Bridge is a partnership game and the only information you are allowed is that which comes through the bidding and the play of the cards. No special emphasis, comment or face pulling is allowed – but we all know that and once past the beginner stage it's a discipline to which we are accustomed.
Any other information is called Unauthorised Information (or UI) and there are a number of ways it can come about. If UI comes to you then there is a clear duty not to make any use of it.
If the BridgePads are not moved on to the movement screen the previous table's results are left for anyone to see. If people are careless with their personal score cards then other players might catch sight of result. We all have two responsibilities. Firstly, not to look at or take note of any information that might come our way and secondly, not to put temptation in the way of others by making sure the BridgePad is moved on and keeping our personal score cards confidential.
It is always interesting to discuss hands once they are played but we must be mindful that our interesting discussions may well be overheard at adjacent tables. ('I would have made the contract if I had known the king was singleton and not taken the finesse'.....). It is best not to discuss hands at all – but that is a counsel of perfection so if you must say something, be sure to keep it very quiet. Put the BridgePad so everyone can see it rather than reading out the result. Similar to above, if you do hear something you shouldn't, you must rigorously put it out of your mind.
Bridge is a complex game and some of the bids or play need a bit of thought. Problems can arise when partner sees you thinking and so knows you have something to think about and that is information that has come outside of the rules of the game - Unauthorised Information.
One of the most iniquitous situations is a hesitation during the bidding followed by a pass. The hand with the slow passis unlikely to be a flat Yarborough so if you in your turn are thinking of bidding, you are aware there should be a bit of something opposite. It is less of a problem if the hesitater bids because it's rarely clear what alternatives they might have been considering so the hesitation won't give as much information. None the less, if partner has a long think before bidding it could be inferred that his hand is not a textbook example of whatever bid he makes.
Your duty is simple - you do not use that information. Certainly you may bid if your hand warrants it but you now have to be absolutely sure your hand justifies your bid and that you have not taken any account whatsoever of the possibility the partner might have a few goodies.
Opponents may well be concerned and are entitled to seek the opinion of the TD. After the hand is played show the opponents your hand and if they are not sure whether your bid is justified and it has spoilt their chances in some way the TD is able to adjust the score when that is appropriate. If that happens its not considered to be a reflection on your ethics as these things can be a matter of fine judgement and in top tournaments these are the decisions that most often go to appeal.
How does the TD decide whether to adjust or not? It is definitely not simply the TD's opinion as to whether he would have made that same bid! The TD needs to conduct a survey of what people generally would do in that bidding position obviously without mentioning anything about who hesitated and what you hope is that everyone he asks says that they would make the same bid as you.
Of course, we should all try to avoid putting partner under this ethical pressure by not hesitating – making bids in tempo as the jargon has it. If you realise that you have thought for longer than is proper and that you will therefore be putting partner in a difficult position then it is better to bid rather than pass.
Bridge is a transparent game and the opposition are entitled to know what agreements you and partner have made about what bids mean and what your carding systems (signals) are. These are summarised on a convention card. If you play at a congress, Westmorland or EBU event you will be expected to have a Convention Card made out unless you are playing very basic Acol, known as simple systems.
Strictly speaking, you and your partner are required to have identically completed convention cards. However, it isn't always practical at the club as new partnerships are formed or you are playing with the host etc, and so of course allowances will be made. If you have a regular partner then it is best that you have completed convention cards with you. They do not have to be put on the table but may be kept in your bag etc until they are needed
Completing a card always helps with making sure you have both agreed what conventions you play and can be very enlightening. If you have completed cards it may make it much easier if the Director needs to make a ruling. If you are not playing simple systems then the Director may well rule against you if you have a misunderstanding and there isn't a card to refer to.
Completing a convention card for the first time may seem daunting, but in reality it isn't at all. It is just a way of recording what you and your partner have agreed to play. If you need help completing a card or any advice please speak to the TD or any experienced member who will be happy to help.
Announcing and alerting
The opposition are entitled to know what your bids mean and you are not allowed to have secret agreements. Therefore, in essence,if your partner makes a bid that is not natural you must inform your opponents by alerting. Using bidding boxes this is done by waving the alert card around.
However, in an attempt to reduce the draughts caused by the flapping of alert cards, certain very common conventions and the strength of a 1NT opening bid are now announced rather than alerted. This means you just tell the other side when the bid is made. Thus, if partner opens 1NT you just say what the point range is (12 to 14 or whatever you play). If you play transfers and partner responds 2¨ you just say "hearts" and similarly say "spades" if partner bids 2©. Don't say anything if you don't play transfers and 2¨ and 2© are natural bids. Stayman (2§ asking if partner has a 4-card major) is also now announced rather than alerted. If you don't play Stayman and a 2§ response is natural, say nothing and if it has some other meaning you should alert it. The strength of two level opening bids that show the suit bid and nothing else is also announced by saying "weak" or "strong" as appropriate.
Essentially any bid which is not announceable and is artificial or has unexpected meaning and is above 3NT should be alerted. Examples include 1§ opening showing 16+ points and 2§ overcall of 1NT as a conventional bid e.g. Astro, etc. All conventional bids over a 2NT opening (e.g. 3§ Stayman/Baron) and 3¨/3© transfers) are alertable.
Doubles of low-level suit bids that are for take-out, such as negative doubles, are not alerted since that is the expected meaning of the bid nowadays. If you double a no trump bid for takeout that should be alerted as doubles of no trumps are assumed to be natural.
What about 1©-Dbl-2¨ where 2¨ shows a weak hand? This also needs alerting on the basis that whilst it is a natural bid its hows something that the opponents would not be expecting i.e. a non-forcing bid. Similarly 1©-Pass-3© where 3© is a pre-emptive raise is alertable on the basis that opponents would not be expecting it.
1ª opening showing 5-card suit, a weak jump overcall or a double of an artificial bid for lead direction purposes, are NOT alertable, as they are"expected" meanings for these bids.
It is best to read your opponents' convention cards or ask about their basic system before playing a round/match.
Strong opening bids
As I said above, you announce the strength of you two of a suit openings as they are made. There are guidelines to determine what sort of hand qualifies for a strong club or artificial 2-level opening (Benji 2§, 2¨) or a strong, natural two level opening. It must satisfy one of the following criteria:
- Minimum of 16 high card points
- Hand that meets the Rule of 25 (see below)
Rule of 25 = number of high card points (HCP) + total length of 2 longest suits >= 25
- Hand contains as a minimum the normal high card strength of 1-level opening bid plus a minimum of 8 clear tricks
For example, if you hold a 6 card suit headed by AKQ plus 2 outside aces, the HCP total is 17, length of 2 longest suits must beat least 6 + 3 which equals 17+9 = 26 so that passes all the tests.
However, a hand containing a single 8 card suit headed by the AKQJ, with no values in outside suits, does not meet this rule – 10HCP + length of 2 longest suits (assuming 8-2-2-1) = 10+ 8 + 2 = 20. Hence it is not appropriate to open with a 2-level bid. (Incidentally you should consider opening this hand with a 4-level opening. If you don't want to dothat, you should open 1 of the suit).
You are entitled to know what the opponents' bids mean but you must be careful not to give partner unauthorised information as a result of your questions. For example, suppose an opponent responds 3§ to a 2NT opening bid and this is alerted. You ask about this bid and then pass, which suggests you have a club suit and would perhaps welcome a club lead. You should not ask about a bid by an opponent during the auction unless your subsequent bid is dependent upon its meaning.
For this reason you should always find out the main points about the opposition bidding system, such as opening 1NT strength and what does a 1§ opening mean, before you start play.
The best time to ask questions about opposition bidding is at the end of the auction when it is your turn to lead, or when partner has selected his lead, or if you are declarer, once the defenders have completed asking their questions.
Never ask questions just for the sake of it: you are not entitled to a bridge lesson at the table!
If the opposition ask about your bids you must explain them concisely in simple bridge language. It is very rude assume you ropponents will understand your bid just by giving its name. For example, if you bid 2§ over their 1NTopening and your partner alerts this, as he should, it is not good enough to say "pinpoint Astro" (assuming that is what you play). You must say that it shows § & © and any agreement you have about strength. In fact, failure to do this to less experienced opponents could be deemed tantamount to intimidation.