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The reason for this thusness
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Reading the thread http://bridgewinners.com/article/view/you-be-the-director/ (YBTD) it occurred to me to wonder whether there is general understanding of the reason for laws relating to unauthorized information (UI).

Why do we have such laws? Because we want people to communicate only through legal calls and plays, not through the manner in which calls and plays are made. If it appears that communication other than by legal means has occurred, and that the non-offenders have been damaged, we want at least to protect the interests of the non-offenders by giving them the result they would have achieved without the illegality. We may also want to impose a penalty for illegal communication.

How do we judge whether such communication has occurred? If a call or play has been accompanied by some variation in tempo or other mannerism, we consider it possible that communication has occurred through that medium. If the player's partner then takes some action we judge less than automatic, we consider whether that action is a consequence of UI.

In a recent case, conjecture arose as to whether a partnership transmitted UI by coughing. A correlation was discovered between the number of times a player coughed and some aspect of his hand. It was held that this constituted illegal transmission of information, and there was a presumption that the information was being acted upon by the recipient.

In YBTD, conjecture arose as to whether a player had acted upon the illegally transmitted information "I have a better hand than I might have for the bid I am about to make". Some contributors have held that illegal information was both transmitted and acted upon. Others have held that due to the inexperience of the pair in question they were incapable either of transmitting illegal information or of acting upon it.

It is important to understand here that although there is a difference between pre-arranged methods of illegal communication (coughing) and spur-of-the-moment transmission of UI (hesitation, emphasis, some other mannerism) they are "the same thing" for the purposes of what we are trying to achieve: the prevention of profit through information exchanged other than by legal means.

Now, the coughers were brought to book only by means of a detailed investigation of a number of deals. If we are to treat the Flight C pair in YBTD in the same way, we would need to make numerous observations to determine whether every time they displayed a particular set of mannerisms they had extra values for the action they then selected. Indeed, if we are to rule fairly in any given UI case we need some basis for the assumption that information was illegally exchanged and led to a successful action that might not otherwise have been taken.

Is it practical to conduct and record protracted and detailed analyses of the habits of every partnership who ever played, just so that we know what they've got when they break tempo? Answers on a postcard to "No" competition. Yet, we must make some decision and we must have a consistent basis for so doing.

What might such a basis be? Consider a related area, that of "fielding" a psyche or a misbid. Suppose that a player holds AQ43  KJ762  AK3  4. He opens 1, doubled on his left, and he raises his partner's 1 response to 2 before passing his partner's next bid of 3. I imagine we would say that he has acted as if aware that his partner's 1 bid did not possess some of the characteristics generally attributed to such a call. If he is wrong (his partner actually had a 1 response and a natural game try of 3) then he keeps his result in 3, but if he is right his score may be subject to adjustment. Moreover, he may be subject to penalty regardless of whether he was right or not.

I say that the area of fielding and the area of use of UI are related because in each case the partnership knows, or appears to know, more than they could know without some extra-legal understanding: in the first case, that 1 is not "natural"; in the second, that a slow 5 is not "pre-emptive". And I consider that a possible basis for decision-making in UI cases might follow the basis for decision-making in fielding cases.

That is: on the basis of a single sample it may be possible to infer that, and to rule on the basis that, extra-legal partnership understandings are in operation. In the fielding cases we are not particularly concerned with whether the chosen action worked or not, but in the UI cases we are very much concerned with this because it is an important part of the evidence for illegal communication. In both cases, though, our basis for ruling is the same; as I have stated elsewhere many times, when we rule against a player or a partnership we do not say "You are cheats" but "You did, doubtless in all innocence, something that a pair of cheats would have done, so we will rule against you".

In YBTD this results in adjusting the contract to 5 on the basis that a partnership who actually played "slow bids show extras" would have bid the hand in this fashion. It is relatively easy to explain this to Flight C players so that they may understand that they are not being accused of anything nor being fixed by the rules. In "does a slow limit raise suggest anything?" cases, this results in adjusting if a player successfully plays his partner for extras or successfully plays his partner for a minimum. But it also results in resolving the argument as to whether attempted cheating that produces a lucky result should succeed.

One of the earliest rulings I gave when at a relatively tender age I was admitted to the priesthood involved a player who had opened a weak no trump on an awful 12 count, then raised a slow 2NT to 3NT. His partner had an awful 10 count; the defence was even more awful than either of the two hands and the contract was made on a fortunate lie of cards. It seemed to me then, and it still seems to me now, that one should follow this line of reasoning:

  • What we are attempting to prevent is the transmission of UI, but
  • If the player had any information at all about his partner's actual hand he would have passed 2NT, so
  • Since he clearly had no I at all he did not have any UI, so we cannot rule as if he did, but
  • He should be sanctioned for playing "slow actions show extras" because that is illegal anyway, even if his partner was playing a different method.

In summary:

If a player knows or could know by extra-legal means that his partner's hand differs from the norm for the action his partner takes, and if he takes some non-automatic action consistent with having guessed correctly in what way his partner's hand varies, then there will be a score adjustment if his result is more favourable than it would have been had he taken some other non-automatic action.

If a player knows or could know by extra-legal means that his partner's hand differs from the norm for the action his partner takes, and if he takes some non-automatic action consistent with having guessed wrongly in what way his partner's hand varies, then there will not be a score adjustment if his result is more favourable than it would have been had he taken some other non-automatic action.

In either case, the player may be subject to penalty for attempting to operate outside the legal constraints relating to exchange of information between partners. This penalty is independent of any score adjustment.

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