Bobby Wolff


Regarding Appeal #4 which happened during the 2d qualifying session of the Von Zedtwitz Life Master Pairs during the Washington DC, Summer Nationals, I would like to take time to discuss the verdict and though, in my opinion, reached in order to following the current rules, is still a grave strike at the heart of our game. With the following facts:

Dealer: East

Vul: E/W

A 9 8 6 3
J 10
Q 10 7 4 3
West East
K Q 5
8 6 4 3 2 Q 9
A J 9 K 8 6 5
K 9 7 A Q 10 8 6 3
J 10 7 4 2
A K 7 5
5 4 2



East South West North
1 Pass 1 1NT*
Pass 3 ** Double All Pass


Opening Lead: King of Spades

* Strong

** After a 1NT opening or a direct 1NT overcall, minor suit Stayman.

Our rules now state that normally the type of adventure which occurred on this hand would be labeled misinformation rather than just a misbid and so, consequently, caused the initial TD to cancel the result of 3 spades doubled making nine tricks (NS +530) and allow EW to score 3NT making nine tricks (+600). However the NS convention cards stated clearly that, after passing, a 1NT overcall was a takeout for the unbid suits.

It is past time for us, in the interest of fairness and equity, to make what happened, Convention Disruption (CD), an official offense, to be penalized accordingly, which hopefully, in the fullness of time, will force conventioneers to either learn their conventions or exercise their other option of not playing them and, if necessary, scratch them off the convention card.

Let’s examine the plight of their opponents:

When East was informed that his RHO’s 1NT overcall was strong he naturally passed since to consider rebidding a minimum opening, while vulnerable, when clubs figured to be well stopped had to be, at the very least, a very dangerous and hence not a compelling option. On the other hand if East would instead have been privy to 1NT being a TO for the other two suits he should be interested in telling his partner why he opened the bidding in the first place, in this case not to show a balanced opening, but to offer his good club suit as a possible contract. After all the design for bidding in our game is merely a language to convey what we have and, by that inference, what we don’t have. WHEN CD OCCURS, WHETHER INTENTIONALLY OR JUST ACCIDENTLY, AWAY GOES ALL SENSE OF WHAT OUR GAME IS ABOUT ON THAT HAND! It should then occur to our lawmakers that when particular conventions are designed to be defensive, meaning trying to find a successful sacrifice or sometimes just designed to drive the opponents higher, that forgetting the meaning(s) all too often unilaterally penalize the opponents while at the same time and all too often, not create the risk that other forgets, usually constructive bidding ones, would.

With that in mind it becomes necessary to establish discipline to those who legally want to disrupt their opponents or at least want for themselves to be considered tough opponents to play against. All well intended and perfectly legal, but NOT SO when conventions are forgotten. It then naturally follows that all CD’s should be recognized as very unhealthy for the game and if possible, penalized out of existence.

As a final thought, on this hand I would give NS a zero on this board. After all, the unbelievably talented Michael Jackson is dead at an all too young age, possibly because of an error made by his prescribing doctor, but nevertheless as dead as he would have been if he had instead, been brutally murdered. Second I would only give EW an average on that board since they are not entitled to a windfall result simply because their opponents were unlawful. It is very important in a pairs tournament to Protect the Field (PTF) so that matchpoints are not distributed like candy from a candy store to those who have not earned them. As corroborating evidence NS should have made an overtrick in 3 Spades doubled, one which would not risk the contract, therefore showing evidence of poor play which, IMO would give them a zero instead of a result up to 1/4 of a board. On the other hand West did choose the wrong call when he doubled them in 3 spades even though I can suggest nothing more logical, therefore restricting their result to an average rather than an average plus. Mental toughness is a necessary prerequisite to be an able appeals committee member.

Summing up, I think the committee presiding on this case was made up of fine bridge players and also well balanced people who were only trying to follow the law. However, I think the time has come to conduct an environment of a Bridge Meritocracy rather than an outdated law forum and as bridge is constantly changing, I think our bridge administrators should also follow suit and update themselves.

The harsh penalties suggested apply not only to the crafty foxes always seeking a free chicken sandwich, but also to the totally honest animals whose only crime is forgetting a used convention.


LenJuly 31st, 2009 at 11:03 pm

I haven’t agreed with much I’ve seen on your blog before now, but this post is extremely compelling.

a) How do you define CD?

b) How would you word the laws to deal with it? Careful wording is extremely important, and much harder than it seems.

c) What is your definition of Normal Playing Luck (NPL) and how is it different from what happened on this board?

d) Would you allow for any leeway based on the level of the game, such as a 299’er club game vs the national LM pairs?

Jeff SmithAugust 1st, 2009 at 2:44 am

I was West in the case above.

Let me start by confirming some of the facts. When East was asked what would he have done differently over the 1NT bid if he had received the correct information, he advised the director (before the opening lead was made, or dummy was tabled) that he would have bid 2C over 1NT.

Furthermore, I took your suggested resolution one step farther in the hearing. The redress we requested at the appeal, was not that our result be changed, we asked that the committee leave the east/west result at -530, but change the north/south score to average minus. We were sickened that these bridge players on the 2nd day of the LM pairs, were happy to profit from a FIX, and had no qualms about accepting these ill begotten gains. The whole thing just felt slimy to us.

Bobby WolffAugust 1st, 2009 at 10:57 am

Hi Len,

Although somewhat chagrined by being damned by faint praise (you not generally agreeing with my previous blogs) I’ll be pleased to offer my answers to your pertinent questions.

a. CD should be defined as misplaying or misdescribing a convention to such an extent wherein the opponents could be totally confused as to what was intended by the actual bid made.

b. When CD occurs and chaos ensues all responsibility for what follows rests solely on the shoulders of the convention disrupters. The usual result of impossibility of bridge logic followed should be ruled against the convention disrupters and in the favor of their victims. Note: Since the confusion normally tends to be random, but substantial, we need to generalize the law covering it.

c. Normal playing luck (NPL) would usually apply to the victims and needs to be kept in mind in assessing penalties. For example, if because of CD, the offending side gets to a 5% slam, but, because of the layout of the hand (not misdefense or, for example, what the TD or committee deems a terrible opening lead) the slam makes, while the victims should sometimes get some relief they nevertheless, because of protecting the field (PTF) in a pair event, should have to bear at least some of the NPL since if they would defeat the slam (the normal thing by 19 to 1) they would, of course, accept their +50. To put it another way, the innocent side is not automatically privileged to the extent of not being subject to NPL which occurs and is sometimes called “a fix”. On this board, and with the CD explained to them I mentioned that I could not improve upon West’s double of 3 spades, expecting partner’s hand to be generally balanced by his failure to rebid clubs TOGETHER WITH MY LOOKING AT MY OWN HAND ESPECIALLY WITH Kxx in clubs. My KQ of spades doubleton does not bode well for my making 3NT in spite of the partnership’s having approximately the right point count to normally have a good play for it (no source of tricks). Therefore I am willing to accept +100 or +300 by defending 3 spades doubled. While the above might be considered good high-level judgment it certainly isn’t, when considering the CD terror perpetrated. Note: Are all TD’s and, for that matter, committees able to make these kinds of judgment? I’m not so sure then can!

d. Of course, the particular game this particular CD occurs would have much to do with the crime and punishment. In a lower rated game, the players need to be thoroughly educated on their responsibilities, but the punishment should be milder, depending on their understanding and, of course, their remorse for this happening. Note: Since CD could be considered a lazy man’s playing of the game e.g. playing different conventions without taking the time to understand or at least know what is involved, is not following the yellow brick road to bridge’s Emerald City. However, unfortunately, bridge foxes (good players who do well before appeals committees), do not shy away from creating different types of dilemmas for bridge hens who tend to be victims more often than they should and in different ways.

Len, perhaps now you may be able to understand the complexities which confront the game itself. When many of our players, who double as adminstrators, have a luke warm feeling as to which direction we should go, simply because they do very well the way it is, perhaps you will join in the crusade against giving them free reign. The ACBL itself is only interested in keeping people playing and not rocking any boats. Should not those of us who love the entire concept of what bridge offers, rise up to man the barricades and fight back.

Perhaps the world needs more people like those who are protesting the election in Iran.

Bobby WolffAugust 1st, 2009 at 11:10 am

Hi Jeff,

Your comments are very much appreciated by me.

When the question was asked regarding what would your partner do if he was told correctly what North’s bid really meant (takeout for the other two suits) and he replied, “I would bid 2 clubs”, it is disappointing to me that this didn’t sway the decision. Perhaps the committee did not put themselves in the impossible position of you and your partner. It appears that they only focused on the BEAUTIFUL and consistent wording of the two convention cards. I actually talked (by email) to one of the committee members who confided in me that he was thinking of me when they rendered the decision and knew I would be disappointed. Instead he should have been thinking of your plight at the time and then realize that the whole thinking of CD needs to be reexamined.

I am also impressed with your request to accept your minus 530 as long as those sleazy opponents got disciplined for what they did.

Being an eternal optimist, perhaps this case will cause the lethargy of not acting properly by TD’s and Appeals Committees to change. Thanks for continuing the fight by way of discussion.

Linda LeeAugust 1st, 2009 at 2:12 pm

I went back to the Bulletin to look at the exact discussion of this appeal which is in this Bulletin for any one interested

The director was called at the end of the auction. Before he doubled 3♠, West asked

South the meaning of 1NT and received the response that it was strong. He asked North what

3♠ was and got the response “no agreement.

The partnership had an agreement that 3♠ was minor suit Stayman and a strong game force over a 1NT opening and also (perhaps) over 1NT in direct seat, but had not discussed this auction.


So poor South having no idea what his bid might mean bid 3S which if his partner had a real strong notrump was likely to think was minor suit stayman. Give me a break. If he really thought that 1NT was strong he would have bid 2H. Even if they had “NO AGREEMENT” on that bid it can only be either a transfer to spades or Stayman both of which would have suited his hand. I do not believe that he did not bid based on his belief that 1NT was a two suited overcall.

Then North who knew that a wrong explanation had been given chose to say that the partnership had no agreement over a 1NT overcall because they conveniently hadn’t discussed this exact situation!

This pair deserved a zero and maybe more.

Glen AshtonAugust 2nd, 2009 at 1:51 am

Disclosure (and bias): I know David & Jeff

imo, the problem was not so much the CD, but the fielding of the CD. The 3S bid looks clear to me that South took it as Sandwich. To quote the Appeal Case: “The partnership had an agreement that 3S was minor suit Stayman and a strong game force over a 1NT opening and also (perhaps) over 1NT in direct seat, but had not discussed this auction.”. Why would South bid 3S if 1NT was strong? If 3S is minor suit Stayman with system on, then bidding 3S here risks a terrible board. If 3S is “no partnership agreement”, as described by North at the table, how does South know they will get to the right spot and right level. Since the 1C opening promised only 2+ clubs, South had no certainty that North would take 3S as natural. As well, if there was “no partnership agreement”, South could only guess that North might take it as an invite.

If South thought North had a strong notrump, he would employ whatever usually showed 5Ss and an invite, such as transfer and then bid 2NT. Why would he invent at the table a 3S bid of “no partnership agreement”? That is the question the committee needed to sort out.

However if South thought there was a considerable chance that 1NT was not a strong natural overcall, based on the opening bid and response by the opponents, and holding 8 HCP, then it makes sense to bid 3S. It fields the CD – it works if partner has the sandwich. It is this fielding of the CD that needs to be considered in restoring the board to a fair state.

Bobby WolffAugust 2nd, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Hi Glen,

Thanks for your right-on comments.

If you and I were a team of lawyers representing David and Jeff, we would each have our own effective say on why the committee arrived at the wrong decision.

No one can dispute your to the point argument about South’s action, since 3 spades officially in that partnership evidently was Minor-suit Stayman and if so, why was it bid, leaving one to expect South to “feel” that perhaps he was privy to his partner’s intention?

While your argument caters to why this committee should definitely have decided the other way, my argument is based on the insidious impossibility of not penalizing CD out of existence. Why should we have to be “lucky” enough to find a gap in the defense of CD, but rather why shouldn’t our game be forever rid of the unreal difficulty in dealing with that blight?

Until we do, IMO we will always be chugging uphill to get right done, not to mention the ugly process of having to deal with the selfishness always present with others not recognizing their bridge responsibilities to the game itself.

Thanks for joining in!

roger pewickOctober 9th, 2009 at 12:15 am


Bridge is a game about what players do given the limitations on communication.

In other more graphic words, bridge is about how four players solve a hand without UI; what it is not about is holding the cards that you promise.

Your problem may or may not be Explanation Disruption. But I’ll point out that every time a question is asked then UI is created; and when a question is answered** UI is created. And it is UI that Gets in the Way of What the Game is About. I’ll go a bit further:

The problem that you ought to be working on is creating the situation where players do not feel the need to ask very many questions [few questions translate into fewer cases of confusion]. And the first step is to address the problems that are created by L77 and L1. if NT pays 40, Minors pay 30, and Majors pay 20; and spades outrank Hearts, outrank diamonds, outrank clubs, outrank no trump then players would find out that complicated systems will cost more than they are worth so would tend to not be used. And in doing so, all that has been done is to reward more appropriately the difficulty of the contracts undertaken.

**notably, answering questions is something that many bridge players get wrong quite frequently.

PimoOctober 10th, 2009 at 10:05 pm

Since the director was called at the end of the auction, wasn’t he/she in a position to back the auction up? Why did that not happen? I am very rusty on the law and its updates concerning bidding, director’s powers, etc. so please forgive my ignorance and explain to me why the problem on this hand, which was still in the auction stage, could not have been addressed then and there by the director? To show you further my ignorance, I was playing a KO Final against two experts, one of whom had been exposed as 1/2 of a cheating partnership decades ago, when the other opponent made a statement that immediately led to a director’s call. When the director came to the table and what had transpired was explained, the opponent who volunteered the remark then denied having so said. She said she made no such remark! It didn’t happen. ( Were we experiencing simultaneous hallucinations? or, if your a Simpson’s fan, Milhouse’s remark to Bart: “What about the bowl? ” ) The director shrugged his shoulders and said to play on, as we had no grounds to protest the auction. When the same circumstances arose later in another KO Final, the director told us ( partner and I ) that we were too skilled not to have understood the bid ( in this case a double ). That seemed like a double standard statement. One set of rules for the field and another set for us. These are tough rulings after not playing for twenty years, though it’s nice to learn that people still think you’ve got it at the bridge table. If only they knew how dull-witted we have become…Later

PimoOctober 10th, 2009 at 10:07 pm

Or, better to be thought a fool versus speaking and proving such…


Bill KoehlerNovember 26th, 2009 at 6:55 pm

To allow errors, mistaken explanations or I forgots is like letting the fox guard the hen house. If you are going to play conventions get them right or lose the board. Clever crooks will always find ways to legitimately abuse their conventions. Even novices should be taught get it right or lose it.

Cindy ReidApril 21st, 2010 at 9:00 pm

“Even novices should be taught get it right or lose it.” I totallly agree.

I found this thread via a friend who was telling me that CD was something I needed to be aware of (as I had forgotten a basic convention and then compounded the problem by stating we had no agreement… that’s another whole story..) , and read it with interest. I am a novice player. I have been playing for just over 3 years (a baby to you all.. 🙂 ) and I play habitually with a group of experienced, competitive bridge loving SLM+ who have taken great pains to try to ‘educate’ me appropriately. You, who are the ‘gods’ to us do the game (and the players coming behind) a disservice if you do NOT take the stance that “those of us who love the entire concept of what bridge offers, (should) rise up to man the barricades and fight back. ”

Some of my ‘collegues’ (novices, babes in the great woods) complain when they are ‘corrected’ or that they think the ‘good’ players are mean. It is not mean to insist that the game is played to it’s potential. It is GOOD BRIDGE! Clarity in ruling, in play, in explanations and in expectations of play EVEN the playing feild. It ‘protects’ the feild. And that’s what I thought the point of ‘ruling and law’ was. I am a novice. But I won’t always be. I MUCH prefer to be corrected now, and learn correctly now rather than to discover, at some future point, that the habits, beliefs and ‘knowledge’ that I have gained is erroneous (plain wrong) and needs to be corrected. The game has enough elements of judgement and opportunity for competitive manuevering just by itself. Okay. I’m now aware of CD.. and the dangers therein. I promise I’ll never forget a convention on purpose, and I’ll strive to remember the ones I know well before learning any new ones. I just could resist commenting.

Nick WarrenJuly 19th, 2010 at 12:34 am

As far as I can see, South misdescribed North’s bid and then, to make matters worse, made a call that would have been for the minors (has North’s call meant what South said it did) when clearly holding nothing like that. Simple case of (rather gross) MI adequately covered by the laws I think.

Seems to me to be a good hand to moan about on a blog – but I am not sure it is a good hand to support the case for a change in the laws.

UmuhozaDecember 21st, 2015 at 1:44 am

The Rule of 20 would allow a previous pylear to open. The Rule of 15 is specifically for use by the fourth pylear when it has become clear that the points are evenly distributed between pylears. The Rule of 20 allows an opening bid of 1 of any suit. The Rule of 15 helps the last pylear decide if an opening bid of 1 spade is appropriate, to prevent over calling at the one level by the opposing partnership.

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