mistakes all day long.  This is not a common one.  KQ632 opposite A975 is more common.  So the complainers are going to get a 100% top  (rules are independent of scoring, lets call this MP) anytime they complain because there was originally a 10% chance of a top.

More complaining helps out game because. . .???  All you TDs feel free to explain to me why you think we need to encourage more players to call the director and complain.  Because that is the behavior we are rewarding. When you provide incentives, people respond.

Note that once again, claiming theory is totally out of phase with other philosophies.  Contrast claiming policies with U.I. policies.  If a player with U.I. made a call that 9 out of 10 players polled also made, it is a slam dunk to allow it.  With claims, if 9 out of 10 players do not screw up this suit concept are we now go with the 1 in 10?  On what rational?

What we are trying to do with U.I. is eliminate it (in so far as possible).  If someone calls on a U.I. case and wins, that is find by me.  Sure the complainers might have gotten a benefit, but they are performing a public good.

We are not trying to eliminate claims.  For the record, all one would need to do is prohibit it.  So that cannot possibly be the objective.  The objective might be to eliminate bad claims.  That is noble.  How about we just throw them out of the ACBL for a bad claim?  Maybe just go easy and ban them for a month.  That does the trick, but at some point the punishment does not fit the crime, does it?

We should not be either passing or interpreting the laws in such a way that is (a) inconsistent with standards in other areas and (b) produce undesirable consequences.  To do so is wrong, counterproductive and destructive of the theory of our game.  Often it takes a whole lot of smart people to do something really dumb. 

(My explanation for committees and Congresses.  Oh, and when someone asks me:  "what about the Union of concerned scientists?", I remind them at it it wasn't for the fact that they all got together to build a huge bomb and blow it up in the desert, that they perhaps should have been concerned earlier.  Besides, what worldly problem has Mensa ever solved?  Sudoku does not count.)

A Quick Spingold Revisit

The other issue with a contested claim is that it changes the nature of declarer's state of mind.  No one really knows what Bergen was actually thinking at that exact moment.  This includes Marty.  The whole reason players make mistakes is because we are not thinking about the right thing.

The second a claim is rejected (by a real, non-litigious pair) it wakes up declarer to a problem they might not have anticipated.  I say "might" because on the polling problem, it occurred to me that I could see myself not thinking about 4-0, but it is still inconceivable I would block the suit.  (No relevant 9's or 6's).  If someone did not see it right away, they will nearly always cash high from the short side and see the potential problem as the suit develops.  And even a decent beginner could work this out if you gave him EIGHT MINUTES granted to others.

Because here is what you will NEVER achieve by assigning distorted penalties.  You will never IMPROVE the quality of claims on potentially erroneous claims.  This is because players are really not trying to cheat.  People simply make mistakes and guess what?  They did not intend to.  If people did not make mistakes being a Bermuda Bowl Champion would mean nothing because like Tic-Tac-Toe, everyone is champion!!

The only consequence of the way the laws are being interpreted in the polls is to discourage claims, foster ill-will, slow down the game and produce an uneven playing field to the benefit of complainers.  Because after all, why not?

Blue Ribbons, 3rd Day

Our opponents bid to a grand slam in competition, not bid at a lot of tables.  My partner made a lead.  Declarer - a two-time Bermuda Bowl champion - looked at dummy, tabled his hand saying:  "I don't think there will be any problem with the play".  Now he did not know me from Aunt Gertie.  But he knew my partner, Tony Forrester.  So this was not a claim coup.  I knew there was a problem, but I waited a few seconds for Tony to look over declarer's hand, figure out what I held and Tony said:  "I think you should play it out."  Declarer nodded, picked up his hand and thought for a while.

I polled this and the HUGE vote was for calling the TD.  But Tony (& I) invoked L68D2b years before it was ever even written.  We are talking being way ahead of the cutting edge of proper game theory.  Declarer tossed a mental coin, cashed a high trump from the wrong side from his perspective and went down.  Calling the TD was always a 100% board for us.  Playing the cards was a 50:50 chance.  Tony's request was for a rub of the green, not a rub of the palms because legally we could have manufactured a top without ever playing a card.  (That is bridge?)

Voila!

Here is the outline of my solution to contested claims.

  • Keep the general guidelines that allow TDs to quickly rule on most cases
  • Odd Cases either go L68D2b by adding a provision that the TD can request play to continue (claimer's cards are faced), or
  • Players are "play polled" when E.I. is deemed to give declarer an advantage

A provision in "polled" can allow for "less-than-peer" when it is obvious the declarer is not living up to his real or imagined standards.  In the Bergen case, I would look for 3 players at most, who followed the play to the K and did not object to the line so far.  They would be surveyed as to how would proceed after a diamond return.  If any one played for a diamond hook, either to make (possible, but wrong) or to minimize the damage  (inferior because the difference is like 2-IMPs assuming the OT did not butcher the hand as well) then the contract is scored as failing.  I really think Bergen took the best line after the wrong start.  The problem is no one can ever say what would have happened if E/W had not snapped him out of wherever his mind had drifted.  In any event, we could have had an answer giving this as a play problem to a few people and see what they decided in 1/10th the time it took for a group of geniuses to argue it out.  And they were not even close to reality after all that time and discussion.

The principle is clear and defensible:  Either claim properly, or be prepared to lose your right to self-determination.

This principle is 100% in line with our U.I. principles.  Don't introduce U.I. and your partner gets to chose.  If you introduce U.I. you now get stuck with the worst alternative chosen by someone else.  Same as an erroneous claim.  You better hope that everyone recovers and makes the contract, because an insufficient explanation or a hasty claim might lose your right to play the cards yourself.

Just another great idea from me that all you folks are just going to hate.   Meanwhile, I hope none of you posted any good problems, because I really need to get some sleep.

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