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The "70% rule" no longer applies: it has been superseded by the definition provided by the new (2007) Laws.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


MickyB said...

I agree with a lot of this, and I think the change is for the worse; However, surely there are still loads of times when hesitating isn't an issue - the obvious one being something like 1D:1H, 3H, where you could have been considering bidding 2 or 4, so I think considering it a "penalty for hesitating" a bit extreme.

DavidC said...

Well, yes, it's an inconsistently-applied penalty for hesitating. Obviously there's only a problem in tempo-sensitive situations, and even then it might turn out that it doesn't matter. But I still think this is the right way to look at it.

Perhaps I should have explained what I mean by a "penalty". The old rules did a good job of restoring equity - that is, they took away any advantage that you might get from a hesitation, but did not do much more than that. The adjustment would be to a "normal" result: one that might well have happened if there had been no UI. I think the new rules go further - they sometimes require the TD to adjust to abnormal or very unlikely results, and I don't see what else we can call that other than a penalty.

campboy said...

You could call it a "rectification" :P

Good luck with the job-hunting, btw.

Chris said...

I read this post before playing the Spring Fours and there was an episode there that cast some light (for me) on what constitutes a LA.

Opener held Axx KQ109xxx Axx --- at favourable and the auction developed:

1H (2S weak) 4S* (P)
5S* (P) 6H (P)

6H was out of tempo, not a long pause but a consideration. 7H made in some comfort (responder --- AJxx KJx KQJxxx) and the defenders asked for a ruling. The 1H opener was asked why he bid seven; he said he planned 6D over 6C and leaving the decision to partner and, when his partner didn't have the CA for his 4S try beyond game, expected to find the trump ace opposite.

The TD ruled score stands. Clearly he didn't believe NOT bidding a grand off the trump ace a LA.

Is this so clear? Is there some threshold that a split decision had to exceed? That is, they couldn't rule a 10-90 split and dock 10% of the 11 IMP difference with the other table (7H=)?

At the very least, this example seems belie TDs considering virtually anything a LA.

DavidC said...

On the face of it, that seems like a strange ruling, no matter what definition of a LA is being used.

And no, you can't take away just 10%. The TD isn't allowed to fudge it, he has to decide one way or the other: either 7H is legal or it isn't.

(You sometimes see similar-looking "weighted scores", but that comes about when the action is deemed to be illegal but it's not clear what would have happened if a legal action had been taken. In this case you never include any percentage of the original illegal action.)