Jeff Lehman

My Theory: A Proposed Objective for UI Rulings

(submitted to Bridge Winners, too) 

Partner B makes a successful auction choice after Partner B has received Unauthorized Information from Partner A (such as by Partner A making an out-of-tempo call).  The opponents request a ruling to overturn the table result from the successful auction choice.  What should be the objective of the bridge ruling?

I would submit that the objective should be to adjust the result if Partner B failed to choose, from among all Logical Alternative (LA) bids available to him, the LA that is made least attractive by the UI.

Maybe you reject that objective altogether.  Maybe you think that objective has potential merit, but wonder:  what factors could determine the LA that is made least attractive by the UI?  I think the factors are the following:

  1. The actual hand held by Partner A
  2. The relevant bridge knowledge of Partner A
  3. The knowledge of Partner B about the relevant bridge knowledge and proclivities of Partner A
  4. The actual hand held by Partner B
  5. The relevant bridge knowledge of Partner B

By looking to Factor 4 and (by reference to the “class of players” to which Partner B belongs) looking to Factor 5, current bridge law, I think, defines the LAs of Partner B pretty adequately.  However, I do have a quarrel with the ineffectiveness of current bridge law to define, and to require the selection of, the LA that is made least attractive by the UI.  (Please note that, in spite of some attempts by others to characterize this approach as “shoot it if it hesitates” or “(disallowing Partner B to) take a winning action whichever way he goes “, the approach of foisting upon Partner B the LA made least attractive by the UI is not foreclosing the AB Partnership from keeping its good table result: if the good table result is the product of Partner B having chosen to make the LA that is made least attractive by the UI, AB retains its good result.)

Looking at Partner A’s actual hand (Factor 1) might provide the most useful clue as to what might have caused Partner A’s call to be made out of tempo and thus which LA is made least attractive to Partner B by the UI.  However, Factor 1 is not addressed by current law.  Not seeing the actual hand of Partner A can cause some to speculate about the nature of the problem of Partner A when a look at his hand would cause such speculation to be re-directed and refined by fact. 

Although the scope of potential inferences from Partner A’s out-of-tempo call could be severely limited by Partner A’s general bidding knowledge, current bridge law, by not referencing the “class of players” to which Partner A belongs, does not directly address Factor 2.  A consequence is that some of the hands of Partner A that Partner B can be argued to have been contemplating can include hands that attribute a degree of bidding sophistication to Partner A without considering whether Partner A is likely to possess such sophistication. 

And by failing to consider the specific knowledge held by Partner B about Partner A (Factor 3), current bridge law seems to act as though the bidding choice of Partner B is as if in a bidding poll rather than as opposite a real person Partner A whose skill sets and even whose proclivities from out-of-tempo calls (Is Partner A conservative or aggressive?  Is Partner A evaluative or a point counter?) might be known to Partner B.

The proposed objective eliminates the oft-debated oft-confusing Law 16 language negating Partner B’s choice of a LA “that could demonstrably have been suggested over another … (LA by the UI)”.  The proposed objective is more consistent with – but less amorphous than – Law 73C which places upon Partner B an affirmative obligation “to carefully avoid taking any advantage from … (UI)”.


Bobby WolffJuly 18th, 2015 at 9:20 pm

Hi Jeff,

While educating myself on your proposed change of emphasis regarding the possible use of unauthorized information (UI) I am duly impressed with the effort you have expended in order to improve this controversial law.

However, any law which can be debated by random good players (likely committee members) and before that random TD’s (not thorough enough training nor usually competent enough players) will never stand up to bridge litmus tests nor if truth be known, even play well in Peoria.

We, as good players with both much experience and, more importantly, a love for an unbiased and ethical game, should seek a better solution, albeit using that simply awful word, but one which IMO undeniably fits the solution, Subjectivity! There I said it.

Here we go:

1. TD’s need to consult and before any tournament or in bridge clubs around ACBL land the owners need to spend some time and then qualify specific ones to make final choices on difficult cases. The TD’s in higher-level tournaments need to be known and be accountable for how and why they rule.

2. Precedents need to be set, with the idea of getting it right, emphasizing consistency and those precedents need to be updated (any new ruling which makes very good sense). Any hint of bias by a TD or a bridge club owner for self-gain or dealing with a friend should (will) show up in cinemascope if, in fact it doesn’t live up to scrutiny. That scrutiny should be overseen by a so called Bridge Supreme court which is hopefully filled with great players who have as few political interests and professional ties as possible. The key idea is that NOTHING is done anonymously but instead the transparency needs to be overwhelming.

3. The objectives in results should always be tied to the intent of the possible transgressors and, of course the reputations of the people involved (players, committee members, Supreme Court connections, TD’s bridge owners, etc.) In no way should a political figure posses clout, but rather only accountable, conscientious, very experienced top bridge players be counted upon to right the many wrongs which have constantly occurred up to now and will continue to occur unless things change.

Intent plus the unusual nature of our game itself needs to be put under the microscope. One size DOES NOT fit all! I occasionally turn on to Bridgewinners, but soon get lost in the inconsistency of many bloggers who mean well, but in actuality are only looking to be recognized for the social acceptance it sometimes brings.

Bridge is a serious game (also not in about 95% of the cases within the jurisdiction of the ACBL) but for purposes of vastly improving our jurisprudence we must not tolerate even one ridiculous ruling.

With the above as a start, IMO it would not take very long to move up the escalator, with the goal of reaching bridge heaven, at least compared to our sad current state.

I could go further, but will await your initial thoughts, if any.

Please keep in mind Jeff, that both the ACBL office in Horn Lake and the ACBL BOD’s is as political as any groups can get with their role in this process very important to their acceptance. Knowing that in advance may (should) structure the process to be as objective with better always being the key word in making decisions.

Judy Kay-WolffJuly 18th, 2015 at 9:34 pm

Bobby dear,

No one ever accused you of being subtle!!

Jeff LehmanJuly 20th, 2015 at 11:17 am

Because I do not inhabit the upper echelons of bridge – as either a player, a director, or an administrator – I am not qualified to comment on whether published decisions of bridge rulings are influenced by political or professional considerations. I would not be the least surprised if, as Bobby is concerned, they are.

I do value the publishing of reasoned precedent, and think it would be helpful to the quality and consistency of rulings if such precedent were explained in plain language and widely distributed to include all directors.

What I do observe is troubling in a couple of ways. Bridge law language itself seems to be phrased in language that provides insufficient guidance to law interpreters. In UI situations defining Logical Alternative actions, for example, what means “significant portion” of (peer group) players who would give an action serious consideration; and what means “some” of (peer group) players might select such action? Even more amorphous is the language that is intended to limit a player’s choice from among LAs: what means “could demonstrably” in the phrase that a player may not choose from among LAs one that could demonstrably have been suggested over another by UI?

Based upon what I read in Bridge Winners – perhaps not the best source from which to base one’s opinions on this subject – I also observe that when the above language, amorphous as such language is at best, is applied by an individual player to a particular ruling, the application can be based not even on the law language but rather on the individual player’s own perspective. A LA can be dismissed because the individual player (a peer of the involved players) would not consider or choose that LA, when the law language asks that the ruling be based not upon the perspective of any particular player but rather upon the perspective of the peer group of individual players. When individual players choose not to think about whether others in their peer group might consider actions differently from the individual player – something I think such players are capable of doing – is it any surprise that rulings will differ strongly depending upon who happens to have been chosen to sit on a committee?

Particularly irksome to me is, again based upon my observation from sources available to me, that rulings that consider adjusting the table result seem to be viewed as punishing the side that transmitted UI, rather than be viewed as protecting the opposing side. The focus on avoiding punishment of the side that transmitted UI seems wrong-minded to me for two reasons. One reason is that adjusting a table result should not be perceived as “punishment” at all; rather it should be perceived as an attempt to educate a player to “bend over backwards” to avoid taking advantage of receipt of UI, even by taking an action that the player would not have taken absent the receipt of UI. (Don’t like the result from “bending over backwards”? Fine, then next time perhaps your partner will be motivated to avoid transmitting UI.) A second reason is that, if adjusting a table result were to be presented as having a “real-life” legal equivalent, it should not be as a criminal matter (requiring a high burden of proof that is “beyond reasonable doubt”) but rather as a civil matter (requiring a much lower burden of proof). In short, I think the focus of the director and an appeals committee should not be on the winning LA chosen (can its selection be sanctioned?) but rather on the losing LA not chosen (how much more likely might it have been selected had there been an absence of UI?).

Bobby WolffJuly 20th, 2015 at 1:03 pm

Hi Jeff,

Again, I appreciate what you say and your emphasis which goes with.

And whether it is real or perhaps only Memorex, at least to me, it appears, drum roll, to include important caveats of subjectivity.

No doubt subjectivity can be dangerous, but not necessarily when dealing with administrators who believe in complete transparency.

Obfuscation is the calling card of people who do not belong in the process. However, being evil or having political motives is much too common to expect it voluntarily, to go away. For that to take effect, all must agree to not let it happen by bonding together for both that cause, and also for the equally sad case of allowing committee members to serve who are simply not qualified.

Your suggestions about improving the riddle of UI, LA and its application are significantly better than anything I have recently read. It certainly takes experience of being at the table and then translating that advantage into making consistent decisions regarding individual cases, and although one size DOES NOT fit all, that truth isn’t a complete enough description to seek and then make the right ruling.

Only experience before and then transparency, precedent and accountability after, will be good enough to establish consistent accuracy.

Scott HillerJuly 27th, 2015 at 1:28 pm

Jeff, Bridge is a complex game sometimes requiring time to reason out what you think is your best alternative. I Don’t think you should be penalized every time a bid is not made in tempo. My observation is that, especially at Nationals, high level players call for a director way too much after a slight break in tempo. They apparently go for the ruling “heads I win…tails you lose”. Unfortunately TD’s tend to side with the name players way too much IMO.

Jeff LehmanJuly 27th, 2015 at 6:48 pm

Hi, Scott,

Good to hear from you.

I can’t speak to any favoritism to high level players. I hope that they are penalized if they claim there’s UI when none exists or there are no LAs to the action taken — that, I assume, is what the penalty for appeal without merit is all about. If high level players are better at catching the drift of BITs, that would not surprise me. I think that is a developable skill, just like reading “tells” in poker might be.

What is I can speak to is the suggestion that the proposal says that “you should be penalized every time a bid is not made in tempo”? All the proposal is addressing is how the BIT can restrict partner’s choices. That concept is well-established in bridge law. What the proposal does, I hope, is establish a clearer mechanism for determining what are the restrictions.

— Jeff

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