Copyright 1997, American Contract
Bridge League. All rights reserved
(extracted from the March, April, and May 1997 editions of The Bridge
American Contract Bridge League
2990 Airways Blvd.
Memphis TN 38116–3847
Bidding Box Proprieties
Dummy Calls the Director
Maintaining Conditions of Play at the Table
Referring to Defenses
Conduct and Etiquette
The 1997 revision of the Laws of Duplicate Contract Bridge are
effective in ACBL events beginning on May 27, 1997.
This article will discuss significant changes that may have an impact on
ACBL players. Most of the changes that were made to the Laws involve
wording. There was no intention of changing current interpretation. Many of
the changes were intended to make the wording consistent with current
interpretation and practice.
The first significant change to discuss is Law 25, Change of Call. The
change in this law has a great impact because of the increased use of
bidding boxes. Under ACBL rules, players must choose (decide on) a call
before touching any card in the bidding box. It is best to decide upon
your call before you even reach for the box. A call is considered made
when a bidding card has been taken out of the bidding box with intent.
The new law permits a change of an inadvertent call without
penalty (as long as the change is made or attempted to be made without pause
for thought) if done prior to partner making a call. Under the old version
you were permitted to make this change without penalty only until left hand
opponent (LHO) called. If you have pulled a card other than the one you
intended, and you notice your error prior to your partner making a call,
call the Director. It is best not to say anything more until
the Director arrives. In most cases to hold to a minimum any
unauthorized information or penalties in case the call is not deemed
inadvertent, the Director will talk to you away from the table
ACBL Directors in judging inadvertent changes without pause
for thought are very liberal when they are reasonably certain that the
original call was due to a mechanical error. Please call a Director, explain that you have made an inadvertent call and let the
Directors take it from there.
Law 16, Unauthorized Information, has been changed. In the past, once an
offending side had paid a penalty imposed by law, information from its
side's withdrawn calls or plays was authorized. Under the new law, withdrawn
calls or plays made by the non-offenders remain unauthorized to the
offending side and withdrawn calls of the offending side are unauthorized to
the partner. One example of this law in action is a major penalty card. If a
defender has an Ace of hearts as a penalty card when partner is on lead,
even if the declare has selected an option that permits the player to pick
up the card, the location of the Ace of hearts is unauthorized to the
partner unless this information is derived from an authorized source
(previous or subsequent play or from the auction).
Another change in Law 16 deals with the handling of unauthorized,
extraneous information from partner. The old version said that "...the
partner may not choose from among logical alternative actions one that could
reasonably have been suggested over another by the extraneous information."
The 1997 version uses the word demonstrably rather than reasonably (there
are other substitution in similar laws of demonstrably for reasonably). The
actions that will be removed by law (an adjustment made) will be those that
were obviously suggested. It must be readily apparent that the extraneous
information suggested the action over a logical alternative rather than the
product of a reasonable though subtle bridge argument.
This is an attempt to have results be determined by skill at the bridge
table and bridge equity rather than to have the result determined by one's
skill at litigation. Players must still cultivate the habit of trying not to
advantage their side by attention to extraneous information (e.g., tempo
variation) from partner. Additionally, one should try to put yourself (as
objectively as possible) in the opponent's seat before calling the "cops"
about a possible infraction of this type. As an example of what I mean, take
this hand A K A K J T 8 x x x 10 x x. You are East, not vulnerable
against vulnerable. You Pass and the auction continues (P) - 3C - (4H). You now bid
5C, South passes after considerable
thought, West passes and North bids 5H followed by three passes.
You choose to wait until you see North's hand (after the play) to decide
whether to call a Director. Do you? I suggest that should you
decide to call for a decision, you have not tried to see the situation as
though you had been North. Try to win by skill, flair and luck not by going
to court to see if the court will award you something even when your side
was not disadvantaged.
Another significant change to players is in Laws 9 and 43. This change
permits the dummy to ask for a Director after attention has been
drawn to an irregularity. In fact, the wording, "The Director must be
summoned at once when attention is drawn to an irregularity." which also
appears in Law 9, places the responsibility to call a Director on Dummy as
well as the other players once attention has been drawn to the irregularity.
The insufficient bid Law has been changed regarding the correction of an
insufficient bid to or from a conventional call. If the insufficient bid may
be conventional, or the lowest sufficient bid in the same denomination may
be conventional, or if the insufficient bid is corrected by any other
sufficient bid or by a pass, the offender's partner must pass whenever it is
his turn to call for the remainder of that auction.
Under the previous version, if you bid 3 Notrump over your partner's 4
heart call, you would be able to bid 4 Notrump with no penalty. Under the
revised Laws, you could make any legal call you wished (including 4 Notrump),
but your partner would have to pass at each turn for the remainder of the
auction. This is because the 4 Notrump may be conventional.
By the way, if the Director deems that the insufficient bidder could have
known that it would be disadvantageous to the other side to make his partner
pass when the irregularity was committed (3 Notrump was bid), the Director will require the auction and play to continue and consider awarding (most
likely will award) an adjusted score - in fact, he most likely will do so.
Everyone has always been told that North is responsible for (procedures
at) the table. In reality, some people (such as North) are more responsible
than others. Law 7 is better worded to say that, "Any contestant remaining
at a table throughout a session is primarily responsible for maintaining
proper conditions of play at the table." This is much better. We are all
responsible, but stationary players are more responsible.
Another change which has brought intent and common sense closer together
concerns dealing (Law 6).
While cards must still be dealt one at a time face down, minor variations
from a strict clockwise distribution may be permitted by the Director. For example, many tournament players deal back and forth into five
groups. The three groups in the middle have 13 cards and the two end groups
have seven and six, respectively. The two end groups are combined to one
hand and the four hands are now placed in the board.
This was against the letter of the previous Law and some players used the
Law as a weapon against the opponents. Minor variations such as the one
above will now be permitted as long as the Director agrees that
this coincides with the intent of the Law to distribute the cards one at a
time into four random hands.
While the Laws do not extend to players the right to subject opponents to
inquisitions, the Laws provide some latitude in asking about calls. Law 20
now makes clear with the addition of a parenthetical phrase that questions
may be asked about relevant calls available but not made as well as calls
that were actually made. Please remember that bridge is a game of "full
disclosure." To continually question and cross-examine opponents hoping that
they will say something that can justify a request for an adjustment later
is contrary to the spirit and intent of the Laws.
Whether you feel that the opponents are not answering your questions or
that the opponents are asking too many questions, rather than fuss with one
another it is best to summon an objective person (Director) to
resolve the matter and get on with the bidding or play.
Also, when asking a question, you should be aware that, even when you ask
a question at a legal time, your question may convey unauthorized
information. For example, consider this auction (you are South):
Although you may legally ask questions at this turn, it is better to wait
until your partner makes the opening lead. By waiting, there is no
possibility that your question(s) will inadvertently influence partner's
At present, if you open 1H and later bid an insufficient 3H and at that
turn you call something other than hearts, there would be a lead penalty if
you turned out to be a defender and you had not bid hearts again after
withdrawing the 3H call. According to the revised Law 26, there is no lead
penalty if you specify hearts before or after the withdrawn call. Therefore,
with the revised Law 26 on the above auction there is no lead penalty. You
may remember, however, from the above paragraph about the change in Law
16.C.2 that the Director may still make an adjustment in a
situation where the unauthorized information may have indicated an action to
partner that he or she might not otherwise have taken. A simple (although
perhaps extreme) example is:
If South follows his insufficient bid with a pass, there is no lead
penalty, but if partner leads a club when there are logical alternatives and
a club lead is successful, the Director will award an adjusted
The Laws continue to prohibit aids to memory, calculation or technique
during the auction and play, but there has been a change with regard to
Under the authority for this change, the ACBL has designated methods
permitted by the Mid-Chart or Super-Chart as unusual. Therefore, when those
methods are permitted, you may refer to your own defenses as well as an
opponent's suggested defenses during the auction and play. This is the only
case in which a player may refer legally to his own written material or
There has been a change in Law 50 (Penalty Card). The only information
that is authorized to the partner of a player with a major penalty card is
the requirement that the offender play the card at the first legal
opportunity. All other information is unauthorized.
For example, your partner opens 1 Notrump and your side later become defenders.
During the play your partner plays the DA to a heart lead and immediately
corrects to a heart. From your partner's misplay you deduce that declarer
has the CK. You may not use that knowledge to your side's advantage, either
in leading or discarding, if there is a logical alternative defense
A reminder regarding an inquiry about a possible revoke. This is not a
change, but a difference still remains between ACBL-land and pretty much the
rest of the world. ACBL rules about asking another player at the table if he
or she has a card of the suit led (the player failed to follow suit):
Declarer may ask a defender.
Dummy may ask declarer.
Defenders may ask each other and declarer.
In most other places, defenders are not permitted to ask one another. You
should keep this difference in mind if you occasionally play in non-ACBL
You might be aware that when a claim is made, declarer is prohibited from
playing an opponent for a specific card (usually repeating a finesse) unless
that situation has been revealed by an opponent's showing out before the
claim or on any subsequent normal line of play.
The statement ". . . or unless failure to adopt this line of play would
be irrational" has been added. An extreme example would be a contract of
holding A Q J 10 opposite x x x x and needing four tricks. Declarer
finesses and claims upon winning the Queen. Even though declarer in claiming
said only making seven, it would be irrational for declarer to do anything
other than repeat the finesse.
Although there is a consistent philosophy running through the Laws that a
player should not gain an advantage from his own irregularity, this will
happen occasionally. There is a global Law that attempts to decrease this
instance of gain a little more.
Law 72.B.1 calls for the Director to adjust the score if the
non-offender was disadvantaged by an opponent's irregularity and the
Director deems that the offender could have known at the time of the
irregularity that the irregularity would be likely to disadvantage the
With this Laws revision, matters of conduct and etiquette are matters of
Although the intent of Law 75 (Partnership Agreements) has not changed,
the wording has been modified. If your partner gives an explanation or makes
an Alert or Announcement that, in your opinion, is incorrect, you are
required to bring this to the attention of the opponents.
On any occasion when, in your opinion, partner has given an incorrect
explanation of your agreement. This includes explaining an agreement
where there is no agreement; you are now legally obligated to inform the
You do this by first calling the Director and explaining the
facts after the Director arrives.
NOTE: The time at which you call the Director differs
for each side. The defenders must call immediately after play ends. The
dummy or declarer must call after the final pass.
Chapter VII was written many years ago as a section dealing with
"Proprieties." The intent was to define correct procedure, etiquette and
courtesy. That remains the focus today. Over the years, however, this
section has become clearly defined as Laws. While there are no stated
penalties for infringement, there are items that will enable the director to
award adjusted scores.
Further, since misbehavior undermines the intended civility of the game,
procedural penalties or disciplinary measures which do not affect
comparisons are issued to players who misbehave, are discourteous or do not
follow proper procedure.
One more important change in Law 72 highlights the importance of making
sure that your scores are earned at the table A.2 reads "A player must not
knowingly accept either the score for a trick that his side did not win or
the concession of a trick that his opponents could not lose." A.2 previously
read, "It is improper for a player...." If an opponent claims, giving you
the high trump and you do not have it, speak up. If an opponent says
"making four" and you think he made five, speak up. If the other team
drops by your table saying, "Congratulations. You beat us," and you figure
that you lost, speak up. Many players do not realize that it has always been
incumbent upon them to speak up. Now it is very clear.
While a portion of Law 73 states that it is desirable for players to
maintain even tempo and unvarying manner, it goes on to say that players
should be particularly careful in situations where variation may benefit
For example, if dummy holds K J x in a side suit and declarer may be
missing the Ace and/or Queen, you should try to decide after the opening
lead what you will play if and when declarer leads toward this combination.
This is one of several types of situations where it is especially
important for you to make your play in tempo. Neither throw your card on the
table as though it were a hot coal nor agonize over which card to play.
The Laws (specifically Law 74) state that a player should maintain a
courteous attitude. It also admonishes players not to annoy or embarrass
other players or interfere with their enjoyment of the game (except by
doubling and/or taking more tricks).
The bottom line is that the Laws mandate civility and courtesy. For
example, the manner in which you address the Director should be
courteous --- and it should not be discourteous to other contestants.
Law 75 contains an important change regarding an erroneous explanation by
partner, an incorrect Alert or Announcement or the omission of an Alert or
Announcement. The time period for bringing this mistake to the attention of
the opponents remains unchanged. If partner has erred in one of the above
ways, the declarer or dummy must call the director and notify the opponents
after the final pass. A defender facing the same situation must call the
director and notify the opponents after play ends.
The important change in phrasing is that the Law now reads that this must
take place when, in the player's opinion, there has been a mistaken
explanation or mis-alert.
The change in Law 83 empowers the director to go forward with an appeal
even if the appellant decides to withdraw the appeal. This change could
result in the alteration of the victor in knockout and Swiss matches.
In the past, appeals often have been filed during a KO or Swiss match on
the theory that "we'll go forward with this if we lose, but we'll withdraw
it if we win." Now a Director can insist that an appeal, one which the
director feels has no inherent worth, go before the appeals committee. If
the committee agrees with the Director, the committee could assess a
disciplinary penalty against the appellants. Such a penalty conceivably
could convert a tight victory into a loss.
The Director may also use Law 83 to ensure that close cases involving
complex bridge judgment are reviewed by committees. For example, a pair not
in contention may choose to accept a decision rather than appeal. When the
Director believes that there should be more discussion by more people of
this particular case and that such review may lead to a different assessment
of the bridge facts, the Director may refer the matter to a committee. In
these situations the Director is appealing for the remaining participants
(the field) who may be affected by the decision but may not appeal that
Therefore, this Law can be used by the Director to have an issue reviewed
by an appeals committee in the absence of an appeal or, in essence, refuse
to permit a contestant to withdraw an appeal.
Law 92 underwent a small change that is aimed at keeping frivolous
appeals -- appeals with no substantial merit -- from taking place. In the
past there was no penalty stipulated under the Laws for appeals with no
particular merit. Now, however, appeals committees will be legally empowered
and encouraged to subject such appellants to a score penalty -- perhaps a
fraction of a board in a matchpoint event or a number of IMPs in a team
The concept behind this, of course, is that the appeals process should be
used in a reasonable manner -- never in an attempt to gain an advantage in a
situation where "it can't hurt."