Ray Lee

Yes it’s broke – so fix it!

I’m not a big fan of the committee system, but since most floor directors don’t seem to have enough bridge expertise to make good decisions, it seems that it is a necessary evil.  But every so often you see a committee do something so mind-numbingly stupid that you realize just how bad the whole thing can be.

Here’s Appeal Case #3 from San Diego, from Tuesday’s Daily Bulletin:

Dealer: N

Vul: NS

West East
82 AKJ10643
963 K42
KQ10852 63
85 9

In the LM Pairs, N-S were vulnerable, and North upgraded his hand to a 2NT opening.  East bid 3S, and there followed a Break in Tempo (BIT) of 5-7 seconds.  South passed, West passed, and North bid 3NT with the same minimum hand he had already described.

The director was called during the auction and after the play.  The director determined that the BIT demonstrably suggested the 3NT bid, and rolled the result back to 3S down 1 for both sides (incidentally, West pointed out that 3S might well make in practice, and indeed at Linda’s table it did – doubled, no less).  All very sensible, it seemed to me.

But the account in the DB continued, of course.  N-S appealed the ruling.  They claimed that they play automatic reopenings, and  indeed their card was marked ‘auto reopenings after 1X-1Y-pass-pass’.  [Not to mention being ex post facto and a highly self-serving statement, the auctions are in no way comparable.]  They also now claimed there had been no real hesitation.  [Notice that the director, who was there twice, had ruled there was a BIT – indeed, the very fact that the director was called during the auction is strong evidence of it.]

I read on.  This surely was a slam-dunk Appeal without Merit – lose your deposit and maybe even get censured.  In fact, I wondered how this one had got past the screening committee.  But no – the committee ruled in favour of NS, and gave them the table result back!  The rationale apparently was that a 5-7 second pause in a pressure auction {my italics] did not transmit UI.  I could not believe what I was reading.  Did the committee not understand that this is only a pressure auction if South has some reason to take action?  She is under no pressure with a yarborough… This not an auction like 1H-1S-3H-3S; 4H-P-P-4S; ?  Now the opening bidder, whatever his hand, may well have a problem; he’s entitled to think, and his doing so (and even doing so then passing) conveys no real UI.  In the deal under discussion, South’s pause clearly conveys that she wants to bid but doesn’t know what to do – so her partner knows she has no long suit to bid, no spade stopper, and no penalty double.  Pretty descriptive I would think, and North clearly acted on the information received..

Had I been on the committee, I would have voted it an AWM, retained the deposit, and made sure the Recorder knew about North for future reference.

Am I wrong?


Roy HughesDecember 3rd, 2009 at 7:25 pm

Hi Ray

Your points are well made, and while I don’t disagree I would like to comment. Is it clear that taking 5 seconds (for sake of argument) is a BIT? Some might argue that to take less than 1 second is improperly fast, and that 5 seconds could be within ‘maintaining a consistent tempo’. On a related topic, I have always thought that the ‘skip bid’ warning was misguided: it is not after a skip bid that I tend to have a problem, having thought about the situation at length, rather it is in more complicated or less familiar situations. For example, it might be right, at matchpoints NV, to always act over a 3S overcall of partner’s 2N opening. If 3S is making, maybe 3N will be a good save, and it will be hard for the opponents to double. That kind of thought would take a few seconds.

Nigel KearneyDecember 3rd, 2009 at 7:35 pm

I agree that 5-7 seconds is a BIT and the fact it’s a pressure auction doesn’t change anything. I also agree that the appeal should have failed.

But I don’t regard this a situation for retaining the deposit or involving the recorder, or even close to it. If their agreement really is that North must reopen, then obviously North did not act on the UI and there is no infraction. The issue is whether the available evidence is sufficient to indicate such an agreement. I would say not, but I can completely understand N/S wanting to appeal the ruling and having some expectation the appeal would succeed.

GalDecember 3rd, 2009 at 8:19 pm


5-7 second delay on the first round of bidding is hardly a BIT. Sometimes a player doesn’t finish arranging his/her cards when the bidding goes around to him. And when he looks up even without counting his points sees a competitive auction at him where he must make a now or never decision at level 3.

If north alerted the pass when it was made at the table – even if it is not described on their convention card (although it’s described on mine) – it would be very malicious to think they doesn’t play it that way. In that case deciding against North South is really bad.

Why do you think bridge players aren’t honest?

JUDY KAY-WOLFFDecember 4th, 2009 at 4:45 am


After reading your commentary (not that I don’t agree with your appraisal of some committees and floor directors) — it occurred to me that this whole situation and waste of everyone’s time could have been avoided if South made a routine bid of 3NT. We all know very few things in bridge are guaranteed and there is little room to investigate at an accelerated level. Maybe North does not have a spade stopper; maybe North will have a four card heart fit for you; maybe you’ll make it; maybe you’ll go down. Maybe, maybe, maybe! Norman often told me: “Sometimes you just have to take a shot and hope you’re right.” After the 3S call, finding the best spot is difficult — so South should have mustered up his (or her) courage and just bid it.

Bobby WolffDecember 4th, 2009 at 5:13 am

Hi Ray,

I will give an opinion, although I know that I should not, and also realize that there will not be many who will understand what I am saying or even the reasons for it.

Yes, there probably was a BIT, although for opponents to compete against a 2NT opening is rare and sometimes the partner of the 2NT bidder is just too stunned to bid in tempo.

However, it is important to at least have some precedent on this type of BIT after a high level intervention so I suggest the following:

Very simply,

1. EW could beat 3NT by leading a top spade and then switching to a diamond. Declarer, of course must win, and after running 5 clubs, take a heart finesse and go down 3 tricks. At least to me, this defense would probably be the recommended one since partner could have the KQ or the Ace and any other defense would probably not work, although partner could have the ace of hearts instead.

2. As was pointed out, (although I do not believe for a minute that this partnership or any other partnership worth their salt, would play pass as forcing) South should have, as was also pointed out, simply gambled 3NT immediately but a slight pause and pass does get the message across.

3. The end result is that NS cheated (slightly, but it is those kinds of BIT’s which require Active Ethics from partner). EW misdefended so equity is established by (in a match point field) giving the 3NT bidders their score (however many were made) and that figure should also stand for the defense. However, NS should then get a procedural penalty of somewhere between 3/4 of a board to a full board, depending on how cooperative they were in the Committee and how flagrant the Committee viewed their attempt to take advantage.

For those still interested, all masters are served:

NS: Winds up with below average or worse;

EW: Because of their misdefense. wind up with a poor matchpoint score; AND

The field is protected by not opening the candy store for some pair to profit undeservedly and depending on the actual decision — both the NS and the EW fields are protected, which after all is really what it is all about.

Not Rocket Science, but rather always looking and finding EQUITY for the entire field. No politics, no unfairness, and a decision we all can embrace.

Ray LeeDecember 7th, 2009 at 9:41 pm

I don’t disagree Bobby — neither the committee nor I looked at the question of whether 3NT should make, which is I guess germane to the score you assign EW. My own view has always been that EW are put in the position to make an error as a result of an infraction — without which they could not have committed said error. Is it then fair still to (effectively) penalize them? I remember an incident some years ago in the CNTC finals where an opponent (behind screens) sprung a convention on us in a competitive auction (I won’t go into the full story, but suffice it to say that it was not our fault that we were not aware of this convention so had not discussed our actions over it). Had we been able to prepare a defense, we would have been able to extract a sizable penalty. As it was, we took a stab at 3NT, which was a tough contract and Linda misplayed it slightly to go down. The director refused to make any ruling, on the basis that it would be appealed anyway (do you like that one?). The committee were unsympathetic to us, on the basis that 3NT could have been made, and simply gave our opponents a 3-IMP procedural penalty. Years later, I still feel hard done by.

Ray LeeDecember 7th, 2009 at 9:58 pm

One more interesting point — Linda tells me that she sat South on this deal, and after the 2NT opening, East placed the STOP card on the table before she bid 3S — commenting that it was an unusual auction and she wanted to give Linda some extra time to think. Good use of the STOP card, IMHO.

Peter GillDecember 8th, 2009 at 12:00 pm

After leading a top spade against 3NT, East might think something like:

“If partner has two spades and a red ace, I need to play hearts now to beat 3NT if partner has HA, but if partner has DA I can successfully try hearts now and diamonds later. So the only time a diamond switch is a must is when partner holds precisely KQ in diamonds – so I will try hearts first.” There are other considerations too.

Therefore I think that when the score is adjusted, EW are allowed by law to choose the losing defence to 3NT, and thus should be given their score in 3S undoubled.

If South passes 3S within one second holding a balanced yarborough, North has no difficulty passing out 3S. The 5 to 7 second delay gives North Unauthorised Information, of which North must not take advantage. South’s actual hand is prima facie evidence that South took a significant amount of time over 3S – it doesn’t really matter exactly how many seconds it was – all that matters is that the time taken by South gave North Unauthorised Information.

I agree with Ray. I would adjust the score to 140. In 3S on, for example, CQ lead and another club ruffed, then a diamond to the king ducked, a heart to the king and a red suit exit if North ducks, North has to do some fancy unblocking of HQ (and South on lead with HJ eventually exit with the third diamond) to avoid letting 3S make. That sort of defence is hard enough for me to award 9 tricks to EW in 3S.

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