I remember walking to a session at some Nationals somewhere; Ron Andersen was about ten feet ahead of me heading in the same direction. Someone saw Ron and said: "How's it going?" Ron answered, "Can't complain." As I overtook Ron I heard him mumble: "It doesn't do any good, and nobody wants to listen to it anyway." That struck me as extremely funny, but also as extremely true. However, I have some complaints. My complaints target the rule changes that our shortsighted and ossified bridge lawmakers implemented, in their very limited wisdom, over the last twenty years.
First, Appeal Committees are unduly influential in interpreting the laws. Too many events are decided in committee: at least one World Championship semi-final match on an absurd ruling, several late matches in the major teams on absurd rulings, and God knows how many lesser events. The upshot is that some players (including some of the great players) protest anything they think they might blow through a committee; I find it depressing and infuriating when they get away with it. The solution is to let the directors make all the decisions, including the appeal decisions. The directors are paid professionals; it is their job to know and interpret the law. If there is an appeal based on an interpretation of law, keep the bridge players completely out of it, let the directors confer and make the ruling. If the law seems unfair, change the law, not the ruling. If there is an appeal that requires a very high level of bridge expertise, the directors can seek advice from uninvolved experts, and then the directors have the sole responsibility to make the ruling. If the ruling is unpopular, the directors (or the laws) take the heat. It is important that the directors take the heat, and not a panel of bridge players, because directors can maintain impartiality. I will illustrate, using me as an example. I do not like to sit on committees. If I know one player is honest and the other is an "angle-shooter" or an outright crook, I do not want to be impartial. I do not like to rule against a friend. I do not like to rule against a potential sponsor. I have no political aspirations; some players do, and may lose impartiality. In these situations, I trust myself to make an honest effort to be impartial, and I know I will not be intimidated, but I do not trust everyone else in the same way. Many of my friends have the same misgivings. The directors are more likely to be impartial, more likely to make a ruling in a reasonable amount of time, less likely to be influenced by friendship, less likely to be influenced by political or economic considerations, and less likely to be intimidated.
Second, I do not like any alert procedure. I did not like the old alert procedure, and when I understand the new alert procedure, I will not like it either. I guess because so many artificial bids (which in my opinion detract from the game) are around, there must be some way to protect the rest of us from being completely confused. Frequently, however, I know the alert procedure benefits the alerting pair more than it benefits those pairs being subjected to it. Now there is a new alert procedure and it is confusing. I have heard a group of directors complaining that they do not understand the new alert procedures. I have no idea what is to be alerted and what is not. By the time I understand it, there will be another alert procedure, and then another, ad infinitum. What must inexperienced or less expert players think about the alert procedure, much less "alert procedure two?" I guess the legal eagles (secretary birds) have no troubles, but it certainly makes the game less fun.
Third, I do not like the prohibition against looking at the last trick. This change has not impacted me; my mind is trained and my vision adequate, but I have seen many instances where this rule change has been very disconcerting to other players. Besides, the reason for the rule is insulting. It was instituted to prevent one partner calling attention to the card he played, the assumption being that the card he played was a signal partner was not to miss. In other words, the sole purpose of the rule is to stop cheating. If you missed a card played to the last trick, or if you forgot a card played to the last trick, tough luck. As an alternative rule change (not that I favor anything but repeal), why not allow one instance per trick (not per player) of a player permitted to look at the last trick, with the proviso that he is not allowed to show his own card? That eliminates any cheating implication, and will enhance the enjoyment of the game for the (silent) ethical majority.
Fourth, and first on my list of moronic rule changes and needless meddling, is the scoring change. Non-vulnerable doubled undertricks were 100 for the first trick and 200 for each additional trick for over 50 years. This allowed some very fun maneuvering. It also made for some great stories.
I have played well over a million bridge hands. Three of my favorite hands happened because we were NV versus Vul and the old scoring rules were in effect. The first two happened at rubber bridge. One hand I held Qx xx xxxxxx xxx. The auction was 1 on my right, 3 (forcing) on my left, 4NT on my right, and I bid 6. They bid 6, lost an ace, and finessed into my spade queen (missing only four trumps) for down one. Another hand I held 10x 8xxx 6xxx 5xx. The auction was 2 (strong) on my right, a very happy 3 on my left, an even happier 4NT on my right, so I bid 5. Double, redouble (don't ask me what redouble meant, ask John Sutherlin), 7, all pass. So I lead a heart (fourth best from my longest and strongest), declarer decided I was void in spades, and finessed John for the J10xx. To my everlasting surprise, I scored the ten of spades. Those hands were fun. The third hand occurred against Lew Stansby. I bid 7 over 7 out of the blue (on J10xxx I think; ask Lew, he never forgets a hand). They bid 7NT and made it because my partner misdefended by throwing away his spades (I had to throw mine), but it was still fun. This kind of fun, and these types of stories, are legislated out of existence.
This last hand brings me to an interesting story that Chris Compton told me. He claims the following hand is the reason for the scoring rule change (with the subsequent loss of the fun and the stories).
Kaplan and Kay bid to 7 in an uncontested auction, and when it got back to Jeff Meckstroth he bid 7 on five to the 9 and a yarborough. Double, down 10, minus 1900, but Jeff won 7 IMP's and had a great story. Kaplan was so annoyed by this that he pushed through the scoring rule change. Now down 10 is minus 2600 and a loss of 10 IMP's, and the end of the world if the opponents were going down.
I think this scoring change is one of the worst examples of the conservative mindset of the older generation flexing its political muscle and inflicting their perspective upon the rest of us. Where the hell do the lawmakers get off legislating the fun out of the game? The name of the game of bridge is fun. Reduce the fun, and you reduce a corresponding number of players. In particular, you reduce the number of young players, who do not need to play bridge as a social outlet, or to keep their minds sharp, or any of the other non-fun reasons the bridge bureaucrats might suggest is the reason we play. When I began to play bridge I thought it was more fun than anything else in life. I still think it is fun, but I know the game is not as much fun today as it was before all the rule changes. I know personally, as I am sure most of you do, a great many players who no longer play bridge, or play much less often, because they know the game is less fun.
When Harold Vanderbilt created the game of bridge it was genius, an act of inspiration. I think the scoring changes, the Appeals Committees, the alert procedures, the attempt to straight-jacket players to inhibit cheating, and every other change I can think of at the moment, have all been detractions and discrediting to the game. I see no signs of genius, and no signs of inspiration. I see less fun, less youth, less enthusiasm, less socializing, fewer players, more inhibiting and unnecessary structure, more bureaucracy, more confusion, and more complaints. I will no longer add to the complaints.