by Bill Michael, Colorado Springs, Colorado

John Balzer, a new player from Arvada, Colorado, wrote to us about a mechanical error the led to a disaster: “South opened 1D. Intending to bid 1H, I reached for the bidding box, pinched, and bid 1S. North passed before I realized my mistake. Dismayed and not knowing what I could do, I watched mutely as partner jumped to 4S. Was there anything I could have done?”

Law #25 tells us what we can do in this situation:

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. In other words, if the second call is an insufficient bid, then it would be subject to law 27, which covers the options and rectifications of insufficient bids.
  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). An example would be a player grabbing a pass, instead of a double or redouble, causing the third and final pass of an auction. That player would not be allowed to substitute the desired double or redouble - the auction is over, no take-backs.
  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 Information from the withdrawn call is authorized only to his side.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.
The law tells us, therefore, that if the director deems that 1S was an accidental pull, and that the only thought in Mr. Balzer’s mind was to bid 1H he may replace the call with the intended one as long as his partner has not yet called and the auction has not yet ended. Balzer’s LHO would be allowed to retract his call over 1S, and replace it with anything that he wants. Any information gained by Mr. Balzer’s opponents would be authorized, but he and his partner would not be allowed to use any information they’ve gained.  It’s the responsibility of the director to be aware of this possibility, share it with the players if necessary, and stand prepared to adjust the board.


Some additional thoughts:

First, if your partner has taken a bid after you’ve mis-bid, don’t say anything. The law doesn’t allow us to let you change your bid, and you’ll provide information to the table - unauthorized for your partner, and authorized for your opponents. It doesn’t gain anything for you, it only hurts your side. 
Second, it doesn’t matter how you come to realize that you’ve mis-bid. Say you intended to bid 1S, and you put what you thought was the 1S card on the table. You hear your partner say “15-17,” look down, and see that 1NT is on the table. You may have the right to correct the mis-bid.
Third, it is important to note that the phrase “without pause for thought” does not refer to the amount of time that has passed - it could even be quite a bit. The phrase requires the player to react immediately once he becomes aware of the mis-bid. It could be 20 seconds, while the bidder was thinking about where he parked his car. As long as he takes no time to mentally process a change of decision, the requirement that he act “without pause for thought” has been met, and a change may be allowable.
Fourth, it is expected that you have simply grabbed the wrong card to get to this situation. The director should never accept that it was a mis-bid if the cards come from different areas of the bidding box. Bids (which are a level and a denomination - 1H, 3N, etc.) are one part of the box, and calls (passes, doubles, and redoubles) are the other. It’s insulting to yourself, the other players, and the director to try to convince anyone that you meant to bid 3H and “accidentally” pulled out a double. There is one notable exception: a double followed by a jump bid. The double was pulled out, instead of the “stop” card. The actions speak for themselves on this one - the intent was never to double, and the double should be treated as a “stop” (providing that the player is one who always uses the stop card).
Fifth, don’t blurt out what you meant to bid. It’s always possible that the ruling will be that it was not a misbid, and you’ve shared a lot of information if you make the gratuitous comment that you meant to bid Double. The opponents get to use this information to their best advantage, putting you at a legal disadvantage, and your partner will have ethical problems because of the unauthorized information, putting your side at a further disadvantage. It is sufficient, and best procedure, simply to stop the action by saying something like “whoops, I grabbed the wrong card, let’s call the director.”
Sixth, these rulings are subjective. It’s up to the director to talk to the player who claims to have put the wrong card on the table; preferably this conversation will occur away from the table, where the other three players cannot hear what’s said. It’s up to the player who claims to have mis-bid to convince the director that it was a slip of the fingers, not a slip of the mind. Either side may appeal the director’s ruling in these cases, so the conscientious director will endeavor to determine what thought was in the mind of the player who mis-bid. If it’s close, the director should rule that the initial call was the intended call.
Seventh, protect yourself - look at the card you are about to put on the table before you set it down. This will avoid the problem and get the results into the arena of actual play, instead of into the hands of the judges - always a preferable thing.

Happy New Year to all!

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