Judy Kay-Wolff


I would like to share with you an email Bobby received and replied to today from a very frustrated bridge player (and I sympathize with his plight).   Before you read the correspondence, here is a bit of background I later learned upon my personal follow up:  The writer is a ‘relative newcomer to bridge tournaments,’ although he learned to play in grad school at the University of Michigan forty years ago — just to accommodate three frustrated housing students who wanted to be assured of a fourth.  He stopped playing until the Nineties when he entered his first duplicate at the local Senior Center one Tuesday evening.   In 1998, he got transferred to the Bay Area but didn’t resume playing club bridge again until 2004 and entered his first “tournament” in 2006.   I think we can all agree,

although attaining LM status last year, he is a relatively inexperienced player.  

Following is his factual request for Bobby’s opinion of the handling of the situation.   Perhaps you may think Bobby’s approach of not-mincing words rubbed off on me, but I can assure you it was always my way of thinking.   Perhaps, it has to do with my hometown of Philadelphia and the no-nonsense approach both the knowledgeable club and tournament directors assumed when they were called to a table.   It is hard to get accustomed to what I see as in many cases (with a few exceptions) of “fudging a decision” when they don’t know for sure — even after reading the sacred laws of the ACBL and having to consult with others directors — who may know as little or even less!   If rules are to be bent (which quite often are justified), it should be to establish justice.   EQUITY SHOULD ALWAYS BE THE BOTTOM LINE — without exception!


Hi Bobby:

Playing Sectional Swiss Teams:  After first hand passed, I opened 2nd seat vu 1 NT (15-17) with a nice 16 count, including some intermediates.  Third seat passed. My partner bid 2 C Stay man.  First hand passed.  I made a mechanical error and pulled out a pass card.  My LHO immediately said “I pass.”  He obviously saw my mechanical error and wanted to get his bid in immediately (he never even pulled out a green pass card.)  Realizing what I had done, I immediately said mechanical error.  He said, too bad, he had already made his bid.  I said “let’s call the director” and he didn’t want to even do that.  I raised my hand for the Director.

The Director came over and we explained what had happened.  She said, and I quote verbatim, that, “since the pass card isn’t right next to a positive bid card, that it was not a mechanical error.”  She added  “maybe you meant to pass later, and were thinking of that.”  So she ruled that my pass was legit, and so my partner got to play 2 C. 

The “good” news was my partner, with her 10 HCP, made 3 C for +110.  The vu 3 NT game was cold (we did not have a 4/4 major suit fit, and partner (said she) had an obvious raise to 3 NT after the 2 D bid I obviously meant to make), and thus the “bad” news was the director’s ruling cost us the 630 (a difference of +520), the value of 3 NT vu making 4.  The hand made 10 tricks at NT at the other table.   We lost the match by 2 Imps, instead of winning it.  We finished 2 VPs out of second in the cumulative scoring so her ruling also cost us second place overall.   Yes, I was at fault for pulling the pass card out goes without saying.

Three questions:

1. Was the ruling correct?

2.  How could the Director say what I might have been thinking, about maybe passing later?  My partner had yet to bid, and for all I know, could have had the remaining 24 HCP!  OK not really, but you get my drift.  There is no way anyone in the Western Hemisphere who is a Life Master purposefully passes 2 C in this 1 NT/2 C auction.

3.  Is it legal for my LHO to call out pass, and not even pull a green pass card out of his bidding box?  The Director said that didn’t matter.

Signed  (Name withheld by me)

Here is Bobby’s forthright reply:


Chances are very good that the followings are FACTS:

1.  The director was trying to rule according to the laws, but his (her) supposition that you were thinking down the road, was sheer poppycock.

2.  Your LHO was doing as you said he was, by acting fast before you had a chance to legitimately correct your MECHANICAL ERROR.  Probably his vocal pass was a legal move, but……….

3.  Edgar Kaplan, who together with his committees, wrote most of our laws, but he had no confidence in any of our tournament directors, going out of his way to not allow them any discretion in law interpretation.

4.  I, as an Appeals Chairman, (and, of course, if I would have been called to your table) would have found a way to interpret your case so that equity would have been restored and allow you to change your bid (certainly since no UI had been passed).  In addition I would look for ways to penalize the opportunistic opponents who were definitely practicing INACTIVE ETHICS!

5.  As an appeals chairman I would have changed your result to both sides getting average, but your opponents being chastised for inappropriate opportunism.

If bridge is to establish itself once again as a Gentlemen’s game, we need to have gentlemen and ladies playing it.

Do not be too harsh on your TD since his (her) only crime was not having the foresight to do positive things which would, no doubt, leave lasting worthwhile memories.

I have been fighting these types of battles for what seems like forever, and have gotten 1/3 of the way to first base, but the foxes out there have stood in my way all the distance to the henhouse.

Good luck!


The solution is simple — better training of directors — no matter what!


PimoMarch 8th, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Babara Hamman taught us in the final of a KO that the easiest solution to this situation is to deny, which in her case meant lie. Just make a simple statement such as “I didn’t say that!” or “I didn’t do that!” Now add to this verbage an affirmation that nothing was said or done from their partner, and the director is left with no recourse other than to just announce “Play on!” Ergo, you and your partner could just say that the ( unethical ) opponent never said “pass.” I know, not the right solution, but between unethical players and tournament directors who don’t understand bridge, can’t play bridge and don’t care about bridge ( though they are very concerned that their checks cash ), how is an honest guy going to get an even break? Committees are suppose to correct this situation, but who wants to wait all day and into the late evening to get redress which usually doesn’t happen.

P.S.- I love the new philosophy that tournament directors can determine what you were thinking as to why there may be some other reason for an error other than inexperience, age or mechanics. Of course, they have to ask you what else you MIGHT have been thinking. Examples of thoughts one would have at the table during an auction or play of the hand: Did I leave my car, room or house unlocked? Did I put down food and water for the pets? Where shall we go for dining between sessions, or how long a break do we have between sessions? There are thousands of reasons but the best remark ever made at the table during the play of the hand is still ” Oh Sh#t “……What a lulu did this remark create in the bridge world, as it brought about a ruling that opened the door to the canned worm business.

Cam FrenchMarch 8th, 2010 at 1:48 pm

If only the solution were that simple! it is the culture of the game that needs changing, more on that later.

It is easy (and I like how Bobby dealt with it by ..”if I were…..”) to blame the director, but the director needs to pull out their rule book and cite the passge. I found it amusing that they verbalized their bid…hmmmmm.

Clearly your correspondent’s LHO was too quick to sieze an inopportune moment (I love the part how we don’t need the director) to stake their intepretation of the rules.

A normal person would say – clearly you meant to respond to partner’s Stayman inquiry, but as there has been an irregularity I will/might/won’t call the director, please make your response.

Is there really a sense of satisfaction or accomplishment for the non-offending team to win in that fashion? What happened to active ethics? These types of events turn people off the game, and rightly so. I am glad Bobby thought to give a lesson to the quick passer. Will it stick? I doubt it. Someone that needy, that pathetic needs every possible edge and somehow thinks they are entitled to it.


Mark HangartnerMarch 8th, 2010 at 2:34 pm


I have a question from a very small bridge club, standard is mostly beginner level. But there are a couple of “experts” who play there. They have the habit of replying to questions about what their bids mean with the one word answer “undiscussed”.

As you can imagine this is intimidating to average players, and in my view unethical.

Would you see this as a problem as I do, and if so what can the club do to bring them into line?

Bobby WolffMarch 8th, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Hi Mark,

Like many things in administering bridge, the answer “undiscussed” to a question about his partner’s bid can be anywhere from truthful to nothing short of totally dishonest. However, let me suggest what I think are likely guidelines for tournament directors (TDs) to follow.

If TDs have had some unpleasant experiences with that pair or even other pairs in that area with that common platitude of “undiscussed”, and upon being called to the table by their opponents, first ask the one who made the bid to leave the table and allow the opponents to ask the so-called unknowing player questions pertaining to that bid and ask what the possibilities are for its meaning, having to do with partnership tendencies and previous use of similar type bids. If that results in a contentious scene, caused by the possible offenders (in not knowing their system or tendencies or possibly just trying to keep what they do know secret), then ask the player who couldn’t answer the question to leave and allow their opponents to ask what he did mean and whether he expects his partner to figure it out.

Unpleasantness does not have to result from such a confrontation and if it does, the TD should suggest that the partnership in question to have a better understanding of what they play if they want to get better rulings from that club.

When the word gets around, it wouldn’t surprise me to never hear that answer to a possible strange type bid in the future.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFMarch 8th, 2010 at 7:03 pm


You sure have a way with words. As you know The Oh, Shit Case which strikes too close to home (and I don’t use any # signs for fear of censorship) will forever stink and be known as the worst travesty of justice to which the bridge world will ever be subjected.

I find your report in the first paragraph pretty sad and hard to believe, but you were an eye witness and I am only a starry-eyed, shocked reader. It is not my style to lie or deny, but I am ashamed to admit that sometimes honesty does not pay — depending upon who is making the decisions. However, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

roger pewickMarch 8th, 2010 at 11:20 pm

Some 15 years ago I contributed comments on some European appeals. One case in particular held my interest where a pair in a team game discovered a material scoring mistake and reported it for correction. However, the report was minutes if not seconds after the end of the correction period. Mitigating factors were that [the tournament had] mucked the player’s lodging accommodations so immediately after the last hand of the match they went to sort it out so as to have a place to sleep and return before the next set.

To me the resulting ruling left a great deal to be desired and the appeal even less so. However, it would be wrong to have an opinion without first knowing the relevant CoC and verification of the facts. So, for two weeks I didn’t have an opinion- until I acquired those details. I was to be sorely disappointed that of the dozen odd comments offered mine was the only that addressed the issues within the rules. Which leads to-

Among the most reprehensible acts that an adjudicator can perform is to decide a verdict and then look around for a way of selling it. It demonstrates a disregard for integrity. In short, rulings rooted in passion can, and often do, lack objectivity. One may not like the rules or the outcomes they generate but everyone has signed on to the rules and are entitled to expect they be followed.

Returning to the case at hand there are quite a few issues-

As I understand it opener has just lifted a green card from the BB and LHO has with undue haste said, “I pass.” And opener immediately says, “mechanical error” and LHO immediately says, “too bad,…”. Opener says “let’s call the director” and LHO ‘says’, no???.

After obtaining concurrence about the facts several things are evident.

1. Opener had intended to correct his call [he was in a systemic auction and pass clearly was not systemic]

2. opener had attempted to correct his call immediately

3. opener was prevented from executing the correction by LHO’s actions and behavior

4. these facts do not support a ruling that opener may not correct:

L25A1 provides: Until his partner makes a call, a player may substitute his intended call for an unintended call but only if he does so, or attempts to do so, without pause for thought. The second (intended) call stands and is subject to the appropriate Law.

As much as I dislike 25A1 [it is one thing to not penalize something and quite something else to give premission to commit an irregularity] the conditions in this case for correction without penalty exist provided only that the TD permits it to happen.

It has been asserted that the likelihood is 100% that the outcome of correcting his call would be a contract of 3N. without the responding hand this assertion is debatable since there are a large number of 10 hcp hands that are worthy of a 2N invite rather than unilaterally forcing to game. But the evidence is sufficient to deduce that a NT contract will produce 10 triicks and given the provisions of L12 this constitutes damage, albeit due to director error. It now is too late to find out from play what outcome would result.

1. L82C. Director’s Error

If a ruling has been given that the Director subsequently determines to be incorrect, and if no rectification will allow the board to be scored normally, he shall award an adjusted score, treating both sides as non-offending for that purpose.

L12 provides for the NOS to be awarded the most favorable score etc- which for opener would be 10 tricks in 3N and for the defenders would be 10 tricks in 2N or 3N [as determined appropriate given how debatable it is]

As exhausting as these machinations are there are more issues.

2. LHO has infracted BB regulations by speaking rather than using the cards

Such behavior incorporates intimidating overtones further heightened by undue haste. One might draw the conclusion that there was intent to prevent opener from correcting his call as provided by L25A1. if indeed this is true then those actions constitute what is known as sharp practice and deserves harsh remedy. While sharp practice is not a certainty here it is likely given LHO’s “too bad,…”

The BB infraction warrants a PP of at least 2imp and the intimidating behavior [L74C7} warrants a PP of at least 2imp.

3. LHO’s actions to discourage seeking a ruling are gravely serious. This constitutes evidence that he had inappropriate intent to conceal his irregularities.

L72B. Infraction of Law

1. A player must not infringe a law intentionally, even if there is a prescribed rectification he is willing to accept.

3. A player may not attempt to conceal an infraction, as by committing a second revoke, concealing a card involved in a revoke or mixing the cards prematurely.

This breach of propriety warrants a DP of at least 6imp.

4. The adjusted scores may or not balance and the DP and PPs are non balancing. Law 12C4 provides the method of balancing.

5. Concerning the TD ruling- perhaps there is some regulation stating that an unintended call cannot not have originated from a different section of the BB. However, such a regulation would infract L80B2f which requires that regulations not conflict with law. Which law would such a regulation be in conflict? L25A1. Why? Such a regulation presumes something which is not so. It is a bogus standard. it is possible for an inadvertent call to originate from a different section of the box and deeming it to be otherwise does not make so; and thinking it otherwise doesn’t make it so either. I find it unsatisfactory that the TD had the opportunity to minimize injustice by following the rules and failed to do so.

The impetus has come over me to mention one of my pet peeves concerning ‘no pause for thought’. it has become policy of many Leagues that ‘no pause for thought’ begins after a player claims to have first become aware of his error. This policy is ludicrous since it is possible for quite a considerable time can elapse from the point in time that it is first possible to be aware of the error [ which is when the bidding cards clears the BB] and when one can claim to first be aware of the error. Our infamous LHO demonstrates that the proper standard is the more strenuous one.

PaulMarch 9th, 2010 at 3:00 am

The EBU recommends that its TDs ask the following question in such circumstances, “What did you intend to call at the moment your hand reached out to the bidding box?”.

I have some sympathy for the TD’s ruling, which seems to be more than most respondents 🙂 The Pass card is some way from the bids and it is often possible that it is a thoughtless action rather than a mechanical error. If this were a National competition, then perhaps we would all have more sympathy for the ruling of the person who was actually there.

But there is no doubt that improving the standard of directing everywhere is the real solution.

AndyMarch 9th, 2010 at 10:19 am

ROGER: “Returning to the case at hand there are quite a few issues-

As I understand it opener has just lifted a green card from the BB and LHO has with undue haste said, “I pass.” And opener immediately says, “mechanical error” and LHO immediately says, “too bad,…”. Opener says “let’s call the director” and LHO ‘says’, no???.

: “After obtaining concurrence about the facts several things are evident.

1. Opener had intended to correct his call [he was in a systemic auction and pass clearly was not systemic]

2. opener had attempted to correct his call immediately

3. opener was prevented from executing the correction by LHO’s actions and behavior

4. these facts do not support a ruling that opener may not correct:”

Roger: Many thanks for your comments, as well as those everyone else was kind enough to make. I will add that Judy gave an accurate rendition of the facts as I communicated them, and as they actually occurred. I truly believe my pulling the pass card was purely mechanical. I had no thought of passing, to state the obvious. I was horrified and puzzled when I saw my pass card on the table.

The fact that, as Roger also well noted, my LHO called out his “I pass” rather than take the couple of seconds that it takes for him to place his pass card on the table, also indicated to me that he knew what had happened, and wanted to get “the next play in” so as to decrease my chances of saying “mechanical error.” By “next play” I mean the occasional instance those of us who watch football have seen. If a call might be questioned, and the team with the ball realizes it, they rush up to the line of scrimmage to snap the ball ASAP. After the ball is snapped, the previous play can no longer be reviewed. I assume my LHO had precisely that thought, though of course, I do not know so.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFMarch 9th, 2010 at 10:52 am


Your opening statement is so true ……… but easier said than done.

To some people winning is more important than life itself — regardless of how it is accomplished! It is sad to admit that in our present bridge world which has been consumed by professionalism, some will stop at nothing if the finish line is in sight or the opportunity of being hired by a sponsor is a possibility. Bridge has changed so much — and from my viewpoint — certainly not for the best.

I am too proud to want to win by taking advantage of a ‘slip of the card’ when it was obvious the No Trump Opener intended to respond to Stayman (why would he pass?). I want to earn my victory — not have it handed to me on a silver platter, of which I was not deserving. For example, I was Vul in 1NT in a Team Game this weekend and took five tricks (that’s all I ever had from the get-go, with no options or finesses). Everyone said down ONE and started to record it on their scorecards (including my partner who was not watching the play) when I spoke up (perhaps by reflex), “I believe I was down two (-200).” I derive no pleasure in stealing (unless legitimately with skill or deception) and I think what happened to the upset gentleman who wrote to Bobby was absolutely appalling! I found the quick “vocal” pass to end the auction deliberate and utterly disgusting.

I am in total accord with you, Cam, when you ask what happened to Active Ethics. The game has changed and there is too much at stake in the minds of the players (either for goals of ego or money). Bridge is not the same. In fact, I scanned a bridge article in the IBPA where a well known Australian championed the cause of playing anything-goes systems — destroying the beauty, sanctity, dignity and heritage that our once-beautiful game once represented. Sad it has reached this point — and going downhill faster and faster.

If things continue in that direction, perhaps the ‘anything goes’ style should change the name of the game from Bridge to Crapshoot! It undoubtedly is no longer the majestic game presented to us by our founding fathers.

Judy Kay-WolffMarch 9th, 2010 at 11:07 am


A quick but heartfelt response to your above comment was that your LHO’s hasty, oral action was with DELIBERATE MALICE AFORETHOUGHT. No doubt in my mind. How sad! You deserved better!


PegMarch 14th, 2010 at 11:02 am

This isn’t really addressing the issue at hand, but a similar and quite amusing tale. I was once kibitzing Ralph Katz many years ago in a KO at a regional. Ralph opened 2C, and his partner was daydreaming. After a pass, his partner passed also. RHO, Eddie Wold, said, “take it back.” Relieved, Ralph’s partner did.

Of course; you have guessed it. What was Ralph’s last spot to go plus? 2C 🙂 🙂

JUDY KAY-WOLFFMarch 14th, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Peg — It’s still a rare and heartwarming story. I know there are rules and laws about situations like these (not sure what they say and really don’t care). However, I would never want to win a board or match because of an opponent’s B. F.!

Mark HangartnerMarch 14th, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Hi Bobby,

Thanks for your reply, very helpful. I had been mulling over the options about asking the bidder / bidder’s partner to leave the table.

Your suggested questions are apposite “ask what the possibilities are for its meaning, having to do with partnership tendencies and previous use of similar type bids.”

and I agree with you, if they and others work out they won’t be getting away with a lazy answer, the word will soon get around.

sorry to disrupt the rest of the discussion.