I recently approached the EBU with the following query:
My RHO opened 1 and I made a WJO of 2. My partner alerted my bid and I wondered why until I looked down to see 2NT staring at me!! (2NT would show hearts and clubs.) I said `that bid is a mistake' and LHO immediately called the Director.
The Director ruled that since I had not tried to change my bid immediately, it must stand and my partner was put on notice not to take account of unauthorised information. Was this the correct ruling?
I would have liked to change my bid to 2 as intended; the 2NT bid was an accident or mechanical error in pulling out the bidding cards. I did not say I wanted to bid 2 as I thought that would complicate matters further. My LHO had not bid or passed and so I would have thought that no-one would have been damaged if I had been allowed to change my bid.
Nick Doe for the EBU responded as follows: Law 25A allows an inadvertent call to be changed to the intended call if it is done without pause for thought and partner has not yet called after the inadvertent call.
`Inadvertent' means a call that at the time of making it was a different call from that which the player intended to make. This will usually be a slip of the bidding box. It does not cover mistakes made because a player was labouring under some other misapprehension, such as having mistaken his own system or the prior auction.
`Pause for thought' means pause for thought about changing the call. You cannot be thinking about changing the call until you realise that the call you have made is not the same as the call which you intended to make and thought you had in fact made. A pause is not therefore crucial, provided that you can convince the director that you drew attention to the problem as soon as you were aware of it. A "Hey, wait a minute, I've pulled the wrong bid" (followed of course by "Director, please!") is quite sufficient.
It is authorised information to a player that he has made a particular call. If you look down and find that you have bid 2NT when you intended to bid 2 and thought you had bid 2, it is not a problem that it was partner's alert which caused you to look down.
Editor's comment: The key to this is to try to distinguish between `bridge errors' and those errors merely caused by the use of the bidding box. Whilst the rules do have to be practical in this respect, generally they aim not to punish errors that occur merely through use of the bidding box. This is because it would be very hard without bidding boxes to bid 2NT accidentally without noticing it, whilst it is much easier with bidding boxes, where the cards may stick, or you may simply `miss.' Most other 'mechanical errors' such as pulling out two cards or revoking because the cards are sticking, are treated simply as errors, and the law deals with them as such, usually involving some disadvantage to the side committing the act.
Nick also praised David for his careful use of language - merely saying the 2NT bid was a mechanical error, rather than saying what he had intended to bid. It is important when an infraction occurs to give as little away as possible about what your hand is. Obviously there must be something wrong, but let the other players guess what the problem is - in this way there is less (though still some) chance of unauthorised information passing.