So, this post is the second instalment of my not-so-regular feature discussing what's going on with our L&E. The latest meeting is particularly interesting for me because the main thing they discussed was the issue I've ranted about more than anything else on this blog. (You know what I mean.) The minutes are on the EBU's website here.
There were some other things of interest. In particular, there is the very important job of explaining to the EBU membership what the changes are in the new Lawbook. The job has been given to DWS and Mike Amos. This is promising. I wish them luck!
It also looks like there may be some new stuff allowed at Level 4.
But let's cut to the chase.
It's fantastic that they are now discussing the problems with alerting of doubles. There seems to be a genuine enthusiasm to do something about it. Even though they failed to make significant progress at the meeting, it seems that the issue is still very much on the agenda.
The concern now is that, while they have spent plenty of time discussing what to do, they haven't yet come up with a viable, specific proposal. And there really isn't much time left if they are trying to do this by August 1st (given that it would have to be properly advertised).
But what was really disappointing - and the reason I actually felt the need to post about this - was what happened to the idea of alerting only "highly unusual" doubles. This idea is probably not optimal, but it would be workable if done properly, and it's surely miles better than what we have at the moment. And yet it was sabotaged.
David Burn had produded a paper on this idea. And the paper was pretty good. I agreed with more or less all of the points he made, and in a couple of places I felt he really hit the proverbial nail on the head. The problem was, the paper was manifestly not about alerting only highly unusual doubles. And I don't mean just in the wording - he changed from defining "unusual" to defining "expected", which ought to end up with much the same thing - I mean that the effect of his suggestions didn't have anything to do with alerting only unusual doubles.
He gives as an example:
1D : (Pass) : 1H : (1S) , Double.
which he defines as "expected" to be penalties - thus a take-out double would be alertable. The problem is, a take-out double is not unexpected. If a pair plays this double as take-out they will not believe they are doing anything "highly unusual" - because they aren't. The whole point of the idea of alerting only highly unusual doubles is that it will only affect the (minority of) players who play weird methods. Once you start defining perfectly normal methods to be alertable this is no longer the case. Mr Burn writes, "The idea is that players will alert the doubles their opponents need to know about without actually having to read the list at all, let alone memorise it." I couldn't agree more with that philosophy. But you can't achieve this if you arbitrarily define some perfectly normal agreements as being alertable.
It seems that Mr Burn fell into the trap of wanting just one agreement to be "expected" in any given situation. But in examples like the one above, a double might be take-out or penalty or value-showing: none of these things would be unexpected. So if you were actually going to base your rules on the idea of only alerting very unusual doubles, none of those things would be alertable. Indeed I would say that trying to have just one expected agreement is the mistake which causes all the problems in the current rules. This is precisely what we need to get rid of!
My point is that alerting only highly unusual doubles is a workable approach, but it isn't what the L&E was presented with. So they may have dismissed the idea of alerting highly unusual doubles on the basis of a paper which had nothing to do with alerting only highly unusual doubles. That would be a pity.
I'm certainly not saying that this would have been the best approach. There are two alternative approaches that I think are better: the first is the one on my webpage, and the second was actually mentioned at the meeting, attributed to Sally Bugden:
Mrs Bugden suggested that a possible way forward would be to not alert take out or penalty doubles ...
This really would be an excellent basis for a regulation. The problem is that it is not a "finished product", so my fear is that it could go the same way as the idea of alerting only highly unusual doubles. The main issue to be sorted out is that sometimes a take-out or penalty double can be extremely unusual. This doesn't invalidate the general rule; it just means you need to consider whether it is worth having a very small number of specific exceptions (like we have for alerting above 3NT at the moment). For example, a double of a natural suit opening bid is expected to be for take-out: in this situation a penalty double might catch people out if it was not alerted. A complete proposal would have this as an exception. It would also need to sort out what happened for doubles of artificial bids, and other techincal points. My worry is that without a complete proposal, people would see issues like this and dismiss the idea.