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Educating Players About the Rules — At Our Club

I thought of commenting on Judy Kay-Wolff’s post, Abiding by, and Knowing, the Rules, but decided on a post of my own. The particular issue involves the “good of the game” versus “pragmatic, don’t lose players to another club”.

I’m a certified club director in zone 5 (the CACBF) and zone 2 (the ACBL) and assist some of the time at a local bridge club. I also direct some of the games. I happen to have very strong feelings about how the game should be played — I’m not talking about bidding or defensive systems, but conduct at the table and, as Judy put it, “Abiding by, and Knowing, the Rules”.

I can understand, and forgive, actions that break the rules that are done in ignorance of the rules, but I cannot stand, and it makes me fume, when players that know better break the rules (“The Laws”) — and what truly makes my blood boil is when players are not even willing to hear about the rules, even when spoon-fed in 5-minute chats before starting a game.

What prompted this post was that I have, for several months, been giving 5-minute, or less, chats before many of the games I direct. It would probably have been all games, but sometimes things are a bit hectic before a game, especially if I’ve been roped into also playing so there won’t be a sit-out. I dislike playing in a game I’m directing, but that is a different topic.

When I gave my first few chats, I urged the players to provide feedback: Did they like the chats? Did they hate the chats? Were there topics (about directing or the rules) that they would like me to talk about?

I got very little feedback. What I did get appeared positive (“I didn’t know that!”, “I’m glad you discussed that, it’s a constant problem.”).

Now I hear that some players (I don’t know how many: it could be one, it could be a few), don’t like the chats because, “That is my time to discuss system with my partner” and have complained to the club owners. Now I don’t want to get into the futility of attempting to sort out a system in the 5-minutes before a game, but the attitude is a problem. I’ve been told about this feedback by one of the club owners.

We discussed the problem. Obviously they don’t want to lose players, especially if those players take their partners with them and influence other players. I mentioned discussions I have read on-line about making education about the rules a part of teaching bridge to players. The club owners would like to incorporate the “5-minute Chats” into the bridge lessons and we’ve agreed I’ll drop them as part of the open games I direct.

I love that idea and am glad; however, I have mixed-feelings about not doing it before open games. Many (most of?) the players that offend in the open games are not the new-comers to our game. They have been playing for decades and wouldn’t dream of attending a lesson series. As I’ve been giving these chats over the past few months, there has been a marked increase in director calls by many of the novice/beginner/lower-intermediate players as they have absorbed some of the rules (poor claims, failures to alert, misleading information, declarer leading from the wrong hand…). I’d also like to think that has influenced the behavior of some of the long-time players, but I cannot be certain about that.

So, what do you think?

If you are curious, I have some of those chats posted on my own site: Bridge in St. John’s.


Judy Kay-WolffSeptember 28th, 2013 at 03:34

Hi John:

This is a very touchy subject as it leads to losing customers.

Your blog (as was mine) in theory is unlike Alexander Pope’s famous quote … “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Thanks for taking the time and exhibiting the guts to step up to the plate. It is only by acknowledging the problems — that they will lessen or stop!



Jeff LehmanOctober 1st, 2013 at 07:39

I think any efforts toward improving the ethics and rules adherence of bridge players should be applauded.

That having been said, I can see why players might be annoyed to hear of segregated announcements on the subject before game time. The following is easy for me to say — I am not a director and thus have insufficient personal appreciation for how difficult this might be to do during a game time when the director has so many other responsibilities — but I think the best time and forum for a director to help achieve improvement on the rules adherence and ethics of players is as rules and ethics are being violated.

Frequently, at least based upon my personal experience, directors apply the rules without explaining the rationale for the ruling, acknowledging a potential problem by saying something quick such as “call me back after the hand if there seems to be damage”. In, say, the case of an action following a Break in Tempo, an opportunity is missed to help explain the ethical basis of the rules (that it is not a violation to have acted out of tempo, but fairness requires that such action forces partner to not take advantage of inferences from the BIT) and the application of the rule (partner must choose, from among logical alternative calls, a call that he/she might not consider best but is the call distinctly NOT suggested by the BIT). IMHO, if such careful explanations were made, not only would players better understand the rules but also the players who had violated the rules would be much less likely to feel that they had been punished in a way that would cause them to withdraw from the club.

Bobby WolffOctober 8th, 2013 at 08:48

Hi Jeff,

For what it is worth, I admire every word you write, and for the reasons you have to do so.

However, just a few random thoughts. Most players, perhaps 80%, know by instinct (and their competitive backgrounds) what is fair in all games and bridge, being a partnership game with special ethics involved, is not hard to understand that unauthorized information (UI) cannot be allowed, otherwise we have no game at all, only an exercise in taking advantage of every chance (at the very least borderline illegal) someone gets.

Yes those 20% who have lesser knowledge and obviously have not played other games involving necessary good citizenship, need to be educated about UI, but that will take almost no time at all, but along with it, the shrewd (and that word goes along with most competitors in anything, including general business) quickly find out that the later they learn the better they do, which creates an incentive to be “slow learners”.

Enter your needed rationale, Jeff, pertaining to the responsibilities of bridge players to adhere to both the rules of the game and the ethicality engrained and needed with the playing of it. It then smoothly follows that the tournament directors, owners of the club, plus the leading and experienced players who play there, take on the task of being the chief educators.

Soon that 20% of relative novices will lose their excuses for non conformance and thus everyone will have the same common denominator to be ethical and therefore true to the relatively new game they are now taking up.

Perhaps this process is not as easy to accomplish as I am dreaming, but since the reason for not, is totally self-serving by players who want better chances to score well than what they would be left with, soon IMO peer pressure would cause them to shape up or if not, the future of bridge would be better off if they gravitate away from the game we all (or almost) love.

Should the ACBL join in this very worthy undertaking? You betcha, but will they, probably not without some badgering from the 80% honest players who let our home office (and the ACBL BOD’s) know what they want and need some constant badgering through the monthly bulletin and all our other subsidiary publications, such as daily bulletins at Sectionals, Regionals and Nationals as well as the District and Unit periodic newsletters.

It is time for the first official beginning of such an operation. Call it Active Compliance Becoming Learned (ACBL) which already has a pertinent and practical identification. My guess is that some genius lyricist can improve upon my initials, but with all of the would be talent in our midst, that figures to be no problem.

Thanks for listening. It is now time to make it happen.

JRGOctober 8th, 2013 at 10:09

Hi Jeff,

I try to explain rationale for most of my rulings when I make them; not all of them — some times time-pressure precludes it and other times the ruling is straightforwad and the players accept what I say (or read from the Laws). One of the major time-consumers when I’m making a ruling isn’t the actual ruling, but ascertaining the “facts” — there is also, occasionally the need to keep things calm (player’s are often trying to impose their view of what happened).

The particular thing that “explaining while ruling” misses is that players get away with breaking the rules because their opponents don’t know “The Laws” and thus don’t call the director. This is one of the reasons I started my chats. I thought that if some of the players that are getting scammed knew enough to call the director, it would start to cut down on some shady practices. Also, that some of the players who break the rules out of ignorance would learn how our game is meant to be played.

I attempt to promote fairness and enjoyment of the game.

JRGOctober 8th, 2013 at 10:11

Bobby, thank you for your support.

Jeff LehmanOctober 11th, 2013 at 09:42

Hi, Bobby and readers,

A recent (and, in genre, far from unique) experience at my local club – where, by the way, the chief director (and owner) is also a director at local regionals and sectionals – causes me to fear that the goal of players being educated by the directors will prove elusive.

As dealer, partner opened 1NT, announced by me as 12-14. Two passes followed. LHO balanced with a double, alerted. Perhaps unadvisedly, partner asked for an explanation. RHO explained “DONT; undisclosed one-suiter”. Partner passed, RHO bid 2C, and I passed. LHO bid 2S. After some further competition, advancer offered a raise to 3S with four card support; 3S became the final contract.

Before partner led, LHO said “There has been a mistaken explanation. My double is not DONT, but, against your weak notrump, is Cappelletti. I show 15+, a hand better than opener’s.” I then asked LHO, “In your agreements, what would mean the 2C call opposite a Cappelletti double?” I was expecting an answer of notrump systems on, the double would be Stayman. Instead I received an answer of “natural, clubs”.

As the hand unfolded, declarer scoring +140, I observed that declarer’s hand was AKxxx, Kxx, KQx, xx.

I called the director, to whom I explained the facts and then pleaded:

“I would like the score reverted to whatever we would achieve on defense against 2C (their 4-2 fit). Based upon what declarer said are their partnership agreements, declarer should have passed 2C. His bidding 2S instead is taking advantage of the Unauthorized Information from his partner’s mistaken explanation of the meaning of double”.

Director said she would look into the issue and get back to us. After she consulted with the head director/owner, the table result of our being -140 was upheld! The explanation to my partnership reiterated some facts – that the double was in balancing seat, that the doubler had a big hand, that a spade partial was the normal result – each of which seems to me to be totally irrelevant. Basically, as I see the situation, the opponents were rescued from the result of a bidding misunderstanding by taking advantage of UI.

I am afraid, Bobby, that even the majority of players who want to be ethical, will fail to act ethically, when the directors who are supposed to know the Laws of bridge fail to apply them to teach players what is, and is not, legal and ethical.

— Jeff

Bobby WolffOctober 12th, 2013 at 08:37

Hi Jeff,

I offer you much sympathy and grieve for bridge, since IMO our home office and the TD education is not what it should be to make bridge the very best it can be.

Briefly, your episode involved itself with Convention Disruption (CD) where your opponents were unprepared, at the very least, to be on the same wave length with your LHO’s reopening bid of double after your partner had opened a weak NT passed around to him.

True, most of what the TD and his consultants discussed was truthful and sincere, but so what? When CD occurs, bridge, as we know it, comes to a complete stop, since everyone at the table (yes, all four players) have no real idea what anyone is trying to communicate by their bidding.

Why is that wrong since bridge is only a game, people want to have fun, so why should they (particularly relative novices, if that was the case) have to learn the conventions that they play and when that particular convention turns out to be spotlighted?

The answer is obvious! Without that requirement, bridge ceases to be bridge as we should know it, and the fault immediately should be placed on the conventioneers for the sloth involved for either forgetting, never knowing, or whatever other lame excuse many players offer.

If discipline is manifested by our officials (TD’s and possibly later, appeals committees) the problem will soon disappear, similar to the morning milkman and presto, magic-o, bridge would be much better played, more respected, and generally players would learn, when (at least one of the partners) was uncertain or just too lazy to attempt to play that otherwise legal convention.

The opponents (you and partner) should get an Average + (about 60%) or better if your overall percentage was above 60%. and the opponents should get the worst of it, whatever the hypothetical contract of 2 clubs their way would bring, probably about 10% or less.

All masters are served:

1. The opponents will see the necessity of both being on the same wave length with that convention or else they will usually see a very poor matchpoint score for it.

2. You, the opponents, will not get a windfall result which then, in turn, will not penalize the field sitting your way for a result which was basically handed to you.

3. Our game gets significantly better, since justice is done in the way of players being encouraged to either learn their conventions or not play them until they do.

4. Mutual respect would improve with many fewer overall disputes, not causing very hard feelings, which seem to always last longer than they should.

5. The players get better because of it, since they need to take their responsibilities to each other and to the game itself, more seriously than they do.

6. The myth of causing players to not come back because they feel like they are being treated like children when they are penalized for wrongdoing, as long as all or most at first, with the number of clubs growing every day, participating in consistency, will have to be respected and if life itself is a good example, no doubt it will happen exactly that way.

7. The politics of not taking a chance on losing customers is nothing but hogwash since by not doing so, it is akin to catering to a young child when he is throwing a tantrum (if the goal is to make him a better human being as he grows up)

8. For the above to work it is totally necessary for the ACBL in Horn Lake, Mississippi to join in 100% with compliance to the above and have it apply at all our games, from novice and then clubs all the way up through our National events.

9. To not do so is to promote bias, sloth, hostility, ineptness and most of all, a total lack of respect for our game itself.

Why then, is it so difficult to enforce? My answer is that the powers that be, top players (but at times, very self-serving and not well-intended), ACBL BOD’s who mistakenly are afraid of newer players being intimidated by being subject to the rules and ethicality of the game and hence want to lean over backwards to keep them playing when the facts of the matter are just the opposite to what they fear. Our TD’s and especially our club owners. are not familiar with their responsibilities, simply because the ACBL is not constantly reminding them of that necessity.

Finally, I am not suggesting any new players be subject to harsh criticism or any form of harassment, only that our game be subject to our special rules and in this case, it is better to not play a convention rather than to play it and not have both partners understand how to, but if that sadly happens (and it will) a swift and immediate disposition will be forthcoming.

It is certainly the right time to switch to what is good for the future of our game rather than to bastardize the game itself in order to mistakenly think that, by doing so, it will perpetuate it.

Everyone is taught from early in their childhood that justice for all is the creed and custom of what our country represents. Let us make sure that bridge supports that theory.

Judy Kay-WolffOctober 12th, 2013 at 10:22

Wow, Bobby!

Don’t be shy. Call it as you see it.

Jesting aside — your proposals in the long run are strictly for the betterment of the game. However, there are so many personal conflict hurdles to overcome that it may take a while to accomplish.

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