By Bill Michael, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Table Procedures and Etiquette, Part 1

This month’s and next month’s articles discuss proper procedures and table etiquette for some common situations. I’ve picked several points where many players fail to follow our expected procedures. There are several reasons why this happens, but primarily, I believe, it is because players don’t know their own or their opponents’ responsibilities.

1. Alerting

It is the alerting player’s responsibility to “ensure that his opponents are aware of the alert.” The correct method for a player to alert is to both say “alert,” and make a physical motion with his hand, such as tapping the alert strip, using the alert card from the bidding box, tapping his convention card, tapping the middle of the table, or making some other motion that draws the attention of both opponents. It is appropriate for the alerter to look at his opponents to determine that they seem to be aware of the alert. If his opponents don’t seem to be aware of the alert, it is equally appropriate for the alerter to ask his opponents if they noticed it. If you fail to ensure that your opponents are properly alerted you are guilty of failing to alert, and rulings will go against you, even if you’ve said “alert.” If one opponent hears the alert but the other one doesn’t, you are guilty of failing to alert; you cannot simply pay lip service to the alert procedure without jeopardizing your position if a ruling is required. Announcements are handled exactly the same way, and entail the same responsibilities.

2. Asking Questions About the Bidding

If a call is alerted and you wish to ask its meaning, the only proper form is “please explain.” Don’t ask leading questions (such as, “is that Bergen?”), you’ll receive led answers. The only proper answer to a question about your agreements is a full and complete explanation; never offer just the common name of a convention or treatment. It is your duty to disclose your full agreement; this includes, at a minimum, the expected high card points and patterns. If there are other things you know, due to your agreements, that aren’t obvious from the context of the bid, those additional agreements should also be disclosed. All of these disclosures should be given with no prompting other than the initial question. It is not the responsibility of the asking player to ask the “correct question,” any question should prompt you to fully disclose all of your agreements. If the “wrong” question is asked give a full explanation anyway. Say your partner has opened 2D, and you alert it, as you’re playing Flannery. Because he has played against you before, your RHO asks “Flannery?” Your answer should be “11-15 HCP, five Hearts, and four Spades” (or, if you play Flannery differently, substitute your actual agreements). The answer of “yes” would be improper.

You need to be cautious when asking questions if you have no intention of bidding. While you have the right to ask the meaning of any of your opponents’ bids, it is possible that by doing so you’ll give your partner Unauthorized Information (UI). This danger is greatly reduced when your opponents alert, and you should avoid asking only when you intend to bid. If your partner knows that you only ask the opponents to explain when you’re considering bidding, then the failure to ask can also transmit UI. Either ask every time there’s an alert, or sometimes ask when you have no intention of bidding. This keeps both your opponents and your partner guessing.

3. When to Ask Questions

You may ask a question only at your turn to bid or play. The one exception to this is if your partner has asked for an explanation and you didn’t hear the response, in which case you may immediately ask for the explanation to be repeated. You may not ask for any clarification of what was said; that’s your partner’s job if he doesn’t understand the answer, and it is inappropriate to ask any questions for his benefit. You may ask for a review of the bidding before playing to the first trick. Dummy may not ask for a review. Declarer is deemed to have played to the first trick when he calls for a card from dummy after the opening lead. The review is to be given by an opponent, and must be the entire auction. It is inappropriate to ask for only a partial review. Once the right to ask for a review has expired, declarer or either defender may, at his turn to play, ask the meaning of any of the opponent’s bids, what the contract is, and whether it is doubled or redoubled, but not by whom. It is deemed that it is declarer’s turn when it is either his or dummy’s turn to play.

4. The Stop Card

Our regulations state that “A player should protect his rights, and those of his opponents by announcing that [he is about to make a skip bid] prior to making any subsequent bid that skips one or more levels of bidding.” The method for doing this in this age of bidding boxes is to use the stop card. Place the stop card so that LHO sees it; the skip bidder is responsible for gaining his LHO’s attention. The bid is then made and the stop card is removed and replaced in the bidding box. If you don’t have a stop card, you may verbally say “skip bid, please wait” so that your LHO hears it. After the skip bid warning is made, LHO should wait 8-12 seconds after the actual bid is placed on the table before taking a call. The LHO should study his cards, whether he plans to bid or not. The stop card does not dictate LHO’s timing; he is not required to wait for the stop card to be picked up, just to wait for those 8-12 seconds. The stop card should really be picked up immediately after the skip bid is made.

The stop card must be used either all of the time or none of the time. It is completely inappropriate to use the skip bid warning to alert partner to your special bid. Failure to use the stop card may give some extra latitude to the opponents regarding the length of time that would be considered UI, so for your own protection it is highly recommended that you use it. Remember, there are two types of UI from the timing of actions: undue haste and breaks in tempo. Following the 8-12 second rule stops both of these types of UI. Experienced players are expected to follow the 8-12 second rule whether a stop card is used or not.

Next month’s article (Part 2) will have some more tidbits. If you have something specific you’re wondering about, please send an e-mail to requesting that I cover it.

See you at the tables!

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