The Bridge World's Editorials present timely and controversial topics, discussed candidly, with behind-the-scenes reports of what's happening in the world of bridge. Thus, the department does more than merely put forth the staff's views on current topics; it keeps readers informed. Correspondents, especially those who disagree with an editorial viewpoint, are often given the opportunity to join a debate. Bridge World readers have frequently voted the Editorial column as the magazine's most popular feature, surpassing even the popular Master Solvers' Club.
The flood of cheating accusations against some of the world's most successful pairs stimulated discussion about the supervision and recording of tournaments, the mechanisms for gathering evidence and trying cases, and the punishments appropriate for convicted crooks. What about the possibility of taking preemptive actions that might reduce the chance of misbehavior? No one can be sure what will be effective in reducing this sort of criminality, but moves in several different directions might be made, including:
1. Severe sentences. We see no substantial argument against imposing lifetime bans for players convicted of the most-serious offenses, such as collusive cheating or actively attempting to obtain advance information about a board yet to be played. This might inhibit cheating caused by certain motives (financial gain, for example), and it would eliminate the possibilty that a convicted cheat, allowed to return to action, will for whatever reason cheat against such recidivism has already occurred.
2. Allocution after lesser offenses. In bridge (as in everyday life), criminal behavior sometimes escalates from minor offenses to more-serious transgressions. As part of the process leading to a moderate sentence, a player convicted of a behavioral misdemeanor should be required to make a statement that includes an explanation of the inappropriate actions, their motivation, a recognition that bad acting damages the fabric of the game, and acknowledgement that any future similar behavior will result in permanent expulsion.
3. Improved education. Better education about the importance of correct behavior in all areas of the game may preclude loose or informal behaviors (such as coffeehousing and purelyformal pauses after skip-bid warnings) that some believe will on occasion be precursors of more-serious and damaging rule-breaking. Bridge teachers and writers should be influenced to emphasize the importance of always respecting proper procedure.
4. Separation of disruptive behaviors. Procedural penalties and score adjustments should be handled independently. All too often, a scenario such as this occurs: North-South fail to announce methods correctly (or do not respect a skip-bid warning, or act with inordinate speed or delay, or vary tone, etc.), but East-West suffer no damage, therefore do not ask for redress. North- South continue on their merry way. Unconstrained, these miscreants will typically continue the same activities or increase them. Misbehavior merits a penalty (perhaps a warning for the first offense, or something more severe for repeated offenses) whether it causes score damage or not. Players should be required to report instances to the tournament recorder. That such episodes will be kept on file should be publicized.
5. Development of a commmnity atmosphere. Players should be willing to take the trouble necessary for an action for the common good, such as pursuing an appeal despite no important stake in its outcome, or reporting suspicious or out-of-the-ordinary occurrences to a director or recorder. Organizations should take educational measures designed to develop a cooperative spirit, emphasizing that having a pleasant and fair game requires contributions from all who participate.
Some of these suggestions have already been discussed in this column, because they are also desirable for reasons not directly related to cheating.
You Can Only Lose
There are many situations—a depressingly large number—in which a player faced with a behavioral choice can only lose: Whatever action is taken, a group of people, usually including some respected voices in the bridge community, will say that it was wrong. These circumstances include:
(1) An entrant can improve its chances of winning a tournament by impairing its chances in a part of the event, say a particular match. In that match, should the entrant (a) try to win, or (b) try to lose?
(2) Local rules sometimes conflict with what is widely believed to be the spirit and nature of the game; for example, a pair may be allowed profitably to conceal understandings from its opponents. In such an instance, should the competitor (c) follow the rules to best advantage [as required by the principles of sportsmanship, under which it is necessary to try one's best to win within the rules] or (d) follow one's heart by not taking advantage of flaws in the rules [as required to protect the integrity of the game]?
(3) When an opponent transmits unauthorized information to a partner who takes actions that are effective and seem normal but that may not be evaluated the same way by others, should one (e) ask for an adjusted score or (f) do nothing.
(4) Upon the occurrence of a harmless irregularity that engenders a disproportionately harsh adjustment, should the opponents of the infractor (g) enforce the rules or (h) ignore the infraction?
(5) In scenario (3), if the opponents ignore the possibility of an adjustment, should the transmitting side (i) call the director or (j) do nothing?
(6) If declarer has no problem playing from his or dummy's cards as second hand to a trick but may have a problem playing as fourth hand to a trick, should he (k) consider before playing as second hand or (l) play promptly as second hand and if necessary consider before playing as fourth hand?
(7) If an active player has no problem whether or not to win a trick but may have a problem deciding what to lead to the next trick (or might have had such a problem if able to win the current trick), should that player (m) think before playing to the current trick or (n) play promptly to the current trick and if necessary consider before leading to the next trick?
(8) If an active player wishes to plan for the future, should that be done (o) at earliest opportunity or (p) at the first juncture that there is a problem what to play next?
(9) When unauthorized information may have been available, should one call the director (q) at the time of transmission or (r) when it appears that the tainted communication may have caused damage?
(10) Where the Laws are ambiguous (as, for example, over what constitutes an “attempt to conceal an inadvertent infraction”), should one interpret a doubtful passage (s) favorably to one's own interests or (t) unfavorably to one's own interests?
(11) Where the Laws are incomplete (as, for example, over what questions are appropriate), should one interpret a doubtful passage (u) favorably to one's own interests or (v) unfavorably to one's own interests?
(12) When in receipt of unauthorized information, should a player (w) to the extent possible ignore it or (x) if possible avoid taking an action it suggests?
Protecting the Innocent
Every time someone is placed in one of these unenviable positions, the administration of the game has failed. These unpleasantnesses are especially painful, because the victim of the circumstances usually has not caused the problem. Several different bases underlie must-lose cases, so protecting the mostly-innocent sufferers will require concerted action:
Precluding instances. Some of the possibilities, such as (1), can be avoided by promulgating rules that preclude them. Others, including (2), can similarly be evaded by making rules serving formality subservient to those aiming at higher goals. Awkward situations such as (3) can be alleviated by establishing fixed standards of behavior.
Enforcement. Where the rules provide explicit guidance, as in (4), enforcement (preferably supported by education) can reduce the pain. At the same time, it should be noted that violations of the rules—as described in (2), (3), (4) and (5)—do not always stem from attempts to gain advantage. Those occurrences are indicators of underlying flaws: That players are tempted disadvantageously to announce more than required is a sign that the announcement rules are poor. That players feel impelled to waive violations suggests the foolishness of the current “penalty” system of on-average adjustment.
Deeper thinking. Differing personal priorities and views can lead to disagreements over what the rules should be. Conundrums of the types described in (6), (7) and (8) often have no absolute answers, because the lawmakers' disagreements are reflected in their output. The time to resolve conflicts is before the Laws and Conditions of Contest are written, not afterwards.
Clarification. Where the Laws are mealymouthed or silent, they should be linguistically tidied. This would remedy cases such as (9), (10) and (11), and have favorable effect elsewhere.
Solidarity. Those who agree on what the Laws should say do not always agree on what they mean. Varied advice in (12) illustrates this. If we hope to hold fair tournaments, we must get everyone on the same page regarding fundamental issues.
There has been more than enough experience of these problems to convince any wakeful observer that the time is past for eradicating these annoyances. We must lose must-lose situations.
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