Judy Kay-Wolff

ALL’S FAIR IN LOVE AND WAR (but not BRIDGE)

As many of you veterans may recall, two American bridge legends were heralded for their contributions in the field of cryptography and shared credit for their involvement leading to the breaking of the Japanese Code during World War II.  In 1941, thirty-two year old Oswald Jacoby (already in the service of his country), was playing in an Open Pairs in Richmond, VA  and when he learned of the Pearl Harbor attack immediately departed the tournament site and did not return to the bridge scene for four years.  Ozzie served in the Intelligence divisions in other military conflicts, including the Korean War.   His code-breaking counterpart was popular British-born author and columnist Alfred Sheinwold.   During World War II, Freddy was the chief code and cipher expert of the OSS (the forerunner to the CIA).

The conflict was all-out war where the lives and welfare of millions of people were at risk.  It was serious stuff and the primary objective was to stop the carnage.   Secret codes, deceit, misrepresentation, surreptitious movements, etc.  were all part of the big game.   In wartime, opponents are life-threatening enemies.   The stakes are high.  In bridge, opponents are fellow lovers of the game. Therefore, the ground rules are quite different.  

Let us turn briefly to recreational competition.  Bridge has a steadfast policy of full disclosure. A partnership MUST KEEP NO SECRETS and all unusual off-the-beaten path understandings must be revealed in a  timely fashion.  Most, if not all, other competitive games have a complete openness in their appearance, so that all can witness every game-winning, game-losing, or even game-changing event.

If you read The Lone Wolff, you may recall a prime example of this very concept cited by Bobby.  In American football, referees are empowered to deal with, and thus prevent, any stealthy and perhaps unseen advantage one side may try and implement.  Many years ago, on offense, the eleventh player would sometimes line up, if possible, close to his own bench (blending in with all the players on the sidelines). However, actually being in bounds would qualify him as a legal pass receiver because his position at the snap was on the line of scrimmage.  Upon the release of the ball, the unsuspecting defense (not aware that he was an eligible receiver) would fail to cover him leaving him wide open for a targeted long pass to score an easy touchdown.  After having many important games decided by this subterfuge, including bowl competitions, the NCAA put an end to this advantage by officially declaring ‘The Hideout Play’ illegal. 

In bridge, we must be mindful of certain improprieties, since there are so many illicit ways to communicate.   Let’s put aside pre-arranged signals (the most heinous and disdainful of all), body movements, hesitations, misinformation (out of ignorance or misunderstanding), etc.) — and focus on another violation which should be severely punished — THE WITHHOLDING OF VITAL INFORMATION. 

Details about a partnership’s abiding responsibility of disclosure appears in the ACBL Laws under the heading ‘Alert  Procedures’ and was called to my attention by a conscientious local club owner and director who prides herself on running her game by the prescribed rules.   She provided me with a copy of Law 40.B (Concealed Partnership Understandings Prohibited).  Even more compelling than the Law itself was the following brief declaration:

"Bridge is not a game of secret messages; the auction belongs to everyone at the table."

THAT SAYS IT ALL!

Here is a perfect example of what appears to be an innocent oversight and manifests itself often in Support Doubles Auctions.  Remember at all times:  What you know, your opponents are entitled to know.   Simply put — but gospel!   Most people alert the meaning of a specific bid, but in a competitive auction (intentionally or unintentionally), they fail to alert the inference of a Pass (which by the same token transmits information to one’s partner as well). 

Specifically:   1C P 1H 1S   (Let’s zero in on the subsequent action, or non-action, of the opening 1C bidder)

If you are employing the above-mentioned convention (and don’t rattle Bobby’s cage on that subject) — there are three** possible bids the opener can make supplying information about his heart holding:  

2H (guarantees FOUR); DOUBLE (shows THREE-CARD ‘support’); PASS (shows TWO OR LESS). 

ALL THREE BIDS ARE ALERTABLE.  An unalterable, distinct message is delivered by the PASS.   In the absence of an alert, your opponents assume it denies three (and certainly four)  — but the Pass may be construed by unsuspecting opponents to convey the message of a minimum hand (and thus no free bid).

(** Of course, with a great hand and four trumps — 3H or 4H is a conceivable bid — but is not relevant in this discussion).

Summing it up in no uncertain terms …..

A)  YOU KNOW the Pass shows two or fewer hearts;  
B)  YOUR PARTNER KNOWS the Pass shows two or fewer hearts; 
       and therefore ….
C)  BOTH YOUR RHO and LHO are entitled to the same information!   In the name of equity, reach for your ALERT CARD and INVITE THE OPPONENTS TO JOIN THE PARTY!


47 Comments

Glen AshtonFebruary 27th, 2009 at 1:06 am

This post is incorrect – the pass is not alertable – see, for example, http://forums.bridgetalk.com/index.php?showtopic=2160

In the approach the ACBL is now using, style generally is not alertable even if it implies or denies certain hand types. For example, the auction 1C-P-1M, bypassing a longer diamond suit, is no longer ACBL alertable.

PaulFebruary 27th, 2009 at 12:36 pm

Firstly, and most importantly, I completely agree that bridge is a game of full disclosure and my partnership philosophy is definitely to alert more than most.

But at some point you do have to draw the line when it comes to alerting negative inferences, otherwise every call will be alerted and the purpose of alerting is lost.

Your support double auction is a good example of this. If a partnership’s methods are that support doubles are COMPULSORY, then I agree it is necessary to alert the Pass as showing two or fewer.

However, many people play that you need extra values to make a support double (especially at the two level). Now Pass denies three-card support OR it shows a minimum opener. I would argue that this is what Pass shows normally, so this is not alertable.

And then you have the ACBL rules to live by. As an alien who only plays once a year in the States, it seems that I know the rules better than most (as we have to study up each time). But you rarely get into problems from over alerting.

Bobby WolffFebruary 27th, 2009 at 7:00 pm

It is hard for me to imagine why the negative inference from playing “support doubles” is not a required alert.  The following all-encompassing circumstances are involved:

1.  Support doubles (or the negative influence of pass) are very frequent, arising every single time there is an opening bid, a major suit response by partner (sometimes even a one diamond response to a one club opener) and a simple overcall, including certain jumps by an opponent.

2.  There is a critical ‘need-to-know,’ especially by relatively inexperienced players who have not gotten accustomed to just how often these types of sequences occur.

3.  The need-to-know doesn’t just end with the bidding. More importantly, It carries over to which side declares or defends.  When the opposition (the pair not under question) declares, it is extremely NECESSARY in almost all cases to begin to know the distribution of their defensive opponents. In my experience, it is a most significant element since a large percentage of good declarer play is directed by counting the distribution in the defenders’ hands.  Let us assume the auction proceeded 1C P 1H 1S (and an ensuing pass by the opener) — with the opening club bidder eventually becoming the declarer in a non-heart contract. ARE NOT BOTH DEFENDERS entitled to know exactly what the declarer’s non-double would have meant. If the opponents can sometimes have three hearts (and not double), this aspect of the convention needs to be explained, in detail, as well.

 

Because of these poison gas labs (similar to caves in Afghanistan) which now exist all across ACBLland in North America (assuming our recent bloggers are correct and all support double information is not always alertable), how can one not recognize and acknowledge what an unfair result has been created in favor of the users of this relatively new convention.

An added caveat ………………. SHOULDN’T OUR ACBL LAWMAKERS WAKE UP, SMELL THE EVIL POSSIBILITIES AND IMMEDIATELY (if not sooner) UPDATE OUR POROUS LAWS?

Judy Kay-WolffFebruary 27th, 2009 at 7:24 pm

Upon returning from an early morning appointment, I began checking my “Comments” on this site and was about to reply when I noted Bobby pre-empted me. You must bear in mind that in my other life I sat on the sidelines and was delighted (when not playing) to observe Edgar and Norman at the table. I focused on the playing of the game and gleaning whatever I could from their expertise. I was never exposed to the administration or politics that prevailed over our hobby. However, in the last five years (enter Bobby Wolff), I learned what went on behind the scenes and during his forty-some years of serving the game in numerous capacities just how much he cared about restoring and preserving the magnificance of bridge to its intended place in the sun.

Thus, you can understand why I get my dander up when situations arise which, regardless of the prevailing laws or rules, need re-thinking, at the least. It is time we cleaned up our act — and there is no time like the present.

jack mendelsohnFebruary 27th, 2009 at 10:14 pm

How about 1club pass 1dia. denies a 4 card major. This should be alerted. I agree that the opponents should have the same info. and re support dbls pass should be alerted. Also 1ht pass 1sp promises 5. I know my partner has 5 why not give the opponents the courtesy of that info.

Judy Kay-WolffFebruary 28th, 2009 at 12:22 am

Jack:

I really think it is should be a no-brainer. Any time that you are privy to information, your opponents should be armed as well. Regarding the auction 1H P 1S, Edgar and Norman preferred that a spade call showed 5 (probably because they didn’t play Flannery and it enabled them to reach a 5/3 fit) and I got in the habit of saying “Tends to show five.” Courtesies like that should be routine — but life’s not perfect!

Judy Kay-WolffFebruary 28th, 2009 at 1:56 am

Responding to Glen:

The fact that some inane guidelines about Alerts may presently be in effect does not make them an acceptable practice. No one will ever convince me that allowing a secret pact betweeen partners can (or should be) sanctioned by the ACBL. It is fine to pass with three trumps, but

the opponents are entitled to know that is a possible condition of the Pass. You can’t have it both ways.

I referred to the site you mentioned. Thanks, but no thanks!

First of all, the posts are over two years old — a bit antiquated, you must admit; further, I am not swayed by the opinions of lay people. Holding positions such as District President, Certified Club Director and/or Manager, membership on the Board of Governors, Alternate to the BOD, as well as serving on the National Goodwill and Charity Foundations are not impressive credentials for adjudicating the equity of private understandings at the table.

All I am tyring to establish is the principle: All four people at the table are entitled to the same information and if an Alert can accomplish it, so be it!

Glen AshtonFebruary 28th, 2009 at 2:16 am

Here are some examples of style not having to be alerted in today’s ACBL:

1. Your opponent opens 1H in first seat with 5432 of hearts – they play four card majors, suit quality not important – 1H here is not alertable

2. Your opponent opens 1C which promises 5 or longer clubs – 1C here is not alertable

3. Your opponent opens a weak two with only 5 in the major, 4 in the other major (opening does not promise the other major) – 2H here is not alertable

4. Your opponent passes S KQJ9xx H — D 432 C 5432, even though they play weak twos (passing since holding a void) – pass here is not alertable

5. Your opponent bids 2NT over their partner’s weak two – in their methods this bid shows exactly a game invite in opener’s suit – 2NT here is not alertable

6. Your opponent passes, and then overcalls your 1C bid with 1NT to show the majors – 1NT here is not alertable.

7. Your opponent responds 1S to 1C with 5432 of spades and seven solid diamonds – 1S here is not alertable.

8. Your opponent opens 1S, and over their partner’s 1NT response, bids 2C, showing 2+Cs – 2C here is not alertable.

You may wish that one or more of these would be alertable, but yesterday’s ACBL is gone.

The reason for this change was twofold:

– if you force the alerting of style, you end up with far too many alerts

– if you make alerting necessary when a style is not close to standard, you have to define standard first, which varies depending on location and skill levels

Style differences are not “secret pacts”, but just agreements to play natural, or almost natural bids not the way you may play them. They are secret to you only if you choose to assume everybody plays one way only and decide not to ask.

Now let’s look at the negative inference from support doubles, using the example auction 1C-P-1S-2H;-P (our 1C opening and 1S response, and a 2H overcall).

Today’s ACBL is clear: pass, a natural call, is not alertable. If instead you want to play pass is alertable, denying 3Ss, do you then:

– force partnerships to alert if pass 95% denies 3Ss (using an optional support double approach)?

– force partnerships to alert if pass 90% denies 3Ss (not using support doubles, but usually raises to 2S or higher with 3Ss)?

– force partnerships to alert if pass 85% denies 3Ss, using 2S to show 3Ss not 3-3-3-4, or 4Ss flat)?

Yesterday’s ACBL guidelines were a mess generating a proliferation of alerts. In today’s ACBL if they alert, there’s something you need to be aware of.

Since style is generally not alertable, how do you find out what your opponents are doing or not doing? Three ways:

1) Review the convention cards of your opponents;

2) Ask at your turn to bid;

3) Ask at the end of the auction, at the appropriate time.

If you haven’t looked at the convention card of the opponents, do not assume your style is their style just because there are no alerts.

Danny KleinmanFebruary 28th, 2009 at 3:34 am

I could agree with Glen if the following rules were enforced consistently by directors, but they are seldom enforced at all in the clubs and tournaments where I play:

(1) Every pair must have two convention cards filled out accurately with all its partnership understandings.

(2) These convention cards must be placed on the table and pointed in the direction of the opponents.

(3) Failures to alert calls deemed alertable by the ACBL, and misinformation given to opponents, call for adjudication by the director, with all benefit of the doubt given to the non-offending side.

And finally, the rules governing which calls are deemed alertable by the ACBL must be simple and clear enough for players at virtually all skill levels to understand. I’ve seen too much of “I thought everybody played Hamilton, so I don’t have to alert it.”

DavidCFebruary 28th, 2009 at 11:03 am

I strongly agree with Glen. I would add another example to the list which comes up a lot:

9. 1m : 1H , 1NT – not alertable, whether or not the 1NT bid can contain 4 spades.

Alerts for “style” matters are counter-productive. Over here we have to alert 1C : 1M if it could conceal five diamonds. My experience of this is

(i) Against poor opponents, it confuses them immensely. They don’t understand the reason for the alert and may get it into their head that our 1M bids are more unusual than they really are, leading to them staying out of the auction when they should be bidding, etc.

(ii) Against better opponents, there is no need to alert because they know many people play this way and would ask if it made a difference to their defence. The alert achives nothing more than slowing the game down.

(iii) Some people are unaware of the rule and don’t alert this style. So you can’t rely on alerting in this situation, which defeats the whole object of having a rule in the first place. (Yes you can call the TD, but I am strongly opposed to any disclosure regulation which only works by giving the TDs lots of difficult judgement rulings.)

PaulFebruary 28th, 2009 at 12:44 pm

I have zero insight into the inner workings of the ACBL, but I often chat with the Laws & Ethics Chairman in Scotland about our local alerting regulations. Her desire is to increase the relevance of an alert and decrease the alerting of natural and well-known bids. Alert calls that people really need to know about at that point in the auction.

She would agree with the ACBL that alerting a pass that shows nothing, or at most shows a minimum and lack of support for partner, causes more confusion and panic amongst the majority of (our) players than is justified.

Glen calls it ‘style’ but I feel that the question is how far you alert negative inferences.

Danny KleinmanFebruary 28th, 2009 at 3:54 pm

David C says opponents “would ask if it made a difference” to their defense (and presumably to their bidding). Ay, there’s the rub. You are on lead against an auction like 1C-1H; 1S-1NT; pass

or 1C-1S; 2NT-3NT; pass, and are wondering whether diamonds might be responder’s five-card or strong four-card suit. Do you ask only if it would make a difference? Then an inference from your asking or not asking is available, to declarer and also to your partner. If you inquire and don’t lead a diamond, for example, your partner will know from your inquiry that you were considering a diamond lead, which may help him find a killing shift.

A similar situation arises from an inquiry about almost any call that is not alerted. Asking only if it makes a difference is a practice that lends itself to (none dare call it) cheating. And that is what is wrong with the alert system itself: the alert gives opponents the option of inquiring or not inquiring. Additionally, the prelude “Alert!”—“Please explain” wastes a few seconds. How much simpler and better to remove the prelude and the option by making what are now alerts (or should be alerts) announcements instead.

The only argument I have heard against replacing alerts by announcements is that the announcement conveys information to the person who has made the announced call and may straighten out a confused auction. So what? Currently, Jacoby and Texas Transfers are announced. Suppose East announces West’s 2D as a “transfer” when it is really something else, e.g. natural, and then bids 2H. If West then bids 3D that shows hearts and diamonds, and does not straighten out a confused auction. Suppose East announces West’s 4H as a transfer when it is really natural, and West then bids 5H over East’s 4S. Again, that does not straighten out a confused auction—as most modern experts play it, it is Exclusion Keycard Blackwood. And if used otherwise, with inflections in oral bidding or tempo indications in silent bidding with bidding cards, redress is available to the victims (along with punishment for the cheaters, I should hope).

“Alert!”—“Please explain!” should go the way of “Partner, may I lead?”—“Pray do!” and a simple explanation of what a call shows, when there is an applicable partnership understanding, should replace it. And that explanation should never be “Asks me to bid” such-and-such. For example, the ACBL’s Yellow Card 2S response to 1NT is currently alertable, not announceable. Simpler and better to have opener announce “Club or diamond bust.”

PegFebruary 28th, 2009 at 6:35 pm

This is a little bit off topic, but – related.

In some respects, I think it would be cool if bridge were played all the time on computers – even when we’re physically right next to one another. Sometimes I think this might happen, as computers become more and more affordable and smaller and easier to use.

Here are some of the benefits.

1) People could have their convention cards loaded, along with ALL the explanations about bids – and no worries about giving explanations at the table causing UI. If the auction begins: 1C – P – 1S and this could be made with a longer diamond suit – the computer tells you. If 1C – P – 1H – 1S – P EITHER denies 3 hearts OR shows a minimum – again, this could pop up.

2) When people take a long time to make a bid or play, potentially giving out UI, there would be no more battles of “He thought at least a minute!” versus “I bid right in tempo.” The computer would tell us: 37 seconds.

3) Very easy to review hands after the fact.

Will it happen in my lifetime? Who knows. And – I’m sure that there are downsides. Neverthless, some of what is being discussed here would be easier with play on a computer.

Judy Kay-WolffFebruary 28th, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Recognizing the qualifications of individuals who competitively perform in the same arena is a challenge — far beyond the capability of many. It was best said on Bobby’s blog site last December 2nd by COLIN (Colin Lee, of Master Point Press): “One thing I truly believe is that the differences between an ‘expert’ and a world-class player (usually hard to perceive to the expert player) are as big, or bigger, than the differences between a novice and an expert player.” As I mentioned in one of my blogs, Arthur Robinson always joshed that the difference between an expert and a beginner was one lesson. Everyone seems to like to have their day in court and jump on the bandwagon.

It is obvious I have rattled the cages of a few readers over the Alert Process and I make no apologies for that. It is a serious flaw that must be addressed and rectified. With obvious tongue-in-cheek qualifications, it is apparent that some of the commenting individuals are protective of the regulations of the ACBL — right, wrong, ambiguous, subject to interpretation, in need of clarification and revision, etc. I recognize that it is a difficult job since so many factors are to be considered. Because bridge is now a big business, an all out effort has been made to keep it that way! The ACBL’s objective is to increase their dues paying membership and is encouraged by bridge owners, managers and directors who have a major financial interest in its growth — at any cost. The goal by most (and certainly there are some exceptions) is to keep their customers happy, issue lots of masterpoints, avoid confrontations, appease both sides, stay away from punitive rulings (though mandatory sometimes), keep the game going and score it up — ready for the next duplicate. Another day — another dollar. Preserving the honor and the integrity of the game should be their primary goal — of which many have lost sight.

What is even more disturbing, decisions must be made by those in charge — qualified or not. They are the proverbial cop on the beat and you are at his (or her) mercy. I am not familiar with today’s procedure, but I recall the butt of many bridge jokes were the open-book testing procedure for the directors — and rightfully so. Directorship is a very delicate subject and because of personal leanings, playing favorites, et al. – in some cases, it makes a farce of the game. On many levels, particularly at the clubs, if possible — hard and fast rules should apply so that the element of judgment does not become a major consideration.

This all goes back to the Alert Process — and my contention over the support double issue remains — that IF YOU KNOW SOMETHING, THE OPPONENTS ARE ENTITLED TO THE SAME INFORMATION. I don’t profess to be anywhere near an expert — but I understand the standard treatment over interference is (1) Raise with four trumps; (2) Double with three (or redouble as the auction may present itself); or (3) PASS WITH TWO OR LESS. This view is supported by The Official Encyclopedia of Bridge, which gives the similar auction presented in my blog: “… a raise to two hearts promises four-card support, and ANY OTHER action denies three-card support.” If you stray from the main path (and do not play the standard version which would be expected in the absence of an alert) — your opponents are entitled to the courtesy of that knowledge.

This blog was not directed at any other alerts (frivolous or otherwise) — but specifically the Negative Inference of a pass (if that is part of your treatment). Perhaps the ACBL convention card is in need of amendment as Support Doubles have two red blocks — one to indicate its adoption and the other for Redouble. Is not something omitted? What does the PASS mean?

MINIMUM? LESS THAN TWO CARD SUPPORT? If you are sophisticated enough to utilize the convention, you are savvy enough to know what a Pass suggests to your partner. IF YOUR AGREEMENT IS THAT YOU MAY HAVE THREE CARD SUPPORT AND HAVE THE OPTION OF PASSING, THAT DEVIATES FROM THE NORM.

By the way, I don’t buy that double-talk and rhetoric about wasting time with unnecessary alerts. You are not en route to a fire or accident scene. How long does it take to pull out your Blue Alert Card and say either: “The pass denies three.” or “Partner could have three.” Then we would all be on the same page. Really not too much to ask — even if you are in a hurry to get on to the next hand!

Bobby WolffFebruary 28th, 2009 at 8:06 pm

Hello Mr. Ashton,

 

My nose tells me that your blog about ACBL reveals changes in current practices, of which few members are aware.  Assuming that is so, I would not challenge that said modifications have been instituted. However, it sadly puts a low ceiling on what we can expect from our players.  By all means, it is practical and will speed up the game, as well as not place undue onuses and pressures on players whose styles conform to the low levels of poor, but simple, bridge (using the name of our wondrous game in vain).

 

For more years than I can count, I have strongly advocated that we have different rules for our high-level game and the ‘other one’ (where probably 90+% of our players reside).  The high-level game should be governed by a pamphlet-like rulebook which outlines what is allowed, what is not allowed, and how these practices should be carried out.  Needless to say, alerts would be given and determined on a need-to-know basis to enlighten the opponents and appropriately chosen by the active ethics of the occasion — so expected and demanded by the game itself.

 

Without repeating my previous blog on this subject, it becomes nothing short of utterly ridiculous

to not require the employers of Support Doubles to alert at the proper time any deviation from the standard treatment (specifically the meaning of a PASS when there exists the possibility they hold three trumps).  This is one convention that should be alertable in its entirety and those responsible for advocating an otherwise stealthy treatment should be repentant. I also urge that before the ACBL implements various alerting procedures, they consult with someone who is experienced and qualified on the subject — which is not as many players as one might believe. Further, many established ACBL rules are so out of line and just plain stupid, that our whole organization should hang their heads in shame.

 

Again, so that I am perfectly clear — what the ACBL does with the lower 90+% of its players is up to them — for whatever reason they deem necessary. Regarding the group who reside at either the top level or very close to it, it is imperative that they play by rules which make sense and cater to the ultimate strata of the game.  Anything less is not only unfair to the players and the game, but it embarrassingly reflects most negatively on our ACBL executives (certainly including the ACBL Board of Directors) and their governing capability.

 

Danny KleinmanMarch 1st, 2009 at 2:58 am

MY copy of the Official Encyclopedia of Bridge (6th edition) does not say that any action but a raise or a double denies three-card support, it merely refers to a “strong implication” of fewer than three cards and allows for the possibility that three-card support will be shown later. Is there a “standard” version of Support Doubles? I doubt it. When you agree with a partner to play Support Doubles, that is the beginning of a discussion, not the end. See “Twenty Questions (about Support Doubles)” in the June 2000 Bridge World. Precisely for that reason, all actions of opener in Support Doubling situations require alerts and explanations. Were I to play Support Doubles as I think they should be played, I would alert them as “three-card raise, unlimited” and alert other calls as “tends to deny three cards in partner’s suit,” as holding three spades to the seven and six diamonds to 100 honors I would rather rebid 2D than double after 1D-pass-1S-2C. To say more strongly “denies three cards in partner’s suit” is to deny a place to bridge judgment … but if that’s your partnership agreement, that’s what you should say. And that’s another reason why explaining a Support Double as “Support Double” (naming the convention) is inadequate. Explanations should say what the call shows (or denies).

Here’s a related issue. There are pairs that play opener’s simple raise of a major-suit response as promising four-card support even in uncontested auctions. Their raises should be alerted, as the standard treatment is to raise with four and to use judgment whether to raise with three, but I never see any alerts. I observed a deal today (Flight B of the Grand Nationals) in which an uncontested auction began 1D-1H; 2H-3H. How were the opponents (two of my students) to know that responder’s 3H rebid might be based on four to the eight-spot (it was!)? That can make a difference in how the opponents defend.

Danny KleinmanMarch 1st, 2009 at 3:05 am

The burden of informing opponents of partnership understandings and the inferences therefrom, when not simply the application of judgment to natural methods, must fall squarely upon the bidders themselves without requiring the opponents to have the cross-examination skills of a Perry Mason.

Have you ever observed dialogues like this?

Opener: 1D.

Responder: “Could be short.”

Opponent: “How short?”

Responder: “Shorter than three.”

Opponent: “Could he have none?”

Responder: “Well, I suppose so.”

Opponent: “When would he open one diamond with none?”

Responder: “If he had no five-card major and was too weak for one club.”

Opponent: “Do you mean if his only five-card suit is clubs?”

Responder: “Well, yes.”

Opponent: “What is your two-diamond opening?”

Responder: “He didn’t open two diamonds, he opened one diamond.”

Opponent: “You play Precision, right? Don’t you play the Precision Two Diamonds that shows a three-suiter short in diamonds?”

Responder: “No, our two-diamond opener shows any three suits.”

Opponent: “But with five clubs and four-four in the majors, he would open two diamonds?”

Responder: “Unless he had 16 points and could open one club.”

Opponent: “Then he has at least one diamond.”

Responder: “I guess so.”

How much simpler, faster and less annoying to have responder announce, “Limited, often as few as two in a balanced hand, perhaps as few as one with five weak clubs and four-three in the majors.” Isn’t that what responder knows 1D shows in their system?

And how much fairer and cleaner it would be to have a 1C opener announce, when partner responds 1D in the “Walsh” style, “Denies a four-card major unless strong,” instead of saying nothing and requiring opponents to ask to find out.

Glen AshtonMarch 1st, 2009 at 4:31 am

DK says “There are pairs that play opener’s simple raise of a major-suit response as promising four-card support even in uncontested auctions. Their raises should be alerted, as the standard treatment is …”

First, the ACBL does not require an alert here.

As to the question, should the raise require an alert, how do you propose implementing this? You can’t just say “alert all non-standard treatments” as few know what might or might not be your standard. Perhaps in the area where these players are from, everybody raises only with four. Perhaps they were taught by an expert bridge teacher that insisted that the right approach was to raise only with four. Perhaps they were mentored by a top European player, who drilled in to them that to raise with four is the only way to play it. Perhaps they just emigrated from a country where everybody only raises with four. Perhaps they were using a system book that says the raise requires four?

In short, you can’t assume these players know your “standard”, and thus you can’t reasonably expect them to alert non-standard treatments.

Of course you could augment the ACBL Convention Chart to 400 or so pages, covering all non-standard treatments, and hope they’ve read all those pages and know what and what not to alert. Or to be safe, perhaps they will just alert every bid they make, and effectively you will have a no alert state.

And now to continue the dialogue approach:

1D-Double-?

Responder: What’s double?

Advancer: Takeout!

Responder: What does it show?

Advancer: It asks me to bid a suit.

Responder: Does it promise all the unbid suits?

Advancer: It just asks me to bid a suit.

Responder: How does advancer know which suit to bid or not?

Advancer: Who is advancer?

Responder: The partner of the doubler.

Advancer: Oh, I’m not that advanced, I didn’t know that.

Responder: No problem. Does the double here promise usually three or longer in spades, hearts, and clubs?

Advancer: I don’t know, it just asks me to bid a suit.

Responder: What is the range of your overcalls?

Advancer: Isn’t this the NABC Fast Pairs?

Responder: Yes, so respond to the question as quick as you can.

Advancer: I don’t know, it’s just an overcall.

Responder: Can your overcalls have opening points?

Advancer: No, we double or bid 1NT if we have opening points.

Responder: So a double can be any hand with opening points?

Advancer: Yes, I guess it could be.

Responder: Shouldn’t you alert your doubles?

Advancer: Why should anybody alert a takeout double?

Bobby WolffMarch 1st, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Hello again Mr. Ashton,

 

This will be brief and hopefully worthy of reading for everyone. First of all, you are a consistent educator and I understand and respect your interpretations of what you call the new ACBL rules.  Admittedly, I am NOT qualified to discuss implementation of enforcing procedures and rules.

 

I am here solely to discuss one subject only, one on which I AM QUALIFIED, and that subject is critical to the whole megillah (as are the procedures of enforcing them). FROM A BRIDGE STANDPOINT, the pass by the opener (when the partnership is playing support doubles) MUST be alerted!  The reason is that the auction seems normal, and up until now, players (particularly ones who have been playing a long time) will not automatically be drawn to look at the opponent’s convention card when someone passes because that sequence is common and one that everyone has been hearing for years. Up until a short time ago, it always just meant a hand not worth bidding at that time and also, of course, allowing his partner to pass the hand out.  NOW, it means something specific — not only a weaker type opening, but one (unless there is a special agreement) WITHOUT THREE CARD SUPPORT for partner’s suit (usually a major, but sometimes also diamonds).  This above fact will OFTEN become crucial to know (regardless of which side becomes declarer), especially when the opening bidder becomes the closed hand declarer, but always on defense when, of course, that same opening bidder is now a closed hand defender.  His partner knows something that you, his opponent, are entitled to know as well and it is worthy enough to be required to be alerted.

In an attempt to speed up and simplify the flow of the auction, the rulemakers have thrown away the baby with the bath water. It is high time for the appearance at the plate of some grizzled highest-level bridge player who understands the game well enough to be able to distinguish WHICH ALERTS ARE CRITICAL and WHICH ARE NOT — AND, ABOVE ALL, WHY!

 

Judy Kay-WolffMarch 1st, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Danny:

Your Diamond Dialogue produced mixed emotions for me. At first take, I thought I was listening to a George Burns/Gracie Allen conversation which titillated radio audiences while you and I were growing up. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. And, though it was comical — it was obvious you were kidding on the level.

I read and re-read it and I could envision the scene — with the interrogated person bumbling along at every turn. We must ask ourselves a simple question: Why, when someone is playing a system, can they not supply the proper answers when questioned? Responses like “Maybe,”

“Perhaps,” “I don’t know,” “I’m not sure,” “I suppose so” — just don’t cut it. If you are not armed with the answers, maybe (there I go) — the convention or treatment should be exed off the card until a better understanding is achieved and accurate answers can be conveyed.

On another related subject, actually the topic of this controversial blog, I note with consistency remarks to the effect: “The ACBL does not require an alert here.” or some allusion to the “new ACBL.” Everyone in a lifetime makes their share of blunders and heaven knows, the ACBL is no exception. Blunders are reversible. Nothing is etched in stone.

Rather than blindly rubber stamping recently changed rulings which can be responsibile for producing inequitable results, why not be circumspect and humble (not haughty) about the possibility of revisiting the scene. Perhaps the ordained “gospel” should be amended, edited, revised or reversed. Nobody’s perfect — especially the ACBL.

Glen AshtonMarch 1st, 2009 at 6:26 pm

Supporters for way more alerts have yet to state how they would generally implement this. Instead, in the death of a thousand alerts approach, they state individual cases where they strongly believe (IN CAPS sometimes) that an alert is necessary in their opinion.

If you decide that an alert is necessary to reveal situations where the opponents might have undisclosed style information, you get auctions like this:

— 1NT, Alert!

— Please explain

— 15-17, but we upgrade into 1NT hands you might not, and we downgrade some hands you might not. Do you want us to describe those sets of hands?

— No, please continue

— 2C, Alert!

— Please explain

— Stayman, but we use Garbage Stayman, so responder can have 4-4 or better in the majors, and as few as zero points. As well, there are some hands that we transfer with instead of using Stayman like other pairs might do. Do you want us to describe those hands that use a transfer.

— No, please continue

— 2H, Alert!

— Natural, but a jump to 3H here would show a maximum with 5Hs. Sorry, I forgot to mention earlier that our 1NT might have a five card major, and could be a 5-4-2-2 shape with decent doubletons and a five card minor. Do you want further information on 2H or on the hand types that we open or do not open 1NT?

— Please continue

— 3C, Alert!

— Please explain

— Natural, or value showing, might have a hand that in your system just has club values, and not length, and no other good bid. Do you want us to describe what set of hands might just have club values, and not length?

— No, please continue

— 3NT, Alert!

— Please explain

— To play, but partner could have bid 3D here artificially to ask further information.

— Thanks. I’m glad our club has extended the rounds to forty minutes so we have time for these alertfests.

Judy Kay-WolffMarch 1st, 2009 at 10:57 pm

Glen:

In lieu of a gibbering hypothetical dialogue, why don’t you directly respond to Bobby’s plea for trying to add sense to the procedure. He has often been accused of attempts to muddle the process just by citing wrongs when he sees them — all with an eye to protecting the honor and sanctity of our game. Instead of your ignoring such improprieties, why don’t you address them? You prefer to simply hammer away and dwell upon the positive aspects of not-alerting and rave about time-saving measures which should not be the primary focus of administering the game. Surely, there has to be a happy medium. In Bobby’s opinion, we find ourselves in this disgusting present day situation because of the lack of bridge sophistication by the individuals making these decisions –compounded by the ‘see no evil – hear no evil’ plaudits of people like you!

You set foot on the stage by stating, “This post is incorrect — the pass is not alertable….” it may well be an incorrect post according to recent irrational legislative changes — but it certainly fits perfectly into the “Catch As Catch Can” classification. Such stances seem to make it every man for himself — a pathetic state in which an innocent bridge player finds himself — as a result of failure of our beloved administrators to protect the ones who want to play the game honestly.

By the way, Bobby offers to send you hands to illustrate how detrimental the withholding of critical information can be to the injured parties in the sphere of support doubles. It may serve as an educational and rude awakening.

Glen AshtonMarch 1st, 2009 at 11:40 pm

Judy:

I responded to Mr. Wolff’s plea by showing multiple examples of how his hyper alert idea is a step backward.

Here’s another one:

A pair decides never to open 1NT with a five card major. Even though they have this “secret pact” (as you would put it, if consistent with your previous postings), should they alert their 1NT openings? Or, should pairs that open 1NT with five card majors alert their openings?

As to your “gibbering hypothetical dialogue” shot, I’m glad you can see how unworkable things would be in an alert-everything-different world. I’m also pleased to see you moved to a “may well be an incorrect post” retraction. However, I find very unpleasant the shots of “ignoring such improprieties”, “hammer away”, “rave about”, “’see no evil – hear no evil’ plaudits of people like you”.

I don’t find the polemic of “disgusting present day situation”, “pathetic state in which an innocent bridge player finds himself”, and “failure of our beloved administrators” helps your case at all. In particular, please note that the “beloved administrators” were peers of Mr. Wolff, and running down people doesn’t make your case any stronger. In addition, I need to note I had nothing to do with the ACBL decision to change their alert procedure to the way it is now, and I’ve just been posting here to correct an inaccuracy and to provide counterpoints to some opinions.

As to Mr. Wolff’s offer to send me hands, there is no need, as I agree that not knowing information can injure. Likewise I could create hands with my example above (1NT never has a five card major, or could have one), that show injury. I think Mr. Wolff needs to first reply to the above example, and indicate if this “detrimental … withholding of critical information” also needs an alert, and if not, why not?

Bobby WolffMarch 2nd, 2009 at 2:42 am

Glen:

 

Comparing not alerting a ‘Pass’ while playing Support Doubles (SD) to not alerting a 1NT call because one either does or does not open 1NT while holding a 5 card major is about as far afield as one can go. I assume you want me to tell you why, so here goes:

 

Often, after a 1NT opening, the bidding proceeds to basically describe at least some distribution which the 1NT opener has.  But even if it goes All Pass, there is hardly any difference in what an opening leader may choose to lead.  Sure, every now and then an honest opening leader will lead the 5 card major the 1NT opener has hidden, but so what? Also, of course, in as unobtrusive way as possible (occasionally sending partner away from the table sometime in the early defense of the hand), a defender may then ask the declaring partnership if they have any understanding about opening 1NT while holding a 5 card major.  Other than that, it is business as usual and the bridge puppeteer will normally determine how many tricks will be taken by each side.

 

However, not volunteering the Negative Inference which Pass usually indicates when playing SD, can affect any player (good or bad) who is not accustomed to that convention.  I can sure understand why the users of SD prefer not to alert. If you have read my blogs before (doubtful), it is like drawing a roadmap as to how the suit is distributed around the table and only hurts the information-givers in the play (both as declarer or defenders). Under the “new” rules, the users will be in a favored position by getting away without accurately describing their hands to the opponents. Any way one wants to look at it, your question merely, at least to me, shows your boundless naivete in the whole process and emphasizes how important it is for the most experienced and knowledgeable players (of which there might be about 20 on our whole continent) to help make these decisions.

Glen AshtonMarch 2nd, 2009 at 5:00 am

“your boundless naivete” -> sadly, you folks have insulted me out of this discussion

PegMarch 2nd, 2009 at 7:15 pm

Judy & Bobby – a few different issues at play here, IMHO.

First – the issue of venue and level of expertise. The less experienced the player, the less hope there is that they will conform to alert and explanation rules – among other things. Many of them simply don’t understand it in any sense whatsoever. Long ago, I used to battle issues of “tempo” in making bids. I gave up. Truly, they could not seem to understand that they really were transmitting information illegally if they passed like a shot over a 2S opener, or if they thought a long time and doubled when they opponents got to game in a competitive auction. Thus – even this first issue leads us to this question: should the ACBL have different rules and/or standards for top players and for the great unwashed? If so – a bit more complicated. If not, we’re never going to see the rules able to be enforced equitably at all levels.

Second – the issue of full disclosure. While I strive for exactly what Judy and Bobby want, and try to do my best to conform to this, not 100% certain how to do it. The ACBL does have rules. Should we go above and beyond them – possibly being open to penalties! – and disclose what the League says does not require disclosure? What if opponents get irritated that we are “talking” too much at the table? Exactly how much should be disclosed? For instance, my most regular partner and I have a wide range for preempts – anywhere from fairly gruesome junk, to decent hands, depending upon vulnerability, position, level of opponents, state of the match, etc. Should we offer info about what we know to be true prior to an opponent asking? Or – after they do? Clearly, we have better knowledge about our tendencies than they do.

Finally – the third issue which is simply that some among us are far better at being “good citizens” irrespective of the laws. I’ve been an avid kibitzer of world class players over the years. You can see that some strive to play the game at the highest levels of comportment – and some do not. You couldn’t for a moment say that those in the latter category are necessarily breaking any laws or even being unethical. Merely that they play in a different plane than the others.

I guess it’s just an imperfect world. If I were king, I surely would change some of the laws we currently have. That being said – I do not think it’s possible to achieve a scenario that is ideal; only better.

Judy Kay-WolffMarch 5th, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Peg:

Your comments are always very on-target and stimulating. However, obviously in this case, there is no simple solution. It is a multifaceted problem and painfully apparent to those who want to preserve the honor of the game that many of the present guidelines need reexamining and revamping. We have a leviathan task before us because of (1) the disparity in levels of play; (2) the inability of some of the anointed decision makers to recognize and comprehend the deeper issues involved; and (3) the fervent desire of those in high places to lazily maintain the status quo (by not whipping the great unwashed into shape) because it makes less waves and rattles fewer cages. Policing the hobby is a necessary evil and always will be.

As to your well-presented issues:

1) VENUE AND LEVEL — a tremendous stumbling block! I don’t entirely agree with Bobby about bearing down harder at the top levels on the expert players. However, I understand his thinking. According to him, it would be better for everyone to conform — but when players have little talent and no real love for something that comes hard to them — no one will ever convince them to ‘play it straight’ or not play at all. It does not apply to those closer to the top echelon. Thus, because of his frustration to see competitors at the summit abide by the highest ethical standards, he was forced to compromise similar issues embracing the lower levels of the bridge universe. I suppose his reasoning was — “anything” is better than nothing — pressuring the high level players to rise to the occasion. That form of capitulation marks a sad day for bridge.

I have never advocated or approved double standards as I feel everyone must assume responsibility for their actions. It is the duty of the educators to instill in beginners (or those who have returned to the fold) the concept that everyone plays by the same rules and ethics, making that crystal clear before a student is taught to count up to thirteen. With that entrenched in their heads, they will ascend the ranks from Class ‘C’ to ‘B’ to ‘A’ and when they arrive at the pearly gates of the local tournament (and eventually the national) level, they will have been groomed to honor the game as it should be played — avoiding the embarrassment of appearing before committees for nondisclosures, bids out of tempo, huddle-induced balances, etc. It eventually catches up with one — so why not nip it in the bud or cut it off at the pass if it has already reared its ugly head?

In an earlier blog comment I used the disapproving term ‘beloved administrators’ pointing to those individuals who were mindlessly responsible for some of the subject alert reversals. In response, a comment was made, reminding me that they were “peers of Mr. Wolff.” HARDLY!!!! When last I checked my Merriam-Webster Dictionary for the word “peer,” I found glaring back at me the definition “one of equal standing with another.” Equal standing does not cut it here since few, if any, of those alluded to (beloved administrators), have a significant history of high-level involvement with every administrative procedure (from top level appeals to running a bridge club) as well as dealing with the politics of conflicts of interest both as to financial incentives and trying to cozy up to a superstar. It is these track records that separate one “peer” from another and are light years apart. At the present time we are trying to ascertain who, indeed, did serve on that committee which approved the said alert reversals.

2) FULL DISCLOSURE: A piece of cake! All four people at the table should be privy to the same information. No more — no less! It would be ideal to utilize Alert cards when appropriate; offer brief, but accurate, explanations; avoid extraneous, irrelevant shaggy dog tales with no bearing on the subject; and make an all out effort to reveal on a need-to-know basis.

As you said, Peggy: “The ACBL does have rules. Should we go above and beyond them …..?” Absolutely! Because of a fallacy in current procedures, why should either side be disadvantaged? Better to go out on a limb than to deprive your opponents of information to which they are entitled. You’ve heard people say, “Go fight City Hall.” Perhaps the time has come.

I can well understand the aura of discontent with the current topic. Different strokes for different strokes. Some UNDER-alert; some OVER-alert; and some DON’T EVEN alert. Perhaps the answer is Simplification! It would be ideal to have an Alert card waved and a single word spoken — like Conventional, Natural, Artificial or something along those lines — with the onus upon the opponents to clear up any mysteries by further questioning. Responses should focus on clarity and brevity. No one wants to listen to the Gettysburg Address.

3) STRIVING TO PLAY THE GAME AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL. Your third issue fascinated me more than you’ll ever know — namely, the difference in ethics — even (or especially) at the top level. I, too, have seen it in my travels. It presents itself in all shapes and sizes .. and not restricted only to table action. Other venues of the game feature fallen idols. Some stem from the self-serving sponsor/pro relationships where individuals in administrative positions make decisions from which they will personally benefit rather than making the beneficiary the game itself. Frequently, people with conflicts of interest who serve on committees should recuse themselves — but history has shown that they rarely do. Last, and certainly not least, even though it is not a popular subject for public discussion, I suspect some ego protection and personal benefits may even creep into the process used to determine what is allowable and what is not. Like they say — if the shoe fits!

Yes, Peg, it is an imperfect world — but that’s an old story. Perhaps if enough people speak up, we can turn the corner, making it a more level playing field to be enjoyed by us and generations to come. I owe it to the Normans and Edgars of this world to do whatever I can to make it happen.

PegMarch 7th, 2009 at 2:41 pm

I agree that #3 is quite fascinating. Much depth to it.

Part of what is interesting is this. I have seen people whose character I admire take actions which I think they chose in an effort to be very ethical – and yet, I disagreed as to THAT action being the wisest choice.

Part of what makes horse races, Judy!

PimoMarch 10th, 2009 at 12:23 pm

If you fail to alert the opps. and wind up fooling them would you then call the director on yourself? Would you ask him/her to correct or adjust for the damage you caused by your failure to alert ? If your answer is “No, I would not!”, then don’t play conventions.

Dwayne HoffmanMarch 31st, 2009 at 4:17 pm

I agree with the theme that Peg has espoused – that there exists a certain situational awareness from a local club game (for me, not as much, since I live in the D.C. area, but in let’s say, Oklahoma City or Huntsville, I doubt many would have heard of canape as an example) to a NABC that is somewhat wide-ranging. I know from firsthand experience playing in bridge meccas such as the DFW and D.C. area versus much more regionalized bridge clubs such as Nanaimo, Huntsville, and OKC, that the level of expertise is higher, and because of this, there is I think at times an unfair expectation for intermediates and low advanced players to simply “just know” the hardest items to grasp in a treatment: the negative inferences and implications.

I strongly feel that it’s a “when in doubt, alert it” approach that should be used. Certainly, part of being ethical is being cognizant of player’s body language and reactions when we alert that Larry and I play strong club, 4 card majors, with canape. Most of the time, their reactions helps gauge the approximate level of both alerting and full disclosure, even at Nationals.

I wonder tho, if this is truly being fair, not just to the pair, but to the entire field itself. I think to enforce an unilateral “alert everything” slows the game up markedly, and with the many directors not willing to enforce slow play penalties, I think the game has evolved into not necessarily a “don’t tell them unless they ask” as much as a “God, if I have to explain this for the 8th time again, I’m going to be late for the break” or something thereof.

I think a likely solution, is to take a more traditional, strict interpretation and alert, and enforce the time limits on hands. I think we can get two issues resolved adequately: full disclosure and slow play.

Just my one half of one cent.

JudyApril 5th, 2009 at 10:15 pm

Dear Dwayne:

I agree with much of what you say, but it will only be redundant to respond to the above at this time. I am awaiting an official response from the powers on high and then I intend to present a provocative post on the subject.

Robb GordonMay 3rd, 2009 at 4:17 pm

I agree with Judy and Bobby and many others that some of these things SHOULD be alertable. But when the sponsoring organization makes a policy that such things are NOT alertable, then to alert them is technically a violation of proper procedure. Rather than do this, if I am the declaring side, I make sure the opponents are aware of any negative inference before the opening lead.

I don’t think we should get into the business of making up our own rules when we disagree with the existing rules, even if we are clearly right!

bobby wolffMay 6th, 2009 at 6:28 pm

Hi Robb,

If I would be asked, “Who, in the current bridge world, is the closest to your own views on the most important connundrums confronting and perplexing us today, especially pertaining to the high level game?” your name would be front and center on my relatively very short list.

Having said that, I hold at least a slightly different view on your last paragraph of your May 3rd blog. Since nothing less has worked, and over a very long period, yes I think that if we were clearly right we should start a crusade of disagreeing with the existing rules and taking our own actions, if for no other reason than to call attention to WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE!

Through the last half of my rather long life the saddest event for me to contemplate is how the lawyers and judges in Nazi Germany, during the 1930’s and early 1940’s, blindly followed the laws dictated by an obvious madman, despite no doubt, being specifically trained in exactly the opposite way.

There is a time to love, a time to die, and perhaps most importantly, a time to stand up to what one believes and go to the death to get it done.

JUDY KAY-WOLFFMay 8th, 2009 at 4:06 pm

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