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Played Card: Appeal from Vancouver

by David Stevenson


Appeals Case 5
Subject: Played Card
Event: NABC Vanderbilt KO Teams,
22 March 99

Declarer is playing in 6C at teams. She reaches a position where she has 12 tricks by drawing trumps. The official report then continues:

'At this point North said "low spade" which dummy played. The SK was played in tempo, at which point North appeared stunned, and said "oh shit." Play continued. East received his heart ruff; down one

'At the end of the hand, dummy suggested that the Director be called, as North had meant to call low club, and there could be some restitution. The Director was called, and after consultation with the other Directors, ruled under Law 45C4(b) that North misspoke (a slip of the tongue).'

L45C4B says:
A player may, without penalty, change an inadvertent designation if he does so without pause for thought; but if an opponent has, in turn, played a card that was legal before the change in designation, that opponent may withdraw without penalty the card so played and substitute another (see Law 47E).

Was the call for a spade inadvertent? The Director ruled so: the Appeals Committee agreed, though with dissenting opinions. I believe that it is a matter of judgement whether it was, and see no reason to disagree with the decision made. Let us assume it was inadvertent.

The official report then continues:

'The Committee asked the Screening Director for the Laws Commission interpretation of Law 45C. He stated that "pause for thought" means "change of mind."'

This is a very strange statement indeed, and I wonder what was in the mind of the Screening Director when he said it [assuming it has been accurately reported]. The word "inadvertent" is interpreted to exclude a change of mind: if a player wishes the director to allow her to play a club when she has asked for a spade then either the call for a spade was "inadvertent", ie she meant a club all the time, or she has changed her mind and originally meant a spade but now wishes to play a club. The wording of L45C2B does not permit a card to be changed because of a change of mind so no change would be allowed in the latter case. I believe that this statement as reported is wrong, though it may not have affected the ruling.

The official report then continues:

'No time frame for the change of call is specified, other than without significant time for thought. The key part of the interpretation is that the time for thought begins only AFTER the player realizes that an inadvertency has occurred. In this case the "oh shit" was after a short pause after the SK was played.'

This is the normal interpretation of "without pause for thought" as it appears in this Law and the more common Law 25A concerning inadvertent calls. A player who realises she has called for the wrong card or made the wrong call may change it if inadvertent so long as there is no pause "for thought" from the realisation that it was wrong. Generally, Directors and Appeals Committees interpret this generously.

The official report then continues:

'The Committee explored whether or not rights were forfeited by waiting until the hand was over before calling the Director. The Screening Director assured the Committee that failure to know the law in this case did not cause forfeiture of rights and therefore, although calling the Director earlier would have been better, it did not cause loss of rights.'

This is the second statement in the report that concerns what the Screening Director says, and it is not at all clear that it is correct. Perhaps it would be fairer to say that it is not clear whether it is relevant. Rulings may be sought and given until the end of the Correction Period per L92B, but in some cases they will not given because of other considerations.

It is suggested that declarer made an inadvertent designation, and made this clear by saying "Oh shit": if so then she drew attention to it under L9A2A. Why did no-one summon the Director, as required by L9B1A? Presumably because the other three players failed to realise that she was drawing attention to an irregularity, but what of declarer herself? She continued to play in defiance of L9B2. Possibly she did not think that there was an irregularity. I am doubtful as to whether any adjustment is due to declarer once attention is drawn but no Director summoned.

However, the main point of the hand is that L45C4B allows a player to "change an inadvertent designation if she does so without pause for thought". The normal interpretation is that an attempt to change is good enough. Is that what happened here? No! If declarer had said "Oh shit! I did not mean to play that card: let's get the Director" then she would be allowed to change it. What she actually did was to indicate she had made a mistake but she made no effort to change it. Thus no change is allowed under L45C4B.

Dummy called the Director at the end of the hand. While he has a perfect right to do so, there is no longer any question of a change being made without pause for thought: that time has passed. Declarer made no attempt to change the card without pause for thought so it may not be changed.

It would be better if L45C4B contained a time limit as L25A does: to be analogous, no change would be permitted after partner has played a card, or the player herself has played to the next trick, or made or acquiesced in a claim. However, the actual wording of the Law precludes attempting to change the card some time later: the lapse of time is significant, and the words "without pause for thought" sufficient to make sure that no adjustment may be made at the end of the hand.

It is my considered opinion that the Appeals Committee in Vancouver was mis-directed on the Law, and that no change under L45C4B may be made at a later stage.


Editor's note:

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