Post date: Apr 22, 2012 10:22:1 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:


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:



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).