Paul Cronin

Major – Minor?

In an open pairs club game, with E-W vulnerable, the auction goes  


West North East South
 !C  1D  2NT  P
 3NT  P  P  P



The layout is as follows 




 South, a player with about 50 MPs, leads the diamond Q, and continues with the 7. North wins, and leads a winning diamond. The 3NT contract is now doomed, but…….South, in trying to follow to trick 3, accidentally tables the spade 2. Seeing that he has played the wrong card, South immediately states that he has a diamond, and plays the 3. East summons the director, who initially rules that the spade 2 is major penalty card, and that East can call for the lead of a spade. North requests that the pertinent law be reviewed, and the subsequent ruling is that the spade 2 is a minor penalty card, and there are no lead restrictions attached. North then scores two more diamonds, and the score is entered as down 1, +100 for N-S. East appeals the ruling, and at the end of the game the score is adjusted to 3NT, making 4, +630 for E-W. +100 for N-S is worth 12/12, and +630 for E-W gets 11.5/12. Only 3 of the 13 E-W pairs reached any game, although the hand analysis says that the possible results for E-W are 2NT, 5S, 3H, 2D, and 6C.  

What are your thoughts, be they major or minor?



Richard KendallMay 24th, 2012 at 11:40 am

East’s call for the director (in the example) is symptomatic of a person lacking a backbone. East has no moral or ethical qualms about using the law, designed to protect a potentially injured party, to get extricated from the bad outcome that resulted from taking an action with considerable risk (2NT bid).
East’s decison to appeal the director’s ruling (which ultimately decided the exposed card was a minor penalty card) should have resulted in some form of reprimand to East.
I have kept my comments civil because there may be young children who will read this post.

paul croninMay 24th, 2012 at 4:49 pm

I think my account left some confusion as to the sequence of rulings – they were (i) the 2 of spades was a major penalty card with declarer being able to call for a spade lead at trick 3 instead of a diamond continuation (2) the 2 of spades was a minor penalty card with no lead restrictions on the defenders, thus allowing the defence to take the first five tricks. In accordance with ruling (2) the result was therefore scored as 3NT, down 1, for +100 N-S

This result was appealed by declarer, and after the completion of the session ruling (2) was reversed to ruling (1) deeming the 2 of spades to be a major penalty card, and allowing declaring to call for a spade lead at trick 3. The result was therefore then adjusted to 3NT, making 4, for +630 E-W.

LakMay 24th, 2012 at 5:10 pm

First of all, I agree with Richard Kendall. It was poor sportsmanship by East to (1) call the director and (2) appeal the ruling at the end of the game and (3) to accept the adjusted result. Very poor sportsmanship to do three unsportsmanlike things all on one hand.

To answer your question, there is no question that it is a minor penalty card. The pertinent section of the Laws read:
“A single card below the rank of an honor and exposed
inadvertently (as in playing two cards to a trick or in dropping
a card accidentally) becomes a minor penalty card.”
There are no lead or other penalties.

Jeff FordMay 24th, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Either ruling could be correct. It depends on what actually happened. If south followed suit with a spade, then realized they had a diamond, it’s a major penalty card. If they dropped the spade while fumbling for a diamond, it’s a minor penalty card. There’s no way to tell which of these is the case from your description.

It’s never wrong to call the director when something weird happens. I’m astonished someone thinks this is poor sportsmanship – it’s what the law mandates!

The law also states that it is expected when offered a choice after an infraction to take the one that is best for your side. I know some people instead decline penalties to get the normal bridge result, but again I can’t see how you can find fault with taking the action the law suggests, in this case requiring the spade lead if the card is a major penalty card.

What happened at other tables is completely irrelevant to whether the actions of east were proper or improper.

bobbywolffMay 24th, 2012 at 5:53 pm

Hi Paul,

During my rather long tenure as WBF Appeals Chairman, but now (due to loss of hearing) only chairman emiritus of WBF Appeals, plus lesser time spent, through the years with ACBL Appeals I have come to the following conclusions.

While I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment expressed among your comments and undoubtedly your feeling about poor sportsmanship I went one step further and ALWAYS (at least to my memory) ruled in favor of equity, if for no other reason than to honor bridge and basically restore the status quo (my words).

It is ironic to some extent that the culprit Terence Reese once, during the middle of his cheating episodes, captioned one of his many extremely well written books (probably the best bridge writer to ever live) “There is a demand nowadays for the person who makes wrong appear right”.

There are way too many people who would die before they would refuse to follow a written law which they deem to be written for the benefit of their followers. At least to me, the writers of laws are sometimes confused and either by carelessness or by design wind up with a law which only helps the offenders and is the opposite of what it should say or at the very least, be so interpreted.

“Change the laws others bellow” but do not contradict which at least some and usually most would interpret to favor the wrongdoers who are oblivious to laws which should, be immediately modified and therein acted upon which should have been written, rather than leaving it open to evil and unjust interpretation.

To not do so will eventually destroy the intention of any game, especially our wonderful game of bridge, and pass advantage to the conniving culprits who are always after something for nothing. Contract bridge always had a reputation as a game for ladies and gentlemen and later on for respecting Active Ethics with its laudatory aspects and at least, in my belief that concept needs to be 100% upheld.

Obviously the above sentence is in conflict with what the “bad guys” want to basically rule. Yes, change the law eventually but in the meantime and before the official change still rule to follow honor and intention rather than be caught up in the ultimate sloth of favoring unethical cretons who specialize in wanting something for merely stating what the written word might mean.

The debate will go on, but until the games elders (and lovers) should get off their laissez faire approach and decide to enforce what they should be enforcing.

As a final note, Edgar Kapllan, the father of our legal bridge system and the prime writer and implementer always interpreted his own laws for the benefit of what was right, but since his death, others have tried to intervene to their own benefit. Smite them immediately and honor our game by so putting them forever out of decision making.

Good luck to the “good guys” and may our game forever fluorish with hoped for help from the many players who consider themselves partly bridge lawyers, but above all bridge lovers not evil bridge haters.

LakMay 24th, 2012 at 6:42 pm


This is the kind of situation where a magnanimous East would say “pick it up”. That would be good sportsmanship. Conversely, not doing so is poor sportsmanship. Calling the director is legal (“what the laws call for”), but we should not confuse a legal option with what is sportsmanlike.

But you are right on your other point. It could be either major or minor penalty depending on the exact sequence of events since the laws say: “Any penalty
card of honor rank or any card exposed through deliberate play
(as in leading out of turn or in revoking and then correcting)
becomes a major penalty card.”

So, if he knocked down the deuce of spades while playing diamonds, it is a minor penalty. If he played the spades and then realized that he’d revoked, it’s a major penalty card and if it is a major penalty card, declarer may impose a lead penalty. I’d think that would be poor sportsmanship too, but it would be legal.


paul croninMay 24th, 2012 at 8:01 pm

I really like Bobby’s thoughts on the concept of “equity”! Perhaps his ideas can be used to decide if the future basis of the laws should be (a) to restore equity, or (b) to be overtly punitive, even in cases where no damage is done, so as to be a warning to all players to be more careful.

Opinions, please!

Ted BartunekMay 24th, 2012 at 8:09 pm

I certainly agree that if South fumbled and dropped a spade Active Ethics demands that it be ignored and the defense continue as they wish.

However, I find the opening lead interesting. Wouldn’t you normally lead small from 3 to the Q to guard against Jxxx in declarer’s hand? Leading the Q makes me wonder if, in fact, South had mis-sorted his hand and buried the third diamond initially.

Richard KendallMay 24th, 2012 at 9:03 pm

If it is not expressly illegal then it must be ok to do it!

I strongly disagree with this concept.

If it is within your rights to accept the ruling that becomes favorable to your side you shouldnt be admonished for doing so.

I strongly disagree with this concept, as well.

Hiding behind the law cannot shield one from a moral inspection of this type of behavior.

East may have won the argument and received an undeserved good score, but I venture the cost of this type of victory is higher than East will ever realize.

I, for one, have lost respect for him. I am sure members of his club have lost respect for him. No matter how hard or often East and his supporters defend his “right” in this circumstance, I do not agree.

paul croninMay 24th, 2012 at 9:15 pm

Hi Ted,

Re your comments on the opening lead – perhaps I should have mentioned that N-S were playing in this Open game as part of a mentoring program – North the mentor, and South the mentee. I wouldn’t therefore read anything unusual into the lead of the Q from Q73.

Jeff FordMay 24th, 2012 at 11:12 pm

To those who say that accepting the rectification the laws give for the opponent’s error in this case is “immoral”, how exactly am I supposed to know which ones are ok to accept and which ones are not? Is it only illegal plays I am supposed to ignore, or should I also allow takebacks for inferior but legal ones?

I think it is better to accept the law as it is and play to its constraints. If you believe the game would be better with different laws, then work to get them changed. It certainly might be a better law that even a deliberately played small card is still only a minor penalty card.

As for the purpose of the law, I believe there has to be at least some penalty for infractions, not just a restoration to equity. Imagine that the rule for revokes was that you lost whatever gain the revoke gave you, but otherwise there was no further penalty, that is, a return to equity. Effectively the law would become “If you’re caught you break even, and if you’re not you might gain.” Does anyone doubt that violations would increase?

bobbywolffMay 25th, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Hi Jeff,

Without attempting an answer to your specific question which BTW is definitely on your main point, I will only say the following.

Yes, at times it is totally necessary to follow the law, even though it does not achieve the equity which we all seek. A precise example might be cashing the Ace of trumps against a suit grand slam, before partner (or even yourself) would have a chance to revoke thereby negating the setting trick.

However, back at the ranch, where the facts are stated as happened with very little confusion involved. In the case mentioned the opening leader found his third diamond before a revoke had become established. This in turn resulted with his partner cashing all of his diamonds, enough to set the opponents. Nothing less, nothing more.

If we, as law makers, would only, through the 85 years of contract bridge as we know it, and if asked to determine in this case what a minor penalty card should be, would certainly all agree that in this case it should be so declared.

Presto, as if by magic, the answer then appears in cinemascope (except to win at all cost lawyers, not always bad, but IMHO definitely so in this case since their argument(s) do nothing but directly defy the facts).

At least to me, bridge and all morality DEMAND, which is as prominent as the nose on my face, to follow what has to be (my opinion) good for the future of the game in the reality of recognizing bridge as a gentlemen’s and ladies’ game and not one where untimely and therefore corrupt rationalization reigns.

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