Once in every ten to twelve years, the laws of duplicate bridge are renewed, taking into consideration all kinds of developments in our more and more complicated world of bridge. After 1975 and 1987, this year will be another one for a new edition. As a member of the WBF Laws Committee (Bill Schoder is also a member), I am involved in the critical decisions. And this seems to be a good opportunity to inform you about the main issues, which I will do in a couple of articles starting today.
There are two changes of general impact in the laws, one dealing with withdrawn information given by the offending side, and one with irregularities not easily covered by specific laws.
Suppose a pair caused an infraction by making a call out of turn or an insufficient bid, or by showing a card (or cards) they were not going to play to that trick, or anything similar involving a withdrawn call or card. Up until this moment, they were allowed to use that information after having paid the penalty for the infraction, which is normally imposed when the TD applies the laws.
For example: West is the dealer but North opens two spades out of turn, showing 8-11 points with five spades and a five-card minor. East does not accept the bid, and now West opens one heart. The penalty under the new laws is that South must pass once.
The auction continues:
The '87 laws allow South to bid three clubs with 4-4 in the minors, looking for a partscore and knowing his partner has a minor, which he did not show with his legal bid.
The '97 laws do not allow South to bid three clubs. He has to consider one spade as a normal overcall and may not use extraneous information.
This example gives the impression that the change is easy to apply and a reasonable one. I think that to be true for an auction after withdrawn calls, but problems arise when we enter the play of the cards. In the example above, when West becomes the declarer in two hearts, there are lead penalties. However, after applying those, South still may not use the information that North has a minor.
Here is another example, from an imp event:
| 10 8 6 5|
A J 8 2
K J 10
| K Q 4
J 10 9 6 5
6 3 2
| A J 9 7 2|
A Q 4 2
9 5 4
K Q 9 6 4 3
A Q 8 7
South is the dealer, but East opens out of turn with one spade. South does not accept it, and the auction continues uncontested to five diamonds by South, who has shown 6-4 in the minors. South demands a spade lead, so West lays down the king. After that, he switches to the jack of hearts: one down. South calls the TD, telling him that West used the information that East had a five-card spade suit and therefore found the switch. West defends himself by saying that South will always make five diamonds when he has the ace of hearts, so the only way to defeat the contract was to switch to a heart.
In the '87 version, West was allowed to switch hearts, after paying the penalty of an obliged spade lead. In the '97 laws, the TD, and probably the Appeals Committee, has to decide whether or not the switch was an obvious one.
The treatment of a penalty card is also influenced by this change. From now on, the only information partner may use is the fact that the penalty card has to be played at the first legal opportunity; all other inferences are forbidden. As a result of this change, we may expect some nice new cases for Appeals Committees in the future.
The second fundamental change deals with a principle that could be found in some laws already on the statute books, but which now become a general approach. If a player causing an infraction could have known at the time that he might gain by it, the TD has to adjust the score, taking away the advantage.
Edgar Kaplan has a nice example in which dummy has A-K-Q-J-8-4 of clubs without any other possible entry, and declarer is void in that suit and still wants to make his six-notrump contract. Somewhat "confused", he plays the ace of clubs from the table at trick two and his RHO sleepily follows suit. Now South manages to win all thirteen tricks. There is certainly reason to adjust the score under the new laws (as we did under the old ones, but nobody could say which law allowed us to do so).
In this second article about the update of the bridge laws this year, I like to concentrate on some technical changes that are important for bridge players. They should know about them for their daily practice.
In my country (the Netherlands) it has always been difficult to get full disclosure of the bidding by one's opponents if one wanted to know more than just the meaning of a bid made. Let us say that the auction goes (1) - 1 - (Dble -- negative) and you see on the convention card that (1) - 1 - (1) can be made on a four-card spade suit. Not everybody was happy when you wanted to know the difference between the two possibilities. From now on Law 20 allows you to ask questions about relevant calls that are not actually made. And players answering questions should be very liberal in their interpretation of the word ``relevant'' here.
Law 25 has been changed in three ways. If a player makes a call he did not intent to make (an inadvertent call), he is allowed to change it as long as partner does not make a call thereafter. This is rarely a problem when calls are made vocally, but a regular problem when using bidding boxes. If LHO has made a call already, he may take it back and the information arising from this withdrawn call is not available for the pair causing the irregularity.
If a player wants to change a call he has deliberately made, he may call the TD, who allows him to do so. But there is a restriction. Such a pair will not get more than average-minus on this board (40% in pairs, minus three imps in teams), and the opponents keep their actual result. So, the score on this board can be 40% for one side and a zero for the other side. (With screens this problem is not treated in the same way.)
You probably remember that an insufficient bid could be changed without penalty if it was meant to have a natural meaning and made sufficient in the same denomination at the lowest level. If the auction went (1NT)-1 (natural, not seen the 1NT opening bid), the player was allowed to bid two diamonds and to continue normally. From now on both bids, the insufficient and the sufficient, need to have a natural meaning. If in this example two diamonds would show, say, a six-card major, you had better not correct one diamond to two diamonds as partner will be obliged to pass for the rest of the auction.
What was common practice in international championships already, but not covered by the laws, is now written down in Law 40. If you are playing against some complicated system, the organizing committee may allow you to use a written defence. Put it on a piece of paper and use it at your turn to call.
Apart from the ACBL and some neighbours, we are not allowed to ask partner about a possible revoke. If we do and he did revoke, the revoke was considered to be established and the usual penalty applied. From now on, the penalty is even more severe. In such a case partner has to play a legal card (following suit) and the first played card becomes a penalty card. And the revoke penalty still applies.
Under the old laws, when you discovered that you had collected one more trick than the score suggests, but the round had already ended, the TD could not increase your score unless there was a claim. I remember that in some situations TDs tried to convince players there had been a claim because they wanted to restore equity. From now on the TD is allowed to increase the score if he is 100% sure that the pair really made this extra trick.
It sometimes happens that a TD is not very happy with a decision he makes. When giving a ruling in favour of the non-offending side, some TDs exaggerate things. If the offenders do not appeal this decision, the score stands and the non-offenders might get too much. This problem is solved now: The TD himself may ask the Appeals Committee to review his decision. (In so doing, he doesn't have to pay any money!)
In the third (last) article, some changes will be discussed that are important for the TDs than for the players.
The third article dedicated to the new laws deals with changes primarily of interest for tournament directors. Before starting, I should make it clear that the three articles together do not cover all the changes: some minor ones have not been mentioned.
The definition of a session has changed. For now on, the organizing committee has to define what it considers to be a session. This is important for artificial adjusted scores that might change depending on the duration of a session.
Since nobody seems to deal cards clockwise, the obligation to do so has been changed in a recommendation. Personally, I hope that everybody doing it right at the moment will continue that habit.
Before '97, the TD had to give an adjusted score when somebody with more than or fewer than thirteen cards made a call. From now on, he may decide to let the board be played if he deems the wrongly placed card not to be an important one. But he needs the cooperation of the players for that.
From now on, the bidding period for a pair starts as soon as one of the players of that pair looks at his cards.
Law 23B has been removed, the new general law now covers the problem it was meant for.
When a player makes a call at his RHO's turn to call, which is not accepted, and his legal call thereafter shows the same denomination(s) (instead of naming the same denomination, as it has been until now), the offender's partner has to pass once.
An opening lead, face up or face down, may not be retracted as soon as one or more cards from dummy are visible.
If both defenders find an opening lead, one face down and the other face up, the latter is treated as the lead. This brings us an interesting question. If the open card is from RHO, declarer has the option not to accept it. If he now allows the LHO to lead a card of his choice, should that be the face down card? I think it should. Which means that the TD should not allow LHO to take back his lead out of turn before declarer has made his choice among the many options he has. I am interested in other opinions in this matter.
If there is a revoke at trick 12 by a defender when his partner did not yet play to that trick, the declarer may not force him to play a card he never would have played.
The laws become more human to players with bridge problems. They should strive for a steady tempo, but may vary if really necessary. Of course, partner may not use information arising from a pause for thought.