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Stand-by Partner

We have standby partners available on the last Wednesday of each month as follows. Just turn up and be sure of a game - so long as we can recruit willing volunteers.

We are currently looking for offers for 26 September and 28 November. Jan Wells has kindly volunteered for Wednesday 31 October. But September is ticking by and we urgently need a volunteer for Wednesday week!

If you can help, please let me know!

Many thanks

Jane (Scarfe).




ABC Director's Page
Comparable bids in action

Question:  In your article on the new laws you mention comparable bids.  I think I understand the principle, but could you give some examples please. 


When an insufficient bid or a bid-out-of-turn is made, the director should be called immediately to safeguard your rights and those of your opponents. The left-hand opponent can condone the errant bid in which case the auction continues without penalty, but what happens if the opponents decline that right? 


The new laws are more liberal to the transgressor than previously.  In the illustrations we will assume that both pairs are playing a four card natural system such as Acol: 


1. Let’s take insufficient bids first.

A. If the bid is natural and the lowest sufficient bid in the same denomination is natural, the player can correct to that bid.  There is no penalty and the bidding continues in sequence. 


Ex1.                 West               North              East                South

                        1 H                  Pass                2H                   1S


South can correct 1S to 2S and the bidding continues.  2S is considered a comparable bid.


B. If there is an alternative call, which means the same as the insufficient bid, or is contained within the meaning of that bid, the player can correct to that call.  There is no penalty and the bidding continues in sequence. 


Ex2.                 West               North              East

                        1 D                  1S                    1H


If the system played by East-West uses a negative double to show hearts, East can correct 1H to double

Ex3.                 West               North              East                South

                        1H                   Pass                3H                   Pass

                        4N                   Pass                4C


If the TD is satisfied that East intended to answer 5C in response to Blackwood, but bid at the wrong level, then East can correct 4C to 5C


Ex4.                 West               North              East

                        2N                   Pass                2H


If 2H was intended as a transfer to spades and 3H is also a transfer to spades over 2N, then East can correct 2H to 3H


2. Now take the case of a bid out-of-turn. 

Ex5.     East passes out-of-turn when West is dealer. 


                        West               North              East

                        1H                   Pass                2H


This sequence is allowed, as the 2H bid is natural (say 7HCP) and East would have been passed as opener.


Ex6.     East passes out-of-turn when West is dealer. 


                        West               North              East

                        1H                   Pass                1S


The bid of 1S is not allowed, as it is could be unlimited (say 14HCP).  Because East has already passed, West knows that East holds less than values expected for an opening bid.  It is not a comparable bid.  The TD will explain the options at the table.    


Ex7.     West opens 1NT and East bids 2D (transfer to hearts) before North calls.  The bid is not condoned and North bids 2S. 


                        West               North              East

                        1NT                 2S                    3H


3H is allowed, as it is has a similar meaning to the 2D transfer bid and can be considered comparable.  

New Laws of Duplicate Bridge 2017

Question:  I heard that new laws of bridge have been introduced worldwide.  I haven’t seen much publicity.  How will they affect me at the club?  I don’t usually play at county events. 

Traditionally a full revision of the Laws of Duplicate Bridge takes place approximately every ten years.  The last Red Book was produced in 2007.  Now the latest version (no longer red) has been published, and came into effect for EBU events in August 2017.  From a player’s point of view, there are no changes to the mechanics or scoring of the game.  Hence you can essentially continue to play your familiar game and allow the Tournament Director to worry about dealing with any irregularities that arise.  However there are a couple of changes, which might interest you. 

Change to Laws regarding Claims and Concessions

If a claim or concession has been made, play need not be suspended if the non-claiming side suggests playing on and if all four players agree.  In this case the outcome at the table will be final and the TD will not be involved. 

Change to Laws regarding Calls out of Rotation and Insufficient Bids

This change introduces the comparable call.  This is a call that the TD allows as a replacement for a withdrawn call, if it:

1. Has the same or similar meaning as that attributable to the withdrawn call, or

2. Defines a subset of the possible meanings attributable to the withdrawn call, or

3. Has the same purpose (e.g. an asking bid or a relay) as that attributable to the withdrawn call. 

This is similar to the existing idea for allowing replacement bids for insufficient bids, but it has been more explicitly explained and its application has been extended to calls out of turn.  In most instances, replacing an insufficient bid or a call out of rotation with a comparable call will allow the auction to continue smoothly and fairly.  Do note however, that if you appear to have gained by an insufficient bid or a call out of turn, the TD has the authority to award an adjusted score. 

Other Changes

There are quite a few technical amendments within the new laws.  For example there is a minor revision to the process of penalty assessment following a second revoke on the same board.  There has also been a post-publication clarification regarding lead restrictions.  However in general terms, any judgement relating to these situations can be left to the TD. 

If you feel you require additional information then go to the EBU website,  Click on the laws and ethics button in the sub-menu on the right hand side of the home page.  There you will find details and examples of all the law changes together with the updated EBU playing regulations. 

Most importantly, do not fret.  Life at the bridge table will appear unchanged.

A Cautionary Tale of a Claim by Declarer

Question:  Over the years I have made many claims as declarer without any problem, but can recall an occasion when a defender challenged my claim and became quite abusive about it, so I can see why many players prefer to see the hand played out in full.  In your web article, Claims by Defender, you seem to imply this approach is unacceptable.  Do I understand you correctly? 

Like you I have found that most defenders, after listening to declarer’s statement in regard to the line of play, will peruse dummy and declarer’s hand and accept the claim gracefully.  Inevitably sometimes a further clarification is required.  However if there is a problem and the defenders do not accept the claim, then under Law 68D the TD must be called immediately and will arbitrate on the validity of the described play.  No defender has the right to be abusive and the director should address that as a separate issue under the EBU Best Behaviour at Bridge guidelines. 

For newcomers to bridge at club level, it could be argued that it is acceptable to play out hands in full on the grounds that that they do not yet have the experience to make a claim.  Unfortunately this approach is not the expectation at county or higher levels.  As newcomers become more experienced they should gain the confidence to make claims at increasingly earlier stages in the play.  This will avoid the possibility of evoking Law 74B4 concerned with prolonging play unnecessarily. 

Of course if all players stuck to the laws, rules and regulations of bridge many problem areas could be eliminated.  In the following scenario below, how many infractions can you identify? 

West was on lead when South, the declarer, said, ‘I have the rest of the tricks.’  East protested as he had a trump left.  South then explained that he had a high enough trump to draw it once he was in.  West intervened with, ‘What if I lead this,’ and led a club, which West (but not declarer) knew that East could ruff.  Declarer hesitated, but now realizing that East might be void and could probably ruff this trick, ruffed high, before proceeding to draw the remaining trump. 

OK?  Now how many infractions and problem areas did you spot?  Here are at least some of them. 

  1. Declarer should have stated a line of play when he claimed. 
  2. Then all play should have stopped. 
  3. On East’s protest the director should have been called. 
  4. West should not have shown the club card to the other players. 

If the Director is called immediately, under Law 70, he would instruct all players to face their cards.  The director asks declarer to repeat the line of play he stated at the time of the claim.  Since declarer did not give a line of play at that point, it is too late for him to do so now.  West or East can now suggest a possible play by declarer, which might be ‘careless or inferior’, but not ‘irrational.’  West suggests a club lead for East to ruff.  The TD is likely to rule that declarer ruffs low in dummy thus allowing East to over-ruff and win the trick.  The director now awards this trick to the defenders since ruffing low qualifies as ‘careless or inferior,’ (Law 70D) and also because ‘any doubtful points shall be resolved against the claimer’ (Law 70A). 

Full information on claims and concessions can be found under Laws 68-71 and Law 74.

Claims by Declarer

Question:  As a relatively inexperienced bridge player I have never made a claim at the bridge table and as declarer I always play the hand out to the last card.  The other day an opponent asked why I didn’t claim earlier in the play when I only had winners left in my hand.  I explained that I thought it safer to play out the hand in case I made a mistake in describing my intentions.  To be fair the opponent didn’t make an issue of it.  But I would like to know about the etiquette involved, and also the pitfalls in making a claim, particularly an erroneous one. 

Firstly let’s look at etiquette.  It is generally accepted, that to avoid slow play, a declarer should claim or concede when sure that the remaining tricks are either all to be lost to the defence or all to be won by declarer.  To save time experienced players will also make a claim when conceding some of the tricks but making others.  Your current approach is not ideal and I think you should definitely make a claim when either your hand or your dummy contains only winners.  However I suggest that for the moment you continue your current practice if you are uncertain of how to explain your intentions particularly when there is a need to switch to and fro between dummy and the closed hand.  Hopefully with increasing confidence, you will soon feel comfortable enough to start making more complex claims. 

Now for the procedural aspects and some pitfalls.  Once a claim is made there are two main points to note under Law 68C.

  1. All play ceases.
  2. Declarer shows the closed hand and announces how the remaining cards are to be played.

If defenders accept the claim then the board is scored in the usual way.  On the other hand if the opponents contest the claim, under Law 68D the TD must be called and will arbitrate on the validity of the described line of play.  Under EBU guidelines for example, the director will assume that a solid suit would be played from the top, but that any card could be chosen from a broken suit.  According to Law 70A, the TD must be fair but give any benefit of doubt to defenders. 

When trumps are not mentioned in the original claim, there is a general misconception that if one or more trumps remain with opponents, the latter pairing will automatically be awarded at least one extra trick.  Under Law 70C this is not always the case.  For example suppose a declarer makes a claim and states that s/he will win the four remaining tricks on a crossruff.  If all trumps remaining with defenders are lower in value than the four held by declarer and dummy then the claim will still be valid as the opponent trumps will be smothered by declarer’s larger ones.  Nevertheless it is wise for declarer to describe the intended procedure for dealing with any trumps lurking with defenders so that all ambiguity can be avoided. 

There is another common misperception namely that a defender has the right to suggest defence to partner once the declarer has exposed the closed hand.  As the Yellow Book notes, either opponent can:

 ‘Challenge the claim, and then explain to the director plays that exist which would invalidate the claim.’

Full information on claims and concessions can be found under Laws 68-71.

Dealing with an Infraction by Dummy

Question:  I thought that if declarer played a card when dummy was on lead that dummy could point this out and declarer could then replace the card (assuming LHO had not played a card) and lead from dummy without any penalty.  Do you know what the exact position is?

Law 42.B.2:on dummy's qualified rights is specific in that it states:

'Dummy may try to prevent any irregularity by declarer.'

However there is an important caveat under law 43.A.1.b on dummy's limitations namely:

'Dummy may not call attention to an irregularity during play.'

In other words dummy may try to stop declarer playing from the wrong hand, but once declarer has nominated or shown a card that card is played and dummy must not comment but remain silent.  In the case you cite, dummy is now subject to law 90 and the TD can impose a procedural penalty on dummy.  In a club pairs event this would normally be a warning for a first offence (and perhaps a penalty for any second occurrence later in the session).  Specifically under law 90.A:

'The director ... may assess procedural penalties for any offence that ... violates correct procedure.'

So far defenders are not involved but now the laws which deal with declarer's lead out of turn becomes relevant and law 55.A states:

'...either defender may accept the lead .... or require its retraction ... If the defenders choose differently the option expressed by the player next in turn shall prevail.'

Law 55.B.2 clarifies that in general no penalty is imposed on declarer:

'... if either defender require [declarer] to retract the lead, he withdraws the card led in error.  He must lead from the correct hand.'

Law 55.C notes that in exceptional circumstances:

'When declarer adopts a line of play that could have been based on information obtained through the infraction the director may award an adjusted score.'

Full information can be found under Laws 42, 43, 53, 54,55 and 90.

Asking Questions

Question:  In your article on Unauthorised Information you explain why one should be circumspect as to when and how to ask about an opponent's call.  Have you any advice on how to phrase questions to minimise such risks? 

Remember that opponents should have fully completed system cards available to show the basics of their bidding style.  Perusing these can often avoid the necessity of asking at all.  Unless you need to know at once, it is wiser to wait until the end of the auction before asking questions as this minimises the possibility of passing unauthorised information (UI) to your partner.  In particular, avoid influencing partner's lead by waiting until the face-down card is on the table in the clarification period. 

I suggest you try to phrase any inquiry in a neutral manner by simply requesting an explanation of the auction or a particular call.  For example, when inquiring about an alerted 3♣ bid, it is better to ask, ‘What does the 3♣ bid show?’ or 'How do you play 3♣ in this situation?' rather than ‘Is that Stayman?’ or 'Is that a transfer bid?'  Only if further clarification is needed should specific questions be asked.  General questions such as, ‘Is that bid weak?’ or ‘Is that forcing?’ should be avoided as this style of phrasing often receives simple one-word answers which may be incomplete.  Similarly, the use of the words ‘standard’ or ‘natural’ in questions sometimes leads to unhelpful responses.  In complex auctions it is reasonable to ask for an explanation of the entire auction before the opening lead is faced.

Take the following sequence with only opponents bidding:

            North              East    South              West

            2C (alert)         Pass    2D (alert)         Pass

            2NT                 Pass    3C (alert)         Pass

            3S                    Pass    3NT                 End

Before making an opening lead it is perfectly reasonable for East to check the meaning of the alerted bids perhaps by asking something like, 'Could you just take me through the auction again with explanations, please?'  This might result in a description such as:

            '2C is either game forcing or a super strong no trump;

            2D is an artificial relay;

            2NT is 23-24 HCPs;

            3C asks for four card suits to be bid in ascending order;

            3S shows precisely four spades;

            3NT is to play.' 

No one could possibly object either to the defender's request or to the precise explanation by opponents. 

In summary, asking questions about a specific call may give partner information which can constrain subsequent calls, leads or play.  If at a player’s turn to call there is no need to have opponents' calls explained, it is in the partnership interest to defer questioning until the opening lead.  Incidentally, a player must not ask a question as a method of drawing partner's attention to the meaning of an opponent's bid. 

Full information can be found under Laws 16 and 20 together with associated material in Laws 40, 41, 47 and 75.

Unauthorised Information

Question:  I nearly always ask about an opponent's bid when I'm not sure what it means.  I was told that this method of seeking information is not acceptable.  Is that correct?  Surely I have a right to know what is going on. 


The practise of nearly always asking about the meaning of bids has its dangers.  Remember that opponents should have system cards available to show the basics of their bidding style.  Of course under the laws of bridge, you may ask questions whenever it is your turn to call, but in exercising that right other consequences follow.  Unless you need to know at once, it is wiser to wait until the end of the auction as this minimises the possibility of passing unauthorised information to your partner during the bidding.  In particular, it is important to avoid influencing partner's possible lead by waiting until the face-down card is on the table in the clarification period. 


Under Law 16, a player may use only information received from legitimate sources, such as calls, plays, opponents’ convention cards, their answers to questions and their mannerisms.  A player may not use information gained from partner’s explanations, questions, uncertainties, tempo or mannerisms.  So a player showing unusual interest in one or more of opponents' calls may be giving unauthorised information to partner who must carefully avoid taking advantage.  This may constrain partner's choices during the remainder of the auction and extends to the play of the hand if subsequently the partnership is defending.  Asking about a call which has not been alerted may cause more problems than an enquiry about an alerted call or the meaning of a double.  As an example consider this sequence of events: 


  A player opens 1♣ which is not alerted.

  The next player asks unnecessarily, ‘Does that show a club suit?’

  The opener's partner explains that it shows a minimum of four clubs.

  The questioner passes.

  A contract of 3NT is reached by the opposition.

  The questioner’s partner unfamiliar with duplicate competition, leads a club from a short suit.

  The questioner holds a good club suit.

  The contract fails.

  The declarer feels damaged by the lead and calls the TD.


The director is unlikely to allow the result to stand and in its place will almost certainly award an adjusted score.  The questioner knows the 1♣ bid was natural because it was not alerted or announced.  By asking about the bid, the player can so easily give unauthorised information to the inexperienced partner who must not make use of it but seems to have inadvertently done so in this exaggerated illustration. 


In summary, asking questions about a specific call may give partner information which can constrain subsequent calls, leads or play.  If at a player’s turn to call there is no need to have opponents' calls explained, it is in the partnership interest to defer questioning until the opening lead.  Incidentally, a player must not ask a question as a method of drawing partner's attention to the meaning of an opponent's bid. 


Full information can be found under Laws 16 and 20 together with associated material in Laws 40, 41, 47 and 75.


Question:  Playing a hand against a regular partnership the bidding went:


            North              East                South              West

            1N                   Pass                2C                   End


The 1N bid was announced as 12-14.  The 2C bid was not alerted or announced.  As West I wrongly assumed 2C was a weak take out and placed my lead face down on the table and asked, 'Any questions?'  My partner, East, asked dummy for an explanation of the sequence and dummy confirmed it was natural non-forcing with clubs.  At the end of play, we asked declarer about his club bid as he held only four of them.  South explained he intended his 2C bid to be Stayman and this agreement was confirmed from their convention card.  The TD was called as we felt we had not been given complete information about the auction and had been damaged as a result.  The TD ruled that North had simply forgotten the system and that the result would stand.  Was that a reasonable decision? 


Things seem to have gone seriously wrong when you made the initial lead.  If declarer believed partner had given incorrect information regarding the meaning of a bid, the Yellow Book, Duplicate Bridge Rules Simplified, states very clearly that declarer must rectify partner's statement after first:


'calling the director before the opening lead is faced.'


In this case declarer failed to summon the director at this critical point.  At the end of play you rightly called the TD on declarer's admission that the 2C bid was intended to be Stayman.  Your opponents' system card confirmed they were playing this convention by agreement.  It appears therefore that dummy gave an incorrect explanation of partner's bid.  This was condoned by declarer who was presumably unaware of his obligation to make the correction.  This being the case the Yellow Book states:


'opponents are entitled to a remedy if they have been damaged.'


It follows that if you demonstrated to the satisfaction of the director that, given accurate information, you would have:


bid differently;

made a more effective lead;

or conducted a more appropriate defence;


then the director had the power to cancel the result on the board and award an adjusted score in its place.  The key factor here was for you to establish that the incorrect explanation damaged your bidding opportunities or your defence of the hand.  You did not provide full details of the deal, but nevertheless from the basic circumstances of the situation you relate, the director's ruling appears to have been misguided. 


Full information on these issues can be found under Laws 20, 21, 40 and 75.

Lead Penalties

Question: In your articles you mention lead penalties several times. What are they? How do they work?


Law 26 on lead penalties applies when a call is withdrawn during the auction (such as after an insufficient bid or a call out of turn) and the offender becomes a defender. 


Case 1:  If the withdrawn call showed a specific suit, there are two possibilities. 


  1a. If that suit was shown by another call from the offender, there is no lead penalty.  For example: 


            West    North   East     South

            1H       Pass    2H       1S (insufficient bid; corrected to 2S)

            3H       Pass    Pass    Pass


As the spade suit was repeated there is no lead penalty. 


  1b. If that suit was not shown in the subsequent auction by the offender, law 26 comes into operation.  When the partner of the offender is on lead for the first time, the declarer may ask for the lead of that suit or forbid its lead.  For example: 


            West    North   East     South

            1H       Pass    2H       1S (insufficient bid; corrected to Pass)

            3H       Pass    Pass    Pass


North now has unauthorised information regarding South’s spade suit.  As declarer, West can require North to lead or not to lead a spade.  With this latter option North can lead a club, diamond or heart. 

Note: If North is asked to lead a spade but does not have one, any card may be led. 


Case 2:  If the withdrawn call showed two specific suits, there are three possibilities. 


  1a. If both those suits were shown by subsequent calls from the offender, then there is no lead penalty.


  2b. If one of those suits was shown in the subsequent auction by the offender, then there is no lead penalty relating to that suit.  However there is a lead penalty relating to the other suit as in case 1b. 


  2c. If both of the suits were not shown subsequently in the auction by the offender then when the partner of the offender is on lead for the first time, the declarer may ask for the lead of either of the suits not shown, or forbid their lead. 


For example East opens one no trump and North has a senior moment and bids two diamonds out of turn.  The bid is explained by South as both majors.  If subsequently East or West plays the hand, as a case 2c infraction there is a lead restriction on South.  The director rules that declarer can ask South for a spade lead or a heart lead or allow a minor suit of South's choice when South is on lead for the first time. 


Note: In all cases declarer can waive the lead penalty and allow any lead. 

Full details of penalty leads can be found in the Red Book under Law 26 together with information relating to more complex situations. 

A Selection of Questions


Question: When do revokes become established? Does such a revoke always produce a penalty?

Essentially a revoke is established when the offender or his partner leads, plays or designates a card to the following trick or makes a declaration or agrees a claim.Law 63A gives full details.Generally speaking once established the revoked trick cannot be corrected.

A revoked trick does not incur a penalty if and only if the non-offending partnership takes all the remaining tricks from and including the revoke trick.

Complete information on dealing with revokes can be found within Laws 61 to 64.

Stacking of Boards

Question: If there are two or three boards per round we stack them in the middle of the table. With four or more boards the stack is rather high so we only have one board on the table. Is this OK?

No matter the number of boards in each round, it is perfectly reasonable to have just one on the table.

Law 7A states simply that:

'When a board is to be played it is placed in the centre of the table until play is completed.'

To avoid mis-boarding it must remain in the correct orientation throughout.

The Clarification Period

Question: Some players pick up their bidding-box cards at the final pass of the auction; others leave them on the table until the opening lead is made. What do the laws say?

Law 22.B.1 defines the clarification period as the time between the completion of the auction and the facing of the opening lead by defender, but there is no mention of when the bidding cards should be removed. .However in the Blue Book, the EBU recommends that clubs adopt the policy of leaving bidding cards on the table until the end of the clarification period.

Slow Play

Question: The other day, the TD told us to stop playing a board just as we finished the auction as the movement had been called.I thought this was not the right decision.What is your view?

The laws imply that once started a board must be completed.Even so, you were right to obey the instruction to cease play, because not obeying the director is also an offence subject to a penalty. Ideally the TD should have allowed the play to continue and if necessary warned persistently slow players to speed up in subsequent rounds.Failure of a partnership to increase their pace of play when requested may well incur a penalty under Law 90B2.

There is a caveat that in the interests of time-keeping.The TD can tell one or more tables not to start another board even though the move is not yet called. Partnerships ignoring that request can be given a penalty and the board will be removed.

System Cards and Overcalls

Question:  In your article on Hesitations you say:  ‘The one spade overcall should show at least five spades and at least a near opening hand.’  My partner and I have always overcalled on four card suits at the one level.  We were taught this at bridge classes.  Has the Law changed? 

The law on bidding has not changed, and it is perfectly legal to overcall with a four card suit.  However under the current regulations described in the Blue Book (the EBU handbook of Permitted Understandings), there is an onus on you to warn your opponents that you use such methods.  There is a presumption that overcalls are only made on suits containing five or more cards.  For example the EBU Modern Acol system file, under Section C: Defensive Bidding, states: 

'When opponents open with a suit bid, an overcall in another suit shows around 8-16 HCP and a respectable 5-card suit usually with at least two honours.  With fewer points the suit should be stronger.  If your suit is lower ranking than opponents’ the overcall would be at the two level, then you need 10-18 HCP and a very good five or reasonable 6-card suit.  With more than about 16 HCP it is usually better to start with a double rather than overcall.' 

With a suit such AKJ9, it may well be a reasonable action to make an overcall with only four cards, for example where you are encouraging partner to lead that suit should you become defenders.  Even so a specific reference in the Blue Book states in section 3D1 that: 

‘If a partnership has understandings such as  ...  overcalling on four card suits, these should be disclosed on the system card.’ 

To make your overcalls legitimate simply complete the relevant sections on the standard EBU 20B system card and all will be well.  In particular you might insert in the section aspects of system which opponents should note something like: 

‘Overcalls at the one level can be made on a four card suit’. 

There is also space on the system card under defensive methods after opponents open, to define the strength of overcalls if they are anyway unusual.  In a more general context be aware of paragraph 3A1 in the Blue Book namely: 

‘Pairs are required to have two fully completed system cards. Both must contain the same information.’ 

Additionally try to keep your system card up to date.  This is important as in any dispute regarding the meaning of a bid or sequence of bids or carding methods the TD will use its content as evidence of the partnership understanding.  Of course not everyone wants to deviate from simple natural systems and in these cases paragraph 3B1 of the Blue Book makes it clear that: 

‘The tournament organiser or TD may allow the use of a simplified system card, such as the front of an EBU scorecard, if the partnership’s methods are simple enough to be adequately described in this form.’

Please note that this statement does not imply that a partnership is allowed to play in an EBU competition without any documentation regarding its bidding methods.  Indeed there is a requirement that even for simple systems a description must be available. 


Question:  I opened one heart and the bidding went:


            1H       1S        2H       2S

            3H       3S


At this point my partner had a long think, but then passed.  This was followed by a Pass from the next player and I bid four hearts.  I played the board and went two down for a 100.  It was a good result as the traveller showed the opposition pairs were making 140 or 170 in spades.  The opposition called the director who noted the hands and asked about the auction and the pause.  He said he would discuss the score with a colleague and come back later with a ruling.  At the end of the session he told us that because of my partner’s hesitation and the nature of my hand, he was adjusting the score to 150 in favour of the opposition as my hand was not up to strength and that my final bid was considered to have been made as a result of unauthorised information from my partner’s pause.  I was quite upset.  The decision seemed unfair.  What did we do wrong?  What was the 150? 


I am sorry to hear that you were upset; there was no need to be.  In essence a player may not use information gained from partner’s explanations, questions, uncertainties, tempo (which includes hesitation) or mannerisms.  At the end of the play of the board, the opposition called the TD because of the combination of your partner’s hesitation and your bid of four hearts.  Their action was perfectly legitimate, and in itself was definitely not rude or insulting to you or your partner.  Unfortunately you don’t give the hands, but let’s look at the full auction again. 


            West               North              East                South

            1H                   1S                    2H                   2S

            3H                   3S                    Pass (1)           Pass

            4H                   All Pass

                                                            (1) Pass after hesitation


I assume you are playing Acol and have opened 1H showing at least four cards in the suit.  The one spade overcall would normally show at least five spades and a near opening hand.  The 2H bid shows responding values with at least three and probably four hearts.  South’s 2S bid shows spade support.  You then bid a non forcing 3H.  North could well be showing a six card suit with the 3S call.  The hesitation suggests that your partner was thinking about bidding game, rather than doubling for penalties as the opposition has a good fit in spades.  Your partner has given you unauthorised information (UI) which you must now ignore. 


I have no doubt that you bid 4H believing it to be reasonable on your hand, but the TD and his colleague chose to disagree.  As a game-invitation you might have bid a new suit such as a natural 3C at your second bid.  With a game-going hand you might have bid 4H directly over south’s 2S.  With a slam-try, a cue bid of 3S might have been appropriate.  By looking at a logical alternative action to your final 4H bid, the TD has to decide if the UI could have unwittingly influenced your decision to bid game.  In this case, Pass was an obvious option.  Here the director and his colleague took the view that Pass was the normal action.  The four heart bid was cancelled and the final contract became 3S.  Now an adjusted score was awarded based on the travellers and other factors.  The judgement of the director appears to be a weighted score of 150 reflecting a combination of 140 and 170. 


Your opposition seemed to have done the right thing in calling the director.  You should take no offence at their action.  Neither you nor your partner has deliberately done anything wrong, but perhaps the TD could have explained his decision better.  One final and comforting thought.  If the opposition had doubled your four heart contract, and it had  failed by two tricks for minus 300, your score would have been even worse. 

System Cards and Takeout Doubles

Question:  My partner and I have an arrangement to double an opening bid of a suit for takeout whenever we hold values for an opening hand.  The other day when I held a flat 12 count, I doubled and an opponent suggested this was not allowed.  I would have opened 1 NT if I could.  What is your opinion?  Have you any advice? 

My opinion is that the bridge world can seem a bit crazy at times.  My advice is to be aware of the appropriate sections of the EBU Blue Book (available on the EBU website) and to make sure your system card is always up to date.  In chapter 3 on system cards under paragraph 3A1, we find:

‘Pairs are required to have two fully completed system cards. Both must contain the same information. ... The TD may impose a penalty if a pair does not have two properly completed system cards.’ 

On the matter you raise, the specific reference is contained in paragraph 3D2.  It states: 

‘If a partnership agrees to make take-out doubles of suit bids on almost all hands with opening bid values (not just on hands that are short in the opponent’s suit or have substantial extra values), this should be disclosed on the system card.’ 

The solution is to make sure your arrangement for doubles is shown on your EBU20b system card and all will be well.  Ideally insert in the section, aspects of system which opponents should note, something like:

 ‘double of an opening suit bid shows any type of opening hand and may not show shortage in the opponent’s suit’. 

A related point is the use of weaker doubles by some partnerships.  The same paragraph of the Blue Book goes on say: 

‘... Similarly the practice of doubling for take-out on unusually weak hands should be marked on the system card.’ 

In conclusion there are three main advantages of having fully completed system cards, namely:

1. The partnership will have discussed the implication of their arrangements, and will be more confident in their approach to the game. 

2. In any dispute over misinformation, partnership rights are better protected.  The TD may well presume an explanation is wrong without the evidence provided by a system card. 

3. In the short period between the final pass of the auction and the facing of the opening lead, the declaring partnership may consult their system cards to ensure nothing has been wrongly explained.  During this Clarification Period the bidding cards should be left exposed on the table. 


Calling the Director

Question:  When should the TD be called?  Some players seem at ease and just say ‘Director, please!’, but I feel inhibited and would prefer not to do this.  I feel I don’t want to cause a scene or upset anybody. 

At a major championship the director is the person wearing a colourful EBU blazer (or more likely in these more casual times, sweat shirt) carrying a red book, a blue book, a large white manual on Technical Matters, a stack of papers and a clip board looking rather harassed.  That’s the director not the clipboard!  Of course at club level, the TD is a player making a valiant attempt to run the event while trying to compete in it as well.  So don’t be too surprised if s/he cannot always arrive instantly when called and announces, ‘Just one moment, please!’ 

The first time you call for a director, it might seem rather daunting.  However rest assured it won’t cause a scene; the director won’t allow that to happen.  Indeed calling the TD protects the rights of both partnerships and should never be considered insulting or upsetting to or by any player.  It is simply the process of checking on a possible infraction of law, regulation, protocol or procedure.  Never get drawn into an argument with an opponent; other consequences can follow such as unpleasantness and penalties against both sides.  Law 9B1a of duplicate bridge is quite specific: 

‘The director should be summoned at once when attention is drawn to an irregularity.’ 

There is one caveat under Law 43A1, namely that: 

‘Unless attention has been drawn to an irregularity by another player, dummy should not initiate a call for the director during play.’ 

If you wish you can ask another player at the table to call the TD.  Law 9B1b states simply: 

‘Any player, including dummy, may summon the director after attention has been drawn to an irregularity.’ 

When the director arrives, the person who made the call should speak first.  If you disagree with what you hear, simply bide your time.  Your turn will come.  Interruptions slow the process and can lead to bitter feelings.  The director will not make a ruling before all the information is available. 

Directors are instructed to read the applicable part of law to players when making a ruling rather than relying on memory, but because of time constraints many local directors do not always follow this advice.  If you think the resulting decision may be wrong, simply ask for clarification or if necessary verification.  Meanwhile if the director instructs you to continue play, you must do so.  Finally if you believe the director has misinterpreted either bridge law or the facts, you could ask about making an appeal. 

In conclusion, please remember that calling the director is never an act of rudeness.  On the contrary, the procedure protects the rights of everyone at the table. 

Clear Cut Tricks

Question:  In your article on Opening Points you mention clear-cut tricks.  What are they?  Are they the same as playing tricks?  

The bridge world can seem a bit multi-coloured at times!  The Orange Book had been going for many years and was the handbook on regulations and bidding (70 pages).  The Tangerine Book was a simplified guide to regulations on bidding and play (15 pages).  Both books have now been withdrawn and replaced by a single new publication, the Blue Book, which is the handbook of Permitted Understandings (30 pages).  The White Book formerly the Tournament Directors’ Guide has also been revamped and simplified from 230 pages to 150 pages and renamed Technical Matters.  Both the White Book and the Blue Book are EBU publications and are available on its website. 

The international Laws of Duplicate Bridge (2007) are published in what is known colloquially as the Red Book.  There is also the Yellow Book, an extremely useful publication with the official title, Duplicate Bridge Rules Simplified, which is available from Mr Bridge. 

From this rainbow of colours, the Blue Book is the useful source to answer your question.  It gives the EBU meaning of clear-cut tricks in section 5C3 on Rules for Partnership Understandings:

‘Clear-cut tricks are defined as tricks expected to make opposite a void in partner’s hand with the second best suit break.’

Assume a hand contains the suit AKQJ5432, then there are five spades in the other three hands.  The definition assumes they are all with the opponents and none with partner.  The best break would be three-two.  The second best suit-break is therefore four-one.  Hence by leading the suit from the top the suit would yield eight tricks, giving a  total of 8 clear-cut tricks (CCT).  Now assume a hand contains the suit AKQ65432.  In this second case there are only 7 CCT as one trick will be lost. 

Playing tricks are a looser concept.  Both hands above would be considered to be eight playing tricks.  The same section in the Blue Book gives other examples of CCT:

KQJxxxx(5),  AQJ98xx(5),  KQJTx(3),  KQJTxxx(6),  AKT9xxxxx(8),  KJTxxx(2)

As playing tricks they might be regarded as 6, 6, 4, 6, 9 and 4 respectively.  Thus using playing tricks for hand evaluation gives a more optimistic view of strength compared with CCT.  The importance of this distinction now becomes apparent.  The EBU definition of a strong hand is a minimum of 25 Opening Points (OP), 16 High Card Points (HCP) or eight clear-cut tricks.  This is set out in the Blue Book in section 5C3 as the Extended Rule of 25 (ER25).  Thus a hand containing eight CCT can always be regarded as strong.  Compare this with an eight playing trick hand which is only regarded as strong if it also contains 25+ OP or 16+ HCP.  

Opening Points in Hand Evaluation
Question:  Players used to describe the strength of hands in terms of points, losers or playing tricks.  Since the EBU introduced announcements for two level suit bids, opponents use terms like weak, intermediate and strong.  Are these precise terms?  Can they be defined? The problem of defining the strength of hands just in terms of high card points (HCP) is that distribution is not measured unless extra points are added for long suits or shortages.  You implicitly reference that dilemma in your question by mentioning playing tricks and losers.  Some of the difficulties can be overcome by utilising the relatively modern method of Opening Points (OP).  This style of evaluation is particularly effective in defining the strength of opening bids.  The calculation requires adding the number of HCP in the hand to the sum of the number of cards in the two longest suits. 





♠A J 8 7

♠ K 8 7 2


6 2



K Q J 3 2

A 6 3


♣ 8 6

♣ Q J 7 4 2

High Card Points:



Number of cards in two longest suits:






Total value of Opening Points

















Players of modern Acol normally regard 20 OP as the minimum for an opening bid of a suit at the one level.  Some players might pass on hand 1 with its 11 HCP but most will open one diamond.  With its value of     23 OP, hand 2 is a sound opener of one club.   





♠ A K Q 4 3 2

♠ A Q J 7 3 2


A 4

A 2



A K 9 6


♣ K J 5

♣ 8

High Card Points:



Number of cards in two longest suits:






Total value of Opening Points

















With 33 OP, hand 3 is a very strong opener; most Acol players would open it with an artificial two clubs.  Hand 4 contains 28 OP and is worthy of an Acol two spade opener. 

So where are we?  The EBU definition of a strong hand is 25+ OP, 16+ HCP or eight clear-cut tricks. This is set out in the Blue Book as the Extended Rule of 25 (ER25).  In general terms intermediate hands are those in the range from 19 OP to 24 OP with fewer than 16 HCP, while weak hands contain 18 OP or less. 

Where bids cross the range boundaries, they can be described in composite form.    

  1. A natural two heart opener with a six card suit and 8 – 12 HCP might be announced as weak to intermediate
  2. An eight playing trick two spade opener might be described as intermediate to strong
  3. A multi two diamond opener is usually played as weak or strong, although of course it is alerted and not announced. 

An interesting anomaly appears to exist if you play a six card weak two with 6 – 10 HCP.  At the upper range the OP reaches 19 or 20 depending on the distribution.  Thus although playing a weak two, it needs to be announced as weak to intermediate

Mechanical Errors

Question:  My RHO opened one heart.  I put down the stop card and bid two spades.  My LHO passed just as my partner alerted with the blue card from her bidding box.  I was surprised by the alert as my overcall was a weak natural bid (5-9) with a six card suit.  I looked down and saw that I had pulled out the two heart card rather than the two spade card.  I explained that I meant to bid two spades and not two hearts.  The LHO rightly called the TD who examined my hand.  He ruled that as I intended to bid two spades, the two heart card was a mechanical error and I could change my bid to two spades.    LHO objected as he claimed that he had already passed.  The TD explained that if my partner had made a call before I had spotted my error, the mistake could not have been rectified.  RHO then noted that I had only spotted the error because of partner’s alert of the two heart bid (which systemically indicated a two-suited hand with opening values).  The TD acknowledged the point but explained that a relatively new amendment to the laws had clarified the issue and did not affect his decision.  What exactly is a mechanical error and what was the relevant amendment?   

The majority of bridge players generally welcome the introduction of bidding boxes.  Not only does their use remove unfortunate voice inflection from the game, but in addition the bidding process becomes easier to comprehend with the coloured cards clearly visible around the table.  Nevertheless a certain degree of confusion followed their widespread adoption, and still exists particularly in relation to removing an unintended card from the bidding box, known colloquially as a mechanical error.  The onus is mainly with the bidder, who should check the card before its removal, but inevitably errors occur from time to time.  The situation you highlight, the removal of a card next to the one you intended, is common.  Similarly bidding cards can easily stick together as they become worn and a higher bid can mistakenly be made.  In like manner an unintended pass card can appear from a player temporarily flustered perhaps by an unusual auction or an opponent’s question.  

To return to your sequence, it is obviously easy to say that you could have avoided the situation by double checking your bidding card as you removed it.  Even so nearly every player will have experienced this problem and made a similar mistake.  The simultaneous pass by opponent and alert by partner was not germane.  The alert by partner of the apparently non-alertable bid enabled you to realise you had made an unintended bid.  Your partner had not yet made a call and therefore you were allowed to withdraw the two heart bid and replace it with your intended two spade bid as set out in Law 25.  The pass by your LHO could also have been withdrawn and another bid substituted.  If LHO had chosen to change his original call the information from the withdrawn bid would be authorised only to his partner but not to you or your partner.  The bidding then continued in sequence with your partner’s call. 

You admit that you only recognised your error in time because of the unexpected alert.  In December 2011 the World Bridge Federation issued an amendment to law 25A which neatly answers your RHO’s concern and justifies the TD’s decision.  In essence it reads: ‘A player is allowed to replace an unintended call ... no matter how he may become aware of his error.’ 

Note to Club TDs:  It is rare for the World Bridge Federation to make any amendment to the laws between formal revisions, so the interpretation of the law relating to unintended bids seems to have been a source of some concern worldwide.  With regard to Law 25, the EBU recommends you add a footnote to your copy of the 2007 Law book to the effect that: 

A player is allowed to replace an unintended call if the conditions described in Law 25A are met, no matter how he may become aware of his error.  (Dec 2011) 

Opening Bid Out of Turn

Question:  It was my first really big hand for some time.  It was a 22 count and I was so excited that I opened it with a strong Acol bid of two spades.  Unfortunately the opposition pointed out that my partner was dealer.  The TD was called and he ruled that if my LHO wished to let the bid stand then the bidding could continue from there.  However my opponent did not wish to condone my bid and so my call was cancelled and the opening bid reverted to my partner.  The director then said the penalty for a bid out of rotation was that my partner had to pass whenever it was his turn to bid.  So partner passed as did my RHO.  I bid two spades again which was passed out.  I made twelve tricks for a poor score.  Now, does that seem fair?

Well, no one made you bid out of turn; it was your error albeit in the excitement of holding a good hand.  To avoid the problem, each time you remove your cards from the board get into the habit of checking the vulnerability and the dealer.  Now let’s look at the three basic scenarios.  In each case, the LHO can condone the opening bid out of turn, and the auction can continue without penalty.  However if the opponents decline that right, then the opening bid reverts to the dealer. 

Case 1: RHO is dealer 

Had it been your RHO's turn to open and he passes, then your bid of two spades must be repeated and bidding continues as normal.  Your partner could have bid and as a result you may or may not have reached game or slam. 

If RHO had made an opening bid of one heart and you still bid spades, your partner has to pass for one round.  Alternatively, if after the one heart bid you change your mind and bid another denomination such as no trumps, your partner must pass throughout the auction and there may be lead penalties. 

Case 2: Partner is dealer 

This is the case you cite.  It was for your partner to open and now the situation is more complex.  Your call is cancelled and the bidding reverts to your partner who must pass throughout the auction.  Again there may be lead penalties.  What are your options?  Suppose you are south.  The auction now starts with your partner’s forced pass.  For simplicity let’s assume your RHO also passes.  You know your partner must pass throughout.  You have a 22 count and (say) six spades in your hand.  This means there are 18 points between the other three players.  Why not take the view they are divided six, six and six.  With your 22 count and partner’s six, you have a possible 28 points between the hands.  Go for it; play the odds and bid game in spades.  So the auction may have gone:

North (partner)            East (RHO)                 South               West (LHO)

Pass (1)                       Pass                            4S                    All Pass           (1) forced penalty pass

Perhaps you feel really lucky and bid six spades instead of four.  After all, your partner may have ten points.  Either contract is likely to be better than two spades and a probable zero score on the board! 

Case 3: LHO is dealer 

Here as in case 2 your call would be cancelled and the bidding reverts to your LHO.  Your partner must pass throughout, and again there may be lead penalties.  The auction might start with LHO opening one heart.  Your partner must pass.  RHO might respond two hearts.  What now?  West is probably looking at about 12 points and East about six, but don’t forget both opponents know you have a good hand with spades.  Even so it doesn’t look as if your partner has much.  Perhaps you just bid two spades after all.  Hence the auction might go: 

West (LHO)                 North (partner)            East (RHO)     South

1 H                              Pass (1)                       2H                   2S                    (1) forced penalty pass

All Pass

You might make the contract on the nose for a top!  Bridge is a funny game.  The full account of Calls out of Rotation is covered in Laws 28 to 34, good bed time reading – especially for an insomniac!  By the way, sometimes Law 23 applies which is a law concerning Awareness of Potential Damage.  Bad news if applied against you! 

Dummy's Rights and Limitations

Question:  I was dummy.  Halfway through the play of the hand I noticed that when my partner lost a trick to the opposition, the wrong defender led to the next trick.  I told the defender that he had made a mistake and immediately called the director.  The TD explained that I should not have pointed out the irregularity to the defender.  He then added that in any case I should not have called for a director until play on the hand had ended.  Surely that can’t be right, can it?  He also warned me that I could have been penalised under Law 90, although in fact he did not do so.

Let’s look at some of your responsibilities first.  Not surprisingly your main duty as dummy is to place played cards NS or EW in front of you depending on who won the trick, but here are some of your rights.As dummy during the play you can:

 1a.  Warn any of the players that a quitted card is in the wrong direction, but only if you spot the lapse before the next trick has been started. 

 1b.   Attempt to prevent your partner leading from the wrong hand by saying something like, ‘I think you are in dummy’, when he appears to be taking a card from his own hand.  However you must not tell him of any error once he has played a card. 

 1c.   Try to prevent a defender from leading out of turn.  Even so you must not tell him once the card has been played. 

 1d.   Attempt to warn declarer of a possible revoke by for example asking, ‘No more spades, partner?’ 

But what about the limitations placed on dummy?  Here are just a few of them.  During the play of the hand, as dummy you are not allowed to:

2a. Comment on any irregularity committed by any player. 

2b. Study an opponent’s system card. 

2c. Say how many tricks have been won or lost. 

2d. Call the TD on your own initiative. 

2e. Hover over a card or suit in dummy in anticipation of declarer’s next play.


At the end of the play of the hand as dummy you may:

3. Draw attention to a perceived irregularity. 


Now back to your question.  With the best of intentions, you seem to have breached conditions 2a and 2d, firstly by drawing attention defender’s lead out of turn and secondly by calling the TD on your own initiative.  As a Monty Python character might say, ‘You have been a very naughty boy!’  More formally in terms of the Red Book you appear to have breached Law 43 A1 (a) and (b).  Technically a procedural penalty against your side was a possibility under Law 90, but in a club competition the TD would probably just point out your error and take no further action. 

Your correct procedure should have been to draw attention to the mistake at the end of the play (Action 3).  In the exact words of Law 42 B3, dummy ‘may draw attention to any irregularity, but only after play of the hand is concluded’.  The TD should then be called, but as none of the three active players spotted the lead out of turn at the time, the lead was condoned and the director would take no further action. 

Although not part of your question, condition 2e is quite important.  At one time or another, I suspect all of us have committed this offence in an attempt to save time, however it is prohibited under Law 45F.  The TD can award an adjusted score if he/she believes that dummy was indicating a possible line of play to declarer. 

When behind the wheel of a car, it is desirable to know both the laws of the road and the Highway Code to lessen the possibly of being stopped by police.  In bridge, the consequences of a lack of awareness of the laws and EBU regulations may not be so financially expensive, but can cause some difficult situations at the table.  Perhaps the roles of Magistrate and TD have something in common! 

Opening Leads Out Of Turn

Question: The other day an opponent made an Opening Lead Out of Turn. As declarer I tried to stop him, but we all saw the card and I called the director. The TD explained the options to me, but I found them difficult to understand. What advice can you give should this situation happen again?


You were absolutely right to call the tournament director, but of course it is easy for defenders to avoid making the error in the first place.  The Laws require that the opening lead be placed face down on the table. The player should ask, ‘Any questions, partner?’  If partner then replies, ‘Yes, why are you putting down a card?  I’m the one supposed to be on lead’, then that card can be returned to hand without penalty.  The real opening leader should then ask ‘Any questions, partner?’ and hopefully this time the answer will something like, ‘No questions, partner.  I do apologise.  Next time I will be more careful.  Thank you for being so understanding.’  Well we can all dream!


When your Right Hand Opponent (RHO) makes a lead face up instead of your Left Hand Opponent (LHO), the situation gives rise to a fairly complex set of five options for your side.  As declarer you first choose one of the following two actions:

  1. Accept the lead or
  2. Reject the lead.


If you accept the lead (Action 1), another choice needs to be made from the following two options: 

            1a. Decide that you will play the hand or

            1b. Allow your partner to play the hand.


If you go for 1a, the dummy is placed on the table and play continues with you as declarer playing next.

If you choose 1b, you place your hand on the table and it effectively becomes the dummy and your partner now plays the hand.


Alternatively if you reject the out of turn lead of your RHO (Action 2) and require your LHO to lead, you need now to decide on one of three options.  They are:

            2a. Ask your LHO to lead the same suit as erroneously led by your RHO who then places the offending card back into hand. 

            2b. Ask your LHO not to lead the same suit as erroneously led by your RHO who then places the offending card back into hand. 

            2c. Allow your LHO to lead any card he likes, but the RHO’s offending card now becomes a penalty card and as such stays on the table until played at the next legal opportunity. 


You as declarer have an absolute right to choose the option which appears to benefit your partnership the most.  Unfortunately the truth of the matter is that it is not always easy to predict which action is best.  However by making yourself familiar with the options available to you before such an incident occurs again, you have the advantage of not putting yourself under so much pressure at the table. 


Beware of this related situation.  Suppose a North-South partnership is in a spade contract.  East leads face down and South faces his cards before he remembers that he bid spades first.  Since East correctly did not expose her card, she may withdraw it without penalty and West must lead.  Of course declarer, South may still pick up his cards, but the opponents now have the advantage of having seen them all.