Barnet Shenkin

oh, Canada by Barnet Shenkin prev/next

                                        OH   , CANADA  !         An Extraordinary  Tale


In1990, the World Bridge Championships were held in Geneva,Switzerland. It was September, the weather was warm, and the prices for just aboutanything  were already high in Switzerland.

Theteam’s championship was for the Rosenblum Cup. By the semi –final stage,all the front running teams had fallen. In the match of interest ,Canada would play Germany to reach the gold medal match

TheCanadian team had Mark Molson playing with Boris Baran,Eric Kokish withGeorge Mittelman and Arno Hobart playing with Marty Kirr. MarkStein wasthe non-playing captain.The German team was ,GeorgNippgen,RolandRohowsky,Bernard Ludwig,Jocken Bitschene

Therewas vugraph being held at the event. Canada, who trailed by 28 impsgoing into the last quarter had made a spectacular recovery,and itappeared the Canadians would win. With two results left to score, theywere up by 11 imps. Boris Baran felt very comfortable. He remembers hislast two results were favorable, a  game bid and made at his table thatcould have gone down by his side, and a game missed by the opposition.He thought he was in the final of a world championship for the firsttime in his bridge career. However often anything that can happen doeshappen in a bridge match  . In the other room. His teammates doubledthe game on the first board and allowed it to make That was 5 imps awayso they led by 6.. On the second and final board  they had a biddingmisunderstanding which resulted in a 9 imp loss. Canada had lost thematch by 3 imps , they would not be in the final.

WhileArno Hobart was sleeping in  bed that night he dreamt about board 41.The contract was    5C  X  .The board was scored as +1100 to Canada. In the replay Germany made a small slam for  1430 . Germany gained8imps on the board . . His dream replayed what had happened at thetable . The table had been in time trouble and the tournament directorMaury Braunstein was hovering ,trying to speed up the table. After theCanadians had won the first six tricks , Hobart claimed two more trumptricks. At this stage he heard  down 6 1100. The Canadians  acceptedthe score.Hobart later said he may have been confused by the actualscoring tally.  The bridge scoring for doubled underticks nonvulnerablehad been changed for duplicate in 1987 but was kept the same in rubberbridge until 1993. Hobart was a keen rubber bridge player and witheverything going on around him agreed with what would have been the score at rubber bridge. Down 6 at rubber bridge was 1100 and atduplicate bridge 1400.According to  Arno there was no question in anyof the players minds at the time that the declarer took only 5 tricks..MartyKirr ,Hobart’s partner remembers that he too was confused by thescoring change.

  Had the board been scoredcorrectly Germany would have gained only 1 imp and not the 8 impscredited. Canada had factually won the match 151-147. At 5am he phonedhis captain Mark.Stein to see if anything that could be done about theheartbreaking mistake.The recorder had written down the trick by trickplay that showed declarer had made 5 tricks but both teams had informedhimi ncorrectly that the score was 1100 to Canada. Click NEXT in diagram.

Southled the SK overtaken with the ace . North shifted to his singletonheart . South won the Q , the A and North ruffed a heart . The K and adiamond followed. Now N/S had 6 tricks . South showed his hand toDeclarer and claimed 2 more tricks. The play had been recorded for thefirst 6 tricks .there could be no doubt in any player’s mind at thetime  that the contract was down 6.


Couldor should the result be changed ?  While there is a strong moralargument to change the result to the factual result of what actuallyhad happened, there has to be a time in any event when the result isfinal. In all sporting events the result is in when the match is over .The score in these events is open for all to see in real time. Bridgeis the only game when nobody knows the score while the game is inprogress. Generally they know the score up to the beginning of thecurrent set of boards. Although key matches are shown on vugraph at thesite or online today,  you may think you know the score, nothing isfinal until comparisons by the pairs are made. The board scores areagreed and there may be a question of appeals to consider. Today astrong effort is made to hear appeals in a timely manner so that anappeal from an early segment has been heard, and the factual score isknown before the start of the next segment. This was not always thecase, and sometimes matches were decided by an appeal from an earliersegment which was not heard until the end of the match. This is unfairas a team should know how it is doing before the start of the lastsegment of boards, before itdecides if any special tactics are needed.In any case the answer to thequestion is a simple one, and takes theform of another question. What were the rules of the competition ?

Section50 of the rules “ After receiving the official table scorecards of amatch, the tournament director shall post an official result on theappropriate scoreboard. Thereafter , the results will be final with thefollowing exceptions:

(d) Correction of a manifestly incorrect score at the direction of the Tournament Director or the Tournament Appeals Committee.

Correctionsof this type must be made  before the beginning of the next phase ofthe Championship; for this purpose,each direct knockout match isconsidered a phase of the championship.

Thefinal and bronze medal match was due to start at 9.30 aman earlystart.  You may think the rules were strangely worded. According to thewording a team would not know it was definitely playing the next rounduntil it had actually started the match. This is clearly absurd but itis not “ours to reason why” ,only to see the proper application of therules for that year.  There could be no doubt that if a proper appealscommittee was found in time , and if the score was proved to be“manifestly incorrect”, the Canadian team was in time with theirprotest.

The  Canadian team minus Kokish showedup at the playing area at Kokish felt there was enough chance ofa result change to go to the airport and change the departure on hisair ticket. Shortly after the German Captain Bernard Ludewig who hadbeen called arrived. One of his players, Georg Nippgen confirmed thatonly 5 tricks had been taken and this information was given to theChief tournament director, Bill Schoder.

Schoderwent off to consider the situation and returned shortly after to statein his opinion the original score should stand.He gave no reason forthis but did advise the Canadian team to lodge a formal appeal to thetournament appeals Committee.and they did so. A quick committee wasformed and consisted of one member from Denmark,Great Britain , France,USA and Brasil.The members were all experienced committee members whoyou would have expected to give a fair and reasoned verdict . Thecommittee contained Edgar Kaplan ,one of the foremost authorities onbridge laws , regulations and the application thereof.It also containedErnesto D’orsi who was mainly responsiblefor formulating the Conditionsof Contest.It is unclear whether he contributed what was intended bythe unusual wording or whether he had considered it at all.


Most bridge players who heard the story felt that the score would be changed because it appeared the rules allowed it.

Afteraround 30 mins the committee  returned to say that the original resultwould stand and there was no further appeal.No explanation was given.The Canadians who had such high hopes were shattered as they felt acomplete injustice had taken place.


Anexplanation was printed in the tournament Bulletin.”According to  theConditions of Contest,a score can be changed in a situation such asthis only when the score corrected is” manifestly incorrect.” Clearlythe definition of manifestly incorrect is the key here. The committeeheard all the testimony including a statement by the German playersthat they took only 5 tricks. The scorecard said  6 tricks were madeand down 5 was a penalty of 1100. Since these figures are consistentwith each other the score was allowed to stand.

Whatis a “manifestly incorrect” score. It could be the score of amatch-perhaps a total of the imps would be incorrectly added. 420 on avulnerable board would be manifestly incorrect. Down 3 vulnerable witha score of 1100 would be manifestly incorrect. However ,in this casethe number of tricks and the score matched. ( this would suggest thatthe players who kept the official scorecards had marked 6 tricks , not5 on the card.) BS That was the key to the committee’s decision.”

TheCanadians were quite obviously upset by the ruling and refused to playthe playoff for the bronze medal. The American team as a gesture ofsolidarity  led by Rapee also refused to take their seats and the medalfor third place was shared by the two teams

Aletter also appeared in the Bulletin from the Germans expressing regretover the whole incident but saying everything was outside theircontrol. Many felt they could have done  more or even withdrawn fromthe final in favor of the Canadians. Certainly they could have chosento do so but it was not

unreasonable for themto let the lawmakers sort it out. If the rules said they had lost so beit.  If the English speaking bridge playing community could not agreeon what the rules meant in English youcould not expect the German teamto know. There are few players in the bridge world who would not takeadvantage of a favorable ruling . Zia-Rosenberg were a known exceptionto this who did not take penalties given for mechanical errors and madetheir captain and teammates aware of this.

AlanTruscott wrote in the New York Times that the ruling by the committeeseemed to follow the letter of the law but not the spirit. Nowthatwould be reasonable but was the letter of the law followed?

Accordingto the letter of the law what did “ manifestlyi ncorrect” mean ? TheOxford Dictionary states the meaning of manifestly as “Clear or obviousto the eye or mind”. Now it was clear and obvious to anyone that thescore was wrong based on the player’s accounts.  The play wasofficially recorded as the Defense taking the first 6 tricks and thenthe declarer conceding two further tricks when a defender showeddeclarer two trump tricks.

At the banquetKaplan explained to Hobart his interpretation of manifestly . Hisexample was one down vulnerable being scored as 50.

Conclusion :   In my own view the wording only gave the committee 2 choices.Choice A was to say that the wording clearly allowed the score change.If you took out the word manifestly  from the sentence ,there wouldhave been no choice but to change  the result and declare Canada thewinner. The second choice was to say the word manifestly somehow putthe decision in a grey area. However if as Hobart said, the players atthe table knew at the time of play that the contract was in fact 6 down when they recorded the score ,it couldhave been considered “manifestly incorrect”  : wrongly calculated.

 Perhaps the committee felt, it could use its discretion to rule either way. Inthis case, you may think as Truscott wrote they may have chosen “thespirit of the law” being thus allowed to  choose in this manner.However, if Hobart’s account was as it occurred , as a “ Cold Case” ,it looks  more likely that an injustice may have been  done.

In Scotland, we could possibly sympathise with the Canadian cry: “We was robbed”

Footnote; many people had strong opinions about the above events if you wouldlike to add your own comments just click this link and write yourcomments       comments link


This article was written after consultation  with ,      Mark Stein, Arno Hobart, Eric Kokish, Boris Baran