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Gentle Duplicate
  01 Directors, players and laws

 Directors, players and laws

When you first come to duplicate, there’s a lot to take in. Many of the rules and procedures will be unfamiliar – and some may at first seem downright daft. They’re not, though. The laws of bridge, together with the procedures that make up ‘best behaviour at bridge’, are designed to ensure a fair contest on a level playing field. If they’re respected, you get a fair and enjoyable game. If they’re not … well, that’s when the unfairness – and the resulting unhappiness and resentment – creep in.

So it’s important to get a feel for what’s expected and to practise getting it right, till it becomes a habit. Most of the things you need to know – of which more below – can be picked up at the table from other players without bothering the director.

The time you need the director is when something goes wrong. Which it does, whatever your level, quite often! And when it does, you simply call the director.

The director knows best

Most of the time, it’ll be a simple mistake in bidding (eg a bid out of turn, an insufficient bid) or play (eg a revoke, a lead out of turn). Easy peasy – directors deal with this kind of thing on a daily basis.

Sometimes, it’s a bit trickier. Maybe someone feels ‘damaged’ because a bid wasn’t alerted. Or because someone has inadvertently given away ‘unauthorised information’. Or declarer’s claimed the rest of the tricks and has forgotten an outstanding trump. Again, the director has the skills, experience – and authority – to resolve the problem, restore equity and smooth ruffled feathers.

Note the key phrase: the laws are not designed to ‘punish’ players for ‘doing something wrong’, but to get the hand going again and restore equity. That way, the ‘innocent’ parties get their issue dealt without feeling hard done by, and those that made the mistake can accept that things have been put right – and you may even have learned something useful in the process!

A couple of other important points here:

  • When a mistake occurs, the director must be called. Even if there’s an off-duty EBU director at the table. The (lead out of turn) has brought the hand to a halt, and only the director – there’s only one! – is authorised to bring it back to life again. Don’t try to deal with it ‘at the table’.
  • Other situations (eg where you’re worried you may have been ‘damaged’ or may have damaged your opponent) are a bit more fluid, but if in doubt, call the director anyway.

For less experienced players, I’d add another circumstance: if you’re feeling confused about something – maybe if you’re being told something that doesn’t seem to make sense – the director will be only too happy to sort it out for you.

How to call the director

I know. It seems simple enough, doesn’t it? But I can recall occasions when a player’s slammed his cards down on the table without warning and bellowed ‘DirecTAH!’ Talk about intimidating. Anyone calling me in that manner would be getting a yellow card. You wouldn't dream of summoning the director in such a way, I know, but here are some simple guidelines:

  • Quietly tell the other players you think the director should be called, maybe with a brief explanation: ‘I think there’s been a revoke.’ or ‘It was my lead, actually.’
  • Raise your hand and call the director in a clearly audible but calm voice, adding a ‘please’ at the end: ‘Director, please.’
  • If that still seems a bit sharp, try: ‘Can you help us here, John?’, ‘Rita, have you got a minute?’ …

The upshot of all this is that calling the director isn’t a way of browbeating people or assigning blame. It’s a normal part of your bridge game and in many circumstances the only way to go.

Cherish your director!

cj 10 September 2019

  02 Announcing & Alerting

Announcing & Alerting: why, who and when?

The Why? and Who? are simple enough, but the When? takes a bit of getting used to …

Why? We announce/alert for the benefit of our opponents, who are entitled to know what all our bids mean – if a partnership had bids with ‘secret’ meanings, this would clearly be unfair.

Who? If I make a bid, my partner announces/alerts. (If I did it myself, I’d be tipping off partner as well as my opponents – which would be ‘unauthorised information’, of which much more anon.)

We announce …

  • the strength of certain opening bids,notably 1NT, 2NT and natural opening 2-bids.
    1NT/2NT openers: Partner announces ’12-14’, ‘20-22’ as per your system.
    Opening 2-bids: Partner announces ‘Weak’, ‘Intermediate’ or ‘Strong’. Mostly it’ll be ‘Weak’.
  • the commonest conventional bids over 1/2NT openings: 2♣ Stayman and 2/2 major suit transfers. (3♣, 3/ over opening 2NT). Examples:
    After your 1NT opening partner bids 2♣ – you announce ‘Stayman’.
    After your 2NT opening, partner bids 3 – you announce ‘Spades’.

This isn’t the whole story, but will get you through 99% of GD auctions. A couple of cautions:

  We ONLY announce OPENING BIDS and the BASIC responses to opening 1NT/2NT listed above.
We DON’T announce the strength of REBIDS (eg partner’s 1NT rebid) or OVERCALLS (eg partner’s 2♠ jump overcall over an opponent’s opening 1).
Similarly, Stayman and transfers over a NT rebid are NOT announced, but alerted instead.


DON’T FAIL TO ANNOUNCE when appropriate. If, for example, you don’t announce partner’s 2 response to your 1NT as a transfer to hearts, you’re actually telling the opposition (wrongly) that it’s a natural 2 bid. This can lead to fun and games involving the director …

We alert …

  • conventional bids other than the ones we announce. There are lots of these, including:
    – the strong artificial opening 2♣ (and 2 if you play Benji Acol) and any artificial responses.
    – the 2NT Ogust enquiry over partner’s weak 2 opening (and partner’s responses).
    – 2♣ Landy, Asptro, etc, over an opponent’s opening 1NT.
    – cue bids, splinter bids, Ghestem (ELH) bids, unassuming cue bids … the list goes on.

A conventional bid is any bid that doesn’t mean what it says (like those above) OR that contains extra meaning over and above the obvious. For example, in ‘Multi-Landy’ a 2/♠ overcall of an opponent’s opening 1NT shows 5 hearts/spades AND a 4-card minor. You therefore have to alert it.

As with announcing, DON’T FAIL TO ALERT when appropriate – before your RHO bids, if possible. And DON’T ANNOUNCE when you should alert. If an opponent needs more info, she can ask you when it’s her turn to bid.

Alerting: the small print

In case you’re thinking that’s all pretty straightforward, there are a couple of annoying exceptions:

  • Once the auction has gone beyond game level (3NT), bids are not alerted, even if they’re conventional (Blackwood’s the most common at this level). BUT
  • conventional bids in the ‘first round of bidding’ are alertable, whether above game level or not. So if you open 1♠ and partner goes straight for Blackwood 4NT, you must alert it. Such is life.

That’s plenty for now. Later we’ll look at alerting doubles, asking questions, and what happens when alerting/announcing goes wrong (which it will!) Meanwhile, happy announcing and alerting.

cj 16 September 2019

  03 The role of dummy

Dumb down as dummy

Bridge is a game that demands intelligence, initiative and imagination, but not when you’re dummy. All that’s required is that you lay down your cards neatly when the opening lead is faced, with trumps to your right, and then play the cards declarer tells you to play. Indeed, with a very few exceptions, that’s all you’re permitted to do.

But what if someone does something wrong? Can’t I point it out? Nope. Not your job. Not till the end of the hand, anyway. You can, however, try to ‘prevent an irregularity from occurring’. Which amounts to the following:

Dummy can (but doesn’t have to) …

  • … enquire ‘Having no (hearts), partner?’ if declarer shows out of a suit – to prevent a revoke.
  • … point out that declarer has the previous trick the wrong way round – but only the previous trick, not any earlier tricks. It’s up to declarer, not you, to keep an accurate trick count.
  • … warn declarer if it looks as if she’s about to lead from the wrong hand.

And that’s about it. Almost anything else is expressly forbidden. Don’t ‘tut’ or roll your eyes if declarer plays a card you disapprove of. If you want to count your tricks, do it in your head, not with your fingers: ‘Are you keeping count of the tricks so far, partner …?’ And if she’s already led (or specified a lead) from the wrong hand, it’s out of your hands: just go along with it.

In particular, dummy must not …

… anticipate which card declarer will choose to play next, either by actually playing the card, touching it or ‘hovering’ nearby. Obviously, any blatant hinting would amount to cheating, but it’s only too easy, if you’re following declarer’s line of play, to play a card inadvertently in auto-pilot mode. She’s started to clear trumps, so you assume she wants another trump … Or all the clubs have gone, so dummy’s ♣52 are good, and declarer will presumably want to cash them before leaving dummy … Uh huh – hands off! You may have been counting but maybe declarer hasn’t.

If it happens and the defence think they might have been damaged …

… the Director should be summoned forthwith and informed of the action. Play continues. At the end of the play the Director shall award an adjusted score if he considers dummy suggested a play to declarer and the defenders were damaged by the play suggested. (Law 45F)

Which card to play?

If she really wants to, declarer can prod the card she wants you to play, but she’ll usually just say it, preferably explicitly: ‘The Ace of clubs’, ‘the 3 of hearts’ … But what if she’s not explicit?

If declarer says …

it’s taken to mean …

‘play high’

play the highest card in the suit

‘play low’ / ‘play small’

play the lowest card in the suit

‘win the trick’

play the lowest card that will win the trick

‘lead the Queen’

play the Q of the same suit as the last trick

‘lead a diamond’

play the lowest diamond

So if the ♥ A K J 3 is on the table and declarer asks you to ‘lead a heart’, DON’T ask ‘Which one?’ – which could be taken as a hint to partner to lead the Ace. Instead, lead the 3. You’ll find out soon enough if that was what she meant. Declarers take note!

All pretty straightforward, really.

cj 24 September 2019

  04 'Unauthorised information'

You’re not allowed to know that!

Let’s start with the obvious. To play a bridge hand sensibly, you need information. For which the primary sources are the bids the players make and the cards they play. You already know your own bidding and carding systems, and you’re entitled to be told about your opponents’.

All fine. All of these things are information that you’re entitled to use: it’s all authorised information.

But as you’ll be aware, this is often not the only information on offer. People sigh, groan, bid or play excessively fast or slowly, fiddle with bidding boxes, roll their eyes, shake their heads – you name it. They also occasionally make slips: bid or play out of turn, make insufficient bids, inadvertently play two cards instead of one, fail to alert or alert wrongly … the list goes on.

These behaviours also convey information, but of a different kind: unauthorised information, or UI. And whole swathes of the laws of bridge are designed to ensure that no unfair advantage goes to the pair from whom unauthorised information comes. Here’s an outrageous example:

‘Another b**** Yarborough!’

Imagine that your partner picks up his hand and while sorting audibly mutters the above. Unforgivable! For some reason the director isn’t called. Your RHO is dealer and passes. You hold a balanced 13-count. What do you do? Partner has zero points, so the opposition have enough for game and your 1NT is certain to get doubled and may go for a huge penalty …

So do you open 1NT? Or pass?

You open 1NT. The fact that partner has zero points is unauthorised information to you, because it didn’t come from a bid or a card played. You’re ‘not allowed to know it’. So for you it didn’t happen.

If you pass instead, you’re ‘fielding’ the unauthorised information – that is, making illegal use of it – and your opponents should call the director at the end of play.

One further but crucial point: let’s say you pass and they end up in 3NT. Though your partner’s zero count is unauthorised information to you, it is authorised to your opponents. They’re entitled to know that you have every one of the missing 13 points and play the cards accordingly.

So an important distinction: information that is unauthorised to the ‘offending’ side is authorised to the ‘non-offending’ side.

Back in the real world …

… let’s take a quick look at two more typical UI situations.

  • It goes 1NT-3NT, it’s your lead … and your partner leads the 3. Simply call the director. Your opponents will be offered a number of choices which will ensure that you can’t use the UI you’ve received – that your partner fancies hearts – to your advantage (though declarer can). And this goes for pretty well any infringement during the auction or play: let the director sort it out.
  • They open 1NT, your partner goes into a huddle for 30 seconds … and finally passes. As does your RHO. You’ve got a fairly threadbare 2 overcall. Do you bid it? Difficult, isn’t it? Your partner’s entitled to take time to think, but in doing so has inadvertently given you UI (that she’s probably got an opening hand). If you bid your ropy 2, are you now fielding that UI?

That last example is a topic in its own right, and we’ll be coming back to it.

What to do?

Even in 'relaxed' sessions, we’re playing ‘proper’ bridge and are therefore striving for fairness. So …

  • … go easy on the body language and do your best to bid and play ‘in tempo’. But hey – we’re all human: UI’s going to happen and we shouldn’t get too uptight about it.
  • … if you get UI from your partner, try to ignore it: bid and play as if it hadn’t happened.
  • … if you feel that you’ve been ‘damaged’ by UI, call the director – but gently does it. Less experienced players may have no idea that anything untoward has happened.

cj 01 October 2019

  05 Using the bidding box

Bidding outside the box

The crucial thing about the bidding box is to make sure it clicks shut properly, so that if you pick it up the cards don’t all fall on the floor. Other than that, it’s simplicity itself: just lay your bids/calls on the table in front of you facing your partner, overlapping so as not to obscure your previous bids/calls, and hey presto – at the end you have a perfectly preserved record of the auction.

A bid is legally made …

… once the card is clear of the box. It doesn’t matter whether anyone has seen it yet – once there’s air between it and the box, it’s done.

‘Thinking with your fingers’

It’s only natural to fiddle while you’re thinking, and the bidding box provides a handy set of worry beads to play with. The trouble is, such fiddling can be a source of UI (unauthorised information) which might end up embarrassing your partner. If you start fingering the bids, for example, then plump for a PASS card, there’s a clear inference that you’ve nearly got a bid. Or if you half lift out a PASS card, then opt for a bid instead, you’re obviously at the lower end …

The solution, of course, is to keep your hands to yourself and reach for the bidding box only when you’ve decided what to bid. Yes, I know, it’s easy to forget, and at GD we’re very understanding, but it’s a good habit to start trying to get into.

Other body language

As with everything in bridge, the trick is just to do what you’re doing without adding anything into the mix. If you lay down your 3NT bid firmly, keeping your thumb pressed on it while giving partner eye-contact, you’re kinda telling her she should pass. A SLAMMED DOWN double is likely to be for penalties. And if, after a mere glance at your hand, you sigh and carelessly toss a PASS card onto the table, well … you haven’t got two points to add together, have you? So avoid the theatrics. They can make life difficult for your partner as well as telling opponents things they don’t deserve to know.


We all pull out the wrong bidding card from time to time. What to do?

Often, it’ll be an insufficient bid. Just call the director, who’ll get it untangled for you.

Sometimes, you’ll simply have accidentally pulled out the wrong card. Maybe you meant to open a weak 2♠ and 2 came out instead. Again, explain that you’ve made a mechanical error and call the director. Providing partner hasn’t yet made her next call, you’ll be allowed to correct it.

What you can’t do, however, is change your mind. If you notice a hidden Ace in your hand – or an opponent’s unseen bid – after you’ve made your bid, that’s too bad. You just have to live with it.

When the auction is over …

… there’s a chance to ask questions about the auction. But you can only do that if it’s still there! So leave your bidding cards on the table until the opening lead is faced (ie turned over). Then put them back in the box.

The ALERT and STOP cards

The ALERT is simple enough: display the card until you’re sure that it’s been seen by both opponents.

The STOP card, however, is a topic in its own right …

cj 09 October 2019

  06 Insufficient bid

Insufficient bid!

Which of these three auctions would you say is/are in need of intervention by the director?

Instinctively, you’d probably say ‘All of them!’ as they all contain an illegally made bid – an ‘insufficient bid’ of 1 by South. In fact, only A requires the director. The others are, oddly enough, perfectly in order and are probably the result of the director’s intervention.

How come?

Because if you’ve made an insufficient bid, the first thing the director will say is that the next bidder (your LHO – here, West) is entitled to accept the bid and continue as if it had been legal. *

So what you CAN’T do is say ‘Oh sorry, I’ll make it good’ and reach for the 2 bid. It’s out of your hands – it’s your LHO who’ll decide what happens next.

Why would the LHO want to accept the bid?

Well, it might be to her advantage to do so. If she’s very weak with no club support, for instance, passing over 1 lets EW off the hook, as in auction B. Or if she’s weak with club support, she can get that across with a ‘raise’ of partner’s clubs to 2 – as in the rather weird auction C.

Before accepting and bidding on, though, she’d be well advised to hear the director out …

What if the LHO doesn’t accept the bid?

Then you have to retract it and substitute a legal call.

  • If you 'make the bid good' by making a legal bid in the same denomination here, 2♠ or can dredge up something that (in the director’s view) means roughly the same as the illegal bid – what the law book calls a ‘comparable call’ – then the auction can simply resume.
  • If you can’t, you can make any legal call you like, but your partner will then be silenced (ie will have to pass) for the rest of the auction.

What would be a ‘comparable call’ in this case?

Would X be a comparable call? Well, if your negative double merely shows 4+ spades, then it would, I think. But if it shows ‘spades and diamonds’ then it wouldn’t, because that has a wider meaning than the original bid. If in doubt, whisper in the director’s ear and ask.

Why all these options?

As always, it’s to do with transmitting unauthorised information (UI). The offending side isn’t allowed to profit by it, while the non-offending side is – hence the initial choice offered to the LHO.

One final i to dot (or t to cross):

What if the LHO doesn’t spot the insufficient bid …

… and bids or passes before anyone points it out? The answer’s simple enough: she’s deemed to have accepted the bid and the auction just carries on as if nothing untoward had happened. It’s still worth bringing to the attention of the director, mind. Just to be sure!

cj 16 October 2019

* This also happens when someone bids or leads out of turn, as we’ll see in future posts.

  07 Dealing with boards

Everyone on board

The reason we’re all here is to get our hands on the hands. These come our way in boards, which, if handled sensibly, will provide you with an enjoyable and seamless game of bridge …

If you’re North, it’s down to you to check that you have the right boards – and the right opponents. Easily done, as you’re in charge of the Bridgemate. I know, it seems obvious – but disasters DO happen, as I’m willing to bet you know from bitter experience … So please check – every round!

It’s also down to you to position the boards ready for play. Whether you prefer to have both on the table or just one at a time, make sure each one’s placed in the centre in the correct orientation. *

How many players need to be at the table before you can take out the hands? Well, at least one from each pair – otherwise skulduggery is possible. But courtesy would dictate waiting until all four players are present. Practicality, too: it’s not as if you can get far with a player missing …

Before you count your points count your cards. Without looking at them.** If a ‘misboarding’ is spotted before the cards are seen it’s simple to correct. Afterwards, it’s much trickier and may result in the board not being played.

When dummy goes down …

This is the big one. The law book says that the board must stay where it is – in the centre of the table and in the correct orientation. In practice, it’s often moved; sometimes just a few inches N, S, E or W to make more room for dummy, which is fine – and sometimes down towards a corner, which shouldn’t happen, even if it stays in the right orientation. Best not to do it.

What is absolutely NOT OK is to turn the board through 90° or remove it from the table altogether. This is just asking for the hands to be returned to the wrong slots – which, if it’s not spotted for a while, can invalidate the play of the hand not only at the next table, but for the whole room.

Very bad feeling – and penalties – can result. So play safe. Leave the board in the right place. You can insist on this, whether you’re North or not.

At close of play shuffle your cards before returning them to the slot you took them from. Much cleverer players than I am have been known to infer (unauthorised!) information from the order the cards were played at the last table. And if they’re sorted into suits, it’s no great feat to deduce that the hand was passed out the previous round.

And if there’s the slightest chance that any of your cards might have been mixed up with someone else’s, it’s best to count them again just to be on the safe side. **

At the end of the round it’s North’s responsibility to ensure that the boards go to the correct table for the next round. Even if you’re a ‘temporary’ North. And in order of play, please: board 3 on top, board 4 underneath – not the other way around!

Sitting out? The law book says you DON’T mess with boards you’re not playing, and that’s Bath BC policy, too. It’s so easy for the hands to be returned to the board in the wrong slots. Whether your director’s happy for you to practise your bidding on the sit-out hands, you can always ask. But if the answer’s yes, you sure as hell need to make sure they go back the way they came out!

cj 23 October 2019

* If you discover too late that the board’s done a NS flip, it’s not the end of the world. Just go ahead and play it – remembering to designate the declarer as indicated by the board (ie the partner of the actual declarer); otherwise the opening lead won’t be accepted by your Bridgemate.

** In the real world, there are penalties for ‘misboarding’, looking at hands before you’ve counted the cards, etc. These may be a couple of matchpoints or a 40% score for the guilty party. Whether your director will insist on these, I don’t know, but it’s good to get into good habits anyway …

  08 When to alert doubles

Alerting at the double

We saw in GD Week 3 that we alert bids that have a different meaning from what we’d expect. But what about doubles? What’s the ‘normal’ meaning for a double? The answer turns out to be pretty simple: just think what it means if your partner doubles their opening (a) 1 and (b) 1NT.

Doubling 1 is for takeout, isn’t it? While doubling 1NT is for penalties. And that’s about it:

  • The normal meaning of a double of a suit bid is for takeout. So that doesn’t need alerting.
    But if your partner doubles a suit bid for penalties, you DO alert it.
  • The normal meaning of a double of a NT bid is for penalties. So that doesn’t need alerting.
    But if your partner doubles a NT bid and it isn’t for penalties, you DO alert it.

This is good news, because it means that most of the time you won’t need to alert your partner’s doubles. Let’s see some examples.

Doubles of a suit bid

Which of these doubles do you think need alerting? Your answers will, of course, depend on what system you and your partner play. Those below are my answers – not necessarily yours!

A      South’s double is a ‘negative double’ showing 4+ hearts – it’s not for penalties, so no alert.

B      East’s first double is for takeout. Her second is simply a repeat – ‘Come on, partner, I thought I told you to bid something!’ Neither is for penalties, so neither is alerted.

C      This is a ‘reopening double’ – North’s got a strong hand and wants a bid from partner. No alert.

D      This shows a development of auction C. South has obediently shown her best suit (presumably she can’t support hearts) and West has s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d to 3. North’s second double is surely for penalties – not the normal meaning of a suit double – and so must be alerted.

Doubles of a NT bid

And what about these? Again, these are my answers.

E       South’s double is for penalties – the normal meaning, so no alert.

F       Tricky, this one. I take the X in this sequence as a takeout double of the original suit bid. Technically, though, it’s a double of 1NT, of which is not the normal meaning: so alert needed.

G      It looks as if West has something like AQJxx and an outside entry and thinks she can take 3NT off. So it’s for penalties – the normal meaning of a NT double, so no alert.


The next bidder can, of course, ask the meaning of the double. We’ll have more about asking (and answering) questions in a future posting.

Meanwhile, BreXit looms (ish) … would that be for takeout or penalties?

cj 31 October 2019

  09 Unwanted information

The other UI – Unwanted Information

‘We should have been in six.’

‘You’ve got an 18-count – you have to bid game!’

‘Sorry, partner – I didn’t realise your diamond was a singleton.’

As the hands end, the post-mortems begin and unwanted information wafts across the room. How far it wafts depends upon the timbre of the speaker and the general noise level, but it’s more than likely to reach the ears of the players at the next table – who are about to play those very hands.

Not all overheard remarks will be as damaging as those above, but you see the difficulty. If you know in advance that your hand’s worth a slam, it’s desperately hard to force yourself to ‘unknow’ it. If you bid the slam, you’ll never know whether you would have done without the UI. if you don’t, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. It’s an impossible situation.

But isn’t UI authorised for innocent parties? Not in this case, no, as it gives you an unfair advantage over equally innocent opponents – and, indeed, over the rest of the room. The law book (law 16D, if you’re interested) rules out taking advantage of any accidentally received information, including overheard remarks.

What to do?

Well, they’re not intentionally setting out to spoil your morning’s bridge. People often don’t realise they’re talking loudly, especially if they’re hard of hearing – and let’s face it, some voices simply carry further than others … So initially, a polite request is in order:

Could you please not discuss the hands as we’re about to play them?

But if they’re at it again the next round, ask the director to have a word.

And if you overhear anything crucial, you must call the director – who, as always, will ensure that neither you nor your opponents are damaged. There might be a fine at the next table, though …

Partner to the rescue?  If the ‘voice’ happens to belong to your partner, you’re probably best placed to say something without giving offence. Just a thought!

Tablet readings

The ritual version of Unwanted Information is the reading aloud of all the previous results of the hand from the scoring tablet. This is quite unnecessary as they can be read by everyone silently, if the tablet remains flat on the table. OK, not everyone can read the display easily – in which case sotto voce should be the intoner’s watchword. Talking of which …

‘I’m all right, Jack’

Between hands, the noise level rises slightly as players chat before starting the next hand, but it comes and goes, as tables finish at different times. At the end of the round, however, it rises and rises as more and more tables finish play and can reach a painful crescendo. And if you’re one of the tables still playing, it can be very difficult to concentrate on what you’re doing.

So by all means chat when you’re done, but quietly, please, so as not to disturb those still thinking.

Sitting out? If you’re sitting out, the same applies. You’ll probably want to chat, but at a volume that’s audible to your partner, not the surrounding tables. When I’m trying to make 4, I don’t want to be trying to block out the gory details of your latest holiday …

Pots and kettles …

Do I sense a raised eyebrow or three? As a well-known source of unwanted (and unauthorised) information, I can see I’ve just laid myself wide open. But from now on …

cj 06 November 2019

  10 Hesitation

I hesitate to say this ...

... but it’s time to revisit a situation we encountered in GD week 5: You’re not allowed to know that!, which was about unauthorised information (UI).

You’re sitting West. After 1NT - pass - pass, would you pass too – or bid 2? You could go for either, though pass might be wiser: NS could, after all, have most of the points. 

Let’s do it again. The auction’s the same, but this time your partner ponders for 20 seconds or so before – a tad reluctantly, perhaps – reaching for the Pass card. Does this make a difference? 

Well, it does, doesn’t it? This time, from your partner’s hesitation, you know that she has points – probably opening points and no long suit. Which means that 2 from you is now an excellent bid – and pretty certain to score better than 1NT going off by NS.

The trouble is, your partner’s queered your pitch. If you bid 2 now (which maybe you were going to do anyway), it’ll look as if you’re taking advantage of the UI she’s just given you. What to do? And what does the law-book say?

Directors and mind-reading

Let’s suppose I’m directing. You do bid 2, get raised to 3 and make 9 tricks. At the end your opponents, quite reasonably, call me over.

Being a mere director, and not a clairvoyant, I don’t know what was going on in your mind when you bid 2. Would you have bid it if partner hadn’t hesitated? And if not, were you influenced by it subconsciously? Or did you ‘field’ (= deliberately take advantage of) the hesitation? I simply have no idea – nor do I particularly want to know!

Law 16 to the rescue ...

Fortunately for everyone concerned, the law-book doesn’t require me to make moral judgments; merely to protect NS from any possible damage arising from the UI – to restore equity. The wording of the law’s a bit abstruse *, but on this hand it comes down to this:

  • If 2 is a no-brainer – that is, if anyone in the room would have bid it in their sleep, partner hesitating or not – then the bid stands. If you held A5 AQJ964 9 J1083, for example.
  • But if there is more than one reasonable call for you to choose from, then you may not choose one that is suggested by your partner’s hesitation. On this hand, as we’ve seen, 2 is by no means a no-brainer. Pass is an eminently reasonable alternative. And since 2 is certainly suggested by East’s hesitation, and you have an alternative call available, you can’t bid it. Period.

So my ruling would change your 2 bid to ‘pass’ and adjust the score to 1NT by N going (say) 1 off **: +50 for you instead of +140 ***. Note that there’s no question of your having misbehaved in any way:
no-one’s accusing anyone of anything – you’re simply not allowed to bid 2
 and that’s that.

What to do, then?

This raises all sorts of questions. Can’t I stop to think before bidding? Can’t I bid on after partner hesitates? And if my opponent hesitates, how should I handle it? Answers next week.

cj 13 November 2019

* Law 16 C (2) A player of an offending side may not choose a call or play that is demonstrably suggested over another by unauthorized information if the other call or play is a logical alternative.

** On a (likely) spade lead, EW can take 5 heart tricks, a spade trick and the A.

*** I’m only intervening here because NS might have been damaged by the UI. If instead 3 goes off and NS end up with a good score, then good luck to them!

  11 More about hesitation

Hesitation – what to do?

We saw last week that if you spend a while thinking (= ‘hesitate’) and then pass, this can make things tricky for your partner, because she now has unauthorised information (UI) about your hand.

While we’re not going to get too legalistic in GD sessions, we are aiming to help players towards ‘best practice’, so let’s look at the three questions we ended with last time.

Can’t I stop to think before calling?

Of course you can. And the less experienced you are, the more you’ll need to! Some of the time you’ll be non-plussed by situations that are new for you but only too familiar to old hands, eg:

  • You have a balanced 13-count and your RHO opens 1NT (last week’s hand). Simply pass.
  • Your RHO opens 1 and you have a weak 2 in hearts! Again, calmly pass ‘in tempo’.

At other times, as on the hand shown *, it’s a genuinely difficult decision and you need time to think it through. Do you punt 3 vulnerable? Or pass? Up to you. But, as we’ve seen, if you hesitate and then pass, you’re passing UI to your partner.

Does that matter? Well, sometimes yes, sometimes no. Here you’d hope that partner, as a passed hand, would have the sense to pass again. In the end, just do what you think best and if there’s a problem, let the director sort it out.

Can’t I bid on after partner hesitates and then passes?

Simply bid what you honestly would have bid if the hesitation hadn’t happened. If you would have passed, pass. But if you would have bid, bid – if an opponent raises the matter (see below), agree that there was a hesitation and that you think you ‘have your bid’ – and let the director deal with it.

But if you manifestly don’t ‘have your bid’, reach for the Pass card. On board 3 above, for example, West has a balanced 10-count with just 3 spades. The director will not be impressed if West doubles for take-out after her partner has hesitated and passed.

If my opponent hesitates, how should I handle it?

There’s nothing wrong with ‘hesitating’ per se. You’d only want to intervene if you think you may have been damaged. Let’s take board 3 as an example. If West passes, that’s fine. You’re in 3 – and in possession of the authorised (to you) information that East has a good hand. Play on!

But if West instead doubles for takeout and they end up in 4, you’d want to take action. The main thing is to establish that the hesitation took place. Very often it goes like this:

  • Before the hand is played, ask West: ‘Do you agree that your partner hesitated before passing?’
  • West (or East, for that matter) should confirm or deny, as appropriate. ** Let’s say she agrees.
  • You now explain that you’re ‘reserving your rights’, and then go ahead and play the hand.
  • If at the end of play you feel that you have been damaged, you should call the director, explaining what happened that everyone’s agreed that there was a hesitation.
  • The director will then decide an outcome in accordance with law 16 C (2).

Moving on   Note that nobody’s accusing anyone of anything here. If everyone stays calm, follows these guidelines and leaves the difficult bit to the director, then any misplaced equity can be restored and we can all move on happily to the next board …

cj 20 November 2019

* Board 3, Bath Tues 29 Oct 2019, evening. Also my HOTW for 30 Oct 2019 at

** Less experienced players sometimes feel threatened at this point, and come up with things like ‘I didn’t notice’ or ‘Well, he’s entitled to think!’ No need: if it happened, just say so!

  12 Keeping to time

All in good time

Don’tcha just hate standing (or sitting) around waiting for your next opponents to finish playing the last round? As well as being irritating, it can be unfair, as they’re nicking thinking/playing time that rightfully belongs to you.

Sure, there are difficult hands that need a lot of thought, but the causes of ‘slow play’ lie mostly elsewhere. Here are the key moments in the round with the most potential for time-saving:

Key moment  – Arrival

There’s always time to greet your new opponents *, but any e-x-t-e-n-d-e-d social catching-up is best left till the end of the round or maybe the break. The sooner you get stuck into the first hand, the more relaxed the rest of your time together can be.

Key moment  – Between auction and play

If you’re North, you’ll want to key the contract and opening lead into the Bridgemate before you forget it ** … but hang on a minute – are you dummy? or is it your opening lead? If yes, why not get that out of the way first? That way, you won’t keep the others waiting around – you can do your keying in while declarer’s studying the dummy.

Ditto with personal scorecards – if you’re dummy or on lead, deal with that first, then write.

Key moment : After hand 1

We all want to know how we’re doing, so by all means take a quick look at the Bridgemate to check your percentage and what happened at other tables. You might even want to exchange a few sentences about the bidding or the play … but don’t get involved in a full-blown post-mortem at this stage – you’ve still got a hand to play!

After hand 2

Scenario 1   You're all finished with a couple of minutes to spare. Now you can check scores on the tablet, post-mortem and socialise till the bell rings – bearing in mind that other people are still playing and are not in need of ‘unwanted information’ (see GD week 10).

Scenario 2   Oops – you’re still playing when the director calls the move – see below.

Key moment: The move is called

If you’re all done, no problem – abandon any unfinished post-mortems * and move to the next round. If you’re a moving pair, it helps if you’ve made a note of which pair you’re ‘following’ so you know where you’re going next.

If you’re still playing, finish as soon as you reasonably can, get the hand scored and then move as soon as you can. I know you wouldn’t want to hold up two tables while you take a leisurely look at all the scores … And if you do arrive late, a quick ‘Sorry to have kept you’ works wonders.

And that’s it till the new year – have a peaceful December and a stress-free Christmas.

cj 27 November 2019

* It goes without saying that greeting opponents signals the end of all post-mortem discussions, recriminations, etc from the last round. That’s over and done with – move on!

** We agree with the EBU that contracts should be keyed in at the start of play, but the advantage of leaving it till dummy’s down are self-evident.

  13 A recap ..

So far so good ...

Welcome to 2020 – a year which makes the fairly safe prediction that EW will (in the long run) hold roughly the same number of high card points as NS.

As we’re coming back from a fairly long break, here’s a reminder of progress so far.

The overall aim of these presentations is the same as that of the sessions themselves: to give improving players what they need to move on to mainstream bridge, while ensuring that everyone present has an enjoyable game of bridge (Intro). A starting point is to see the director not as some kind of policeman but rather as a facilitator who can keep you on the right track and, crucially, get you back on track if you get derailed (Article 1).

Topics covered so far fall into three overlapping groups:

ü Getting things right

The same procedures come up on every hand, so it’s important to know what to do – and not to do. Being dummy, for example, is pretty easy, provided you stick to the rules (Article 3). So is using the bidding box, but there are pitfalls (Article 5).

Announcing and alerting can take a bit of getting used to (Article 2) – especially knowing when to (and when not to) alert partner’s doubles (Article 8).

The physical business of dealing with the boards themselves is pretty straightforward, but if procedures aren’t followed the results can be catastrophic (Article 7).

laugh  Sweetness and light

There are ways of conducting ourselves that help things go smoothly and contribute to an enjoyable game … and others that lead to tension, discord and the gnashing of teeth.

Keeping people waiting at the end of a round – which tops my list – is easily avoided (Article 12). As is distracting noise and ‘unwanted information’ arising from loud discussion of hands you’re about to play (Article 9). And some ways of calling the director are more acceptable than others (Article 1).

û  Dealing with mistakes

While you don’t need to know your way around the law book – that’s the director’s job – it’s useful to know roughly what to expect when something goes wrong.

The issue that arises most often from mistakes, in both auction and play, is that of ‘unauthorised information’ or UI (Article 4) – something the director will know how to deal with.

A common source of UI is hesitation (Article 10); understanding and dealing with this issue – a frequent cause of discord – is a crucial part of your learning curve (Article 11).

And the right way to deal with an insufficient bid may come as a surprise (Article 6).

Still to come

More topics in all three groups, but with an increasing focus on the mistakes we all make: leads out of turn, revokes, bids out of turn, pulling out the wrong card or bid ... Such is life.

And finally, while these presentations are aimed squarely at improving players, they contain much useful information that some more experienced members may have forgotten or half-forgotten – or maybe even didn’t know in the first place!

cj 07 January 2020

  14 When the auction's over ...

'Twixt auction and play

You’ll already be roughly familiar with the procedure: the player on declarer’s left chooses a lead and lays it face-down on the table. The lead card is eventually ‘faced’, dummy goes down and we’re into the first trick. The time between the last pass and the lead being faced is called …

 The clarification period

Although you can ask about opponents’ bids during the auction, questions are often left till it’s over – we’ll see why another time. The ‘clarification period’ is a time reserved for that purpose.

?  What are the questions about?  They’re about the auction. For this reason, the bidding cards must remain on the table during this period – otherwise there’s no auction to ask questions about! If you’ve passed throughout, though, no harm in putting your pass cards back in the box.

?  Who can ask what?  Either defender and declarer can ask for a ‘review of the auction’. In practice, questions often focus on conventional bids that have been alerted. Dummy may not ask questions, as they could be used to give sneaky hints to declarer about how to play the hand *.

?  Who answers?  As with alerting, announcing and questions during the auction, explanations are given by the partner of the player who made the bid.

?  Who does what when?  Declarer can ask at any time. For defenders it works like this:

  • If it’s your opening lead, ask any questions you have.
  • Now choose your opening lead and lay it face down. Whatever happens next, this lead card cannot be changed.
  • Your partner can now ask any other questions she might have.
    Why in this order? Again, it’s to stop partner giving you sneaky hints about what to lead *.

?  Is that it, then? Almost. There’s one other thing, but that’s coming up in a future topic.

Image result for ref's whistle free clipartStart of play

Once partner’s finished asking questions – or says ‘No questions’ – the clarification period is over.

  • The opening lead is now faced …
  • … the bidding cards are picked up and returned to their boxes …
  • … dummy goes down …
  • … and play begins.

And finally, a couple of pernickety points concerning questions after play’s begun:

  • You’ve forgotten the auction already, haven’t you? No matter: as long as you haven’t played to trick 1 yet, you can ask for a reminder of the auction. But once you have, no dice. Sorry.
  • You can, however, still ask about the meaning of particular bids: ‘Your 1NT is 12-14, right?’
  • … and you can ask to be reminded what the contract is at any stage.

And then there are questions about the play of the cards … but that’s a topic for another time.

cj 14 January 2020

* This is all to do with unauthorised information (UI) again. It isn’t so much to stop us being sneaky as to prevent the accidental transmission of UI – and any suspicion that we might be misbehaving.

  15 Revokes part 1

Revokes 1 – Established revokes

It happens at least once every session: someone revokes – ie mistakenly fails to follow suit.

What happens then depends on when it’s spotted. Here are three possibilities:

A   The contract’s 4. You discard the 3 on declarer’s A lead. Declarer now leads the K and you follow with a small spade. ‘I think you may have revoked,’ says declarer.

B   The contract’s 4. You discard the 3 on declarer’s A lead. Just to check, your partner asks ‘Having no spades, partner?’ ‘Oops,’ you reply. ‘I’ve revoked.’

C   You’re declarer in 4. You ruff the opening A lead and clear trumps. Later on you follow suit with a small spade ...

Whichever it is, as soon as a revoke is spotted the director must be called – and one of the first things (s)he’ll want to find out is whether the revoke is established or not:

  • If one of the ‘offending pair’ has already played to the next trick, the revoke is established –  it’s too late to correct it. This is the case in situations A and C, above.
  • If not, the revoke is not established and must be corrected. This is the case in situation B.

 Established revokes – what happens?

If a revoke is established, it can’t be corrected * . You’ll be asked to continue playing the hand until the end, when the offending side will (usually) have to pay a penalty:

In situation A, one of your future tricks will be transferred to the other side. But if your revoke card won the trick (as in situation C), that trick will also be transferred, making two in all.

Note that only future tricks can be transferred: tricks that you won before the revoke are safely in the bag. So if you don’t win any more tricks on the hand, none are transferred. The idea is to restore equity, not present the non-offending pair with freebies that they don’t deserve.

It could be more than two tricks …

Before leaving you to play out the hand, the director will say ‘If at the end of play you feel you have still been damaged, call me back.’

As you certainly would in this situation: West played low on your 10, then discarded on the 2 – and played his A on the 3rd round! If you have no other entries to dummy, that’s just cost you 3 tricks – and the director will adjust the result accordingly.

* The exception: trick 12

A revoke on the penultimate trick must be corrected, even if it’s established. Why? Because the correct outcome is simple to reconstruct: trick 12 is played again, with the revoker this time following suit, and the remaining 4 cards make up trick 13. No problem. No penalties. Sorted!

‘Having no (spades), partner?’

Whether you’re a defender or dummy, you can help partner avoid a penalty by asking this question when they first show out of a suit.

So what happens when a revoke is spotted before it becomes established? That’s next week’s topic.

cj 19 January 2020

  16 Revokes Part 2

Revokes 2: correcting a revoke

We saw last week that if a revoke is established (that is, it’s spotted after one of the ‘offending pair’ has played to the next trick) it can’t be corrected: the hand is played out and the usual outcome is the transfer of one or more tricks to the non-offending pair.

If it’s spotted earlier than that – maybe as the result of the revoker’s partner asking ‘Having no (hearts), partner?’ – it must be corrected before play can continue.

How does it go?

If it’s declarer that’s revoked …

… it’s normally pretty straightforward. She just picks up the card, returns it to her hand and follows suit instead. Sure, the defenders have seen a card that they shouldn’t have seen but it’s not their fault: caveat revoker!

Make sure the director’s on hand, though, to sort out any ramifications that may arise.

If it’s a defender that’s revoked …

… it’s a bit trickier. The problem is that this time it’s a defender’s card that’s been exposed – and there’s a risk that this might present his partner with unauthorised information (UI).

Here’s an example: declarer leads the 4, you discard the 3 and immediately realise you’ve revoked. This is what happens:

The revoke is corrected, under the director’s supervision.

The 3 doesn’t go back into your hand, however. Instead it becomes a major penalty card. Sounds scary, but all it means is that it stays on the table face up and must be played at the earliest legal opportunity.

And that’s it. Except that if your partner wins the revoke trick (or gets the lead while the 3 is still on the table), there may be lead restrictions. Just in case there’s any UI floating about *, declarer can be a spoilsport and insist on or forbid a diamond lead, but the upside is that if she does, you can pick up your 3 and that’s the end of it.

We’ll come across major penalty cards again when we look at leads out of turn in a future piece.

So if there’s a revoke …

… stay calm, and let the director sort it out. No need for any accusatorial tones, cross denials or other angst. It’s just a question of calmly working out what’s happened and applying the solution.

And remember that little question that can save so much hassle: Having no (clubs), partner?

cj 26 January 2020


* How can a measly 3 convey UI, you may ask. Well, most pairs have a ‘discard system’ which they use to give partner info about their hand. The 3 might be asking partner to lead (or not lead) a diamond, or indeed to ask for another suit altogether. Which explains the lead restrictions.

  17 Using the STOP card


  Welcome to the most misunderstood topic in English bridge – the use of the STOP card.

It happens all the time: a player puts down the STOP card, makes a jump bid … and puts it away again. Erm … Why? Whatever for? To warn me that she’s about to make a jump bid? I can see that for myself. Doesn’t make sense.

What should happen, then? Look at these situations:

Situation 1  My RHO is dealer and opens a weak 2©.

Let’s suppose I’ve got a crummy 5-count. No problem. Out with the pass card.

But what if I’ve got a 13-count with a 5-card spade suit? Or a 15-count including ©Qxx? What would have been an easy bid over (say) 1© is now not so easy. I’m going to have to think this through …

Situation 2  My LHO opens 1¨ and my partner doubles for takeout. RHO now jumps to 3¨.

Again, with the crummy 5-count, I breathe a sigh of relief and pass.

But supposing I’ve got a flattish 11 points with no 4-card major? Do I bid something? Give up? Double for penalties, maybe? Gimme a minute …

You see the difficulty?

It’s exactly the same problem as the one we looked at in Article 11, on hesitation. If I just bung down a pass card, I’ve got nothing to think about. But if I take some time to think and then pass, my partner knows I’ve got values. And that’s not information she’s authorised to have.

  The STOP card to the rescue

This is the problem that the STOP card was introduced to deal with. It’s used like this:

  • Before you make a jump bid, lay your STOP card on the table.
  • Make your bid.
  • After making your bid, leave the STOP card on the table for a further 10 seconds.
  • Then pick it up.

The word ‘STOP’ on the STOP card is a command directed at the player who’s due to call next. While it’s in view, you may not make a bid or call. Nor may you leave your hand hovering around the pass cards in obvious impatience to ‘get on with it’.

The reason should now be obvious: that 10 seconds is extra time given to you to decide what you’re going to call next. So when you do, finally, make your call, your partner doesn’t know whether your 10-second ‘hesitation’ is for real or whether it was just enforced by the STOP card. It avoids the transmission of unauthorised information and makes for a fairer game.

  What if the bidder doesn’t leave the STOP card down after bidding?

That’s their problem, not yours. You’re still bound to wait 10 seconds before calling. And if you’re then accused of hesitating … just politely point out that it’s a hesitation required by law!

So if your RHO has made a jump bid, WAIT FOR 10 SECONDS before calling whether she leaves the STOP card down or not. That way, you’ll always be the innocent party.

If you’ve read this, you now know more about the STOP card than (at a guess) 75% of English bridge players. Congratulations!

cj 04 February 2020

  18 Leads out of turn

It’s not your lead!

The revoke is probably the most common reason for calling the director, but the opening lead out of turn comes a close second.

And a lot of fun it is, providing declarer with plentiful options. But first things first …

Has the lead been made?

You’ll remember from Article 14 that the opening leader places the lead card face down on the table, asking ‘Any questions, partner?’ If someone spots the error before the card is faced, no problem. No one’s seen the card, so back it goes into the defender’s hand and his partner can now make the opening lead. *

But if the lead is faced, it’s too late … and what happens next will ensure that declarer is not disadvantaged. Let’s say you’re the declarer in 3NT, sitting South, and that East (instead of West) has led the 5 out of turn …

II … It’s out of the players’ hands

It seems easiest for East simply to take back her lead and for West to lead something instead. But hang on … Why should West be allowed to know East’s best suit? Isn’t that unauthorised information? Sure it is, and for that reason … call the director, who will offer you two kinds of option to ensure you’re not disadvantaged:

C Accepting the lead

If you like the lead, you can accept it. And if you think it’s a better option (eg if your partner’s a good card-player!) you can even choose to become dummy and let her play the hand instead.

D Refusing the lead

If the lead doesn’t suit you, you can refuse to accept it and insist that the lead comes from the correct hand. You can also decide whether you’d like a heart lead or not. If you’ve got AQ10, for example, you’d really like a heart lead coming round to your hand – and can insist on it. But if you’re weak in hearts, you can forbid a heart lead.

And if you don’t care what’s led, you can say so, and the 5 remains on the table as a major penalty card, which must be played at the first legal opportunity.

So you can see that …

  • … a canny declarer can gain advantage by choosing the best option …
  • … while a canny defender, aware of this fact, will ensure that she doesn’t lead out of turn!

cj 18 February 2020


* Why is it so seldom caught in time? My theory is that when the player’s partner calls out ‘No!’ (meaning ‘It’s not your lead!’) it’s mistaken for the answer to ‘Any questions, partner?’ … and the lead is faced.