Laws & Ethics part 2 - Hesitations

by Chris Jagger

Last issue we considered the unauthorised information that can arise from alerts - this time we consider hesitations. Before we go on though, let me stress - that thinking is part of the game! There is absolutely nothing wrong with hesitating (provided that it is because you are thinking about what you are going to do - if instead you are dreaming about the delights of supper, then a quick apology and at least everybody knows that you were just daydreaming).

However, hesitations can lead to unauthorised information. If you hesitate then partner is not allowed to use any information from knowing that there was some doubt as to what you should do. One of the most obvious instances of this is where a player makes a slow double. Compare the following:

1. You see opponents bid, exclaim in amazement, and slam the double down.

2. You firmly but in tempo place the double down.

3. You scratch your nose, look thoughtful, and carefully lay the double down.

4. You look lugubriously at the ceiling, then ask partner to get you a drink, and when he returns, you sigh a little and say `Double?' with raised inflection.

In each case your partner must assume that you have simply doubled the contract - the only authorised part of all this is the double. Deliberately using the unauthorised information is against the rules, and should lead the director to adjust the score.

However, more often it is the case that people do not deliberately use the information, but may nevertheless use the information, and this may still lead to an adjustment. Many decisions are difficult ones, and people frequently are subconsciously influenced to do what they know to be right. So if the director is called in this situation, and even if he adjusts the score, there is no implication that you have been `cheating' or `unethical,' but merely that you took a decision that perhaps would not have been taken in the absence of the information.

This last point is too often misunderstood - I recall a top county player making the decision `I am not adjusting because I know that Y is a very ethical player.' Whether or not Y is ethical is not at issue. (Closet lawyers may like to spot the subtle second reason that this statement may be a misjudgement.)

In each case your partner should aim to take the same action as if you had simply doubled. If he has an obvious course of action he should take it. But what if he does not? What if he is 50-50 as to what he would normally do? Should he toss a mental coin to decide? Unfortunately not. He should actually take the action he thinks is least likely to succeed. So if you doubled in a voice of thunder, and your partner has a marginal decision, he will know that it will actually be right to pass. However, he must stray the other way, and remove the double. On the other hand, if he doubled after a considerable pause, you should err towards leaving the double in. But bear in mind that this is only for close decisions - if your partner makes a slow double and most people would remove on your hand, there is no reason why you should not do likewise.

WARNING: Laws and ethics articles can seriously damage your health! When playing bridge try to be fair to others, and hope that they will be fair to you. But bear in mind that you are not playing in the World Championships!