These notes are a guide to the EBU’s regulations on bidding and play. It is a summary of the important elements of the EBU Law book.
There are three sections to this guide:
1. The Tournament Director (page 3); 2. The Auction: both the mechanics and how to explain your system (page 4); 3. Regulations on bidding (Page 7).
An Appendix is available to download from http://www.ebu.co.uk/lawsandethics that gives a complete list of all permitted partnership agreements. This is useful if you want to check whether something unusual is allowed.
Regulations are described here somewhat imprecisely as it is impossible to write a guide that is both simple and sufficiently detailed to satisfy the most pedantic reader. If you wish to play unusual methods, or to know the exact wording of a regulation, you should read the Orange Book itself or consult your Tournament Director.
1. The Tournament Director (TD) There will be a TD at all organised bridge games, who should be called whenever something goes wrong. Even a playing director prefers to be called as soon as possible. If you try to proceed without the TD or make your own ruling it will only make matters worse. Never criticise opponents for calling the TD; they are only trying to help.
A list of situations where the TD should be called can be found in the EBU Orange Book, but simplest is just to call immediately following any irregularity, such as an insufficient bid or a revoke. In particular, if you find out during the auction that one of your opponents has incorrectly alerted or explained something, and you now wish you had bid differently, call the TD at once.
Bad behaviour is unacceptable and should always be called to the TD’s attention.
If you or your partner hesitates, or gives a wrong explanation, or misbids, the TD may adjust the score in your opponents’ favour. This can feel as if you are being accused of lying or deliberate unethical behaviour. The TD is not trying to divine whether or not you are telling the truth, merely addressing a standard set of questions set out in the Laws about what other players might do in your position. You need to approach such rulings with the same frame of mind as when partner disagrees with your bidding – it’s purely a bridge judgement, nothing to do with your ethics.
One way to avoid problems is to avoid putting partner into a difficult position in the first place. Don’t think then pass when partner might have a problem, don’t sign off slowly if partner may want to bid on, and (easier said than done) don’t forget the system.
An infraction by the opponents does not give you the right to a ruling in your favour. Sometimes the Laws will lead the TD to say, ‘No damage, no adjustment’. Call for an investigation by the TD, and then take the ruling (whatever it is) with good grace.
2. The Auction Boards and Bidding Boxes The board usually stays in the centre of the table so everyone can see the dealer and vulnerability. Remember to count your cards before looking at your hand. It’s much easier to sort out a 14-card hand before you look at it! After the number of tricks taken has been agreed, shuffle your hand before putting it back in the board.
Most clubs use bidding boxes. Their use is generally self-explanatory, but ‘Stop’ and ‘Alert’ cards can cause some confusion.
Alerts: The usual way to alert partner’s call is to put the alert card briefly into the centre of the table, or to tap it on the table in front of each opponent. You must make sure that both opponents have seen the alert.
Stop: Before making a jump bid, put the ‘Stop’ card in front of you followed by the bid. Leave the card there for 10 seconds, then pick it up. If your right hand opponent makes a ‘Stop’ bid, then wait for either 10 seconds or until they pick up the ‘Stop’ card, whichever is longer. Don’t make it obvious that you have nothing to think about – it should be impossible to tell whether you have a problem or your choice of call is easy.
Once you deliberately remove any bidding cards from the box the call is considered to be made. If you have pulled the wrong card by accident, call the TD. If you pull out the ‘Stop’ card then change your mind, you can put it back again, but partner must pretend he does not know that you were thinking of making a jump bid.
Explaining your System The Laws of Bridge require that your opponents are entitled to know about all your agreements, whether explicitly discussed or from partnership experience. This disclosure takes place through convention cards, alerts, announcements and answers to questions.
Convention Cards Many club players don’t use convention cards, although doing so is in their own interests. Convention cards help to disclose agreements quickly to opponents. If you play unusual or complex systems, you should fill in convention cards even in club bridge. As a minimum, fill in the front of the scorecard with a small list of agreements.
Alerting and Announcing Alerts and Announcements are one way to disclose your agreements. The rules can appear confusing, but remember that the purpose of an alert is to warn opponents that they may not know what your partner’s call means. If there is no alert, your opponents are entitled to assume that you have no special agreement that makes the call alertable. Alert or announce only partner’s calls, never your own.
Announcements When partner makes an ‘announceable’ call, you explain it using a predefined phrase. You announce only the strength of natural 1NT openings, some two-level responses to 1NT, and natural two-level openings. No other bid should be announced.
Natural 1NT opening: Announce the range e.g. ‘12-14’ ‘13-17’ ‘16-18’, followed by ‘may contain a singleton’ if appropriate. Don’t announce 1NT overcalls or 2NT bids.
Artificial Responses to 1NT: Stayman 2♣ Announce ‘Stayman’ (alert if it does not ask for four-card majors, or if it is not natural following a double) 2♦ (Transfer) Announce ‘Hearts’ (alert if it does not promise five or more hearts) 2♥ (Transfer) Announce ‘Spades’ (alert if it does not promise five or more spades) Responses to Stayman and transfers are only alertable if non-standard meanings are used. Natural weak takeouts do not need to alerted.
Natural Two-Level Openings: are announced by stating their range as ‘Strong, forcing’, ‘Strong, non-forcing’, ‘Intermediate’, ‘Weak’, ‘Intermediate to strong, forcing’ or ‘Weak to Intermediate’
Artificial Two-Level Openings: are alerted, including Lucas and Benjamin 2♣/2♦ Bids.
Alerts The Orange Book has a long section on Alerting including many specific examples, but if you keep to the following four rules you are unlikely to go far wrong.
1. Other than opening bids, don’t alert any bids above 3NT. Otherwise: 2. If you think your opponents will understand your partner’s bid to mean something other than your methods dictate, alert it. 3. Unless you must announce it, a pass or bid must be alerted if it is not natural, or it is natural but has a potentially unexpected meaning. 4. Do not alert: a take-out double of a natural suit bid; a penalty double of an artificial suit bid; or a penalty double of any NT bid. Alert any other double.
The rule on alerting doubles is unlike the other rules that focus on whether a bid is natural” or its meaning is “unexpected”. Sometimes you need to alert a double that is obviously penalty, or not alert a take-out double that your opponents think should be penalty. Pairs play doubles in so many different ways that there is rarely agreement on what the “natural” meaning of a double should be. Instead, stick to the rule above: if it is not alerted, double is assumed to be take-out of a natural suit bid and penalties otherwise.
Answering Questions Players often err by saying something like, ‘I’m going to take my partner’s bid to mean...’ They are trying to be helpful, but it is the wrong thing to do. Only explain specific agreements. If the truthful answer is, ‘We have never discussed that and nothing like it has come up before’, then say so. Another possible answer might be, ‘We have never discussed this particular bid but in similar situations we play this...’
In a regular partnership you will acquire knowledge of partner’s habits. Answers such as, ‘No agreement’ or ‘Random’ are then unlikely to be the full story.
Take care with words whose meaning might be unclear. For example, ‘forcing’ implies a strong hand to many players; if a bid is forcing, but might be based on a weak hand you must say so. Don’t use ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ to describe a call, and especially not a lead or signal, as it is often misinterpreted. In the same way, just naming a convention may not be enough.
Two-suited overcalls are a notorious example: Ghestem means different things to different people. Doubles also cause trouble, so make your description simple and clear. A takeout double is one that expects partner to bid, while a penalty double is one that partner is expected to pass (in either case unless he has a very unusual hand).
Asking Questions You may ask questions whenever it is your turn, but there can be consequences. Unless you need to know at once, it may be wiser to wait until the end of the auction. If partner is on lead, even better to wait until after he has led face-down. Asking questions about specific calls may give partner information about your hand, which can constrain his actions. It is also improper to ask questions which may mislead your opponents. The TD might adjust the result in either case.
Specific questions such as, ‘Is that bid weak?’ or, ‘Is that bid forcing?’ often receive simple one-word answers which may be incomplete. Similarly, ‘standard’ or ‘natural’ in questions will often lead to unhelpful responses. In general, ask, ‘What does that call show?’, or ask for an explanation of the entire auction before the opening lead is faced.