When a ruling is needed, there are at least four different places the relevant rules might come from:
- The WBF produces the Laws of bridge;
- National bridge organizations have further sets of regulations;
- Individual clubs (or tournament organizers) may have their own regulations;
- Finally, the TD may have to decide some things for himself.
These form a nice hierarchy: decisions made by the WBF are binding on the NBOs; NBOs in turn have some control over their clubs and tournaments; and TDs should follow the rules they have been given.
This is all well and good when the rules are clear and uncontradictory. But inevitably, that isn't always the case. There are a number of things that can go wrong, and this post is about just one of those things.
It has been known for authorities to make regulations which are illegal according to the Laws of bridge. You might see a "club rule" that allows redealing of boards, or bans psyches. (Some psyches can be regulated according to the Laws, but not all.) Higher up the chain, there has been a bit of controversy recently because the ACBL has changed the wording of Law 12C1(e) in its publications, significantly altering the meaning from the WBF's version.
So the TD can be faced with a Law that says one thing, and a regulation which says something different and contradictory. What is he to do?
In my view, a TD's responsibility is to his club or tournament. If you have agreed to direct at a club, then you must uphold that club's regulations, irrespective of whether they are good, bad or downright illegal. Similarly, if there is conflict between a NBO and the WBF, a TD should always follow the regulations of his NBO.
Why should this be so? Partly because it's the only reasonable way to structure these things: a more specific regulation always overrides a general one. (Indeed, if you try to read the Laws of bridge without this principle in mind, you will get nowhere.) I would also point to the lack of a direct link between a TD and his NBO. A NBO can require that its clubs follow certain rules, but it has no say over who they ask to direct. So a TD does not have to answer to anybody apart from his club. That makes it pretty ridiculous to defy the club's regulations.
But perhaps the main point is that there are much better ways to address any conflict in the regulations. These things should be sorted out at the appropriate level, and at the appropriate time. If a TD refuses to apply a regulation which he thinks is illegal then he is effectively claiming that he has the right to adjudicate in a dispute between his club and his NBO (or NBO and WBF, or whatever). No, it is not his place to do that. If a bridge organization cares enough about something to make a regulation - particularly one that might be illegal - then they will not have done so lightly. It means they believe that is what is best for their players. Maybe they are wrong, but they have a right to expect that they will not be undermined by their TDs.
Now, this all seems pretty obvious to me. But I've seen too many people claiming that certain regulations are illegal and that this means those regulations can be ignored. Too often it is a way to try to get around a regulation that people don't like. I don't think this is a proper way to go about things. If you don't like a regulation, then you should try to get it changed. (Indeed the EBU recently did remove a regulation which I (and many others) thought was illegal. The main reason to remove it was that it was a bad regulation, but the question over its legality was a good weapon to use against it.)
Incidentally, what do we feel about authorities who make these illegal regulations (or regulations that are only legal with a very creative interpretation of the Laws)? Personally it doesn't really bother me that much. As I said above, organizations are just trying to do what is best for their players. If they think the Laws are so badly wrong that they have to make an illegal regulation, then they must feel pretty strongly that that is what is best for their players. I find it difficult to be too critical of that. And certainly in the case of Law 12 mentioned above I think the ACBL is totally right about what the Law should say, as the WBF's version is utterly perverse.
(To be continued.)