There has never been a more-respected and influential person in North American bridge than Edgar Kaplan. As chairman of the ACBL and WBF National Laws Commission and publisher and editor of The Bridge World, as well as a top player, writer and administrator, Kaplan had unprecedented influence.
Kaplan was the single person instrumental in convincing the authorities (of which he was the unchallenged leader) to modify the scoring table so that penalties for doubled, non-vulnerable, undertricks went from 100 for the first undertrick and 200 for each subsequent undertrick (100-300-500-700) to the current 100-300-500-800 penalties.
According to Jeff Rubens, editor and publisher of The Bridge World, Edgar had been aware of the issue for quite some time, but other more-pressing concerns prevented his taking action. As I recall, there was a specific deal which eventually prompted Kaplan to embark on his quest to have the scoring table penalties changed. The undertrick penalty, doubled and not vulnerable, for 11 down, for example, used to be 2100, a profitable sacrifice against a vulnerable grand slam. Under the current scoring rules, down eight (minus 2000) would still show a profit, but down nine (minus 2300)
The deal in question had a young upstart by name of Eric Rodwell ‘balancing’ with seven spades against a confidently-bid seven hearts by his opponents, Edgar Kaplan and Norman Kay. Rodwell was merely using his knowledge of the scoring table to his advantage, but Kaplan’s sense of fair play was offended; their elegant and accurate auction to the grand slam was negated when Rodwell’s down ten save gained IMPs.
Kaplan was thus at last moved to pursue having the scoring table updated. Ironically, Rodwell himself has since been appointed to the ACBL National Laws Commission. Perhaps it’s time to revisit this change. There are lots of anomalies in bridge scoring, starting with trick values for the minors, majors and notrumps. No one has started a campign to equalize major-suit trick values with those for the minors, or make every notrump trick worth 40 points. One could argue that these are just as inequitable as the old doubled, non-vulnerable, undertrick penalties. So why was it felt necessary to
increase the value of those undertrick penalties? To my mind, the old penalty scheme made the game more interesting when a large number of doubled undertricks could still generate a profit.
In a similar vein, doubling the opponents in game when they are cold for slam can also show a profit, if your teammates bid the slam. Is that reasonable? Of course, the declaring side can redouble to further increase their dividend, perhaps chasing the doubling side to a safer haven. Reasonable or not, it adds to the interest and excitement of a deal when a Stripe-Tailed Ape Double occurs, just as sacrificing in seven spades, down 11, against a cold vulnerable grand slam, adds to the excitement of a deal.
I miss the days of scoring up when one could anxiously announce, “Minus 2100,” and your teammate proudly replied, “Win one.”
As one of my early bridge mentors, Irving Litvack, was wont to expostulate, “We play two different games: (i) bridge and (ii) favourable vulnerability.”
Let’s go back.