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I shudder when someone in a "sociable" bridge game says, "Oh, we aren't that technical." It sounds especially friendly and sportsmanlike after another player has pointed out an infraction of the rules calling for a penalty. But eventually the question is bound to arise: Which rules do we decide to enforce? The ensuing argument can be bitter. As in any game, the first law must be: state the rules clearly, then allow no infractions. Play it by the book—without exception.
I was reminded of this fundamental last fall by an incident that occurred during the U.S. Open Tennis Championships. Alan Messer, a bridge player of considerable note and one of the line judges at Forest Hills, called two foot faults on fiery Pancho Gonzalez during the men's singles. Fortunately, the play was outdoors or Pancho would have gone through the roof. Not only did he have a reputation for never footfaulting, but Messer had made these calls from the center-service line, not from the baseline where most such breaches are observed.
In fact, Pancho was not stepping over the baseline. Instead, Messer ruled, Gonzalez twice put his right foot across the imaginary center line while serving from left to right. Pancho insisted that Messer be removed, and it was only after Vic Seixas, the tournament referee, had discussed the situation first with the umpire, then with Pancho and finally with Messer that the ruling was upheld and Gonzalez was persuaded to continue. However unintentional, it was a foot fault and it might have given the offender an advantage, which is what all game rules are intended to prevent.
When I discussed it with him afterward, Messer cited a comparable example in bridge that may surprise even the expert who thinks he knows the rules. It concerns the one law that is almost universally enforced, the revoke. In part, this law provides that "a revoke on the 12th trick never becomes established," and, from this, the legend has grown that, although a 12th-trick revoke must be corrected, there is no penalty for it. There is, nonetheless, a penalty in certain cases. Here is Messer's example.
Having already expressed his preference for clubs, North did not dare bid seven clubs over South's six spades, which was just as well in view of the 4-1 club break. South ducked the opening heart lead to East's jack, and the heart king was returned, knocking out dummy's ace. There followed five top trumps, on the last two of which West unwisely discarded one card in each red suit. Two diamond discards would have made the impending situation clearer to East, since declarer next strayed from the best technique by cashing his ace of diamonds before taking his four clubs, the final two in his hand.
It was on the lead of the last club at the 12th trick that West revoked. Instead of following suit with his remaining club, he discarded his 8 of diamonds. This was not an "established" revoke, and it was duly corrected. But at the same time it resolved East's problem as to whether to hold the queen of hearts or the king of diamonds, since it was now clear that South's remaining card could not be a diamond and therefore must be the 10 of hearts.
West protested that there could be no penalty, but he was wrong. Under the rules, South could call upon East to play any legal card to the 12th trick. Naturally, he called for the heart queen and made his slam—as indeed he might have anyway, had no revoke occurred.