Monday, 13 April 2009

Don't Hesitate!

This post is about the laws on Unauthorised Information, and in particular the definition of a logical alternative (Law 16B1(b)).

Here in England, we used to have a "70% rule" for logical alternatives - that is, if a particular action would be chosen by more than 70% of a player's peers, then we would say that there were no logical alternatives to that action.

The "70% rule" no longer applies: it has been superseded by the definition provided by the new (2007) Laws. That is,

A logical alternative action is one that, among the class of players in question and using the methods of the partnership, would be given serious consideration by a significant proportion of such players, of whom it is judged some might select it.

Since this is now part of the Laws the EBU is obliged to go along with it, though there is still room for interpretation - particularly in terms of quantifying what is meant by "a significant proportion" and "some". The EBU suggests "a significant proportion" is something in excess of 20%. I'd have to say that to me the term "significant proportion" sounds more like 30-40%. But that's not the main point here. Whatever the details are, it is clear that this definition is going to result in there being many more LAs than there were under the 70% rule (since "some" is a lot less than 30%). To put it another way, the Laws are now much more restrictive in terms of which actions you can take when in possession of UI.

What are we to make of this? If we look at it from a TD's point of view, we just have a different test to apply. That's not so hard. But how about from a player's point of view?

It seems to me that we will have to start looking at UI situations in a different way. And particularly if we are talking about UI from hesitations.

It is often said that inadvertently transmitting UI is not an infraction: the infraction is if you make use of information from partner. It is advisable not to hesitate as this may put partner in a difficult position, but if you find that you have to think then you should not worry too much, because if partner has a clear-cut action then he will still be able to make it.

Now, in theory this position has not changed under the new Laws: it is not an infraction to transmit UI. However, I believe that this is no longer the right way to think about it. In my opinion, the effect of the new definition of a LA is that there is now a penalty for hesitating. Not the automatic penalty advocated by Bobby Wolff, but a randomly-applied penalty that depends on the other hands at the table.

The thing is, the definition of a LA is now so weak that there are all sorts of rubbish actions that have become LAs. It's no longer good enough for you to have a clear-cut action, it has to be very very clear-cut: it has to be obvious to all those idiots that the TD believes are your peers (though of course you are really a much better player than they are). Think about all the silly bids made each day: it doesn't take much for there to be "some" people selecting an action.

So, if you hesitate in a tempo-sensitive situation, there is a fair chance that the TD will have to impose some daft action on your partner. It's no good blaming the TD for this, since he has to follow the Laws. And you certainly can't blame partner. No, it's your fault for hesitating.

Like I said, I view this as a change. With the 70% rule it was best to avoid hesitating, but even if the TD did have to adjust the score you could be assured the result would be fair: you would not be given a silly result. This is no longer true. There is a penalty for hesitating, and depending on the hand that penalty may well seem very arbitrary to you - it is quite possible that you would genuinely never have had that result with or without UI. So, you must not put yourself in the position where that penalty can be applied.

If you hesitate and it happens to make no difference, then you are lucky. If you hesitate and find that the TD has to adjust to some silly result, that's your penalty for hesitating. So don't hesitate. Or at least, if you hesitate, then be prepared to accept your penalty.


OK, so I haven't done any blogging for ages. In fact, I haven't been playing much bridge at all recently. Back in the summer I was finishing off writing up my PhD. After that I moved back to Hampshire - unfortunately away from most of my bridge partners. I expect I'll be moving again once I've found employment ... but who knows how long that will take. (In fact I had my first interview last week; actually I'm waiting to hear back from them in the next few days, but let's just say I made a few mistakes that I can learn from there.)

Meanwhile, I've been playing a bit of bridge with my Dad and his group of friends - in fact we won a little swiss teams event last month - but it's not quite the same as when I was in the U25 squad.

You might think, if I'm unemployed and not playing much bridge, I'd have plenty of time for blogging. Why hasn't it turned out like that? Well, I think many people have found with this sort of thing, it's difficult to keep up the initial enthusiasm. And particularly for me, since this is a bridge theory blog and not a bridge hands blog (because this is what I find most interesting), I don't get a limitless supply of material just from playing the game. I started this blog to get certain things off my chest - particularly my thoughts on bidding theory. And now I've said what I wanted to say there.

But every so often I find things that make me want to write a blog post, so I'm not going to stop completely. Unfortunately a lot of these things are about bridge politics, which can be interesting but is not particularly uplifting. And I'm worried that if I talk about bridge politics too much you'll get the impression that I think bridge administration is in a mess, which is not the case at all. Never mind. There will doubtless be a lot of bridge politics on this blog, but I hope I can find other things to talk about as well. I have a few things lined up, let's see how it goes ...