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A Modest Convention Disruption Proposal
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I had the idea for this proposal 20 years ago.  When I shared it the responses were mixed at best.    But Bridgewinners now has put some focus on the problem, in Aviv Shahaf's article in particular.  Perhaps the time has come.

About 45 years ago, the late Edgar Kaplan waged a campaign that ended up reforming the way competitive bridge treats unauthorized information. We knew that information conveyed by hesitations, remarks or questions should not influence the bidding or play of the hesitator’s partner, but there was great reluctance to question actions taken in these circumstances. Were we questioning the ethics or honesty of the person who took a perfectly reasonable action that happened to be suggested by his partner’s hesitation? The person so questioned was inclined to resent such implications, and his opponents were reluctant to raise the issue.

No less an authority than Albert H. Morehead, long-time bridge columnist for the New York Times, criticized players who sought redress. As Kaplan wrote, “Morehead’s thesis was that this sort of protest is reprehensible: it is equivalent to accusation of cheating, since a player is not allowed to rely on partner’s hesitation, such a protest creates an ‘atmosphere of ruthlessness and suspicion, which discourages new players in tournaments.’”

Kaplan campaigned for an approach that would take the ethical sting out of these situations. He wrote, "Suppose that my opponent drops the ace of hearts face up on the table. I do not smile sweetly at his partner and suggest that he ignore it; neither do I poison the atmosphere with my suspicion that he will take advantage. Not at all. I call the TD, and the rules protect my rights.  Well, the rules also provide that my opponents should not take advantage of each other’s mannerisms. Suppose that my opponent 'drops' 11 points on the table by a tortured, hesitant pass over my opening bid. If I call the TD to protect my rights, why should this create an atmosphere of suspicion any more than if an ace had been dropped?"

Kaplan’s campaign did reform our approach; its principles were embraced in changes to the Laws of Duplicate Bridge. Most of us who understand this history are grateful to him for instituting an approach in which players’ ethics are not in question when these issues arise.

In this context, then, it was strange that the next change in our approach to correct behavior was in the opposite direction. About 20 years back the ACBL led a campaign for Active Ethics. In many areas, Active Ethics put a useful focus on things that most of us understood already, like the need to make sure that our methods are fully disclosed to our opponents.

In addition, Active Ethics proposed a new principle: an ethical player who plays a convention has an obligation to know just when the convention applies and when it does not. In its heyday this principle led to many score adjustments and no small number of Procedural Penalties. In addition, it cast an ethical cloud over players who were competitive but who did not take the time to explore every situation. (I sometimes think that it is impossible to have an agreement about every situation, much less remember what it is. Lynn Johannesen may prove me wrong.)

This Know-What-You-Are-Doing (KWYAD, to me) principle has faded from prominence since its origin. It still exists in some seldom-viewed ACBL publications, and in the awareness of players and directors who were active in its time. It is not part of the Laws of Duplicate Bridge; it achieves its legal legitimacy through the authority to regulate the use of conventions specified in Law 40B. I would argue that “we” should either discard this principle or promote it as part of the foundations of competitive bridge: to leave it as a semi-secret landmine for unsuspecting players is wrong.

I would choose to discard it. When I adjust a score or impose a penalty or suggest that a player “should” do something other than what was done, I want to be able to justify my decision with a reference to the Laws – and I cannot do that with KWYAD. As a club proprietor and director, I want to promote bridge as a game my players can enjoy regardless of the diligence with which they study their agreements. All players and all levels of skill and diligence are welcome. Players who want to try out different approaches are welcome. I certainly do not want to tell a player that his ethics are less than good if he does not understand the nuances of a convention he agreed to play.

Does discarding the KWYAD rule mean that a player whose spade suit is picked off by a Michaels Mistake has no recourse? I’d like to propose a remedy free of ethical implications. Not everyone will like my proposal (and I’m far from sure it’s The Answer).  I’ll take the chance.

A KWYAD Alternative

I argued above for discarding Active Ethics precept that you should Know What You Are Doing (KWYAD for short). Assume that we are prepared to contemplate this, at the least. Does this mean that we must accept the random fixes that come when players abuse their conventions? I’d suggest that an alternative approach should meet certain objectives:

  1. We want the approach to be supported by the Laws of Duplicate Bridge
  2. We want to avoid couching adjustments in the language of good or bad ethics.
  3. We want the criteria for adjustment to be clear.
  4. We want the criteria for adjustment to be simple enough to be understood by new players.
  5. We want the criteria to apply equally to all players and all levels of the game.

 

My suggestion is that sponsoring organizations (the ACBL in the case of NABCs) designate a certain class of conventions as ones where “getting it wrong” in itself can lead to a score adjustment, even when the explanation of the bid was “correct” and the bidder was mistaken. Put bids that conventionally show two suits in this class: Michaels, Capelletti, DONT, Unusual Notrump, CRASH, Landy, and Flannery all qualify, and there are many, many more. Maybe we would find another kind of conventions for this designation, but I’d start with this one. These are the conventions where “you have to get it right.”  A very high portion of Convention Disruption cases originated in these conventions.

I admit that I had my solution before I listed the criteria above, but let’s see how well my suggestion scores against the list:

  1. We want the approach to be supported by the Laws of Duplicate Bridge. Law 40B2(a) is the primary support: “The Regulating authority is empowered without restriction to allow, disallow, or allow conditionally any special partnership understanding.” I’m proposing that the permission to play these conventions be made conditional.
  2. We want to avoid couching adjustments in the language of good or bad ethics. Check.
  3. We want the criteria for adjustment to be clear. If you misuse one of the two-suit conventions, then the director will rule that there has been misinformation and restore misinformation damage if any. Seems clear to me.
  4. We want the criteria for adjustment to be simple enough to be understood by new players. “You have to be careful with these conventions, because if you get it wrong and damage the opponents, the damage will be adjusted.” Check.
  5. We want the criteria to apply equally to all players and all levels of the game. I see no reason to limit application of the rule to any class or level of game or player.

 

Are psyches a problem?  Tha ACBL already bans psychic opening bids in this category.  I don't think it's a problem.

To clarify my proposal: The restriction would apply only to bids at the three level and lower, made before the opponents have bid two suits naturally. I would want to permit distortions of the normal requirements for use of a convention (whether in sit lengths or strength) as long as the bidder “has” the suits promised. Michaels with 4-4 or 1 HCP is not a violation.

This is not Convention Disruption reborn.  In theory, one club could implement it and be legal - but in practice we do not want different rules in adjacent clubs.  My own club does not have this rule, but (as I said at the top) perhaps its time has come.

 

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