By Bill Michael, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Law 16.B.1.a tells us that

“After a player makes available to his partner extraneous information that may suggest a call or play, as for example by a remark, a question, a reply to a question, an unexpected alert or failure to alert, or by unmistakable hesitation, unwonted speed, special emphasis, tone, gesture, movement or mannerism, the partner may not choose from among logical alternatives one that could demonstrably have been chosen over another by the extraneous information.” Law 16.B.1.b says “A logical alternative action is one that, among the class of players in question and using the methods of the partnership, would be given serious consideration by a significant proportion of such players, of whom it is judged some might select it.”

The most common ways that unauthorized information is transferred are by questions/answers during the auction and, of course, by breaks in tempo.

I’m presenting a case that actually went to an appeals committee during the Atlanta 2013 Nationals. Read through the facts, then decide whether you would uphold the director’s ruling.


Vul: NS
Dealer E


S J 4
H J T 2 
D J 7 6 
C Q J 9 5 4

S Q 8 2 
H K Q 8
D A Q 9 5 
C T 3 2

S K T 7 6 
D K 8 4 3 2
C A 7 6
S A 9 5 3 
H A 9 6 5 4 3 
C K 8

North East South West
1D* 1H 2NT**
Pass 3D Pass 3NT
Dbl Pass Pass

Pass Pass
*  0+ Diamonds 10-16 HCP (but not 10-12 balanced).
** Alerted and explained as weak with both minors. The actual agreement is a 5+ card minor and invitational values. 2DD would have shown 10-16 points, with a diamond holding of QJ9xxx or better.

There are a couple of problems on this hand, leading to different issues. First, there was the mistaken explanation of the 2N call. This is a violation of our alert procedures and, if it was shown to have caused damage to North-South, that alone would be a basis for adjustment. In this case, however, the mistaken explanation didn’t affect North/South, as none of the actions that they took would have changed had the correct explanation been given. Please note that West’s mistaken bid of 2N is not an infraction.

The second, and more relevant (on this hand) infraction is the violation of Law 16. The alert and explanation of the 2N bid constitutes unauthorized information to West. The table result was 3N, making three, East/West +600. Due to the violation of Law 16.A.2, the board was adjusted to 3D making four, East/West +130.

What went into this decision? First, we should step back and think about what the auction actually said without the benefit of alerts and explanations. What has West said? West said, in short, “I have invitational values and am willing to play in 2N. If you’re toward the top end of your 10-16 points, let’s play in 3N.” East’s 3D bid should mean “I really had diamonds, and am not interested in playing 3N.” It seems pretty clear, then, that the 3N bid by West was demonstrably suggested by the alert and explanation. Then, the hand was “polled”. The director making the ruling wrote West’s hand on a piece of paper and found several (in this case, five) players to look at it. The director gave the auction up through South’s second pass, and asked these players what call each would take. The players were of an equivalent caliber as West - to keep in line with the “class of player” codicil of 16.D.1.b. Of these five players, four would have passed instead of bidding 3N. As a majority of players bidding 3N would have been required to allow the 3N bid to stand, it’s easy to disallow the 3N bid. Additionally, pass was proven to be a logical alternative, as a strong majority of the polled players actually would have passed. Only a significant proportion of players is required to deem a call to be a logical alternative. If the player being questioned would not have passed it’s common practice for the director doing the polling to ask point-blank, “would you consider passing?”

How clear-cut is this ruling to you? Based on what you know about Law 16, and with information you’re looking at, would you judge that East/West had a case? If you agree with the director’s ruling you are then to decide whether the case had “substantial merit.” In short, was there a legitimate complaint by the appellants, or was it a waste of the committee members’ time? When determining whether a “without merit” warning is due, please note that the appellees, as a matter of course, have all of the above information given to them before they go before the committee, including the wording of Law 16 and the results of the poll.

The actual outcome of this case was that the director’s ruling was upheld and the committee found the appeal to be without substantial merit.

See you at the tables!

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