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Opening or overcalling NT with a singleton: It’s officially legal
The ACBL Board of Directors removed a legal gray area surrounding semi-balanced notrump openers when it approved a change to the definition of a notrump opening in the General Convention Chart. The change allows players to open 1NT with hands that include a singleton ace, king or queen, as long as they do not also contain a doubleton.”
Here is the new definition, effective Aug. 1:
“A notrump opening or overcall is natural if, by agreement, it contains no void, at most one singleton which must be the A, K or Q and no more than two doubletons. If the hand contains a singleton, it may have no doubleton.”
This includes hand patterns such as 5-4-3-1, 6-3-3-1 and 4-4-4-1, in addition to those that were previously allowed, such as 4-3-3-3, 5-3-3-2 and 5-4-2-2.
The change was recommended by the Competitions and Conventions Committee, a group of players appointed by the Board, in an effort to bring regulations in line with popular and expert practice, said ACBL Field Manager Sol Weinstein, who supervises tournament directors.
Before, opening notrump with a singleton was considered a psych. It was legal to do, but players could not have an agreement to open such hands 1NT or 2NT. The lack of clarity was a thorny issue for directors.
“Many players were doing it anyway,” Weinstein said, particularly when a different opening would create a problematic rebid. “They decided it’s not right to have a rule that’s contrary to the way bridge is being played.” The idea of expanding the definition has been discussed for years within the committee, but previous proposals have failed because they lacked the simplicity of the new definition.
“The Laws don’t allow you to limit bridge judgment,” Weinstein explained. “Regulations have to conform to the Laws.”
The new definition prohibits opening notrump with more shapely hands, such as 5-5-2-1, 6-4-2-1 or 7-2-2-2. “All of this has to do with your agreements,” Weinstein noted. “That doesn’t prohibit an out-and-out psych, but you can’t keep doing that or it becomes an agreement, and an illegal one at that.”
The change does not impact the one allowable exception of a partnership agreement where 1NT is treated as a 100% forcing opening bid (and not considered “natural”) with any distribution). The use of such a unbalanced, non-natural 1NT opening must be alerted.
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The current regulations for Alerting/Announcing 1♣/1♦ opening bids are as follows:
An opening suit bid or response is natural if, by agreement, in a minor it shows three or more cards in that suit, and if, by agreement, in a major it shows four or more cards in that suit. (An opening bid of 1♣ is natural if, by agreement, it may be exactly 4-4-3-2 with two clubs, three diamonds, and four cards in each major.) (GCC)
1♣ or 1♦ may be used as an all-purpose opening bid (artificial or natural) promising a minimum of 10 high-card points. (GCC)
State “may be short” for non-forcing 1♣ and 1♦ opening bids which may be shorter than three cards. (Alert Procedures)
1♣: Not Alertable if natural (three or more cards in minor) and non-forcing. Announceable if fewer than three cards is the only unnatural or conventional meaning. Any other meaning must be Alerted (e.g., a Precision opening 1♣).
1♦: Not Alertable if natural (three or more cards in minor) and non-forcing. Announceable if fewer than three cards is the only unnatural or conventional meaning. Any other meaning must be Alerted. (Alert Procedures)
The issue of whether or not an alert is required relates to whether the bid is considered forcing or non-forcing per partnership agreement and understanding.
1♣: Alert if playing Precision where the bid is “strong, artificial, and forcing with 16 or more HCP and says nothing about clubs” (or similar agreement).
1♣: Alert if playing Montreal Relay, Kennedy Method, or similar system AND partner is expected to respond (“forcing”). Partner should state something like “Could be as short as 1 or 0 clubs, promises only opening values, and I’m expected to make a response.” Announce “could be short” if responder could pass with a hand as bad as xxx, Qxxx, xxxx, xx. (When quizzing players who use the Montreal Relay system you’ll find that many of them really do consider the bid to be forcing except in the rare case where they hold practically a bust hand with long clubs. You’ll find that many of them will respond 1♦ with the example hand above. That in itself should make the 1♣ be considered artificial and forcing. In this case the opponents are due an Alert, not an Announcement.)
1♣/1♦:Alert if playing Montreal Relay or similar system where these two bids distinguish the size of the opening hand. For instance, 1♣ shows a hand with no five card major and a range of 10-13 HCP, and 1♦shows the very same hand but with 14 or more HCP. In each of these cases players may have zero cards in the minor suit bid and hold five or more cards in the unbid minor suit. Again, when quizzing players who play these systems you’ll find that most will scrape together any bid possible (by implication, “forcing”) for fear that opener may actually be void in the first suit bid.
1♣/1♦: Announce “may be short” if they could be shorter than three cards and are 100% non-forcing.
Systems used by defense over “natural” or “artificial/conventional” 1♣/1♦ bids.
The General Convention Chart distinguishes between defensive systems allowed over natural 1 level opening bids and conventional/artificial 1 level opening bids. The following systems are allowed over natural 1♣ bid (which includes the exact distribution of 4-4-3-2 where the two card suit is clubs) and all other natural one level suit bids:
1. CONVENTIONAL BALANCING CALLS.
2. CONVENTIONAL DOUBLES AND REDOUBLES and responses (including free bids) thereto.
3. NOTRUMP OVERCALL for either:
a) Two-suit takeout showing at least 5–4 distribution and at least one known suit (At the four level or higher there is no requirement to have a known suit.) or
b) Three-suit takeout (at least three cards in each of the three suits.)
a) JUMP OVERCALLS INTO A SUIT to indicate at least 5–4 distribution in two known suits and responses thereto.
b) SIMPLE OVERCALLS INTO A SUIT to indicate a minimum of 10 HCP, at least 5–4 distribution in two known suits and responses thereto.
5. TRANSFER ADVANCES (responses to overcalls) where the call shows length or values in the suit of the transfer.
6. CUEBID of an opponent’s suit and responses thereto, except that a cuebid that could be weak (fewer than 10 HCP) directly over an opening bid, must show at least one known suit.
These guidelines include such conventional bids as Michaels Cuebid (#6), a jump overcall of 2♦ that describes a hand much like a Flannery bid (#4a and 4b), Sandwich NT, etc.
In cases where a pair requires an opening bid of 1♣ where the distribution might include four diamonds and two clubs (the partnership must have five diamonds to open 1♦) this bid should be considered conventional and should be Alerted.
Only when the 1♣/1♦ bids are considered artificial/conventional may a pair employ conventional overcalls such as HELLO, DONT, CRASH, Suction or other non-destructive methods (Opening 1♦ with 4-4-2-3 distribution where the two card suit could be diamonds IS considered artificial; i.e. there is no “parity” with the 1♣ bid where clubs could be as short as two). From the GCC under allowable competitive calls:
7. DEFENSE TO:
a) Conventional calls (except see #10 RESPONSES and REBIDS above and #7 under DISALLOWED below)
When a 1♣ is announced as “may be short” it is the responsibility of the overcaller to ascertain just how short. If the bid always promises at least two then only standard competitive calls as described above are allowable. If the bid could be as short as one or zero then the additional non-destructive conventional overcalls are allowed.
When a 1♦ is announced as “may be short” the overcaller may use the full range of defensive bids as the bid of 1♦ here is considered artificial.
Responses to 1♣
A forcing, artificial 1♦ response where responder is denying a five card major and where he could easily not hold three diamonds must be Alerted.
1♣-P- 1♥ or 1♣ -P-1♠ : no Alert required for natural bids (four card+ major suits) even if the response promises a five card suit or longer as in the Montreal Relay system.
Whenever the 1♣ bid is considered strong AND forcing a full range of responses is available in responding and rebidding. From the GCC under allowable responses and rebids :
7. ARTIFICIAL AND CONVENTIONAL CALLS after strong (15+ HCP),
forcing opening bids
For players who use a strong, forcing 1♣ opening bid promising 15+HCP a full range of conventional calls is available (such as transfer responses). When players open 1♣ artificially and consider it forcing, but the point range may be less than 15 HCP, they may not use these artificial responses.
Sometimes Dummy puts down only 12 visible cards. One card might be stuck behind another, or a card may have fallen to the floor. It is also possible that Dummy does not properly display the cards, placing the eight of diamonds amongst the hearts, for instance. If for any of the above reasons or similar ones dummy fails to follow suit to a trick the director should not apply the Revoke Laws. The defenders, however, may well be due an adjustment.
“If one of dummy’s cards is obscured, as by being stuck behind another, and the discrepancy goes unnoticed for some time, and its absence is found to have damaged the defenders, an adjusted score (Law 12) may be in order for failing to display dummy properly (Law 41 D).
“When a player, usually the dummy, says, ‘Everyone is responsible for the dummy,’ he is quoting a 1948 Law. This has no basis in current law. The player who is the dummy is responsible for the proper display of his hand.
“A director should look at how the play of the hand went and be ready to protect the non-offending side, awarding an adjusted score if necessary. There is also no automatic penalty to the declaring side; a director should also consider how declarer may have played the hand differently had he been able to see all 13 cards. The goal is to restore equity. In gray areas of how the play MIGHT have gone the director should side with the non-offenders.”
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The current regulations for alerting when using Puppet Stayman sequences are as follows:
1NT – P – 2♣ – P the 2♣ bid is not alerted
2♦, 2♥, 2♠, or 2NT* the rebids by opener are alerted,
2NT – P – 3♣ – P the 3♣ bid is not alerted
3♦ , 3♥ , 3♠, or 3NT* the rebids by opener are alerted
1NT – P – 3♣ Alert 3♣
2♣ – P – 2♦ – P
2NT – P – 3♣ Sequences like these follow the same guidelines as if partner had opened 2NT
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From Laws of Duplicate Bridge, Law #68:
B. Concession Defined
1. Any statement to the effect that a contestant will lose a specific number of tricks is a concession of those tricks; a claim of some number of tricks is a concession of the remainder, if any. A player concedes all the remaining tricks when he abandons his hand.
2. Regardless of B1 above, if a defender attempts to concede one or more tricks and his partner immediately objects, no concession has occurred.
Unauthorized information may exist, so the director should be summoned immediately. Play continues. Any card that has been exposed by a defender in these circumstances is not a penalty card, but Law 16d applies to information arising from its exposure and the information may not be used by the partner of the defender who has exposed it.
Law 70.A. should also be consulted:
Contested Claim or Concession
A. General Objective
In ruling on a contested claim or concession, the director adjudicates the result of the board as equitably as possible to both sides, but any doubtful point as to a claim shall be resolved against the claimer.
Law 71 may also apply when a side claims or concedes a trick that cannot have been won or lost through any normal* play of the cards:
A concession must stand, once made, except that within the correction period established under Law 79c the director shall cancel a concession:
1. If a player conceded a trick his side had, in fact, won; or
2. If a player has conceded a trick that could not be lost by any normal* play of the remaining cards. The board is rescored with such trick awarded to his side.
* For the purposes of Laws 70 and 71, “normal” includes play that would be careless or inferior for the class of player involved.
NOTE: Many clubs which hold games only once a week establish a time limit of the start of the next week’s meeting of that session as the end of the correction period for score corrections. This gives the players a full week to check for errors in the score, but it is too long a time to apply to canceling concessions because memories have had time to dim.
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From Duplicate Decisions, Law 83
Notification of the Right to Appeal
When the Director makes a judgment ruling on a point of fact (damage after a hesitation; unauthorized information passed during the auction) or exercises his discretionary power (as when he assigns an adjusted score under Law 12), it is open to question and/or appeal. He should advise the players involved of their right to appeal.
(See Appeals, Law 92.)
If the Director reads his ruling directly from the Laws book, any request for a committee is useless, because the committee can give no redress. The Director should read Law 93B3 out of the Law book to inform the players that an appeal would be a waste of everyone’s time. Be sure you, the Director, have read and are aware of Laws 92 and 93 in the Laws, too!
Appeals at the Club Level
The National Laws Commission has stated that a club may establish an appeals committee, but is not obligated to do so. ACBL suggests that a club either have a standing appeals committee or appoint one when necessary. In this way, the Director is not the court of last resort.
The Role of an Appeals Committee
1. The appeals committee allows players an opportunity to obtain a hearing in cases where they do not agree with the Director’s ruling.
2. The appeals committee may not overrule the Director on a point of Law or regulation or on the application of a disciplinary penalty.
3. The appeals committee may remove a procedural penalty. Committees, therefore, deal in matters of bridge judgment and should consist of the most experienced players available.
Remember that a club is not required to honor requests for committees.
Clubs that have provisions for Appeals Committees should consult Duplicate Decisions for suggested procedures.
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Frequently a player is faced with an unusual hand that requires “creativity” in bidding. No bid from the partnership system addresses the peculiarities of the hand before him. Some select “the least lie” to describe the hand they hold, others hope for the best and make a bid they know violates their partnership agreement. Their hope is to perhaps find out further information on partner’s holding before making their next call.
From Law 40:
c. Deviation from System and Psychic Action
1. A player may deviate from his side’s announced understandings always, provided that his partner has no more reason to be aware of the deviation than have the opponents. Repeated deviations lead to implicit understandings, which then form part of the partnership’s methods and must be disclosed in accordance with the regulations governing disclosure of system. If the director judges there is undisclosed knowledge that has damaged the opponents, he shall adjust the score and may award a procedural penalty.
2. Other than the above, no player has any obligation to disclose to the opponents that he has deviated from his announced methods.
Duplicate Decisions expands upon this:
Partnership Understandings – General Guidelines: Players agreements, whether implicit or explicit, must be available to your opponents. However, a player may make any call or any play (including an intentionally misleading one that departs from commonly accepted or previously announced conventional practice) without prior announcement, provided it is not based on a partnership understanding. In other words, a player may make any bid that will fool partner and his opponents equally.
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From the Laws of Duplicate Bridge:
6. (a) When explaining the significance of partner’s call or play in reply to an opponent’s inquiry (see Law 20), a player shall disclose all special information conveyed to him through partnership agreement or partnership experience, but he need not disclose inferences drawn from his knowledge and experience of matters generally known to bridge players.
From The Introduction to the Alert Procedures:
The objective of the Alert system is for both pairs at the table to have equal access to all information contained in any auction. In order to meet this goal, it is necessary that all players understand and practice the principles of Full Disclosure and Active Ethics. Ethical bridge players will recognize the obligation to give complete explanations. They will accept the fact that any such information is entirely for the benefit of the opponents, and may not be used to assist their own partnership.
From The Introduction to the Alert Definitions:
To ensure full disclosure, however, at the end of the auction and before the opening lead, declarer is encouraged to volunteer to explain the auction (including available inferences).
From the General Conditions of Contest for all ACBL events:
All players have an obligation to disclose their agreements according to the procedures established by ACBL. When asked, a full explanation of the agreement must be provided. Stating the common or popular name of the convention is not sufficient. The opponents need not ask exactly the “right” question. Any request for information should be the trigger. Opponents need only indicate the desire for information — all relevant disclosures should be given automatically. The proper way to ask for information is “Please Explain”.
Players should never offer explanations phrased as “I think it means…” or “I’m taking it as…” If you cannot remember the partnership agreement, say just that. The opponents may wish to call the director. If you cannot remember discussing an agreement in this bidding sequence simply say “It’s undiscussed.” In this situation you are using your best bridge judgment to proceed and the opponents must do the same.
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The most difficult rulings for any of us, whether it is a new club director or an experienced National Tournament Director or an Appeals Committee made up of some of the finest players in the world, are those relative to hesitations and misinformation. Pages upon pages have been written on this issue, and curious and serious directors will do well to research the many elements relative to these rulings. One great source is available at the ACBL website — a collection of the casebooks concerning rulings from years of National Tournaments. In these casebooks you have the opportunity to read about rulings made, appeals filed, and outcomes of committees assigned to the appeals. To view all available NABC casebooks, click here.
Law 16 defines many types of Unauthorized Information such as “a remark, a question, a reply to a question, an unexpected alert or failure to alert, or by unmistakable hesitation, unwonted speed, special emphasis, tone, gesture, movement or mannerism” and the director’s charge to be certain that the non-offending side is not damaged.
It is important that a director know the difference between a mistaken bid and misinformation. Here, Law 75 B and C helps:
B. Mistaken Explanation
The actual partnership agreement is that 2♦ is a natural signoff; the mistake was in North’s explanation. This explanation is an infraction of law, since East–West are entitled to an accurate description of the North–South agreement. When this infraction results in damage to East–West, the director shall award an adjusted score. If North subsequently becomes aware of his mistake, he must immediately notify the director. South must do nothing to correct the mistaken explanation while the auction continues. After the final pass, South, if he is to be declarer or dummy, should call the director and must volunteer a correction of the explanation. If South becomes a defender, he calls the director and corrects the explanation when play ends.
C. Mistaken Call
The partnership agreement is as explained — 2♦ is strong and artificial; the mistake was in South’s call. Here there is no infraction of law, since East–West did receive an accurate description of the North–South agreement; they have no claim to an accurate description of the North–South hands. (Regardless of damage, the director shall allow the result to stand; but the director is to presume mistaken explanation, rather than mistaken call, in the absence of evidence to the contrary.) South must not correct North’s explanation (or notify the director) immediately, and he has no responsibility to do so subsequently.
In both examples, South, having heard North’s explanation, knows that his own 2♦ bid has been misinterpreted. This knowledge is Unauthorized Information. Consequently, South must be careful not to base further actions on this information (if he does, the Director shall award an adjusted score).
For instance, if North rebids 2NT, South has the unauthorized information that this bid merely denies a four-card holding in either major. South’s responsibility, however, is to bid as though North had made a strong game try opposite a weak response, showing maximum values.
Director Procedure following Misinformation or Unauthorized Information:
Duplicate Decisions provides a clear step-by-step analysis of how a Director should proceed.
1. At ACBL sanctioned events, competitors may now announce that they reserve the right to summon the Director when extraneous information may have been made available. There is no penalty for calling the Director early.
2. When a player feels an opponent has taken action that could have been suggested by such information, he should call the Director when play ends. Again, it is not an infraction to call the Director earlier or later.
Note: Someone who waits until one or more boards are played is showing diminishing outrage at the infraction the longer he waits. Law 9.B.1.a says the Director should be summoned at once when attention is drawn to an irregularity. If Dummy made the questionable call a Defender who summons the Director when the dummy hand is first displayed gives the Director the best chance of making a well-considered ruling (away from the table he can find out what the Defenders would have done differently before they know the outcome of the hand.)
The use of the word “demonstrably” is intended to remove from consideration logical alternatives that are not obviously suggested over another by the unauthorized information. The Director should not change a result unless the action chosen can be shown (demonstrated) to have been suggested. The actions that will now be removed by Law have to be suggested in an obvious, easily understood way — it must be readily apparent rather than a product of some subtle bridge argument.
Steps in dealing with unauthorized, extraneous information such as tempo variation:
1. Was there unauthorized information available? Was there a break in tempo? If yes, proceed.
2. Were the opponents damaged? If yes, proceed.
3. Were there logical alternatives to the call chosen by the partner of the slow bidder? (Remember that a logical alternative is a call that, among the class of players involved, would be given serious consideration by a significant number of such players.) If yes, proceed.
4. Could the extraneous information demonstrably suggest the call chosen over a likely less successful logical alternative(s). Is it obvious? Is it readily apparent? Is it easily understood?
If yes, proceed.
5. Assign an adjusted score.
Note: The context of the full auction must be considered. For example, a player is expected to wait about 10 seconds, studying his cards, before calling after his RHO skips one or more levels of bidding.
Finally in the “Techfiles” available to Tournament Directors, the following example case is given, along with some good reminders of how to deal with hesitations in the ruling process:
To examine a typical case, suppose that North opens 1♠, East jumps to 4♥, South passes after a marked hesitation, West passes and North now rebids 4♠. East-West protest. These are the four issues to be resolved:
1. Was there a hesitation which was undue and that gave North unauthorized information?
Most hesitations should be considered undue when they occur in basic, simple auctions. For example, a slow pass as dealer or over an opponent’s one level opening bid would be considered undue. However, there are some high level competitive positions in which it is more normal (thus less informative) to break in tempo briefly than to act in tempo-as in the case of a jump in the bidding. If East did jump in the bidding, a 10-second break in tempo by South is obviously far from undue (a pass in tempo would be undue haste). A normal hesitation by South is not undue.
(At the auction’s start a normal auction would take in the 2-4 seconds range per bid. As a partnership approaches slam 4-6 seconds is not inappropriate.)
2. Did North make a call that could have demonstrably been suggested by the break in tempo when he bid 4♠?
If an overwhelming majority of North’s peers would have made the same call without the hesitation, then he has no logical alternative to the action he took even if a small minority of his peers might have actually passed or doubled. If a substantial minority of his peers would choose to pass or double, there is a logical alternative even though more than half of his peers might choose to take the action he did. The question is not whether it is logical for north to bid 4♠, but whether it would also have been logical for him to do something else.
3. Could South’s slow pass suggest North’s 4♠ bid over some logical alternative?
The answer to this question is likely to be YES if Pass was an alternative. The fact that South had something to think about makes it more attractive for North to choose action over inaction. In contrast, if North is so powerful that his only logical alternative to 4♠ are other bids or double, then the answer is likely no – South’s break in tempo indicates he has some values, but not necessarily in spades.
4. Were East-West damaged by the infraction?
If 4♠ made, or if it was a good sacrifice, usually yes. However, if North’s hand was so huge that his alternative to bidding 4♠ was doubling, certainly not passing, and if 4♥ doubled would have been set more than the value of North-South’s game, then, there was no damage. If 4♠ went down when 4♥ would also have been set by routine defense, again, there was no damage.
Some common misconceptions about breaks in tempo are as follows:
1. North is barred by partner’s slow pass unless he has 100% action.
FALSE! South’s hesitation, if it was undue, restricts North’s options, but only when alternatives are logical and then only in respect to those alternatives that could be suggested. So North is often entitled to act.
2. North may bid 4♠ so long as he did not base his decision on partner’s slow pass.
FALSE! Committees should pay scant attention to testimony such as, “I always bid in auctions like this”, or “I hardly noticed South’s huddle – I had already made up my mind to bid 4♠.” It is not that these statements are self-serving and unverifiable-the real point is that they are IRRELEVANT. The issue is not whether the slow pass suggested the 4♠ bid to this particular North, but, whether, to North players in general, the hesitation COULD make the 4♠ bid more attractive than a logical alternative.
3. After South’s slow pass, North may not take a doubtful action.
FALSE! North will commonly be faced with a choice among a number of reasonable options, all of them doubtful. The rules of bridge require that North do something at his turn-every one of his options cannot be illegal. The illegality is for North to select a particular option that could be suggested over another by partner’s huddle.
4. North may bid 4♠ if that would have been reasonable action had partner not hesitated.
FALSE! The issue is not whether 4♠ was reasonable, but whether any alternatives were.
5. North may not make a risky 4♠ bid, which could result in a huge set when South has nothing, now that the break in tempo tells him that South has something.
FALSE! Even if the 4♠ bid would be disastrous one time in three, there may be no logical alternative to it. The test is not whether the bid would be successful an overwhelming proportion of the time, but whether an overwhelming proportion of players would choose to run the risk.
6. The director’s decision (or the committee’s) to bar North’s 4♠ bid, to adjust the score, in effect convicted North-South of being unethical.
FALSE! What the director found was that North’s 4♠ bid was a technical irregularity, like a revoke. It adjusted the score to redress possible damage from that irregularity, just as it would take away a trick or two had north revoked. In hesitation cases, directors should be concerned not with crime and punishment, but with damage and redress.
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From Law 25:
A. Unintended call
1. Until his partner makes a call, a player may substitute his intended call for an unintended call but only if he does so, or attempts to do so, without pause for thought. The second (intended) call stands and is subject to the appropriate law.
2. No substitution of call may be made when his partner has made a subsequent call.
3. If the auction ends before it reaches the player’s partner, no substitution may occur after the end of the auction period (see Law 22.B.1).
4. If a substitution is allowed, the LHO may withdraw any call he made over the first call. Information from the withdrawn call is authorized only to his side. There is no further rectification.
Duplicate Decisions goes on to explain:
Until his partner makes a subsequent call, the Director should permit a player to change an inadvertent call without penalty, provided he changes or attempts to change the call without pause for thought. Inadvertency means a slip of the tongue (or with bidding boxes a slip of the fingers — a mechanical error) has occurred, not a change of mind. The player does not have to make the change of call; any indication that the first call was not his intended call is sufficient. Also, this indication of inadvertency must be made without pause for thought. (The elapse time here should not be your prime determinant. It is important to note that the thought being described is about what to call, not about what to have for dinner.)
Note: Many players have learned to say “mechanical error” whenever the director is called. Directors should be wary of accepting this self-serving statement without acting with due diligence. We do not accept “mechanical error” when the first call is Pass and the second call is 3♠. We should also look askance at hands that hold two long suits where it is possible the bidder was thinking about his second bid while making his first. The onus here is on the player to prove it is indeed a mechanical error, not an error brought about through distractions, fatigue, or mental carelessness.
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Per ACBL General Conditions of Contest:
Carding Agreements: A pair may not elect to have no agreement when it comes to carding. There have been pairs that say they just play random leads or that they lead the card closest to their thumb. They must decide on a carding agreement and mark their convention cards accordingly. Of course, some leeway needs to be given to fill-in pairs or very last minute partnerships.
From the ACBL Convention Chart:
Dual-message carding strategies are not approved except on each defender’s first discard. Except for the first discard only right-side-up or upside-down card ordering strategies are approved. Encrypted signals are not approved. In addition, a pair may be prohibited from playing any method (such as suit preference systems at trick one), when they are deemed to be playing it in a manner which is not compatible with the maintenance of proper tempo (much like dual message signals). This decision may be appealed to the tournament committee.
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From Laws of Duplicate Bridge:
A player may not attempt to mislead an opponent by means of a remark or a gesture, by the haste or hesitancy of a call or play (as in hesitating before playing a singleton), the manner in which a call or play is made or by any purposeful deviation from correct procedure.
A player may appropriately attempt to deceive an opponent through a call or play (so long as the deception is not protected by concealed partnership understanding or experience).
Remedies for Inappropriate Deception:
When a violation of the Proprieties described in this Law results in damage to an innocent opponent, if the director determines that an innocent player has drawn a false inference from a remark, manner, tempo or the like of an opponent who has no demonstrable bridge reason for the action, and who could have known, at the time of the action, that the action could work to his benefit, the director shall award an adjusted score (see Law 12c).
Note: “Innocent” in the above context is a very important word. For example: Dummy has A K J 10 of a suit. Declarer leads the suit and LHO pauses for a long time. The one thing every bridge player knows is that LHO is NOT pondering whether or not to play the queen. A declarer who takes the finesse and claims he was misled by the hesitation is not considered “innocent” under this Law.
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Simple, Weak, Invitational and Constructive Major Suit Raises
Directors are frequently asked about which types of raises are alertable and which are not. The following are common examples:
1♥ – P – 2♥ (6-9 HCP, 3 or 4 card support) No alert
1♥ – P – 2♥ (8-10 HCP, 3 card support, “constructive”) No alert
1♥ – P – 3♥ (0-6 points, various ♥ support, “weak”) Alert
1♥ – X – 3♥ (weak or intermediate) No Alert
1♥ – 2♣ – 3♥ (weak or intermediate) No Alert
1♥ – P – 3♥ (10 – 12 points, 3 or 4 card support, “limit”) No Alert
1♥ – P – 4♥ (0- 13+ HCP, various ♥ support) No Alert*
*When asked, players should explain style based on experience with this partner.
1♥ – P – 1NT (forcing) – P
2♣ – P – 2♥ (could be 3 card support with less than 8 HCP) No Alert
1♥ – 1♠– 2♠ (10+ in support of hearts) No Alert
Conventional raises such as Bergen or Jacoby 2NT require alerts.
The clearest explanation of what can and can’t be done comes from Duplicate Decisions, the companion book to the Laws of Duplicate Bridge:
A minor penalty card is a single card nine or lower and exposed by accident (as in playing two cards to a trick or dropping one accidentally). It is not an “accident,” however, if a player accidentally plays a club instead of a spade.
The following facts are true about a minor penalty card:
1. It must be left face up on the table.
2. It does not have to be played at its first legal opportunity.
3. It must be played before any other card, nine or lower, of the same suit is played.
4. It is permissible to lead or play a card, 10 or above, in the same suit before playing the minor penalty card.
5. It is permissible to play another suit.
6. The offender’s partner is not subject to lead penalties, but Law 16 A., Unauthorized Information, may apply.
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BARRING PSYCHIC ARTIFICIAL OPENING BIDS
All psychic openings of artificial bids are prohibited at ACBL sanctioned events. This also applies to the SuperChart. (Board of Directors – Summer 1992)
Opening an artificial and forcing bid without an “abundance” of high card values is acceptable under the following circumstance: If, in the view of the bidder, there is a reasonable chance for game in hand with little help from partner.
The following hands would qualify:
1. ♠ A K Q J 10 9 7 6 5 or 2. ♠ A K Q 10 9 8
♥ 7 5 4 ♥ J 10 9 8 7 6
♦ 2 ♦ 4
♣ — ♣ —
These hands may be accepted as artificial 2♣ openers if the opening bidder thinks they are reasonable. On the first hand opener needs only one trick from partner. On the second hand, two small spades and a heart honor probably would be enough to produce game.
What is NOT acceptable is the use of a strong, artificial, forcing 2♣ opener holding:
♦ Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 2
There would be good reason for a director to conclude that the opening bidder’s prime motive is to confuse the opponents rather than to reach the right contract constructively. It is clear that opener is psyching what is ordinarily a well defined bid in an attempt to intimidate the opponents. This is exactly what the rule is intended to prevent.
If a pair thinks that Examples 1 and 2 are 2♣ openers, then their convention card should have some notation about playing strength in the appropriate place. Also, if a pair marks their card with HCP limits for their 2♣ openers, they should note if it only refers to balanced hands. (Directions – April 1992)
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Psych, Psyche, or Psychic Bidding
(Taken from Duplicate Decisions)
Psychic Calls – While psychic bids are an integral part of bridge, a player does not have the right to psych as frequently as he wishes simply because he enjoys doing so. A series of tops and bottoms so earned by one pair can unfairly affect the final results of a tournament.
ACBL’s Policy on Psychs:
Psychs are regulated by taking disciplinary action against a player who disrupts a game with frequent, random psychs. The ACBL Board of Directors has defined types of disruptive bidding that make the offenders subject to penalty.
The following definitions and explanations should prove helpful to all Directors trying to enforce this regulation.
Excessive Psychic Bidding — When three or more psychic initial actions by members of a partnership have been reported in any one session and are called to the attention of the Director, the Director should investigate the possibility that excessive psyching is taking place. A presumption of inappropriate behavior exists, and it is up to the players to demonstrate that they were not just horsing around. It is up to them to show that they happened, this once, to pick up a string of hands unusually appropriate for psychs.
The continued use of undisciplined psychic bids tends to create partnership understandings that are implied from partnership experience. Example: If a player opens 1♦ three times in one session with two or fewer diamonds, partner finds it hard to take any 1♦ opening bid seriously. When the psychic bidder’s partner, because of prior usages, has a better chance of catching a psych than either opponent, there is presumptive evidence that an undisclosed partnership understanding exists, and the result of the board may be adjusted.
Frivolous Psychic Bidding — Any psychic action inspired by a spirit of malicious mischief or lack of will to win may be interpreted as frivolous.
Unsportsmanlike Psychic Bidding — Action apparently designed to give the opponents an abnormal opportunity to get a good score, psychs against pairs or teams in contention, psychs against inexperienced players and psychs used merely to create action at the table are examples of unsportsmanlike psychic bidding.
NOTE TO CLUB MANAGERS: Clubs should regulate the use of uncontrolled psychs by saying that the burden of proof will be on the player, if he makes more than two psychic calls per session, to prove that he is not using excessive, frivolous or unsportsmanlike psychic bidding. Disciplinary action should be taken against a player whose bidding does not conform to these regulations. Score adjustments should be made only when the result was affected because the partner, due to previous experience, may have allowed for the psychic call.
Psychs which require no regulation or director attention: Any call that deliberately and grossly misstates either honor strength or suit length is by definition a psych. However, some psychs are disruptive to the game while others involve bridge tactics.
These definitions should help to distinguish a psych that warrants disciplinary action or, at the least, attention by the Director, from those that are an integral part of the game.
A tactical bid is a psych that is made to paint a picture in an opponent’s mind and partner’s mind that will cause them to play you for a holding that you do not have, enabling you to succeed at the contract to which you were inevitably headed.
Example: After partner opens with 1♠, responder bids 2♦ to try to ward off a diamond lead on the way to 4♠ holding:
♠Q J x x x ♥A x ♦x x x ♣K Q x.
Or, you might cuebid an ace you don’t have on your way to six of a suit.
NOTE: Frequent use of tactics similar to this will develop an implicit partnership agreement which requires an Alert, possibly delayed.
A waiting bid is generally a forcing bid made by responder to allow him time to learn more about partner’s opening hand. This type of call is only rarely a psych, since in most cases the suit length is not grossly misstated.
Example: Over a 1♠ opening, responder bids 2♣ on:
♠A x x x x ♥x x x x ♦x x ♣A Q.
The hand is too good for 2♠ and not good enough to force to game. The 2♣ bid is a waiting bid. If opener rebids 2♠, responder can now bid 3♠ – invitational.
A deviation was defined by Don Oakie (Feb., 1978, ACBL Bridge Bulletin) as a bid in which the strength of the hand is within a queen of the agreed or announced strength, and the bid is of a suit of ample length or of notrump. He also defined a deviation as a bid of a suit in which the length of the suit varies by no more than one card from the agreed or announced length and the hand contains ample high-card values for the bid in the system being played. If either of these situations occurs, it is easy to see by repeating the definition of a psych (a deliberate and gross misstatement of honor strength or suit length) that a deviation is NOT a PSYCH.
However, frequent deviations may indicate that the pair has an undisclosed implied agreement acquired through experience. This situation should be dealt with firmly.
The following appears in the ACBLscore Techfiles and is also relevant to psych bidding:
Psychic controls are not permitted. If a pair is using methods that enable them to make risk-free psyches, they are in essence playing psychic controls. For example, in playing a 10-12 NT, many pairs have the understanding or the agreement that the NT opener may not bid again (except in forcing or invitational situations). If the pair were to psyche a non-forcing or invitational response, the agreement would be a psychic control. For example, 1NT-Pass-2♥ -3♣, if the opener is prohibited from bidding 3♥ with a maximum and a fit, then a risk-free environment is created. To pass without the interference would not be a problem as there is still risk involved (your partner could have a maximum real 2♥ bid), but to pass in competition gives your partner room to maneuver with the knowledge that you will not interfere.
Since psychic controls are illegal, when a player does psyche one of these responses, the pair is playing an illegal agreement. WE should lean heavily toward issuing a procedural penalty or adjustment for the pair’s illegal use of this agreement as a psychic control.
Another example is a 2♠ response to a weak 2♥ or 2♦ bid that opener is not permitted to raise. This becomes a psychic control when the 2♠ bid is a psychic. While it would be legal to have the agreement that a 2NT rebid shows spade support, the agreement would be illegal (a psychic control) if responder were to psyche the 2♠ response.
Therefore, a legal agreement that creates a risk-free psychic environment (that is an environment where the psycher knows his partner is under control – this does not include hands where we know because of our particular hand that we have an answer to most things that our partner can do to us) becomes illegal if the pair psyches. (Office Policy – 08/1995)
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It is important that Directors make use of Laws 62 AND 64 when dealing with a revoke at trick 12.
Law 62.D is first applied:
1. On the 12th trick, a revoke, even if established, must be corrected if discovered before all four hands have been returned to the board.
2. If a revoke by a defender occurs on the 12th trick and before it was the turn of his partner to play to the trick, when offender’s partner has cards of two suits he may not choose the play that could possibly have been suggested by seeing the revoke card.
The director applies the concept “the cards play themselves” and sorts out how the last two tricks should have gone making sure to pay attention to #2 above.
Law 64.B.6. states:
There is no rectification as in A above following an established revoke:
6. If it is a revoke on the 12th trick
**There are no one trick penalties or two trick penalties. The director merely restores equity.
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From the ACBL Handbook:
ACBL retains the right to approve or disapprove any bidding or defensive carding (lead or discard signal) convention for general use in ACBL-sanctioned tournament events. In exercising this right, ACBL has established convention charts that list conventions permitted in games having varying degrees of difficulty.
A club manager can bar or allow specific conventions and can bar certain conventions in newcomer games but allow them in open games. The types of events for which this applies are club masterpoint games, club championships, club charity events, ACBL-wide events, unit championships, unit charity events, district charity events, and the first level of play in the North American Pairs event. The Alert procedure and the skip bid announcement are procedures used in tournaments and are optional (and strongly encouraged) in club games.
When masterpoints are awarded for overall positions in several locations, such as unit-wide games, STaCs, etc., all conventions in the ACBL General Convention Chart must be allowed unless the conditions of contest specify otherwise. Use of the Alert procedure is mandatory, and the rules that govern skip bid announcements are applicable.
Occasionally special games, such as the GNT event, may be held in clubs. In such a case the club manager must check the conditions of contest to be sure to conduct the game in conformity with the rules.
ACBL recommends that clubs which are inclined to permit patrons to test new or little known conventions or systems restrict such testing to one of several scheduled game sessions. If experience indicates that the majority of the club players welcome this policy, it can be extended easily to other sessions. In any case, players must have the approval of the director before using any convention not specifically authorized. ACBL recommends that each club post a list of approved conventions in a conspicuous place on its premises.
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The “Almost” Bid Out of Turn, Touching Before Thinking, and Three Passes to End an Auction
It is common that a player begins to bid when it is not his turn to do so. It is also common that a player will begin to withdraw a pass card, replace it, finger or begin to withdraw a bid, returning it to the bid box, etc.
Duplicate Decisions provides the following information in relation to Law 18:
Utterances such as “one …” and “I am about to make a skip bid …” do not constitute bids, or even calls. Law 16, Unauthorized Information, is used to deal with this type of situation.
In no case should the Director ever require that the defender name a denomination or otherwise complete his “call” — unless it is obvious what the player intended to bid (e.g., “One spuh …”).
When using bidding boxes, a call is considered made when a bid (or a card designating a call) has been held face up, touching or nearly touching the table, or maintained in such a position as to indicate that it has been played. If a call is withdrawn from the box but not “played,” treat it as unauthorized information under Law 16. It is important to remember that the use of the STOP card does not constitute a bid or call.
Note: A director should caution the partner that he possesses Unauthorized Information and should take great care to make his bids based upon the cards he holds and the actual bids on the table. Further the director should encourage the non-offending side to call him back if they feel the partner may have chosen a bid or play suggested by the Unauthorized Information.
From time-to-time a player will draw an inadvertent bid card from his bidding box, a “slip of the finger.” Such calls should be deemed inadvertent. See Law 25A.
Three Passes to End an Auction:
It is all too frequent that players get in the habit of tapping the table to indicate a pass, or scooping up their previous bidding cards to indicate a pass, or even tapping on a previous double to indicate they are repeating the double. Such habits can create distinct problems in auctions.
In ACBL’s guidelines for use of Bidding Boxes:
When a player picks up his bidding cards from the table when he knows he has a turn coming and he INTENDS for that to be interpreted as a pass, then he has passed (otherwise Law 25B could come into play).
When a player picks up his bidding cards because he thinks the auction is already over and he has no turn coming, he has not passed. He gets to do whatever he wants without penalty. UI issues may be involved.
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1. Suction is approved as a defense on the GCC for overcalls of conventional calls such as a strong 1♣ or 2♣ opening bid.
2. Suction is not approved as a defense on the GCC for direct seat overcalls of natural notrump opening bids or natural notrump overcalls. Since the word “direct” is used in the definition the implication is that it may be used in balancing seat.
7. DEFENSE TO:
a) Conventional calls (except see #10 RESPONSES and REBIDS above and #7 under DISALLOWED below),
b) Natural notrump opening bids and notrump overcalls, except that direct calls, other than double and 2♣ must have at least one known suit.
c) Opening bids of two clubs or higher
3. A district has the right to include Mid-Chart Conventions at a Sectional or a Regional (see number 4 below), but they may not dictate to clubs the inclusion or exclusion of any convention. The district should note the underlined part below:
This chart (the Mid-Chart Conventions) applies to:
1. All NABC+ events with no upper masterpoint restrictions played at an NABC.
2. All unrestricted Flight A regional rated events at an NABC.
3. Any bracket of a bracketed KO at an NABC which contains no team with an average masterpoint holding of fewer than 1500 points.
4. Provided it has been included in tournament advertising, this chart (or any part) may apply to any sectional or regional rated event or tournament at the sponsor’s option. The requirement for advertising does not extend to use in Flt. A or KO brackets which contain no team with an average masterpoint holding of fewer than 1500.”
5. Clubs are their own regulating authority (whether it be a board or manager/owner) when it comes to conventions allowed or disallowed in games. From the ACBL handbook:
B. ALLOWABLE RESTRICTION OF CONVENTIONS
Club managers may regulate conventions in games conducted at their clubs. A complete list of conventions that may be used for club play is shown on the ACBL General Convention Chart/MidChart/SuperChart.
From Duplicate Decisions:
REGULATION OF CONVENTIONS
NOTE: See the ACBL website for the Convention Charts ACBL has established for various levels of tournament competition. In general, clubs games are played under the ACBL’s General Convention Chart. Clubs may allow experimental conventions or agreements if they believe their particular club can handle them.
Law 40.B.2 also directly addresses this, recognizing club management as the “regulating authority.”
Clearly it is a two-way street. A club owner or manager or board may decide to allow a Mid-Chart convention in a regular club game as a way for players to gain knowledge about it and “test-drive” it. They are also completely within their rights to prohibit a convention like Suction in any seat, any auction, period. Restrictions or additions to the GCC should be posted at the club next to a copy of the GCC for all to see.
6. Playing Suction in the allowed ways (such as over a strong 2♣ opening bid) on the GCC would not require a written description of the system nor a pre-alert. Playing Suction, if approved by the regulating authority whether it is a tournament sponsor, or a club manager, as a direct overcall of 1NT would require both a written description and a pre-alert. The ACBL does not require a written defense to this system.
“When using a method permitted by the Mid-Chart but not by the General Convention Chart, a pair is required to:
1. Pre-Alert the method(s)
2. Have a written description of the method(s) available for the opponents.
3. Except for those methods authorized by sections #1 – 5 below, have a copy of the approved suggested defense available for each opponent.”
(Suction falls within #1-5, and requires no written defense.)
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Law 40 includes this provision:
3. (a) unless permitted by the Regulating Authority*, a player is not entitled during the auction and play periods to any aids to his memory, calculation or technique.
Items that would fall in these categories include:
- Taking notes or writing down the auction and referring to it during the play
- Writing down one’s complete hand and referring to it during the play
- Placing opening leader’s first led suit to the far left of Dummy
- Arranging played tricks in some other way than allowed by law to assist in recognizing who won the trick or how many tricks must still be taken to set or make the contract
- Placing a finger on the table to consistently remind Declarer when he should be leading from Dummy rather than from his hand.
- Referring to one’s own convention card at any time during the auction or play of the hand.
*A club serves as its own Regulating Authority, whether it be in the form of a Board, an Owner, or Club Manager.
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For ACBL tournaments the policy is that the “traveler scores” or “percentages” functions of the electronic scoring be turned off. It is our opinion that seeing scores from other participants gives the players knowledge of how they’re doing and may impact their choices during later rounds. This may lead to “shooting” by out of contention pairs which begins to skew the legitimate results on boards. ACBL maintains that a player should only have their own estimation based upon their own experience in determining how they’re doing for a given session.
Having the “traveler results” function on leads to other problems as well: slower play as players feel the need to discuss all those other results; Unauthorized Information passed around the room as some player announces a strange outcome or contract; The need to adjust scores and assign penalties when a table plays the boards out of order and enters the second board in the first slot and sees results from other tables for a board not yet played.
Clubs, however, may set their own policy as to the use of these functions, and ACBL would not interfere in cases of STaCs unless the Regulating Authority asked that it be added to the conditions of contest for that specific STaC.