Poll #16, Bridge Rules – when is a card played? 12/20/2010

Contract/Duplicate Bridge Laws – Played Card

The idea behind Bridge laws is to ensure the game is a fair contest.   But sometimes a player makes a mistake or an error that is not in accordance with the the rules of our game.  Since the action (or sometimes an inaction) by the offending side might adversely affect the outcome of the game, the laws come to the rescue of the non-offending side.  The intent of the laws is not to punish the offenders but rather to restore equity to the non-offending side.

Well, that’s how the story goes yet most of will recall an incident where our well intentioned action was challenged as an infractions.  Thus, it’s good to ensure we have a solid understand of common Bridge laws.

In today’s polling question, we explore our understanding of a basic law – when is a card considered to be played?  Hmm, you’d think we all would know this rule since everyone except for the dummy plays 13 cards on every hand.  Yet often when we are taught the basics of Bridge, our mentors don’t always get around to teaching us the finer points of the game.  Or perhaps someone has given us correct information that applies in one situation but not another.  Or worse yet, perhaps our well intended playmates haven’t quite given us the correct information about the laws at all.

Good luck with the poll and better luck playing your cards!

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  1. BridgeHands says:
    This poll garnered quite a bit of interest – certainly everyone wants to know the Laws and use them as their best friend. On this poll, we have a huge majority of 67 percent voting:

    …….”All of the above”

    In other words, every one of these conditions are correct. A card is considered played:

    1. Declarer: when the card physically touches the table
    2.Declarer: card nearly touches the table or in a manner indicating it’s played
    3. Declarer: any of the above
    4. Defenders: when the partner could have seen the card
    5. All of the above are correct

    Tied for a distant second place, were:

    1. Declarer: when the card physically touches the table

    4. Defenders: when the partner could have seen the card

    Congratulations to our clear majority for their excellent knowledge on one of the finer points of Bridge laws. At the tables, you’ll find many of your colleagues do not have such a keen understanding of rules like this one. The next time this irregularity occurs at your table, now you can kindly inform your playmates that for the declarer any of the 3 above conditions constitute a played card (touches, nearly touches, or held in a way to indicate played). And for the defenders, it’s a different but singular criteria – the card is faced so that partner could possibly see it (whether they were looking or not). However, if you go so far as to refer your fellow players to Law 45 (memory aid – like the pistol, or old single play vinyl records), they probably will think twice before challenging the next time.

    If you wish to pursue Law 45.C. in depth, please login to your Membership Subscription account for more details. We also include a surprise tip used by world class pros like Jeff Meckstroff to avoid committing this infraction. So much to learn, so little time. Ah, that’s the joy of Bridge!

    Happy trails, Michael

    • tommylee says:

      “could possibly see it” A partner of mine, a National Director, tells me the operative work are “could possilbly” and in the extreme, even if partner is not at the table, if he could have seen the card if he were there, the card is deemed played.

  2. BridgeHands says:
    Thank you Tommy! Here’s an exception to the Laws about when defender’s card is played – unfortunately life ALWAYS seem to have exceptions!

    On the initial opening lead, a card is deemed to be played as soon as the leader begins to detach a card from their hand, whether or not the card’s face was exposed whether partner could have seen the card or even fully detached from the remaining 12 cards.

    Does that seem a bit picky? Perhaps, but the rule makers feel strongly that once the opening leader begins to detach a card from their hand, changing the card would provide too much unauthorized information to partner. I suppose that since it would be impossible for the Director or anyone to determine how to restore equity in that situation, the Law was written rather strongly.

    So think of beginning to detach a card on opening lead the same as when a Samurai warrior begins to pull their sword from its sheath. According to their code, once the sword began to be pulled it had to draw blood (either from the attacker or at least their own by cutting themselves). This made the Samurai think twice and let adversaries be forwarded when they moved their hand near the blade.

    Ditto with Bridge players – on opening lead don’t pull a card until you’re ready to make that killing lead! Well, if not a killing lead, hopefully one to put the declarer on the offensive!

    Live long and prosper,

    • alan metcalfe says:

      where is it in the Laws that states that as soon as the opening lead starts to detach a card it is deemed to have been played.
      Alan Metcalfe

      • BridgeHands says:
        Hello Alan,
        I’ll assume we are talking about Duplicate Bridge laws which prescribe the opening lead “should be” made face down (to ensure the lead is out out of turn from the wrong side). Technically, Bridge Law 41 “Commencement of Play” does not specifically address a detached card as being considered played. However, ACBL Directors have been trained to treat a detached opening lead the same as a face down opening lead, as though the detached card is destined to become either a faced lead or headed for the face down orientation. And according to Law 41.A., once the opening lead is faced down it may not be withdrawn except by the permission of the Director (lead from the wrong side, misinformation during auction, failure to alert, etc.)
        Based on the Director’s interpretation of the laws, we can reasonably expect that the ACBL believes that Unauthorized Information would be given to detach a card, then retract the card and play another card – thus requiring the offender to play the detached card.
        It’s worth taking a look at the ACBL’s “52 Ways To Make Your Bridge Life Easier,” an excellent document prepared by Rick Beye, the former ACBL Chief Tournament Director. Tip 26 states:
        Don’t detach a card unless that is the card you intend to play, and then only at your turn.
        Warm Regards,
    • Margaret Cummins says:

      Hi Michael
      Could you please tell me where in the rule book is the exception to when a defender’s card is played.

  3. Sally Sullivan says:

    When is a card from dummy cosidered played?

    • BridgeHands says:

      Hello Sally,
      Great question, but not so easy to answer. Okay, here we go… Normally, when the declarer calls for a card from the dummy, that card is deemed to be played regardless if the declarer’s partner actually touched the card. Mind you, the dummy does not have any rights to challenge which card should be played. However, if the declarer erroneously calls for a card from dummy when in fact the lead should come from the declarer’s hand, dummy’s qualified rights allows dummy to say something like, “You are in your hand, partner.” Even still, either opponent is now permitted to require the lead from the hand initially specified by the declarer, despite dummy and declarer’s wish to do otherwise. Similarly, when the declarer INDICATES a certain (or generalized) card should be played from the dummy, then that card is deemed to be played. So if he declarer says something like “play a Club,” points to a certain card, or even points their finger up or down to indicated high or low, that card is deemed to have been played.
      A common problem is when the declarer makes a call such as “play low” and then follow up with a different call such as “PLAY HIGH!” It is up to the Director (or agreement at the table in a social game) whether the change of call was a:
      1. Slip of the tongue, or
      2. Slip of the mind.
      If the new call is made immediately, we can generally assume the call can be rescinded as a slip of the tongue without thought to the contrary. On the other hand, if the player waits a bit and THEN becomes aware that they “should have” made a different call, that slip of the mind should NOT result in a retracted lead and the declarer is forced to play the first card specified.
      While you didn’t specify the circumstances of your area of concern, there are a few other less common situations that could arise such as when the dummy autonomously plays a card. Let’s say the declarer leads a card from hand, dummy has a singleton and immediately plays the card BEFORE the opponent has played from their hand. In this situation, it is possible for the player AFTER the dummy may choose to play in rotation without penalty despite the fact their partner has yet to make a play. Or perhaps the declarer has promoted a long suit in dummy and issues the command, “run the Clubs” indicating after each trick is quitted the dummy should continue playing all the Club from the top down. Yet if after several tricks the declarer decides to change course, in this rare situation the declarer is entitled to instruct the dummy to stop and change play to another suit. Or perhaps when the declarer figures all of the dummy cards are inconsequential and says, “play anything” either opponent can instruct the dummy to play a certain card of THEIR choosing such as, “dummy please play the Queen of Diamonds.”
      Hopefully this covers most common situations and few extras that may come up from time to time. If you’re interested and passionate about this situation, here are some additional references:




      Happy Bridging, Michael

  4. Doug B says:

    If Dummy plays a card, without being requested to do so by Declarer, can Declarer then stipulate that Dummy play another card if:
    a) the LHO of Dummy has yet to play?;
    b) the LHO of Dummy withdraws a card from their hand to play it?;
    c) the LHO of Dummy actually plays a card on the table?;

    Can either opponent (Defenders) stipulate, as with the “play anything instruction from Declarer to Dummy” that the card “chosen” by Dummy MUST be the one played if that would advantage them?

    • BridgeHands says:
      Thanks for the provocative question, Doug (not your typical run-of-the-mill scenario).
      First off, I’m sure we will all agree that while the Dummy has certain qualifications as the Declarer’s agent, autonomously playing a card is not a lawful option and in many cases results in Unauthorized Information.

      I assume when you inquire regarding the Dummy playing “without being REQUESTED” we all understand that the Declarer does not have to verbally state the suit or card provided they use another form of communication such as a hand gesture (such as pointing up or down on a continuation of pulling trump or promoting a suit, etc.

      In your a), provided Dummy’s LHO has not played, certainly the Declarer can instruct the Dummy to retract the card. At any rate, ACBL Law 45.D. address this situation (see our Laws section of our website):


      D. Card Misplayed by Dummy
      If dummy places in the played position a card that declarer did not name, the card must be withdrawn if attention is drawn to it before each side has played to the next trick, and a defender may withdraw and return to his hand a card played after the error but before attention was drawn to it. If declarer’s RHO changes his play, declarer may withdraw a card he had subsequently played to that trick (see Law 16D).

      So to address the thrust of your questions, the Bridge laws are not designed to reward the Non-Offending Side (NOS) should they choose the immediately seek redress when the Dummy acts on their own to play a card. Indeed, Law 45.D. goes contrary to other laws such as when the Declarer makes a play from the incorrect hand. In that case, either player may indeed choose to accept the call as a played card (provided they do not huddle).

      Happy Trails, Michael

  5. naomi says:

    The defender on the right of the declarer started to follow on the card from the dummy after the opening lead, and changed it after the declarer saw it, though his partner did not see it. Is that permitted?

    • BridgeHands says:

      When an Opponent detaches a card but returns it too their hand, that constitutes the possibility of Unauthorized Information to their partner (obviously showing a choice between plays). However unto itself, the UI does not itself an adjustment. Back to your question, for defenders a card is considered played when their partner COULD HAVE seen the card’s face – regardless if an opponent may have seen the card’s face.

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