Ray Lee

An Olympic moment

It’s always interesting to compare bridge to other sports, and I was fascinated by an incident I watched last night during a women’s curling game at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

The match involved Canada’s Cheryl Barnard against one of the other top rinks, the Swiss skipped by Mirjam Ott.  The situation was tense — it was the 10th and final end, and the teams were tied.  Canada had last rock, so held a slight advantage, but were busy playing themselves into trouble.  A Swiss rock was closest to the button, buried behind guards.  Then the Canadian third made a potential game-saver — she threw a rock that took out two of the Swiss guards, driving one of them on to the shot rock and starting it on its way out of the rings.  That’s when things got complicated.

For those of you not familiar with curling, each team is allowed one person actually standing in the target rings (I’ll simplify this) whose job is to sweep rocks that are moving in the rings.  Usually that’s the skip, and Barnard was standing there for Canada.  Unfortunately, while her team was playing for the double takeout on the guards, she didn’t expect to get a piece of shot rock too, and when that started moving it tookher by surprise — and by the foot too.  So the Swiss rock stopped dead instead of continuing on towards the edge of the playing surface.

Now the rules in this situation are as follows.  The non-offending side has two options: they can put the rock back where it came from, or they can try to position it where they think it would have stopped without interference.  In this case, it represented a big advantage to the Swiss team to replace it as though it had never moved — and with only a couple of rocks each left, possibly even a winning advantage.

Mirjam Ott did not hesitate — she strode over to the rock and quickly pushed it out towards the edge of the rings, to where she estimated it would have ended up without the accidental Canadian interference.  Five minutes later, the game was over, and Canada had won it.

This is I suppose somewhat akin to the familiar ‘obligation to enforce the rules to protect the field’ debate we hear at bridge.  And yet it’s more than that.  Here’s a player in one of the most important competitions she’ll ever compete in, opting not to take an advantage she’s perfectly entitled to under the rules, instead simply electing to restore equity.   It was a magnificent moment of sportsmanship — yet the cynical part of me was wondering whether she would have done it in the Gold Medal game.

Perhaps not — but I can’t honestly look at myself in the mirror and claim that I would have done it at all.  Would you?


Linda LeeFebruary 17th, 2010 at 4:00 pm

We used to talk about active ethics in bridge but I haven’t seen that theme in quite a while. Here you have a choice between restoring equity (by placing the rock where it would have gone without the infraction) OR by using the rules to your advantage.

It seems to me that I would not hesitate to use the rules to my advantage. The rules are there for a reason. You are not allowed to touch a rock in play with your body. The Canadian skip broke that rule. It is analogous to a lead out of turn. You have options and you should take the option that is favorable to you.

By using “active ethics” and saying effectively, I will ignore the infraction you are giving the Canadian team an unfair advantage. Being “sportsmanlike” creates this problem: Will you do this consistently or only “help” some teams. Better not to go there.

Still at some level I admire the Swiss skip but I am sure the Swiss would rather have won the match. I remember that somebody once compared Switzerland and Canada. And I have to confess that being that nice has a bit of a Canadian touch to it. But I would rather be on the side of the winners than the angels in this situation.

Bobby WolffFebruary 17th, 2010 at 6:00 pm

A moment to reflect

Linda, sometimes rules made by mere mortals, in advance, and trying to cover too wide of a spectrum of possible happenings is squarely met in an imperfect scenario (IS).

That IS on this occasion perhaps lent itself to the non-offender being able to choose what turns out to be an extremely favorable option which, in turn, creates a checkmate for the chooser. While it could be thought and even said that it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for the Ray Leeistrators to forsee this specific happening so it might be left up to the non-offenders to exercise what turns out to be an unfair option in their favor or rather to temper their advantage, after the fact, to either no advantage or, if not, a much less significant one.

Sure, that awful misunderstood word of subjective creeps into one’s thinking. However, if we all recognize that the Game Puppeteer is in control not us, as only humans, and consequently, in an attempt to equalize a man made icky situation we leave it up to the non-offenders to show their love for the game and its competition by at least, trying to restore a modicum of equity to the competition. If not so chosen, history should tell us that the evil choice will eventually know no limits.

I think it fair to say that once done the Active Ethics way, everything worthwhile will happen, including love between combatants, which some would even think and begin to say, “This situation will long live in beautiful memory and will, as time goes by, be equitably reciprocated”. Perhaps even a book will be written wherein a chapter’s title might be changed to “Winning team Wins”!

As a coincidence and only just yesterday on the popular daytime stock market channel CNBC the talk turned to the rest of Europe bailing out Greece which, as many of us know, is about to go bankrupt. One of the commentators mentioned that the moral compass of Europe points squarely to coming to Greece’s aid when one of the other commentators offered, “Are you kidding, that moral compass you are talking about went out forever with yesterday’s wash at least two years ago, probably never to return”. It is worth cajoling it back and in as many situations as possible.

LuiseFebruary 19th, 2010 at 1:45 pm

I think there is a difference in Curling vs. Bridge. I mean, if someone plays out of turn or reneges, or whatever, the rules don’t state that the “non-offending team gets to decide the fate of the offenders”… Perhaps I am mistaken in that though, since, not being a true bridge-player, I don’t actually know what the rules state.

I used to curl, and I just think the whole atmosphere of the “sport” is completely different. Curling is a friendly and enjoyable game most of the time. (There are the occasional teams that are very competitive, aggressive and generally not nice to play against, but in my experience, they were few and far between). If I were the skip, I probably would have done the same thing. (Although, I agree with Ray, I might not have done so in the Gold Medal Game, but that’s a hard question to answer considering that I will never, ever be in a Gold Medal Game). I probably would have used the rules to my advantage if the team I was playing against was a miserable lot to be around… But otherwise, I wouldn’t have felt right about winning *that way*.

If I were playing against a team which I knew to be superior and I was able to say “I beat them!”, I wouldn’t want to have to follow that with a “but”… I would want my win to feel legitimate. If I used the rules to my advantage that way, and didn’t replace the rock where I thought it was going to end up, I would feel as though *I* cheated them!

Blair FedderFebruary 25th, 2010 at 10:43 pm

I have watched some of the curling. I did not know about this incident. I like the play by the Swiss skip. I would have done the same, whether in a match for the gold medal or just a game on the backyard ice. When you are confronted with an opponent who has accidentally impaled himself, it is the warrior’s code to help. We are all just souls passing time on this tormented ball of clay. Winning is fun; living a life of karmic class is awesome. Good story. I hope the Canadians win the gold…..

Cam FrenchMarch 1st, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Great story Ray,

I did not read about it previously. You raise some interesting points. In bridge, especially in pairs, where there is a real or imagined onus to “protect the field” and not allow an infraction (say a lead out of turn) to go unpunished.

This is very different. It is head to head, compounded by its timing, forboding consequences and it offers a duality of predicament.

1) What is the sportsman-like thing to do?

2) What is the ethical thing to do?

Can we reconcile these obligations?

Does the Swiss skip have an obligation to her team mates, coaches, maybe sponsors or even countrymen? I think we can say yes, but is that responsibility to win at all costs or to exercise her judgment?

Is there a responsibility to the game, its spirit, laws and culture? Yes, of course. What is that?

Edgar Kaplan considered by many (and I know Bobby and others have been less than in accord) to be the foremost legal authority on these types of issues (in bridge – “dumping” rings a bell ) where he states you have a legal obligation to put yourself in the best position to win.

Dumping is a whole other issue, but he was consistent therein.

I think the Swiss captain took the high road, and “without hesitation” as Ray noted, did what she thought was right. I would like to think I might do the same.

It reminds me of Alan Sontag allowing Forquet an out, when he bid out of turn on the first board of a match for 5 Lancia sports cards. Sontag suggested (and his team mates agreed) to throw out the board for a substitute. The Italians eagerly agreed. This was not a solution in accordance with bridge law, but it was a very sportsman-like act and won him Sportsman of the year from the IBPA. Sontag himself said he “didn’t want to win on a technicality”. I think that is laudable, as were the actions of the Swiss skip.

It is refreshing to see that in sport. Maybe our game can learn something from this incident.


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