Barnet Shenkin

Oh,Canada by Barnet Shenkin prev/next

                                        OH   , CANADA  !         An Extraordinary  Tale


In 1990, the World Bridge Championships were held in Geneva,Switzerland.  It was September, the weather was warm, and the prices for just about anything  were already high in Switzerland.

The team’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

The Canadian team had Mark Molson playing with Boris Baran,Eric Kokish with George Mittelman and Arno Hobart playing with Marty Kirr. MarkStein was the non-playing captain.The German team was ,Georg Nippgen,RolandRohowsky,Bernard Ludwig,Jocken Bitschene

There was vugraph being held at the event. Canada, who trailed by 28 imps going into the last quarter had made a spectacular recovery,and it appeared the Canadians would win. With two results left to score, they were up by 11 imps. Boris Baran felt very comfortable. He remembers his last two results were favorable, a  game bid and made at his table that could 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 first time in his bridge career. However often anything that can happen does happen in a bridge match  . In the other room. His teammates doubled the game on the first board and allowed it to make That was 5 imps away so they led by 6.. On the second and final board  they had a bidding misunderstanding which resulted in a 9 imp loss. Canada had lost the match by 3 imps , they would not be in the final.

While Arno 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 gained 8imps on the board . . His dream replayed what had happened at the table . The table had been in time trouble and the tournament director Maury Braunstein was hovering ,trying to speed up the table. After the Canadians had won the first six tricks , Hobart claimed two more trump tricks. At this stage he heard  down 6 1100. The Canadians  accepted the score.Hobart later said he may have been confused by the actual scoring tally.  The bridge scoring for doubled underticks nonvulnerable had been changed for duplicate in 1987 but was kept the same in rubber bridge until 1993. Hobart was a keen rubber bridge player and with everything going on around him agreed with what would have been the  score at rubber bridge. Down 6 at rubber bridge was 1100 and at duplicate bridge 1400.According to  Arno there was no question in any of the players minds at the time that the declarer took only 5 tricks. .MartyKirr ,Hobart’s partner remembers that he too was confused by the scoring change.

  Had the board been scored correctly Germany would have gained only 1 imp and not the 8 imps credited. Canada had factually won the match 151-147. At 5am he phoned his captain Mark.Stein to see if anything that could be done about the heartbreaking mistake.The recorder had written down the trick by trick play that showed declarer had made 5 tricks but both teams had informed himi ncorrectly that the score was 1100 to Canada. Click NEXT in diagram.

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


Could or should the result be changed ?  While there is a strong moral argument to change the result to the factual result of what actually had happened, there has to be a time in any event when the result is final. 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. Bridge is the only game when nobody knows the score while the game is in progress. Generally they know the score up to the beginning of the current set of boards. Although key matches are shown on vugraph at the site or online today,  you may think you know the score, nothing is final until comparisons by the pairs are made. The board scores are agreed and there may be a question of appeals to consider. Today a strong effort is made to hear appeals in a timely manner so that an appeal from an early segment has been heard, and the factual score is known before the start of the next segment. This was not always the case, and sometimes matches were decided by an appeal from an earlier segment which was not heard until the end of the match. This is unfair as a team should know how it is doing before the start of the last segment of boards, before itdecides if any special tactics are needed. In any case the answer to thequestion is a simple one, and takes the form of another question. What were the rules of the competition ?

Section 50 of the rules “ After receiving the official table scorecards of a match, the tournament director shall post an official result on the appropriate scoreboard. Thereafter , the results will be final with the following exceptions:

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

Corrections of this type must be made  before the beginning of the next phase of the Championship; for this purpose,each direct knockout match is considered a phase of the championship.

The final and bronze medal match was due to start at 9.30 aman early start.  You may think the rules were strangely worded. According to the wording a team would not know it was definitely playing the next round until it had actually started the match. This is clearly absurd but it is not “ours to reason why” ,only to see the proper application of the rules for that year.  There could be no doubt that if a proper appeals committee was found in time , and if the score was proved to be “manifestly incorrect”, the Canadian team was in time with their protest.

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

Schoder went off to consider the situation and returned shortly after to state in his opinion the original score should stand.He gave no reason for this but did advise the Canadian team to lodge a formal appeal to the tournament appeals Committee.and they did so. A quick committee was formed and consisted of one member from Denmark,Great Britain , France, USA and Brasil.The members were all experienced committee members who you would have expected to give a fair and reasoned verdict . The committee contained Edgar Kaplan ,one of the foremost authorities on bridge laws , regulations and the application thereof.It also contained Ernesto D’orsi who was mainly responsiblefor formulating the Conditions of Contest.It is unclear whether he contributed what was intended by the 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.

After around 30 mins the committee  returned to say that the original result would stand and there was no further appeal.No explanation was given. The Canadians who had such high hopes were shattered as they felt a complete injustice had taken place.


An explanation was printed in the tournament Bulletin.”According to  the Conditions of Contest,a score can be changed in a situation such as this only when the score corrected is” manifestly incorrect.” Clearly the definition of manifestly incorrect is the key here. The committee heard all the testimony including a statement by the German players that they took only 5 tricks. The scorecard said  6 tricks were made and down 5 was a penalty of 1100. Since these figures are consistent with each other the score was allowed to stand.

What is a “manifestly incorrect” score. It could be the score of a match-perhaps a total of the imps would be incorrectly added. 420 on a vulnerable board would be manifestly incorrect. Down 3 vulnerable with a score of 1100 would be manifestly incorrect. However ,in this case the number of tricks and the score matched. ( this would suggest that the players who kept the official scorecards had marked 6 tricks , not 5 on the card.) BS That was the key to the committee’s decision.”

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

A letter also appeared in the Bulletin from the Germans expressing regret over the whole incident but saying everything was outside their control. Many felt they could have done  more or even withdrawn from the final in favor of the Canadians. Certainly they could have chosen to do so but it was not

unreasonable for them to let the lawmakers sort it out. If the rules said they had lost so be it.  If the English speaking bridge playing community could not agree on what the rules meant in English youcould not expect the German team to know. There are few players in the bridge world who would not take advantage of a favorable ruling . Zia-Rosenberg were a known exception to this who did not take penalties given for mechanical errors and made their captain and teammates aware of this.

Alan Truscott wrote in the New York Times that the ruling by the committee seemed to follow the letter of the law but not the spirit. Nowthat would be reasonable but was the letter of the law followed?

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

At the banquet Kaplan explained to Hobart his interpretation of manifestly . His example 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 would have been no choice but to change  the result and declare Canada the winner. The second choice was to say the word manifestly somehow put the decision in a grey area. However if as Hobart said, the players at the 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. In this case, you may think as Truscott wrote they may have chosen “the spirit 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 would like to add your own comments just click this link and write your comments       comments link


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