Among the most relevant laws from the standpoint of the Street Smart
Bridge player are:
Law 16: Unauthorized Information – this one regularly warrants
Director calls for assistance and gets escalated to appeals committees
all too often.
Law 21: Calls based on Misinformation
– as soon as you realize you neglected to alert a conventional call by
your partner, immediately call the Director.
Law 25: Legal and Illegal Changes of Call
– as soon as you realize you made a mistaken call (provided partner
has not already made a call), immediately call the Director.
Law 27: Insufficient Bid – be
aware of the subtle yet critical differences between an insufficient
natural bid and an insufficient conventional call. Also understand
the loss of one’s rights when an opponent accepts the call.
Law 40: Partnership Agreements
– psyches are lawful within established guidelines (excepting
excessive, frivolous, or unsportsmanlike psyches); concealed
understandings are absolutely prohibited.
Law 45: Card Played – know
the subtle differences between defenders played card and that of the
Law 46: Incomplete or Erroneous Call of Cards from
Dummy – here’s a tricky Law involving the
differences between a slip of the tongue, a slip of the mind, and when
declarer’s true intention is incontrovertible (whew!)
Law 48-51 Penalty Card Laws –
many players know enough about the basics of penalty cards to misapply
these Laws (many variances depending on the circumstance). As always,
be sure to have the Director assist players obtaining redress,
particularly complex issues pertaining to penalty cards.
Law 52-57: Lead Out Of Turn –
while the non-offending players cannot “huddle” when deciding whether
or not to accept the LOOT, a “well educated” partnership will allow
partner enough time to accept the lead before calling attention to the
irregularity. Further, even when the declarer or dummy realizes the
LOOT, either player may still accept the lead out of turn.
Law 63–64: Establishment of a Revoke – shrewd competitors allow
opponents to revoke on a trick and play to a subsequent trick before
“noticing” a revoke, thus invoking a progressive penalty.
Law 68-71: Claims and Concessions
– always use caution and carefully explain a claim to the opponents,
especially addressing trump play. Once a player faces one’s cards, a
virtual claim has been made – listen carefully to the claim and call
the Director to resolve any discrepancies or contested claims.
Law 73: Communication – it
should come as no surprise that communication problems are the
granddaddy of all Director calls and appeals in the big tournaments!
Part C sounds easy enough but the devil is in the details:
C. When a player
has available to him unauthorized information from his partner, as
from a remark, question, explanation, gesture, mannerism, special
emphasis, inflection, haste or hesitation, he must carefully avoid
taking any advantage that might accrue to his side.
As if that wasn’t enough heavy material in one Law,
Part D goes even further:
D. It is desirable,
though not always required, for players to maintain steady tempo and
unvarying manner. However, players should be particularly careful in
positions in which variations may work to the benefit of their side.
Otherwise, inadvertently to vary the tempo or manner in which a call
or play is made does not in itself constitute a violation of
propriety, but inferences from such variation may appropriately be
drawn only by an opponent, and at his own risk.
So, perhaps there is truth to the saying, “He who
hesitates is lost.” Even with this harmless saying, historians argue
whether the origin proclaimed was “he” or “she” – go figure. Here’s
some lighter witticisms:
a. He who hesitates is worse than lost: he is miles
away from the next cloverleaf on the freeway.
b. He who hesitates is lost, but she who hesitates is
c. He who hesitates is lost -- and so is his parking
d. He who hesitates is interrupted.
e. He who hesitates is the one who doesn't pick up the
Law 75 - Partnership Agreements
– here’s another commonly misunderstood Law that regularly draws
Director calls. Part 1 permits a player to violate partnership
agreements. But Part 2 provides redress to the non-offending side
when opponents provide misinformation, including a mistaken
Okay, let’s move on with some practical tips on the
Practicing What You Preach
First and foremost, always call the Director for
assistance. Otherwise, if someone makes a personal ruling at the
table, the non-offending side may lose their rights.
Penalty cards – a
minor penalty card is one whose face is a 9 spot or below; thus, a
major penalty card is one whose face is an honor: A, K, Q, J, or
10. Of course, in addition to an inadvertently faced card, a lead out
of turn or multiple faced cards (regardless of the rank) result in a
major penalty card.
Bidding – players are required to ensure they have 13
cards before looking at their faces (L7.B.1).
After play, each player is required to ensure all cards have been
returned to the board pocket. Fouling a board may result in a penalty
Insufficient Bid –
a. When on our side, our general approach is to
promptly correct the bid at the higher level in the same denomination,
assuming this was a mechanical error. This prevents LHO from
accepting the bid. Naturally, when we have pulled the wrong
denomination and notice the error before partner has made a call, we
immediately call the Director who will allow us to restore the correct
bid due to a mechanical error. Note: a player is not allowed to
change one’s bid due to a change of thought or mental error. This
issue was addressed by the ACBL National Tourney Director Mike
Flader in the May 2002 Bulletin (pg. 99) and Gary Zeiger, Director In
Charge at the
Summer 2002 NABC (case 46). In summary, they state: “(a) A slip
of the mind is not inadvertent; (b) the burden of proof of
inadvertency is on declarer.” So its unlikely a Director will buy
into the claim the “slip of the hand” story when the correction bid is
not located near the bid actually made.
b. If by opponents, if it’s useful you can quickly
accept, even though the player made a mechanical error. The
non-offending side’s first option is to accept the insufficient bid.
c. If opponents make an insufficient conventional call,
the offender’s partner is barred from bidding in the auction. (L27.B.2)
Failure to Alert: The
declarer’s side must notify the defender’s side of a failure to alert
after completion of the auction, before the opening lead. However, the
defender’s side must wait until the completion of play before
notification of the defender’s failure to alert. (L75.D.2)
If a player realizes they failed to alert a call, they
should immediately make the alert, regardless of the rotational
bidding. Again, call the Director for assistance.
Be careful asking about bids – don’t needlessly do so
unless you really have a need to know. And don’t allow opponents to
do so in order to needlessly draw attention to leads, sacrifices,
doubles, etc. If an opponent does so and you believe your side may
need redress, consider kindly calling the Director for assistance.
When asked by an opponent to explain partners bid,
never make guesses or provide unwarranted inferences. Explain the
convention as succinctly as possible. If you are uncertain of a bid,
simply state “We do not have a partnership agreement on that call.”
You can always look at the opponents’ convention card.
If one player’s card is unclear or poorly marked, look at the other
opponent’s convention card (they must both agree with each other).
Exception: the dummy is not permitted to look at an opponents’
convention until after play is completed. Doing so during play might
signal or influence the declarer about a line of play.
Conversely, do not allow opponents to look at their own
convention card when bidding. If they seem to be peeking at their own
card, immediately request their card as though you intend to look at
the card yourself - it’s there for your convenience, not theirs.
Beware of opponents subconscious gestures as, shrugging
shoulders or hand faced skyward as “I don’t know what to do!” Other
antics include aggressive or angry bidding (upset about partner’s
call, etc). Some players pass Unauthorized Information unconsciously
when using bidding boxes, as dropping down a thick stack of bidding
card from several inches off the table to dramatize the magnitude of
the bid. One way to defuse this situation and prevent its recurrence
is to ask the offender’s partner, “How many inches of drop constitute
a signoff, invitational, or forcing bid?”
Beware of opponents’ not-so subconscious eye-to-eye
communication, such as when a bid was not alerted, etc.
When an opponent hesitates (more than a 15 seconds
lapse) or makes a bid that is quite noticeably out of tempo, consider
calling the Director to protect your rights. While it is commonplace
for the Non-Offending Side (NOS) to obtain consensus among players of
the hesitation, the ACBL Law states, “competitors will not be allowed
to announce that they reserve the right to summon the Director later”
At a minimum, if the hesitator becomes declarer and it’s clear by
viewing the dummy unauthorized information was transmitted, the NOS
must immediately call Director. The NOS cannot wait to view post-play
results to determine if they were injured, seeking two opportunities
for the best result. If an opponent hesitates, you can make any
inference you wish at your own risk. However, it is a violation of
the Laws to hesitate with the intention of confusing an opponent (L73.D.1)
Some players are of a mistaken belief that whenever
your partner hesitates, you are automatically barred from the auction.
This is not true, however if you plan to make another bid your bid
must stand up on its own without benefit of partner’s unintentional
unauthorized information. Certainly you may not make any inferences
from the pause, but you are allowed to make a call based on the
“logical alternatives” of your hand and aggregate bidding. For your
bid to stand up under scrutiny, the Director may conduct a sampling of
your contemporaries to see if the clear majority autonomously selected
If your opponent made a hesitation, you can make
whatever inferences you wish at your own risk. However, if the
opponent hesitated without cause, the hesitation was irregular and you
should call the Director for redress (L73D1).
If LHO makes a non-conventional pass out of rotation,
the first option is for the next player (following the offender) to
accept the pass out of rotation and continue. If not accepted and the
offender bid before the RHO’s turn to call, the offender is required
to pass once at their first turn to bid; the non-offending partner is
not barred from bidding. However, if the RHO passes when it was
either LHO or partner’s turn to call, the offender is barred the
remainder of the auction (L29).
If LHO makes a non-conventional bid out of rotation,
the bid is cancelled unless accepted by the offender’s LHO. If the
offender subsequently bids a new denomination at the first turn to
call, the offender’s partner is barred for the remainder of the
If partner makes a bid out of rotation and the bid is not accepted by
the opponents, the offender’s partner is barred from bidding the
remainder of the auction. If RHO makes a non-conventional bid out of
rotation, the offender’s partner is barred for the remainder of
Bidding Odds and Ends
psyche is defined as a call that deliberately and grossly mis-states
high-card values or suit length. Psyche bids are often legal yet the
limitations are misunderstood by players and not consistently applied
by Directors. The Director may penalize excessive psyches (more than
three by a partnership in a session), frivolous psyches, or
unsportsmanlike use of psychic bidding. It is not lawful to have an
agreed way to "catch" a psyche, or employ any controls to detect
partner's psyche. Ask Director for help. The ACBL prohibits psyches
of strong opening bids: 2 Clubs, 2 Notrump, and Precision 1 Club. 1
level opening bid psyches are also prohibited with less than 8 High
Card Points. Psyching artificial forcing responses are further
If a player deliberately or inadvertently passes out of
turn, the call may be accepted by the player’s LHO, however the
Non-Offending Side may not huddle. If the call is not accepted, the
offender’s partner must pass one round at their first available bid (L30).
However, if the player made a call out of turn (not LHO’s turn to
call), the offender’s partner is barred from bidding the remainder of
After the auction when it is a player’s turn to make
their first play, the player may ask for a review of the entire
auction. However, the player is prohibited from asking about a subset
of the auction. Doing so appears to show interest about a certain call
which may provide unauthorized emphasis to specific weakness, leads,
etc. by the defender. Instead, insist on a review of all bids. This
reminds us of when the legendary Charles Goren once quipped, “Please
give me a review of the auction, complete with all the hesitations!”
During a session of play,
a system may not be varied, except with the permission of the
Tournament Director. Of course, a pair can alter their defenses
against the opponents’ conventional calls and preemptive bids.
Now let’s explore the Laws during the play of the
As declarer, we should neither allow nor answer
questions asked by opponent seated in the third seat until leading
opponent makes their face down opening lead. Prematurely answering
questions may suggest a favorable lead, interest in a suit, or a line
of play which leader is not entitled to have knowledge (unauthorized
We should always make our opening lead face down and
ask if partner has any questions (L41.A
L45.A). This prevents a Lead Out Of Turn.
When an opponent makes a
Lead Out Of Turn, we may choose to accept it. Of course, we
should call the Director who will instruct us on the various options.
A prematurely exposed card/s by a defender becomes a
penalty card/s (note – this is a different rule than a minor card
dropped during bidding). If defender exposes a minor penalty card (2
through 9), the defender may not play any other card of the same suit
below the rank of an honor until the defender has first played the
penalty card; however, defender is entitled to instead play an honor
card. Offender's partner is not subject to lead penalty, but
information gained through seeing the penalty card is extraneous and
unauthorized. When a defender has a major penalty card, both the
offender and partner may be subject to restriction, when the offender
is to play or the partner is to lead. If it is the offender’s turn,
a major penalty card must be played at the first legal opportunity,
whether in leading, following suit, discarding or trumping. The
requirement that offender must play the card is authorized information
for partner. However, other information arising from facing of the
penalty card is unauthorized for partner. If a defender has two or
more penalty cards that can legally be played, declarer designates
which is to be played. The obligation to follow suit, or to comply
with a lead or play penalty, takes precedence over the obligation to
play a major penalty card, but the penalty card must still be left
face up on the table and played at the next legal opportunity. If the
turn of the offender's partner and a penalty card is in effect, the
player may not lead until declarer has stated which of the options
below is selected (if the defender leads prematurely, the player is
subject to penalty under
L49). The Declarer may choose: (a) Require or Forbid Lead of
Suit: to require the defender to lead the suit of the penalty card,
or to prohibit defender from leading that suit for as long as the lead
is retained; if declarer exercises this option, the card is no longer
a penalty card, and is picked up. (b) No Lead Restriction: not to
require or prohibit a lead, in which case the defender may lead any
card; the penalty card remains a penalty card. Whew, that’s quite a
bit to digest. Bottom line, ask your Director for help.
Be aware that if you are injured though an irregular
action of opponent, you may call Director for an adjusted score (even
if Director provided initial redress for the irregular action. For
instance, revoking in a way to prevent declarer from setting up a long
Dummy suit that would yield more tricks than the 1 or 2 trick revoke
penalty. Misinformation during the bidding phase is also a prime
candidate for the belated Director call when the Non-Offending Side is
injured beyond the initial redress offered by the Director.
Next let’s review the Laws for exposed cards during play:
a. By declarer – A card is played if touching or nearly touching
table, or was played in a manner indicated it was a played card
(expressly facing toward opponents, or claiming). But there is no
problem if Declarer drops card/s on the table; ditto if the declarer
exposes a card but does not place card near table.
b. By defender – A card is played if partner could have seen card,
whether looking in that direction or not. (L45.C.1)
What do you and your partner do when declarer
Leads Out Of Turn (LOOT)? Consider developing a partnership
understanding to wait 5-10 seconds before accepting or refusing the
LOOT, thus allowing either partner to first accept/challenge the
offending action. Even when the dummy points out LOOT, either
defender may still accept LOOT. However the defenders cannot huddle
over best action (L55.A)
As we mentioned above, when the declarer makes a LOOT, exposes cards
or the like, the defenders are not injured. Unless accepted, the
declarer returns the card to hand and play continues. (L55.B)
How about when declarer erroneously calls for a dummy
a. Incontrovertible calls can be changed; this assumes the intended
card based on prior play of the hand (as a proven finesse, etc.)
predicated on the player’s ability.
b. No more changes originally approved by the
Vancouver Appeals committee, “Oh Sh*t! I meant another card.”
(see pg 4 and the
c. Corrections are acceptable, the proverbial “Slip of the tongue,”
without pause for thought (as opposed to the thinking error described
d. Ambiguous declarer card calls are problematic - was the call for an
Ace or the Eight? Incidentally, hand gestures are acceptable but
should be unambiguous to all players.
As was mentioned earlier, the Dummy cannot look at
opponents’ convention card during play, particularly if the action
draws attention to declarer.
Once declarer has faced a card down (even a moment) on
a quitted trick, they are not entitled to turn the card back up and
see an opponent’s face down card. However it is within everyone’s
rights to see their own quitted trick until their side has played to
the following trick.
The Dummy has the right to inspect tricks won/lost by
everyone. Just because the declarer has a faced card down, the Dummy
may keep a card faced on the current trick and is still permitted to
require opponents to face their cards -perhaps opponents’ cards were
not visible to the Dummy. The Dummy is to ensure opponents did not
revoke, but must not point out the irregularity until play is
completed. Of course, an unscrupulous Dummy cannot use the tactic to
draw attention to an opponent’s play such as sluffing on a trick.
Here’s a rundown of Dummy Rights and Limitations:
Dummy is entitled to give
information, in the Director’s presence, as to fact or law.
2. Dummy may keep count of tricks won and lost.
3. Dummy plays the cards of the dummy as declarer’s agent as
directed (see Law
45F if dummy suggests a play).
4. Dummy may ask declarer (but not a defender) when he has failed to
follow suit to a trick whether he has a card of the suit led.
5. Dummy may try to prevent any irregularity by declarer.
6. Dummy may draw attention to any irregularity, but only after play
of the hand is concluded. (L43.A.1.a)
7. Unless attention has been drawn to an irregularity by another
player, dummy should not initiate a call for the Director during
play. However, once another player points out an irregularity, the
Dummy may summon the Director.
8. Dummy must not participate in the play, nor may he
communicate anything about the play to declarer.
9. Dummy may not exchange hands with declarer.
10. Dummy may not leave seat to watch declarer’s play of the hand.
11. Dummy may not, on own initiative, look at the face of a card in
either defender’s hand.
12. Dummy may not look at opponent’s convention card during play. (L43.A.1.C)
Technically, defenders do not enjoy the same rights as
the Dummy. For instance, defenders are not permitted to advise their
partner of a mis-oriented quitted trick (although this infraction
seldom comes into play). This right is reserved for the Dummy to
prevent an irregularity. The Dummy must immediately notify declarer a
quitted trick is facing the wrong direction, ostensibly to prevent a
Lead Out Of Turn. However, the Dummy is not permitted to notify
declarer later; doing so would provide the declarer Unauthorized
Many players do not know the Dummy is not obligated to
correct declarer’s Lead Out Of Turn. If an opponent accepts a LOOT,
the cards are in play. (L42.B.2)
The correction of a revoke by declarer or defender
seems to be a non-intuitive law judged by many players. First, you
are under no obligation to ask if an opponent revoked. Shrewd players
consider playing a losing card to a trick revoked by an opponent!
After all, there is no reason to play a winner when the Director will
award the trick to you anyway! The cunning player is quick to play
another card to establish the revoke and call the Director after
play. Still, while such tactics may maximize one’s score at the
opponents’ demise, it certainly doesn’t promote fair play.
The declarer’s RHO may ask for a bidding review before
playing to the first trick. The declarer can also get a review before
calling for the first card from dummy. (L20.C.2).
Subsequently, a player may inquire about partnership agreements
associated with a call and signals but cannot ask for a bidding
After commencement of play, players may still ask the
contract denomination, level and if doubled/redoubled. (L41.C)
Until a player or their partner has played to a
subsequent trick, they may inspect (but not expose) their last card. (L66.B)
Claims can be a thorny subject. Ostensibly the claim
is offered to save time, however when a claim is ambiguous or
erroneous, the Director must be called to adjudicate the matter –
certainly not a time-saver. A claim is defined as any statement to
the effect that a contestant will win a specific number of tricks is a
claim of those tricks. A contestant is deemed to have made a claim
when the the player suggests that play be curtailed or faces one’s
cards. 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 the player abandons the
hand. Regardless of the foregoing, if a defender attempts to concede
one or more tricks and the partner immediately objects, no concession
has occurred (L16).
Unauthorized Information, may apply, so the Director should be
A claim should be accompanied at once by a statement of
clarification as to the order in which cards will be played, the line
of play or defense through which the claimer proposes to win the
tricks claimed. The defenders should listen carefully to the
declarer’s line of play associated with the claim, particularly how
outstanding trump will be played, transportation between hands, and
applicable discards (but never ask). If the line of play is not
acceptable to the defenders, the Director should be summoned. After
any claim or concession, play ceases. All play subsequent to a claim
or concession shall be voided by the Director. If the claim or
concession is acquiesced in,
L69 applies; if disputed by any player (Dummy included), the
Director must be summoned immediately to apply
L71. No action may be taken pending the Director’s arrival.
Etiquette is an important part of duplicate Bridge and should not be
overlooked just because a player is focused on winning. Here are some
useful guides to improve everyone’s enjoyment of our wonderful game:
1. Complete your Convention Card before the game, ensuring both you
and partner are playing identical cards.
2. Arrive at the game early, locate your partner and check in with the
Director and offer to help with pre-game logistics.
3. Make your opening lead before writing down the auction. Everyone
is waiting for you.
4. As Dummy, do not linger before facing your cards after the opening
lead. Everyone at the table is waiting for you. You can write
down the auction after facing your cards on the table.
5. North should score the board immediately after play. After posting
the results, North should place the traveler on the table where
everyone can see and validate North’s entries. Post-mortems are best
saved until after the round if time allows.
6. When the Director has called a round change, leave the table if the
pair behind you is waiting.
7. Refrain from opening up the traveling score-slip and loudly reading
out the results achieved during previous rounds or discuss your result
where players at other tables can hear you. Now is not the time to
broadcast your result, maximum attainable result, opening lead,
defense, misplays, etc.
8. If you are late finishing a board, pass the prior boards played to
the next table. If you were not considerate enough to at least pass
one board while the next table is waiting and are not sure who should
get the boards, it’s easy to determine – that’s probably the person
glaring at you from the adjacent table.
9. If you are late either arriving at the table or leaving the table,
quickly sit at the next table, pull your cards and begin bidding. Now
is not the time to take a break, engage in idle conversation, discuss
prior boards with partner, etc.
10. Maintain a courteous attitude to everyone (partner, opponents,
director, kibitzers and teammates).
11. Ensure any conventional bids used by you and your partner are
alerted. Make sure your convention card is legible with correct
entries in the appropriate location on the card.
12. Do not attempt to see the place from another player’s hand from
which the player pulled a card in playing. For instance, should an
opponent or partner sort their cards by suit in descending order from
left to right, we should not note positional relationship of adjacent
cards played in order to deduce a player’s holding.
13. Make your bids and plays in tempo. Using special emphasis,
inflection, gestures, facial expressions, and the like may provide
your partner unauthorized information about your hand. Do not draw
inferences if your partner has done any of the above. Never hesitate
to mislead your opponents.
14. Consistently announce skip bids or use the stop card before making
a jump bid. This allows your Left Hand Opponent additional time to
prepare for their bid, ensuring your Right Hand Opponent will not
receive unauthorized information associated with a possible
hesitation. The Left Hand Opponent typically waits about 10 seconds
before making a call, using the interval to contemplate a well
considered bid and shows the appropriate demeanor.
15. Make clear claims when it is your turn to play, facing your cards
and providing the exact line of play, especially the treatment of
16. Do not detach a card before it is your turn to play; doing so
provides unauthorized information to your partner. Do not play to a
trick before it is your turn to play.
17. Remember that the Director is available to help everyone. Call
the Director at the first sign of an irregularity, doing so with a
friendly “Director, please.” Voice. Never make your own rulings.
18. It is not your duty to call attention to your own breach of law,
such as a revoke, lead out of turn, or hesitation, made by you or your
Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end of our session on the
Bridge Laws. All rise in the courtroom – here comes the judge! (yes,