Know the Rules

Knowing the Rules

Have a question about the rules of duplicate? Wonder what the correct procedure is or what your options are when your opponents break the rules? On this page we'll occasionally post discussions of some of the more common and/or difficult to interpret situations that can arise.
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Other Resources

(1) Laws of Duplicate Bridge (defines correct procedure and indicates remedies for damaged parties)

(2) Duplicate Decisions (a version of the Laws of Duplicate Bridge, written in everyday English)

(3) Rulings FAQ


posted Apr 22, 2012, 3:22 PM by Missoula Bridge Webmaster   [ updated Apr 22, 2012, 3:26 PM ]

When a person huddles/hesitates, what are the rules? Is it true, as is commonly thought, that this person's partner is barred from the bidding? Reproduced below is a discussion of this issue taken from The ACBL Club Directors Handbook (pp. 47-50). You can also click here for a PDF copy.

Huddles and Hesitations

Huddle situations are difficult for players, directors and committees. The following is a summary of how such cases should be handled.

How should directors and committees apply the Laws to cases involving breaks in tempo?

The relevant provisions are as follows (from Law 73): “Calls and plays should be made without special emphasis, mannerism or inflection, and without undue hesitation or haste.” And, “When a violation … results in damage to an innocent opponent, if the director determines that a player chose from among logical alternative actions one that could demonstrably have been suggested over another by his partner’s remark, manner tempo, or the like, he shall award an adjusted score (see Law 16).”

In applying these provisions, a director (or, subsequently, a committee) has four different issues of bridge fact and judgment to resolve.

1.      Was the violation a call made with undue hesitation? If so,

2.      Could the innocent side have suffered damage thereby? When the first two answers are yes, then

3.      Were there logical alternatives to the call chosen by huddler’s partner? The Law’s phrase “logical alternative” is intended to exclude extreme interpretations: it means neither “any conceivable alternative” on the one hand nor “clearly preferable alternative” on the other hand. A logical alternative is a call that would be seriously considered by at least a substantial minority of equivalent players and chosen by some of them, acting on the basis of all the information legitimately available.

4.      Could the hesitation demonstrably suggest that the call chosen at the table would be more successful than one of the logical alternatives?

Note: Refer to Law 16 for more information defining “demonstrably.”

A score should be adjusted only when the answers to all four of these questions are “Yes.” Was there an infraction? Did it cause damage? Was there a logical alternative? Could the alternative chosen have been demonstrably suggested over another?

Note: The director should not permit the non-hesitating side two chances to obtain a good result. In other words, if the partner of the hesitator becomes the dummy, the opponents should voice their objections immediately upon seeing the dummy if they feel that dummy’s actions subsequent to the hesitation could have been influenced by the hesitation. If the non-offending side waits, in this case until conclusion of play, in effect they are judged to have waited to see whether their result was good or poor, planning to object only if it was poor. Their objection should be lodged before they know the result of the play. The director is advised to encourage his players to call at the time a hesitation occurs (Law 16A.1), so that he can get agreement and inform the players of their legal obligations. In the ACBL, players are not allowed to reserve the right to call the director later. They must do so as soon as they have substantial reason to believe that an opponent has chosen from logical alternatives one that could demonstrably have been suggested by the break in tempo. The non-hesitating side has not abrogated any rights by waiting until the end of the hand when they have seen declarer’s 13 cards before calling the director, if it is declarer’s call that is in question. So, if the call in question was made by the dummy, call when dummy is tabled, but if the call is made by declarer, call when the play is completed.

The director must be summoned when the players become aware of a possible infraction.

Director’s Role

When the director is called to the table during the auction and it is reported that an undue hesitation has occurred:

1.      The director’s first responsibility is to establish the fact that a hesitation did in fact take place.

2.      Next, the director should advise the partner of the hesitator what is expected.

Example: The partner is not to take advantage of information gained by the out-of-tempo action, but to make any clear-cut calls that would have been made.

3.      The director then should order the auction to proceed.

4.      Directors should not make a ruling until the conclusion of play, at which time they will either allow the result to stand or assign an adjusted score. They should clearly state, “My ruling is …” to avoid uncertainty as to what their decision is. The best way to handle this ruling is to tell players to temporarily record the score achieved at the table, making it clear that you have not yet made a decision. Then return with your ruling to both pairs a round or two later. Tempers will not be as frayed, and the players will be more inclined to listen to your ruling. They will also feel that you have devoted time to consider the case.

The following “Ruling the Game” article by Peter Mollemet from the Bridge Bulletin deals extensively with these situations.

Hesitation Problems

Approximately 40% of the cases heard by appeals committees concern hesitations. No matter what the ability level of the player, situations arise for which extra time is needed. Generally, as the player becomes more experienced, hesitations become less frequent.

Unfortunately, the hesitation often conveys some information to the other three players at the table that would not have been available otherwise. The opponents are allowed to draw inferences from the tempo break, but only at their own risk. Partner, of course, is not.

There seems to be a popular misconception about the responsibility of the hesitator’s partner. Nothing could be further from the truth than “I had to pass. Partner’s huddle barred me from the auction.” Players are generally well advised to take the action they would have taken had there been no huddle.

When directors are called, it is their responsibility to ensure that no advantage accrues to the hesitator’s side because of the huddle. The first issue to be resolved is whether or not there was a break in the normal tempo. It has been my experience that a director will generally get an honest answer from the alleged huddler. It has also been my experience that when someone calls the director and says there has been a huddle, there has been a huddle.

When it has been determined that a huddle did indeed occur, the director must examine three other questions.

1.      Did the huddle suggest to partner that one call was likely to be more successful than another? This does not mean “any other conceivable call” but rather another call that might demonstrably have been selected at that turn (current guidelines suggest that any call that might have been chosen by a substantial minority of the players of like caliber is a “reasonable call”).

2.      Did partner choose that call?

3.      Was there damage to the non-offending side?

When the answer to all three questions is “yes,” the director will award an adjusted score. Two examples may help clarify these points. They have been taken from actual committee hearings at North American Bridge Championships.

Case #1: Matchpoints, N–S vulnerable

North holds

♠ 6 3 ♥ K J 10 9 ♦ 3 2 ♣ J 10 7 6 2

The auction:

WEST             NORTH          EAST              SOUTH

2♦                 Pass             3♦                  Pass*

Pass               3♥               All Pass


Three out of four players (not huddler’s partner) agreed that South hesitated over 3♦. The director adjusted the score from 3♥ N–S making four to 3♦ E–W making four.

North told the committee that he “always balances vigorously. I believe strongly that when the opponents have a fit, then we do also.”

The committee determined that there had been a hesitation, that North had a choice of reasonable calls (3♥ or pass), that 3♥ was more likely to be successful because of the huddle, and that the opponents had been damaged. Therefore, the committee upheld the director’s ruling.

It is interesting to note that even if North had been known by the committee to be extremely aggressive in balancing situations, it would still have to rule the same way as long as it believed that a substantial minority of peers would pass on the same auction without the huddle.

Case #2: Matchpoints, both vulnerable

North holds

♠ J 10 8 6 5 ♥ 10 2 ♦ A Q 5 3 ♣ 10 6

The auction:

WEST             NORTH          EAST              SOUTH


1♥                 Pass              2♥                 Pass*

Pass               2♠                Pass               Pass

3♥                 All Pass


This time all four players agreed there had been a significant break in tempo. The hesitation clearly suggested that balancing was more likely to achieve a better result than passing, and the huddler’s partner did choose the latter course of action. However, neither the committee nor the director felt that pass was a logical alternative to balancing (that is, not as many as a substantial minority of this player’s peers would pass).

The result was allowed to stand (3♥ down one).

Insufficient Bids

posted Mar 7, 2011, 6:01 PM by Missoula Bridge Webmaster   [ updated Nov 27, 2012, 10:01 AM ]

By Paul Muench [Printable Version]

In this issue of Know the Rules, we are going to consider what your options are when one of your opponents makes an insufficient bid. Insufficient bids are discussed in the Laws of Duplicate Bridge, Law 27. Say your partner opens 1NT and her left hand opponent (LHO) follows by bidding 1S. Being alert, you promptly draw attention to this by informing him that his bid is “insufficient”; that is, it is not a legal bid since it does not “supersede” the last preceding bid by designating either the “same number of odd tricks [“each trick to be won by declarer’s side in excess of six”] in a higher-ranking denomination or a greater number of odd tricks in any denomination” (Law 18). To translate: your opponent’s bid is insufficient because 1S is the same number of tricks as 1NT (6+1=7), but from a lower ranking denomination (“the rank of denominations in descending order is no trump, spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs”). The only way for your opponent legally to bid spades over your partner’s bid of 1NT would be to bid a “greater number of odd tricks,” say 2S.

What are your options once an insufficient bid has occurred? You can either “accept” the insufficient bid (treat it as “legal”) or refuse to do so; in the latter case the insufficient bid is “not accepted.” What often occurs at the table, however, is you are not even allowed to choose from among your options. Instead what frequently happens is the person who made the insufficient bid will immediately try to make the bid sufficient by replacing the bidding cards in the bidding box and then pulling out a different bid (in our example by replacing 1S, e.g., with 2S). This is incorrect and should not be allowed. Once you’ve drawn attention to the insufficiency, you now have options and should call the director before anything else takes place.

As a general rule, it’s worth keeping in mind that any time you notice an irregularity in bidding or play, your first action should be to call the director (saying, “Director, please”). Do this before anything is addressed, changed, or decided at the table. When the director comes to the table, the person who called her or him should describe the situation. Everyone else should remain quiet until or unless the director asks a given person for information. In some cases, if the information needed is sensitive (i.e., might interfere with being able to play the hand in a fair manner), the director may ask you to step away from the table so that either your partner and/or your opponents cannot hear your discussion.

After you’ve called the director and explained that your opponent made an insufficient bid, the first thing the director will do is make sure that an insufficient bid has in fact taken place. Mistakes sometimes happen. Once this is confirmed, you will then be given the option of accepting or refusing to accept the insufficient bid.

I. You Accept the Insufficient Bid (Law 27A)
To accept the insufficient bid, all you have to do is make a “call” yourself (i.e., make a “bid, double, redouble or pass”—side note: did you realize that technically speaking when you double, redouble or pass, you are not making a bid?). If you do make a call, then it is as if things had been restored to normal and the auction may now proceed. Of course, since you have cultivated the good habit of first calling the director, you will not make a call until after the director has explained what your options are. But if you happen to make a call before contacting the director, she or he will inform you that by making that call you have in effect accepted the insufficient bid.

Sometimes deciding to accept an insufficient bid can work to your advantage. For example, suppose your partner had introduced spades in an auction and you were trying to decide whether your hand was strong enough to raise to game or whether you should stop at three spades. You finally decide to take the plunge and bid 4S. The auction now goes Pass, Pass, 3H—the latter is clearly an insufficient bid since it is a lower number of odd tricks and from a lower denomination. You decide to accept the insufficient bid and proceed to bid 3S. If your partner also happens to be on the fence about whether game is appropriate, she may now suspect that your proper (if impossible) bid would have been 3.5S! Your opponent’s error has given you the opportunity to make this impossible bid. (Thanks to Tim Spencer for this example.)

II. You Refuse to Accept the Insufficient Bid (Law 27B)
Alternatively, you may refuse to accept the insufficient bid. In that case, the bid remains illegal and must be “corrected by the substitution of a legal call.” The opponent who made the insufficient bid is now faced with three basic options:

Option 1: Insufficient Bid is Corrected by the Lowest Sufficient Bid in the Same Denomination (Law 27B1). Offending opponent may correct the insufficient bid by simply raising the bid to the lowest level required to make it sufficient. This is the most common outcome. In our 1S example above, offending opponent would simply replace the 1S bid with a bid of 2S. This option holds with the following qualification: the director must rule that both the insufficient bid and the substituted bid are “incontrovertibly not artificial.” That is, both bids must be natural in meaning. The auction now proceeds as if no irregularity had occurred.

Option 2: Insufficient Bid is Corrected by a Legal Call that has the Same Meaning or a More Precise Meaning than the Insufficient Bid (Law 27B2). Offending opponent may correct the insufficient bid with a legal call that in the director’s opinion has the “same meaning as or a more precise meaning than the insufficient bid,” where the meaning in question is the information that is conveyed by a particular bid, including what it shows and what it excludes about the offending opponent’s hand. This kind of case is a bit harder to explain, but here’s an example: suppose one opponent has opened 1NT, your partner bids 2S, and her LHO now bids 2D. This is clearly an insufficient bid. Director should ask the offending opponent to step away from the table and try to determine what her intent was, what the partnership agreements are, etc. If, e.g., she meant to transfer her partner to hearts and this pair plays that transfers are “on” over interference, then she would be allowed to substitute a bid of 3D since it has the same meaning as her 2D bid has when there is no interference. The auction would then proceed as if no irregularity had occurred.

If either options 1 or 2 are chosen and the director later judges at the end of play that the outcome of the board was affected by the infraction (by, e.g., providing the offending opponent’s partner with information that resulted in a better result than otherwise would have been “probable”), with the consequence that the “non-offending side is damaged,” then director shall award an adjusted score, trying to recover as nearly as possible the “probable outcome” of the board had the insufficient bid not occurred (see Law 27D).

Option 3: Insufficient Bid is Corrected by Either a Sufficient Bid Not Covered by Options 1 or 2, or by a Pass (Law 27B2). If the offending opponent either makes a bid that is sufficient but which is not covered by options 1 or 2 (e.g., makes a bid in the same denomination but which is not the lowest sufficient bid, or makes a bid that is not in the same denomination as the insufficient bid, or makes a bid that does not have the same or more precise meaning as the insufficient bid), or passes, then the offender’s partner must pass whenever it is her turn to call for the remainder of the auction. In our 1S example above, offending opponent might decide to switch his bid from 1S to 4S or 4H. Both of these bids would be legal and sufficient bid (but the first is not the minimum bid in the denomination and the second is not the same denomination). Since these bids would not fall under options 1 or 2, his partner would then be required to pass until the auction is over. Once the auction is complete there may sometimes be lead restrictions (for instance, allowing you or your partner to require or prohibit the offender’s partner from leading a spade—see Law 26), and after play is completed the director may award an adjusted score if she or he thinks the offending side gained an advantage through the irregularity (see Law 23). Note: while the offending opponent may bid or pass (resulting in her partner being required to pass for the remainder of the auction), she may not choose to double or redouble (the only case where this would be allowed is when such a call would fall under option 2—see Law 27B3). If she tries to double or redouble, this “attempted call” will be cancelled and she will be required to replace this with a bid or pass as described here in option 3 (her partner once again being required to pass, lead restrictions possibly applying, etc.).

Moral of the story: Always call the director as soon as an infraction occurs. If your right hand opponent has made an insufficient bid, you have options!

Opening Lead Out of Turn

posted Jan 11, 2011, 8:56 AM by Paul Muench   [ updated Mar 17, 2012, 11:30 AM by Missoula Bridge Webmaster ]

By Paul Muench [Printable Version]

Good card etiquette: Opponents have won the auction. You determine which card you want to lead and then place it face down on the table, asking, "Any questions, partner?" (Good etiquette also requires that you only ask this question after you have selected your lead and placed it face down on the table; similarly, your partner ought not to announce that she or he does not have any questions until a lead has been selected and placed face down on the table by you.) This allows your partner the opportunity to ask opponents for an explanation of what one of their bids meant during the auction (always asking the opponent who did not himself/herself make the bid), or to be reminded of the entire auction sequence ("how the bidding went"). It also helps to protect your side from committing one of the most common errors encountered at the bridge table: making an opening lead out of turn. Since your card is face down, everything is not yet lost. If you have an alert partner, his or her first response will be to remind you that it is not your lead! No harm done. Place the card back in your hand and your partner will proceed to select his or her opening lead.

But what happens when good card etiquette is not observed and someone makes an opening lead out of turn and the card is face up? Let's assume you are declarer and it is one of your opponents who does this. What are your options?

Step 1: Immediately call the director. (Good etiquette: using a firm, but polite tone of voice, call out, "Director, please.")
Step 2: Once the director has been notified by you that one of your opponents has made an opening lead out of turn, then she or he ought to inform you that you have a number of options (see especially Laws 54 and 50D), depending on whether or not you decide to accept the lead. Let's break them down:

I. You Accept the Lead: You decide to treat the opening lead out of turn as a legitimate opening lead (you "accept the lead"). In this case, you have two options:

Option 1: You may choose to become dummy and let your partner play the hand (Law 54A). You put your hand down on the table and partner takes over. Normal play proceeds.

Option 2: You may choose to remain declarer (Law 54B). Partner immediately puts his or her cards down and then you play a card from your hand.

Note: if your partner had already begun laying out her/his hand as dummy (so that you could have seen one or more of her/his cards), then you must accept the lead (Law 54C).

II. You Refuse to Accept the Lead: You decide you do not want to treat the opening lead out of turn as a legitimate opening lead (you "refuse to accept the lead"). After you make this decision, your opponent's opening lead out of turn is retracted and the withdrawn card becomes a "major penalty card" (it is left on the table, face up). This means the state of play has been restored. It is as if no opening lead has yet taken place. Your left-hand opponent (LHO) is restored to his or her proper role as the one who should lead, with the qualification that his/her partner has a major penalty card on the table. You now have three options (which we'll label options three to five to distinguish these from the preceding two options):

Option 3: You may choose to require your LHO to lead the same suit that his/her partner originally tried to lead. If you choose this option, then the card originally played by your right-hand opponent (RHO) is no longer a penalty card and is picked up by RHO and replaced in her/his hand. When it becomes RHO's turn to play, s/he is then free to play whatever card of the suit in question s/he chooses.

Option 4: You may choose to prohibit your LHO from leading the same suit that his/her partner originally tried to lead. If you choose this option, then the card originally played by your RHO is no longer a penalty card and is picked up by RHO and replaced in her/his hand. Normal play proceeds.

Option 5: You may choose not to require or prohibit your LHO from leading the same suit that his/her partner originally tried to lead; this means LHO is now free to lead whatever s/he chooses, including the suit in question. If you choose this option, then the card originally played by your RHO remains a major penalty card.

Note: if you refuse to accept the lead, then as long as your RHO still has a major penalty card on the table, each time that your LHO is on lead you may choose from among options 3, 4, and 5.

Moral of the story: Always place your opening leads face down on the table!

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