Laws and Ethics

by Chris Jagger

In a new series of articles, we plan to look at some situations which many players find baffling. Suppose partner were allowed to use every shrug and gesture you make to deduce things about your hand. The auction might commence - sniff, sniff, sniff, sniff (I have four points partner), scratch, scratch (two spades), tap the foot seven times (seven card heart suit), and so on, finally getting across to partner exactly what you have. Few people would want the game to be like this, and so there is a simple rule - you are only allowed to get information from legally made bids, and the play of the cards. Any other information from partner, such as sniffs, winces, alerts and so on, is unauthorised. If you use that information, the director may have to adjust the score (he lets the play continue, but may adjust at the end of the hand).

Let us look at a common problem sequence:

S AQxx
H xxx
D Kx
C KQxx
W         E
S Jxx
H xxx
D AQxxx
C xx

Unopposed, you bid 1NT-2d-2h-3d-P. It's clear what went on in this auction - partner forgot you were playing transfers. One can picture it at the table - partner woke up to what was happening when you alerted 2d, and you realised because partner looked flustered, perhaps even gasping when you alerted 2d.

In this situation, both players are in possession of unauthorised information - you are not allowed to know that partner has forgotten the system, and partner is not allowed to know that you are playing transfers, unless it becomes absolutely clear from the bids alone.

Of course both of you do know what has happened, but must carry on bidding as though you do not. You should imagine that when you alerted 2d, partner had nodded, and said `that's right, we play transfers.' Your partner should imagine that you had not alerted the bid, and had explained that 2d was natural.

So what should have happened? Over 2h, partner should have assumed that opener had opened 1NT with a five card heart suit, and should have passed the 2h bid - why else would you remove 2d? (If you had told opponents that 2d was a weak takeout in diamonds isn't that what 2h would mean?) Thus with three card heart support it is quite clear to pass 2h.

What should you do over 3d? With partner sagely nodding at every point, you would think it was clear that he had hearts and diamonds. There is no way that with three hearts and only two diamonds, you would let him play in 3d. You would probably jump to 4h to show an above minimum hand with three card heart support.

The director should definitely adjust the score in this situation. But what should he adjust it to? 2h or 4h?

It might seem logical to say that partner should have passed 2h, and so that is where you should play. However, the rules are not so generous. The fact is that partner did bid on over 2h, and you are not allowed to get a better result than you might do by using unauthorised information. If partner had used the unauthorised information and you had not, you would have played in 4h. The correct decision is to look at both options and award the worse one. So in this case, you must play in 4h, and the director must work out how many tricks he thinks it would make, giving the benefit of the doubt again to the defenders.