Players are often surprised to find out that the laws of bridge say very little about bidding beyond the obvious that bids are made clockwise round the table and that each bid must outrank the previous. However, players have agreements about what bids mean, their system, and the laws do say that the opposition are entitled to know what your system is. This is why we have the procedures of convention cards and alerting. Sometimes people just plain forget what they have agreed with partner so they fail to alert a conventional bid, give the wrong explanation or make a bid that they think is natural that partner alerts because he thinks it is conventional. Also, people sometimes just take it into their heads to make a bid that does not correspond with their system.
When an insufficient bid is made
The laws do say that each bid must outrank the previous one but sometimes players make an underbid. Players often assume that all the offender has to do is make their bid good but it is more complicated than that. For example, the next player has the option to accept the underbid if they wish. It gets even more complicated when the bid made is conventional such as 1NT - 2©overcall - 2§ intended as Stayman. An insufficient bid is a situation when the director should be called – let him sort it out, that's what he is there for.
When your side makes a mistake
You have agreed with partner to play a new convention. The appropriate situation arises and you proudly produce yourconventional bid – but partner doesn't alert. He has obviously forgotten all those discussions, or has he understood your bid but just forgotten to alert because he is so busy thinking about your new gadget? Or you make what you think is a perfectly normal, natural bid and to your horror you see partner waving the alert card around. Or you make a conventional bid, partner alerts, the opponents ask and you hear a completely different explanation coming out of partner's mouth. The first point to be aware of is that you must not do or say anything to suggest that things have gone wrong while the auction is in progress. No outraged looks, no significant coughs, nothing.
What happens at the end of the auction depends on whether you become the declaring side or are defending. If you become the declaring side you must tell the opposition what has happened and they may wish to "reserve their rights" and tell the director, especially if they would have bid differently had they known the true situation. If you become the defending side you must still say nothing and behave as if nothing untoward had happened. This is because your partner is still active in the game, unlike ifyou are the declaring side, and so explaining what has happened would also give him information. It may well become clear during the course of play that there has been an error or you must now tell them what has happened at the end of play and, if they feel it is necessary, involve the director.
When they make a mistake
It is important to understand here that you are entitled to know only what their system is and this means that there are two situations that can arise. The first is when they give you mis-information and the second is when they make a mistake.
Suppose you open 1NT and the opponents overcall 2§, alerted and explained as showing §&© when you ask [Pinpoint Astro - a reasonably popular convention]. When the overcaller turns out to have §& ¨and you as declarer lose out because you miscount defender's hand as a consequence of thinking she has more ©'s you are miffed and call the TD.
If the opponents never agreed to play Pinpoint Astro then you have been misinformed and can be compensated but if they have agreed to play Pinpoint and one opponent forgot for the moment or made a mistake then you have been correctly informed about the system and there is no compensation. The TD does not penalise errors in bidding or in play - that is down to the results. If the opponents make a mistake they usually get a bad score and you receive your compensation that way. Sometimes you come off worst and that's just tough luck. Bridge is a model of life: sometimes sin is rewarded and virtue punished.
The director will need to determine whether you were misinformed or whether a mistake was made and he will be guided by what their convention cards say, as he will when it is you who made the mistake.This is one reason why it is important to have convention cards. If there is any doubt, the TD will give the benefit of the doubt to the non-offending side.
Playing with a strange partner
We all think our partners are a little strange but by this I mean someone with whom you are not familiar so you have rather a sketchy system. If the opponents ask about a bid and you do not know just say, "No partnership agreement". You should not say, "I take it as......" because that is giving partner information he should not have. Of course, this is not an answer you should give when playing with a familiar partner. In this case, if you know it means something but really cannot remember what you have to confess and call the TD. He will ask you to leave the table while your partner tells the opposition what his bid actually means.
There are essentially three reasons why players may make bids that do not conform to the system they say they are playing.
- Misbids. A player makes a mistake. He counts up his points and comes to the answer 13 when he in fact has 17. Such mistakes nearly always work out badly for the side that makes them. If it gives them a good score, don’t be petty and make a fuss. Let she who is without sin cast the first stone. Just shrug your shoulders and go on to the next hand.
- Treatments. There is absolutely nothing in the law book to say what your bidding system should be. The laws make no mention of Acol! Partner and I can agree that 2NT will show 10 – 12 HCP if we want. You are entitled to know this in two ways – it should be written on my convention card for you to read and you may ask when it is your turn to bid or before play starts. If you don’t bother to look at my card or ask then you have no redress if you were misled by the bidding. Artificial bids should be drawn to the oppositions’ attention by alerting.
- Psyches. Having a system does not mean you have to stick to it! The laws say you can make any legal bid you like. Nothing in the laws says that it must bear any relationship to your hand. If someone makes an off-centre bid and their opponents are correctly informed about their system then no breach of rules or etiquette has occurred. Suppose you play a 12-14 HCP 1NT opening but you decide one day to open 1NT on an attractive 10 HCP. Hey, the sun is shining, you feel lucky so why not? You have not done anything wrong providing that your partner is as misled as the opposition. If, however, you do this sufficiently often that your partner comes to expect it and takes account of your optimism in his responses then your light 1NT opening bids have become part of your system, which must be disclosed to your opponents.
Extreme examples of this are known as psyches. For example, holding one point and a 7-card spade suit with a void in hearts, there is nothing in the laws to stop me opening the bidding 4© with the express intention of misleading the opposition so they end up in the wrong contract to our advantage. Psyches nearly always fail to achieve this and so are much less common than they used to be thirty years ago.
There is one veryimportant proviso. Partner must be as misled as the opposition. Even if you suspect that your partner has psyched you are ethically bound to bid as if his bid is absolutely textbook. If you adjust your bidding because you think he has psyched you are said to have fielded the psyche. Thisis a grave ethical misdemeanour and may well be brought to the attention of the director who will then award you a poor score for that hand. If you psyche often then your partner will come to expect it and it is hard for him not to field it to some extent. For this reason if no other, psyches are something to employ rarely.
There are also some general agreements about psyching:
1. It is thought unsporting to psyche against veryinexperienced players.
2. You should not psyche strong artificial bids such as 2§ or the equivalent.
3. You should not start merrily psyching because you are doing badly in a competition and are bored so decide to spray a few random bids around to see what will happen.This turns the competition into a lottery and isn’t fair on those who are still hoping to do well.
4. You should not psyche to deliberately get a bad result to help a friend.
If you psyche rarely and do not do it in anunsporting manner or field your partner’s suspected psyches then psyching is entirely legal, part of the great game of bridge (albeit slightly out of fashion these days) and fun.
Using the stop card
The stop card dictates that the next person to bid must wait 10 seconds before calling. The stop card should be used when the bidder intends to skip one or more levels in the bidding. The reason why it is used is that a jump bid is always a bit startling so it stops the bidding while everyone has time to digest the implications of the bid without any inferences being drawn. In this way it helps to avoid the unauthorised passing of information between partners by a longer than normal pause. After 10 seconds the stop card should then be removed. The next person to bid should not bid until the stop card has been removed. If the player before you makes a jump bid without using the stop card, you must still wait the 10 seconds before calling.
Bidding box problems
You should not put your hand anywhere near the bidding box until you have definitely decided what to bid. "Hovering" is really the same as hesitation and has the same consequences.
If you pull a card out of the bidding box then you have made your call. It does not matter whether anyone has seen which bidding card is in your hand the bid is made and technically cannot be altered without the director's instruction. However, let's say you pull the card out of the box and then find it is not the card you were after, maybe you wanted 3ª and the 3NT card came with it due to it being a bit sticky. In that case you allowed to change it for the one you intended. Most people know this and in the club situation it is rare for anyone to call the director in this situation - everyone just agrees to allow the change. In any other case you cannot change your mind at this stage: your call is made