The Thinking Director
When the Laws Require Thinking
The Unexpected Situation
The Unexpected Situation
Headless Chicken Rulings
Stretching Laws (you are here)
What to Do
More Examples
Laws About Directing
Supporting Directors

Stretching the Laws to Fit the Unexpected Situation

Now let's consider Law 49. It's heading is "Exposure of a Defender's Card". That is exactly the situation we are looking at. It says "Except in the normal course of play..., when a defender's card is in a position in which his partner could possibly see its face...each such card becomes a penalty card."

Normal Course of Play

So a headless chicken ruling would seem to be to follow Law 49 and call the three diamonds penalty cards. However, at least one decision/judgment is required: Is putting down one's hand as dummy, in response to dummy's opening lead, normal course of play?

Suppose dummy spontaneously faces a card during play and LHO follows. Is that a penalty card? No. Perhaps that is normal course of play. Suppose dummy plays the wrong card and LHO follows. That too is not a penalty card. Suppose declarer leads from dummy when the lead should be in hand and LHO follows. That also is not a penalty card.

Perhaps "normal course of play" means playing after the person in front of you. Then there are no contradictions to Law 49. The point is, it is not obvious what "normal course of play" means, and it is very plausible that in fact putting down one's hand as dummy, in response to LHO's opening lead, is normal course of play.

Of course, all that is being said here, in a way, is that a defender is never punished for not being aware of an infraction and then accepting -- not in the bidding, and not in the play. This is a basic principle of the laws, albeit unstated.

Stretching Law 50

Law 50 comes close to being useful. It is headed "Disposition of a Penalty Card", so you might not even think to look here. But it starts "A card prematurely exposed (but not led) by a defender is a penalty card, unless the Director designates otherwise." The problem here is that to apply Law 50, you first have to know whether the Director is designating otherwise. That means you have to decide whether or not to "designate otherwise".

This gives the director a lot of freedom. How is the director to decide? I think that if some other law clearly states that the card should be a penalty card, then it is inappropriate to "designate otherwise". But then we are back to relying solely on Law 49.

Stretching Law 57

Law 57 is also close: "When a defender...plays out of turn before his partner has played, (penalty) the played becomes a penalty card." However, the same argument applies here for "out of turn" as applied to "normal course of play" in Law 49. Is playing after LHO has played "out of turn"? In all examples I can think of, which were listed for Law 49, the answer is that there is no penalty.

Also, the defender did not play a card. The defender laid down his/her hand as dummy. Elsewhere the laws distinguish playing a fifth card to a trick from leading out of turn, even though they are physically identical. So it is not unreasonable to distinguish playing a card from laying down dummy (and of course when the real dummy lays down his/her cards, that does not count as playing them).

General Point

The first point here is that when people are claiming to be blindly following the laws, they are not necessarily doing so. Instead, they are "stretching" the law -- ignoring a phrase, ignoring a fact, making a decision, etc.

I think this occurs because the laws were not built to be used in the situation, so there is a reasonable chance they won't fit perfectly.

What if one could make a mindless ruling without stretching a law? I still think that would be wrong, if the ruling was not equitable. But it would be better than stretching a ruling.

Meanwhile, the excuse for making an inequitable ruling cannot be "I was only following rules" if the director was doing more than just following rules. And stretching is always more than just following rules.

More Stretching

Trying to make an equitable but mindless ruling also requires stretching. The same director who ruled that the three diamonds were major penalty cards also said he could opt to have them removed as penalty cards by applying Law 50. Law 50, again, says that a prematurely exposed card is a penalty card unless the director so designates.

Can the director simply declare that the three diamonds are penalty cards? I think so, but not by using Law 50. I don't think Law 50 was intended to give the director discretionary power to remove any penalty cards. Indeed, the law is not at all about whether or not a card is a penalty card, the law is only about what to do when a card is a penalty card. There are several situations in which a card is exposed prematurely but not designated as a penalty card in the rules. I think this law is just alluding to those laws. I agree that if this is true, the law would read about the Laws designating otherwise instead of the Director designating otherwise. So there is room for debate here, the point again being that this is not a mindless straightforward interpretatin of Law 50.

What about the idea to call the three diamonds a simultaneously play of three cards, then let them be retracted? One problem is simply that they were not a simultaneous play of cards, they were laying down the cards as dummy. Again, as already noted above, the law does distinguish physically identical actions by intention.

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