Insufficient Bids

Post date: Mar 08, 2011 2:1:25 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!