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Over the last days and weeks, several decisions in top-level bridge events have been made which were perceived highly critically, to say the least. In some cases the laws were not properly observed; in other cases it seems that the law itself was the actual problem. One way or another, in each case a large number of people expressed their regret that the incidents in question (I take it that you know which incidents I am referring to) were not handled differently.

Lately there were a lot of voices saying that the laws are not the ultimate measure for what must be done but that they are only means to an end, the end being that "the right thing" is done. Clearly, this is where paths diverge because people tend to have different opinions what the right thing is on occasion. This leads to the question of how strict or loose the laws should be dealt with in general.

Let me start by saying that I do not adhere to the belief in a universal ethical standard. Things might be easier if there was such a standard, accepted by everyone; we would make decisions and rulings based on this standard alone, and the laws would be little more than guidelines - you know, just in case aliens came to visit our planet and wanted to get a rough overview on our understanding of right and wrong. As it is, people disagree on such matters once in a while, as should be the case in my opinion.

Recent bridge events saw several situations in which a majority seems to feel that the decision eventually made was not the right decision (even when it was in accordance with the laws). The scoring of the Open Pairs in Wroczlaw is probably the most striking example. A scoring error resulted in a pair winning the event although, based on the obtained table results alone, the pair did not have the highest matchpoint score.

There have been a great number of disputed rulings in WBF history, about contested claims, UI cases, inadvertent designations (does "Oh shit" ring a bell?) and so many other things. More than once, the law was not entirely clear. More than once, the situation was so complex that a consensus about the right decision could not be reached. Typically there were supporters on both sides, and even if there was a majority camp, often it could not be determined with absolute certainty.

This case is different because it is so obvious. On the one side we have the law; on the other side we have our ability to add up the matchpoints each pair has gathered over the course of the event. What harm can be done by correcting the final scoring and naming a different pair winners of the event, even if the law happens to say that it is not allowed? No doubt the law must be wrong here, I hear you say.

As I see it, this case is complicated exactly because it is so simple. If it was complex, questionable and shady (in terms of ethical views), we could just sit back. We could say that it does not matter how each person feels about it because, when in doubt, the laws tell us how things are to be done. We could comfort ourselves with the thought that the laws are in place exactly to relieve us of the burden of making the decision.

But not this time. This time the law offers us no comfort at all. It is not the decision that is in doubt; it is the law itself. So we take matters in our own hands and vote to ignore the law. Our motives are honorable (or are they not?) - we want to crown the "rightful" winners - so it must be the proper thing to make our own ruling and disregard the law this once. If we consider this event in isolation, it may appear like a fair thing to do.

The problem I see is that it creates a dangerous precedent. In effect, such action would say: The laws are the laws, but only until we find them inconvenient. We pledge ourselves to the rules of the game, but only as long as we like the outcome. Whenever we are not satisfied with the rules, we start another vote if we want to follow them or not. This can lead to exactly the kind of randomness and arbitrariness the laws are supposed to eradicate.

It gets worse. Right now we are not only moving for a decision which, strictly speaking, violates the conditions of contest; we are demanding that the WBF does it for us. (At least this what I take from all the comments about the ball being in the WBF's court.) Basically, we request that the WBF ignores its own laws, based solely on the wish of some players. By making this request, in essence we are absolving them of their obligation and their responsibility to follow the laws in the future.

Once we do this, how can we ever again complain about the non-compliance of the WBF with its own rules? How can we voice any criticism next time the WBF ignores any laws, apparently at will? For example, how can we protest that the Spanish team was not disqualified for their refusal to play against the US team in the quarterfinals even though the law says they must be? The answer is: We cannot, because we are telling them it is ok to disregard the laws if it feels right. Just a thought.

I can imagine people responding that this situation is special, that each case must be considered in isolation, etc. Don't kid yourselves. The only other consistent and transparent approach would be to decide each time anew if the laws are still bearable for us. (After all, we have called for consistency and transparency for quite some time.) But then we would not need any laws in the first place, would we?

For the record, I am not happy either with scoring errors or the like that lead to an unwanted change in the final table. For instance, if there is a way to award shared gold medals to Auken/Welland and Cornell/Bach, I believe it will be a good solution. However, if we find that it is impossible - in the sense of unlawful - to do what we think is right, may I suggest that we do not thoughtlessly rush to abandon the laws. They are there for a reason, you know.

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