By Bill Michael, Tournament DIrector from Colorado Springs, Colorado

There are a number of ways that a player may receive unauthorized information (UI). The most common way is from partner, and that’s what we’re going to focus on this month.

Law 16.B.1.a. says “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 suggested 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.”

We’ll take a look at three different, but similar, hands and compare them, with the same auction, to see what actions we’d allow and why, as well as taking a look at how we make rulings in less obvious situations. This is based on an actual ruling from a KO match with both sides vulnerable. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. The auction was 1S-(2H)-3H-(P)-3S-(P)-4S- (P)-P-(P). There was a noticeable break in tempo (BIT) by North before 3S was selected.

A few points to consider, before we even know what the hand in question held.

  1. We only need to look at the hand that has taken a questionable action.
  2. The only possible interpretation of the BIT by North was extra values; North was considering going forward.
  3. It is crucial for the director to determine what agreements the “offending side” have. When asked, South agreed that 3H showed “a limit raise or better”.
  4. North/South agreed that there was, in fact, a noticeable BIT before the 3S bid. If there is disagreement as to whether there was UI, it is part of the director’s duty to determine whether there was UI. Only if the director rules that there was UI is the director authorized to adjust the board. Disagreement about the facts is subject to appeal. No infraction, no adjustment.
  5. The only thing we are really considering for this ruling is whether we will allow the 4S bid. We will disallow 4S if we determine that “4S was a logical alternative that could have demonstrably been suggested by the extraneous information [UI].”
  6. When determining if a call could have been demonstrably suggested by UI, ask yourself, “what values have been shown on the auction, and what extra values belong to the hand in question.” If a hand has shown all of its values, and is not in a forcing auction, then all actions other than pass demonstrably could have been suggested by the UI.

Holding Number One (the Actual Holding)
S KJ73 H K92 D Q7 C Q976
This hand is at the top end of a limit raise. The king of hearts seems quite well placed, and there are four good trumps. To the negative, there is no singleton or void, and the doubleton queen of an unbid suit is of dubious value. It’s probably a trade-off, so the value of the diamond suit is still probably about two points. The hand rates 11-12 points.

When ruling on a case involving UI we must immediately determine what actions constitute “logical alternatives.” Every single case is different. With this hand, 4S and pass are the stand-out logical alternatives (realistic choices).

How do we rule on this hand? Especially since the player involved is a much more experienced bridge player than I am. This player also said (paraphrased) “I bid as I was intending to all along, I was always going to game, but I cuebid to show my strength first.”

There is no gain to having a big ego as a director. I shared this hand with a couple of players of approximately the same number of points as this player has (this approach to rulings is called “shopping the hand,” and is a frequently used directing aid, especially at tournaments), without telling them that there was a hesitation before the 3S bid. Both of these players would have passed, one saying “I’m passing. I’ve told my hand with the 3H bid.” These answers tell us two things from a directorial standpoint. First, that we were correct when we deemed that pass was in fact a logical alternative to 4S. Second, it immediately established that the 4S bid could have been demonstrably suggested by the UI. If both players had told me that they were bidding 4S and would never consider passing with this hand, then the 4S bid becomes closer to allowable. Had either player said he’d bid 4S, I would have asked the follow-up question “would you consider passing?” This is to continue to try to evaluate what bids are logical alternatives.

In order to prove that a logical alternative is not demonstrably suggested by UI, there needs to be an overwhelming majority of equivalent players who would choose that particular action. In this case, with two passes off the top, that overwhelming majority is pretty much impossible to achieve, so the ruling, correctly, was that 4S is a disallowed action. Once an action is disallowed, then a theoretical auction must be decided on, and a result assigned. In this case, with only two realistic actions available (4S and pass), it’s easy to substitute a pass for the 4S bid, and have the auction pass out in 3S. As the offending side had achieved 11 tricks in spades, we’ll give them credit for those 11 tricks, so the final adjusted score is: 3S by North making five for +200.

Holding Number Two (Hypothetical)
S KJ73 H Q92 D QJ7 C Q96
This one should be easy to determine that a 4S bid could have been demonstrably suggested by the UI. No need to “shop” this one, there is no way that one could honestly suggest that there are any extra values besides those shown by the 3H bid. The director should adjust the result to 3S making five. If the hand were any weaker, and the player involved an experienced player, a procedural penalty for illegal use of UI should be considered.

Holding Number Three (Also Hypothetical)
S AKJ7 H K3 D Q742 C Q96
Just as easy as the last hand, but the other way. No rational player is going to consider passing 3S with this hand. The logical alternatives do change on this one - 3N, 4S, 4H, and 4N are all possible actions (logical alternatives) - but pass is not one of them.

We do not condemn players to pass just because there has been UI. The mindset of “if it hesitates, shoot it” does not fit with our laws at all. It’s important for directors to go through the proper steps in UI cases, to try to give the best rulings possible:1. Determine (or rule on) the facts.2. Determine what logical alternatives exist.3. Check with equivalent players to see what alternatives would be selected and/or considered.4. Determine whether a chosen action demonstrably could have been suggested by the UI.5. Adjust the board if necessary (only if there has been damage to the non-offenders, and an illegal action was chosen - in our case, if 4S had gone down one there would have been no adjustment, since +100 for the non-offenders is better than -140).6. Inform the players of their right to appeal. (All of these rulings are subjective and therefore subject to appeal, if the venue allows it. Club games are not required to give committees.)

One final note. It is not illegal to take time to think. The BIT is NOT the infraction. Bridge is a game of thought, and we are allowed to think. At times, however, it does create problems for partner under Law 16.

See you at the tables!

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