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Curious Appeal [decision]

by Beate Birr, Karlsruhe, Germany

with comments by Bobby Wolff, Dallas, Texas, USA

and Wolf Stahl, Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany


Daily News


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The Appeal by Beate Birr

The following 'story' tells what happened to my partner and me in Lille. The letter was published as follows in the Bulletin, including Bobby Wolff's comment. It was published as a letter, because the Appeals Commitee didn't want to have this decision published. I think, if you really have to behave like that, it will make Bridge History - remember, we were playing a World Championship, not a club tournament.

Do you have to tell when partner psychs?

As South I was dealt the following hand in the Mixed Pairs: S Q108 H 8643 D 10865C J10. I opened 1NT even though we play 11-13 notrumps. The rest of the bidding:

WestNorth EastSouth
   1NT (1)
Dble (2)Rdble (3)Pass 2C (4)
PassPassDbleRdble (5)
2NTAll Pass  

(1) 11-13.
(2) 13+.
(3) 8+ -- our only strong bid. Partner must pass.
(4) Does not exist!
(5) SOS, alerted on both sides of screen, asked and explained only on my side.

The full deal:

Dealer South
Mixed Pairs
S J92
H Q97
D AJ32
C Q95
S A754
D Q94
C K84
[ ] S K63
H J105
D K7
C A7632
S Q108
H 8643
D 10865
C J10

Declarer made nine tricks. RHO called the director and complained that psyching in first hand was not allowed. N/S play a system where, in the sequence 1NT-x-xx-Pass, the opener must not bid. The information both East and West received was the same. 2C was explained as "does not exist". In the director's opinion it was quite safe to psych, knowing it would be doubled by LHO. He said I could make any bid at the two-level after partner's redouble to show him the psych. As a result the director considered this a Brown Sticker convention, forbidden here, and gave 60/40 to E/W. In my opinion I did not have insurance against the sequence 1NT-Pass-3NT/4H/4S-Double. What was happening at the table seemed obvious to everyone but East, who didn't trust partner even though he bid twice.

E/W had the opportunity to make an expensive double or to bid at least 3NT, which they didn't do. I didn't agree with the rule and decided to appeal.

At the appeal hearing, the director, both opponents and my partner took part. East again claimed she was damaged because I didn't have the right to psych first in hand. I responded that I had psyched for the first time in a six-year-old partnership. My partner would sometimes psych, but we had never had a situation like this one. He said he wouldn't be crazy enough to make such a mad psych. The committee asked him what he thought would be a reasonable psych. He said you should have at least one suit to escape to.

I claimed I thought the director's ruling was wrong because I didn't agree that we were playing a brown sticker convention. If the bidding had gone some other way, how could I stop partner from bidding a game that probably would be redoubled, or from doubling the opponents?

I explained that the score of minus 150 would have been worth 507.9 out of 526, while minus 400 would have been worth 426. 40% was worth only 210.4. The committee ruling shocked both my partner and me: "E/W get 50% instead of 60%; N/S get 20% instead of 40%. The score of 20% might seem a bit unjust to N/S, but it is meant as a reminder not to behave this way at the table against obvious weak pairs who are playing a (World-)championship to have some fun. Their fun would be destroyed if pairs like you behave this way. You could do something like this against the best pairs in our country – or maybe other countries. However, an opponent that obviously doesn't realize what is going on has to be told, 'My partner hasn't psyched for six years, but I think she has this time.' The deposit is returned."

The appeal hearing finished at 15.50 and the last qualifying session started 10 minutes later. We went in to play in shock and weren't tough enough to play reasonably, scoring only 42.5%. So we missed the final by 202 points. Without this ruling we would have been able to afford this terrible session and still reach the final.



Bobby Wolff's comment

Editor's note: Bobby Wolff was the chairman, and this appeared in answer to the above letter in the Daily News at Lille.

It became apparent that the man in the N/S partnership had psyched some number of times. Here, against weak competition, the woman psyched, which is her right. However, the bidding developed in a way that the man was reasonably sure his partner had psyched. The committee thought this should be told to the opponents as partnership information. Since it wasn't, we felt N/S should bear the brunt of a bad score for "shooting fish in a barrel."



Bobby Wolff's later comment

Editor's note: Bobby Wolff has also written the following for the ACBL Casebook.

When the following elements are present in a high-level game

  1. One side is wary, experienced and/or aggressive
  2. Their opponents appear inexperienced and relatively weak
  3. When A plays a convention or treatment that can be intimidating,

A has a special ethical responsibility (SER} to insure B understands what A's bids mean, with special emphasis on the main or death thrust (in this case their psyching tendency) of the convention or treatment. Psychics have long been a fundamental part of our game and should continue to be so. That is no problem. It is only when the perpetrators, by either their tendencies, design or usage are privy to information (whether or not that information might just be called "that's bridge, mister" by others. In this case, South is well within her rights to psyche a l2-l4 point NT--anything could happen--what did happen was that when South later bid 2 clubs her partner described it as "does not exist" knowing full well (in my opinion) that it probably confirmed a psychic, a bid he had used many times before from his side of the table. I think, at this point, it required both North and South to alert the opponents that 2 clubs (usually) showed a psychic lNT and wanted a quick exit. While I fully realize that all these caveats are not yet recognized, much less required, in our game, how else will we ever proceed on a straight path to fairness, which commands respect until we all see this alike. We must take the oneupsmanship out of bridge by consistently ruling against it and let our victors be decided by the beauty elements of our game instead of the uglies.



A letter from Wolf Stahl [1]

Hi David

I am the Partner of Beate in the "curious-appeal-case". I`d like to thank you very much for all the effort you have already invested doing an excellent job of conducting the discussion. I´d also like to thank Bobby Wolff for helping the discussion along by stating his rememberence of the facts and his views on why the comittee had to reach the ruling it did reach. I´d also like to thank Bobby Wolff for talking to Beate and me amiably just after the 3rd qualifying session. We both had the impression, Bobby Wolff regretted the decision of the committee.

So far I have not contributed to the discussion of the case. I will try to do so now, by writing up the facts of the committee-hearing as I remember them. I will also expand on what has been written on what I knew or should have known from my side of the table in the way of partnership agreements of any type and thus what I was able to tell east.

  1. Bobby Wolff wrote:

    "When I asked in the committee "Has this sequence come up before?" I was specifically told that south had not psyched before, but North had psyched an openeing weak 1NT several times (perhaps 5). When doubled, he always ran to 2 clubs, which according to them, "was an impossible bid in their system, hence a psychic."

    I remember Beate telling the comittee truthfully when it was her first time to speak and without being asked a specific question, that in the 6-year old partnership it was the first time she ever psyched at all. She added also truthfully on her own accord, that I sometimes do psyche, but that I had never psyched a 1NT-opening in the partenership. (In the ongoing discussion the bidding of a hand was reported by Thomas as being the only hand on record where I psyched in conjunction with a weak 1NT-opening. If we are talking of the same hand, the bidding did not go 1NT x p 3NT..., but 1NT x 3NT (!!) ... vs. members of the german ladies world champion squad: I psyched the 3NT on a distributional hand with diamonds and about 6 HCP.

    Bobby Wolff then quizzed me very intensivly about the information Beate had just given. I confirmed everything my partner had said. Bobby Wolff then asked me, in what situations I do psyche. I told him, there aren`t any specific situations; when I do psyche, the psyches are such, that noone - including my partner - could or would be prepared for them. Bobby Wolff then asked me about my opinion of Beate`s 1NT-psyche. I told him, that I found it utterly crazy, so much so, that I had some trouble passing 2NT, because I wasn`t certain excacly what was going on (I`ll expand on this further down). Bobby Wolff then further asked me, in what situation I could imagine psyching a 1NT-opening. I told him (here Beate`s account in the bulletin isn`t quite correct), that I could think of doing it with (exactly) one long suit to run out to. (On hindsight, had I understood Bobby Wolff as specifically asking me when I could imagine psyching a 11-13 1NT, I`d have told him never, because then I as opener would usually just become a passenger in the further bidding process, even with a long suit to run out to.)

    Bobby Wolff then asked me, whether I thought it should be ones duty to tell the opponents of the fact, once one suspects partner to have psyched. I said no, as long as one has disclosed every partnership agreement. (I should probably have repeated the fact, that the specific situation came up the very first time and thus we didn`t even have any tacit agreement).

    After being quizzed in this way, Bobby Wolff said to me "you sure studied the game", a remark further giving me the feeling from the way the hearing was going, that we wouldn`t have much success in the case.

  2. I went into the appealroom thinking, that since "at the end of the play east had summoned the T.D. complaining that after the opening bid of 1NT in first position N had not doubled 2NT and suggested that they can control theit psychics", I would have to defend my decision passing 2NT. I had a fair case for that decision in view of the x, the (forcing?: not alerted) pass and the 2NT by west, as well as the initial pass and the x by east and the actions by partner. But noone was interested as to such reasoning. Apparantly it was presumed by the committee, that my pass was such an obious action in light of what was also apparantly presumed to be a partnership understanding, that rather I had some kind of obligation to tell east of my presumed knowledge. This for me surprising approach of the committee caught me a bit off balance and might be the reason, why Bobby Wolff came to state, that "they never argued that they both (?) didn`t know 2 clubs was a psychc..." (Bobby Wolff doesn`t claim - and rightly so - that I told the committee I knew the 2C to be a psyche).

    The fact is, that I didn`t know 2C to be a psychic, not even after the xx by Beate. I saw the hand like this:

    A few boards earlier we already had had a board where the opponents had been caught for a zero by an xx by me after 1NT by Beate and x by west. So I was first somewhat surprised, when east now passed (no alert) without apparent difficulties and then very disappointed, when the shuttle returned with my partner having bid 2C and west having passed (no alert). I could think of nothing else but alerting partners call and giving the information that the "bid doesnt exist, partner is required to pass" and to pass myself without quizzing east, as to whether either her pass or her partners pass was forcing. East xed without trouble, which left me baffled as to what was going on. If I had read east correctly, we didn`t seem to have a reasonable C-fit.

    When the shuttle returned again, I`d have been at loss for an unequivocal explaination to east, had she asked. I would have had to say, that we do on occasion play SOS-redoubles, but that she alone by virtue of the lenghth of her clubs could know for certain, whether the xx was SOS or buisiness. Had west passed, I`d have probably bid, but only because of the vibes I had picked up from east, believing she`d stay put in 2C xxed.

    But now I had to decide what to to over 2NT by west. After all, I had 2 more points than I had promised. What hand could Beate possibly have?

    I never thought of the actual hand, because in my thinking she couldn`t have influenced my bidding enough after virtually any biddingsequence including pass after the 1NT. (For example the tournamentdirector ruled as he did, because he thought the bidding sequence to be safe after a presumed x by west, because she could follow up with 2C after xx. Apart from the fact, that -500 in 2D xed isnt what I`d call safe, this stands true only if east also passes the xx. If she happened to bid, I´d have been in a forcing sequence)

    Beate also couldn`t really have a hand without clubs, because she couldn`t be sure I`d take her xx as SOS. On the other hand why did west leave us off the hook at both sides not vulnerable, if indeed we were on it? Was he defending in advance against a presumed partscore in a major by our side? Thinking this could be happening, I took Beate to have maybe a 4441-hand with 10 HCP. In this case E/W might be 1 or even 2 down in 2NT and still score well against whatever partscore including 1NT we might have had without the strange bidding. But still I could not get myself to double and with some regrets I passed.

    East now asked me again and again about the strenghth of 1NT and about my strength, specifically asking me, whether my xx might not be SOS. I denied this and made certain to make it very clear to her, that I actually had 8+ points and had not only promised them. East did not ask for an explaination of the xx by Beate, she obiously in view of her own 5card-suit, her partners 2NT-call and her knowing the convention, taking this xx to be SOS. Eventually she passed.

    I think I now know why she did so. It was my impression her being fully aware that something was very wrong in the bidding. She had to be certain, that I had my 8+ points (if not and my partner had coincidently run to 2C they`d get a revised score anyway). She also told the committee, that in her view one wasn`t allowed to psyche in 1st position (again she`d get a revised score, which she actually applied for for excactly this reason). So in my opinion, to her mind it had to have been her partner who had doubled 1NT on too few points. Why after all had he not given her or himself the chance of either playing 2C xxed or doubling the opponents at the 2-level?

Well, thats about it for now David. Thank you for indulging with me this far. One remark on the play of the hand: I led the D2 (4th from at least the jack) and declarer stayed small from dummy giving us 3 diamond-tricks.

I hope to have shown, that the psyching side should not from the beginning on be called the "offending side" and be treated as such.

Editor's note: The Offending Side in Bridge is the pair that created a situation, whether a ruling goes in their favour or not. It can be an unfortunate term.

Thank you very much,

Wolf Stahl



A letter from Wolf Stahl [2]

Dear David,

Editor's note: This was written in response to one of Bobby Wolff's letters

as a response to the latest contribution of Bobby Wolff in this case I want to make quite clear, that Beate Birr had nothing to do with my letter Bobby Wolff is commenting on. She only got to read it when it was already send. So she certainly didn`t "weave" anything, tell something "untrue" or get the story "skewed" or "defend herself any way (she) can".

At this point I have to say that I`m not that happy with the some of Bobby Wolff`s wording. I suspect a committee wouldn`t be positivly impressed if players at a hearing were to refer to each other in this way.

Specifically Im most unhappy with the following sentence: "Of course, if a pair is constantly misleading their opponents they should either quit, play a totally simple system, or be subject to scrutiny or else." I certainly hope Bobby Wolff didn`t mean to aim at Beate and me with this remark and I`d be glad if he`d confirmed this view or otherwise state on what facts he bases it.

In my letter I stated a theory why I think East might have passed. In effect it was not because she was in any way misled by us, but because she thought psyching wasn`t allowed in 1st hand. This is something I obiously couldn`t prevent, because I couldn`t possibly know about her erroneous knowledge of the law. I`m surprised, that noone - to my knowledge - has as yet commented on this theory.

Reading the last letter from Bobby Wolff I think I now can also see why the commitee ruled as it did. I never wanted to give the comittee the impression it seems to have got, that I knew 2C to be a psyche, when the bidding came round to me. I only knew 2C to be a bid, which didn`t "excist" (in our system, since obiously as a bid it does excist). This in turn could only mean that the 1NT-bid by Beate was in some way not normal, preventing her in her view from staying put in 1NT xxed. But this didnt`t neccesarily have to mean - although likely - that 1NT had to be an outright psyche. Beate might for example have wanted to bid a 6card C-suit, if she only happened to have (say) 10 HCP.

If I had known the meaning of 2C as it later came to light, I would not have told East it didn`t excist (in our system). I would also not have told her it to be a psyche. Rather I`d have told her 1NT to be a psyche and 2C to conventionly mean shortness in C. I then would not have passed (showing readiness to play 2C xed even with this shortness) but rather have bid 2D looking for our best fit.

Had I really told the committee I knew 2C to be psyche, Im sure someone would have asked me, whether Im not contradicting myself, when at the same time saying it didn`t excist (in our system): A call is obiously not a psyche, if partner knows the meaning, but rather a convention which must be alerted and its meaning fully disclosed. In view of Bobby Wolff`s stated remark as to this matter, I have to honestly say that I don`t know many pairs that so readily and fully disclose all their conventions as Beate and myself.

Merry Xmas and a happy new Year to you all,



Editor's note:

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