Dan Romm

The ACBL Bureaucracy

I attended my first appeal process after the mixed pairs at the Reno national. I am completely unknown by any members of the five person committee chaired by Ms. Kent. Cam Doner, an internationally known player, had filed the appeal.

These are the facts: my partner, Helen Abbott, opened one diamond and I bid five hearts (exclusion Blackwood, which was written on both our cards). She failed to alert, looked confused, went into a one-minute huddle, and finally bid five spades. I bid six diamonds, which she corrected to 6NT holding the AQ10 of hearts. We eventually reached 7NT that luckily made on a finesse. At the hearing I (unfortunately) told the committee that when she bid five spades I breathed an internal sigh of relief that she hadn’t passed five hearts, which Cam claimed, for the first time, was visible. The director’s fact sheet only stated that he had heard me make a remark when it was my turn to bid. When asked what he heard, he answered “some sort of inaudible guttural noise,” an oxymoron. His partner, when asked the same question said, “I may have heard something coming from the next table.” When I was asked if I had said or done anything unusual, I replied that the only reason I even attended the hearing was to deny that I had, since I conceded that all the rest of the facts were correct. Next, Helen denied having seen or heard me do anything other than make a bid in a normal fashion.

The committee ruled that I had conveyed unauthorized information to my partner by my (internal) sigh and rolled the contract all the way back to six diamonds. The committee chairman’s (Ms. Kent) write-up claimed that my testimony seemed contradictory, but omitted any mention that Cam’s testimony contradicted his own statement on the fact sheet The affront to my integrity (and Helen’s) angered me to the point that I left the proceedings before finding out what I am most in the dark about. Can any of you enlighten me and alleviate my misgivings about the integrity of the process? Even Cam would not deny that Helen doesn’t have ESP.

Assuming I made an “inarticulate guttural noise” (which I didn’t) and/or visibly sighed before I bid six diamonds (which I didn’t):

a) What relevant information could these actions convey to my partner?

b) Would the information justify precluding her from bidding 6NT, which I think any competent bridge player would have done with her holding in hearts?

Follow-up: I was subsequently accused of violating an ACBL rule for not calmly accepting the insult to my integrity and asked to attend a disciplinary hearing in New Orleans (at my expense). Although I couldn’t attend the hearing due to the birth of my grandson, I was encouraged to submit a written statement, which I did although it took some time to compose. This is it (along with the above):

Facts re: Reno incident

1. As stated in Ms. Kent’s document, I was willing to accept the verdict (knowing by Ms. Kent’s demeanor and the tenor of the panel that I had no chance (see 2 below)) and leave, but she insisted that I stay. Hence, she has only herself to blame for my affront to the “dignity” of her and the committee for their affront to my (and my partner’s) integrity (see other document).

2. At the meeting, Mr. Doner was merely asked (politely, unlike me) what he thought he heard me say with no further remarks from the members after he answered. I, on the other hand, was grilled about what I was alleged to have done, quite hostilely by the member seated across from me at my extreme right (a different person than Ms. Kent).

3. I stated (and do believe) that Mr. Doner called the director after the first trick was played. He denied this was the case, claiming that the director was summoned immediately, at which time I stated that I wasn’t absolutely positive about this. Perhaps this was the contradictory testimony I am alleged to have given (although this would be an incorrect use of the word ‘contradictory’). The committee didn’t elaborate in their write-up. If I don’t attend the hearing please enlighten me as to what was contradictory in my testimony.

As supporting evidence for my position, the first words Mr. Doner uttered were “I’m not happy about this.” Why wouldn’t he be unless he knew we were making? I assure you a director wouldn’t have been summoned had we gone down! Nonetheless, you can ask the director when he was summoned and I will abide by his answer. If he agrees with Mr. Doner’s version that he was summoned immediately upon Helen’s hesitation then he must have been able to observe the manner in which I made my bid. Please ask him if he observed anything unusual in my behavior (I am surprised the committee didn’t bother to ask him that unless, of course, he was summoned after my turn to bid.)

4. I wasn’t going to appear at the meeting at all but Matt Smith advised me that it would be in my best interests to attend (sorry Matt, it wasn’t). I also asked the director who brought me the fact sheet if I could merely note that I disagreed with only one thing (that I did anything unusual) and leave it at that. He told me that I couldn’t and needed to appear if I wanted to dispute Mr. Doner’s assertion.

If (unlike Mr. Doner) I cared so little about the ruling, why would I be so upset if it weren’t for the insult to my integrity, the ludicrous ruling, and the intense grilling to which I was subject? I admit that my partner may have given me unauthorized information and I would have been quite satisfied with the committee’s decision based on that, whatever it might be, without even bothering to appear.

But I was stunned that, given all the true relevant facts at their disposal the committee elected to base the verdict on the one (completely false) allegation my partner and I denied, namely that I had done anything other than behave in a proper manner – quite a slap in the face if you ask me.

5. I noticed Mr. Doner vehemently arguing with someone outside the playing area during the tournament. I assume it was about the director’s ruling in our behalf. Incidentally, to this day I remain uninformed as to what that ruling was. I was only told that there would be an appeal at 11:15. When I arrived, there were several other pairs waiting to file an appeal standing outside of a room adjacent to the committee room in which Mr. Doner was wrapping up a statement to several people in the room (I had no opportunity to plead my case before the meeting). Please inform me as to the purpose of the room, its attendees, and why I wasn’t informed of its convocation prior to 11:15. Clearly it meant something since people were waiting to enter upon Mr. Doner’s exit.

6. Ms. Kent’s allegation in the charging document that I made a remark (of any sort) as to the manner in which my opponent walks is a figment of her imagination. If I don’t attend the hearing I would like an explanation of what the remark was. Please note that “an inaudible guttural noise” is not a remark, although I didn’t do that either.

7. Neither my partner nor I heard Ms. Kent mention sanctions to me at the meeting, although she contends that she did in the charging document.

8. When I denied that I had done anything unusual, Ms. Kent stated incorrectly that my signature on the fact sheet was an admission to the authenticity of the allegations (as stated on the fact sheet it merely confirmed that I had read the document and been notified of the appeal) as if to say that she had already made up her mind despite my denial. It seems to me that in the committee’s zeal to find in favor of Mr. Doner they disregarded his embellishments, clutched at straws and overlooked the obvious.

9. Should I not attend, I would also like an answer to the two questions I pose at the bottom of my other document.

10. I would like to know if any of the appeal board has spent any time with Mr. Doner other than at the bridge table and, if so, which ones.

11. Since Mr. Doner made the ONLY substantial recantation, I find it odd that his integrity went unchallenged whereas Helen’s and mine were called into question. The ethicality of baldly asserting on the fact sheet that I had made a remark and then changing his tune when confronted is worthy of reprimand (in a real court of law it would be tantamount to perjury). In fact he, not I, should be the one facing sanctions at a hearing.

12. The rule that a player graciously accepts any verdict goes against human nature, since it essentially asks one to smile sweetly and say “Thank you” no matter how badly he may have been shafted. If I deserve a reprimand it would be for using the words “crock of shit.” I apologize for this; “farce” would have sufficed.

13. Regardless of the outcome of this hearing, I urge the ACBL to take a serious look at the appeals process. There seems to be many procedural defects. To mention one, the entire proceeding was conducted as if I was a defendant and Mr. Doner was the plaintiff.

Furthermore, I don’t believe that being a bridge player qualifies one to pass judgment on integrity. I am far from alone in being quite dissatisfied (and suspicious) of the process and have heard at least eight cases wherein it appears to me that the result was biased in favor of the better-known bridge player. Could this be because they, a priori, pay considerably more fees?

Please answer the underlined questions.

Not only did the disciplinary committee refuse to answer my questions, they completely omitted any response to my statement and sentenced me to a one-month suspension beginning 8/10 with no explanation of any kind. So, they apparently feel that their time is more important than mine even though I wrote the statement at their request. This doesn’t surprise me. I am well aware of the truth of Lord Acton’s quote implying that small minds are easily corrupted by the slightest taste of power and, let’s face it, bridge players like Cam Doner whose only pleasure in life is winning master points to the exclusion of all other activities are, a priori, likely to be small minded.

All of the ACBL’s actions, including naming a time and place for the hearing no matter how inconvenient or expensive it might be for me, asking me to spend time pleading my case in a written document while they knew full well it would be for naught, not having the courtesy to reply to my document or at least offer some sort of explanation or basis for their ruling, chastising me for reacting angrily to a clear affront to my integrity, wanting me to stick around for the appeal committee’s explanation for their ludicrous ruling which I knew would only aggravate me more and then filing a grievance for an affront to their ‘dignity’ when it did, and rudely grilling me even though Mr. Doner, not me, had refused to accept the director’s ruling by filing an appeal (does this make ME a defendant?), smack of the utmost arrogance and clearly suggest an exaggerated sense of importance by a dictatorial group whose only credentials are that they play a good game of bridge.


Adam WildavskyOctober 20th, 2010 at 10:24 pm

Hi Dan!

I’m sorry you had a poor experience with the National Appeals Committee. Paul Janicki and I are respectively the director and chairman of the committee this year. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the appeal process you are welcome to address them to us. I know little about conduct hearings, though, and can’t help you there.

No process is perfect, and while we do our best we are always trying to improve, so I appreciate any suggestions.

According to our standard procedures every case should be screened by a tournament director before being presented to a committee. There, with both parties present, the screening director will attempt to verify the facts of the case and explain the laws that were applied by the table director. Our goal is to have every case screened before being heard. By your account this did not happen in your case. That’s unfortunate, and we’ll try to do better in the future.

I hope you understand that committees are staffed by volunteers. They do the best they can, but they cannot decide every case correctly, just as no one can play or defend every deal correctly. Some cases are close enough that there is no clearly correct ruling, yet the committee must deliver a ruling every time.

You say that your integrity was insulted but I do not believe that was the case. When a director or committee adjusts the score they do not imply that any malfeasance has occurred, intentional or otherwise. They simply apply the laws as best they can.

Because we are always trying to improve we publish all our rulings online, along with comments from a panel, myself included. Your case is #6 here:


As you can see from the comments, the panelists did not consider this ruling a straightforward one.

In every case one side or the other will be ruled against, sometimes both! Thus, at least one party will generally be unhappy with the ruling. That is part of the reason the second sentence of the Laws reads “An offending player should be ready to pay any penalty or rectification graciously or to accept any adjusted score awarded by the tournament director.” You may think it is contrary to human nature, and you may be right, but our game could not survive otherwise. Even if you disagree with this law, I trust you will be able to follow it in the future.


Adam Wildavsky

Dan RommSeptember 17th, 2011 at 12:27 am

Thanks for the reply. I have no trouble with the law and, as indicated in the article, I would have had no trouble with the ruling. What I have trouble with is that Mr. Doner’s testimony, although false and riddled with contradictions, was accepted without question whereas my contradictory testimony was flatly rejected without explanation.

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