Judy Kay-Wolff

“I’VE GOT A SECRET”

This blog will no doubt rattle some cages in The Volunteer State, but since so many animals are already on the loose in our venue, this appears like the apropos time to discuss my ongoing adventures with the ACBL cartel!

I am troubled by the inability of the zoo keepers to responsibly and definitively answer and explain specific questions when asked.   Since there is a column in the Monthly ACBL Bulletin captioned "Ruling the Game" accompanied by a photo of Mike Flader ("Associate National Tournament Director rulings@acbl.org.") — it was surprising to received a response (quoted below) signed by Rick Beye to a letter emailed to the popular columnist, Mike Flader (and this was not the first time this occurred). 

I posed a question because of the frequently used/abused treatment of a popular convention, namely FORCING NT.  If playing that the INT response to a major suit opening (1H or1S) is UNLIMITED — what is the obligation of the users to share that information with their opponents — and if so, WHEN?  It was a rather simple, straight-forward question and this is the unsatisfactory gobbledygook response received:

"Good morning Judy,

The ACBL General Convention Chart (http://www.acbl.org/assets/documents/play/Convention-Chart.pdf) indicates that the forcing, or semi-forcing, NT response to a major suit opening may not guarantee game invitational (or better values).   No HCP range is indicated."   Signed/Rick Beye

I find this "answer" unresponsive to the question.   Is it not true that any call that conveys information explicitly or implicitly owing to partnership understandings rather than general knowledge of bridge must be announced or alerted and explained?    I next went to the ACBL GENERAL INFORMATION CHART and after surveying it, gleaned no more information.

The Chart’s subject matter is listed by category.   One grouping was entitled RESPONSES AND REBIDS.   Item No. 2 stated:    "ONE NO TRUMP response to a major opening bid forcing one round; cannot guarantee game or better values."   Since there is a blank space on the convention card to mark the range of a 1NT RESPONSE TO A 1C OPENING, WHY NOT REQUIRE RANGES TO BE MARKED FOR ALL 1NT RESPONSES?   It seems like a simple solution to me and would expose the ranges (lower and upper) of THE FORCING NT CALL!

I was offended by the lackluster position or inability of these director-type administrators to state in specific detail (with actual numerical ranges) the answers to my question — when it suddenly came to me, I was shooting at the "proverbial" messenger/s.   Perhaps the actual culprits are those drafting and authorizing the convention card designations and have overlooked the importance of providing a line/lines to delineate the ranges (upper and lower) of FORCING NO TRUMP RESPONSES and should pay greater attention to the mandatory alerting of other unusual treatments which give unfair advantage to the silent users.

Let’s focus on the variations of use to 1NT RESPONSE TO A MAJOR SUIT OPENING:

1.   If you do not play 1NT Forcing to a major opening bid, it is a moot point.

2.   If you normally play 1NT Forcing (but not by a passed hand), your opponents are entitled to that information.

3.  If you play 1NT either "SEMI-FORCING" or "INTENDED FORCING", it gives the opener the prerogative to pass with a minimum balanced hand — and again, your opponents are entitled to that information in advance. 

4.  If you play "STANDARD FORCING NT," therein lies the rub!   I understand some in non-vulnerable positions keep the bidding open with zero points and others have unlimited upper ranges in all vulnerabilities.   WHAT, PRAY TELL, IS THE RANGE OF A STANDARD FORCING NT????   And, why is there no line on the card for it rather than a block to be checked if you are using any form of the convention?

THE PRIMARY FOCUS OF MY BLOG IS THE INSIDIOUS UNLIMITED FORCING NO TRUMP WITH NO ALERT OR ANNOUNCEMENT — which I would like to put on hold for a bit — while we analyze the composition and intent of the CONVENTION CARDS produced and approved which the ACBL HAS A RESPONSIBILITY TO UPHOLD AND ENFORCE TO THE NTH DEGREE!

THE STANDARD AMERICAN WHITE CARD is the most popularly used and accepted — incorporating routinely played treatments as well as especially involved, complicated, sophisticated and elaborate methods deemed legal which require full disclosure, detailed explanations and alerts.

THE STANDARD AMERICAN YELLOW CARD is another type — substantially more simplified.   For a detailed accounting of its use, check out Ellen Pomer’s "The History of SAYC" which you can find at http://bridgeblogging.com published on March 30, 2009

And now, may I propose a third convention card which seems to be in order.   Allow me to educate you ….

Those of you who were around in the Fifties and Sixties (or watch replays) will remember a popular weekly CBS television show produced by Todman and Goodson, starring Garry Moore.   It featured famous panelists who were challenged to guess the secrets (jobs, hobbies, careers, professions, etc.) of these randomly appearing guests.   It is in deference to this show, that I suggest we name Card Three "I’VE GOT A SECRET" which encompasses any and all undisclosed private treatments, mysteries, conditions and understandings!

The ACBL’s oversight of not addressing ANY OBLIGATION TO PRE-ALERT, ALERT AT THE PROPER TIME AND NOT TO PROVIDE A SPECIAL PLACE ON THE CONVENTION CARD (particularly for unlimited forcing no trump ranges) encourages and condones private agreements and pre-designed thievery.  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist, brain surgeon or Rhodes Scholar to realize that without the alert of the unknown upper range of responder, an unsuspecting fourth hand could enter the auction and get caught in an ambush between two powerful hands — ending up in the Critical Care Unit for a day, week, month or indefinitely.  I feel personally jeopardized and victimized by, and vulnerable to, the ACBL’s failure to address this egregious pitfall of stealthy pacts of partnerships playing UNLIMITED (NO UPPER RANGE) FORCING NO TRUMPS.

Many who have followed my blogs for the last several months realize they are usually lighthearted Trips Down Memory Lane — mostly nostalgic — and hopefully with a touch of history and a bit of humor.   However, I’VE GOT A SECRET is serious stuff and since I have never professed to be an expert (other than by injection being married to two great Hall of Famers) — I turn the mike over to Bobby (http://bobbywolff.bridgeblogging.com).   Check out his upcoming blog,"It’s Time for a Change."  Bobby has been in the bridge arena for over sixty years and has served in every position and capacity humanly possible. You will find his views extremely enlightening and convincingly constructive.


14 Comments

Danny KleinmanApril 25th, 2009 at 12:52 am

I’ll answer the question that Mike Flader didn’t answer, and to which Rick Beye’s “answer” was unresponsive. If you play a forcing 1NT response to a major-suit opening, the presumed range is 6 to 12 HCP. If you use some other range, you must inform your opponents in both of the two ways prescribed by the rules: (1) By marking your range on your convention card for inspection by your opponents; (2) By alerting this 1NT response, or announcing it appropriately (stating the range).

Now what couldn’t Mike and Rick say just that?

And what an easy question you asked! A simple general principle: what you know from your partnership agreements rather than a general knowledge of bridge, you must tell your opponents in time for them to cope appropriately. Anyone who asks “Do we HAVE TO tell them?” is exposing the larceny in his own heart, an intention to violate the laws and spirit of the game to the extent the authorities will let him get away with it.

Judy Kay-WolfApril 25th, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Thanks, Danny:

As long as I have played bridge and was introduced to the forcing NT, I always thought the range was 6-12 (though I knew some people were mesmerized with just an ace to keep the bidding open — but were isolated cases). Up until three years ago, I never gave a second thought to unalerted unlimited forcing no trumps until I became aware that it is played by more than one local pair.

One auction proceeded uncontested: 1H 1N 2D 3N (with the NTer holding 16 points/and no alert) and I earned myself a zero by leading from Q10XXX of clubs into his AKJX for his ninth trick I knew the pair and really didn’t think the non-alert was deliberate. They just did not know the disadvantage of non-disclosure to the opponents as everyone else responded 2C, thwarting the club opening thrust. However, it didn’t take away the zero I received, did it? That provoked my above tirade when I realized it is part of the “I’ve Got A Secret Card” not contested by the ACBL.

Being cognizant that you have a fine reputation for knowing the rules, laws and importance of timely alerts, I took solace in your reply. Thank you.

PegApril 26th, 2009 at 2:52 pm

As I was taught forcing NT, I had no idea that there was some specific “range” that either needed to be alerted or announced.

In most of my partnerships, the “forcing NT” can either be something like: Kxx, Jxx, xxxxx, xx to a 1H call, where you don’t want to raise partner to 2H but you also don’t want to let the opponents into the auction quite as easily. Or – with a balanced 14 count (something like: Qx, KJxx, AJxx, Kxx) you plan the auction to go: 1S – 1NT – 2C – 3NT (no bids by opps.) I do not like having to bid 2D on a hand like this – and – our 3NT bid over 1S is 15 to 17.

If the rules demand that we disclose our range is 3 to 14, I have no problem with that. I simply wasn’t aware that those were the rules!

Judy Kay-WolffApril 26th, 2009 at 7:57 pm

Peg:

You hit the nail on the head in your last sentence. It stems from one’s early indoctrinations!

Our bridge populace shares the affliction of the three blind mice because nowhere can be found any authoritative statement specifically announcing any strictures for the upper and lower limits of this treatment. IS IT SUCH A HARDSHIP FOR THE ACBL’S CONDITION MAKERS TO REQUIRE AN INSERTION OF A BLANK LINE BESIDE THE BLOCK TO BE CHECKED IF YOU PLAY FORCING NT WHERE YOU CAN SHARE WITH YOUR OPPONENTS (WHO ARE ENTITLED TO KNOW) WHAT YOUR LOWER AND UPPER RANGES ARE. This should not be a diplomatic issue requiring censuring or approval by the FBI OR CIA — just a simple declaration by an ethical partnership with nothing to hide!

I fully understand what you are saying! You play the way you were taught. I do the same. But this should not be an undisclosed issue of personal choice since such diverse ranges NOW exist. The governing body has a responsibility to have players accountable to divulge their methods by simply inserting the information on their convention card!

RichardApril 27th, 2009 at 3:47 am

Frankly, this seems to be a fuss over something rather small. As you finally admit (in the comments), your position is rooted in your early preconceptions that the bid had an assigned range of 6-12hcp. I don’t know that that was ever true, and you concede that even back then, some people you knew played differently. Given that you know that diverse ranges are in use NOW (you say as much), on your example auction 1H 1N 2D 3N, might it not occur to you to ask what the final bid showed? And if the answer was 13-16hcp, would that have been enough to change your choice of opening lead?

I don’t see any real problem with putting a range entry on the convention card. But I would expect to see 0-16 from all the forcing NT guys and 0-12 from all the semi-forcing guys. How would this help you?

Gary M. MugfordApril 27th, 2009 at 6:44 am

Judy,

Forcing NT is rife with private understandings, but then, so is pass, as you’ve noted. In one partnership I have, I have to alert pass, if the auction goes 1M-P to me. If I pass, I’m admitting to a good three to a bad six points. Less, I bid 1NT. More, I bid … well something. We ALSO have to alert 1NT as showing possibly zero to a bad three points or six points or better. We don’t have an upper limit. Once saw my partner bid 1NT over a major holding a nice 20 points!

As I’ve said to you before, I wish we had two levels of explanation. A brief one that covers the immediate understanding, as per the charting system. And one that has the same explanation with a verbal asterisk, indicating opponents can (and should) ask for ramifications to the call. Then, it’s up to the opponents to protect themselves by asking for the ramifications, at the cost of time and letting us potentially clear up a misunderstanding. Bridge is a timed, complex event. We have to economize where possible, while at least warning opponents of facts they might, or might not, need to know.

At any rate, I thought I might bring you attention to MY PET PEEVE. I’d really, really, really love to force people to notate on their cards that they will double over an opening bid with a balanced intermediate hand. You know the kind the Italians always got away with doubling on. I once finessed into a doubler’s hand twice, letting her score two trump tricks on her jack-ten-third while I played a four-four fit ‘perfectly’ to handle a four-one trump split in a team game. My teammates didn’t talk to me for a week. And just recently, doubler had a a 3343 14-count and thought that appropriate to double 1D on.

Between your NT range over a major and my unorthodox doubles warning, we sure are filling up those convention cards [G]

Continue the good fight, GM

Judy Kay-WolffApril 27th, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Richard:

I have no idea who you are, where you come from, or whether you have 30 or 30,000 master points but it is obvious to me you are in the dark about the point I am making The people in charge are under the influence of (as Bobby refers to them) the foxes in the hen house who can easily control the problem of defining the range of the forcing no trump over a major — and assure that all contestants are playing on a “level playing field.” However, it is obvious they are not interested in changing the present status quo.

You mention a possible bidding range beginning with ‘zero’. That, per se, and subject to logical interpretation, should be considered illegal because it is nothing more than a controlled psych, a no-no that has been outlawed by the ACBL for more years than I can remember. Until the people in charge descend from their ivory towers and recognize the ramifications that have emerged over the years, bridge will continue on a downward spiral. Ah, for the days of Culbertson, Von Zedtwitz, Landy, Hazen, Morehead, Sheinwold, and their peers who only cared what was best for the game — and only the game!

Under certain circumstances, there could be an exception — allowing a minimum range of zero to the FNT response. HOWEVER, those situations revolve around active TOTAL DISCLOSURE to unsuspecting opponents about WHY they play it that way!

Danny KleinmanApril 27th, 2009 at 6:17 pm

Gary Mugford’s pet peeve is already covered. There’s a box on the ACBL Convention Card (under “Special Doubles”) for “Min Offshape T/O,” and the burden falls upon opponents to look to see if this box is checked. The problem (as usual) is enforcement of rules. If every such double with the box not checked (or with the convention card not displayed on the table) were penalized by directors, the problem would be solved.

Judy Kay-WolffApril 27th, 2009 at 6:28 pm

Gary:

I understand where you are coming from just as you understand my grievance. All I am pleading for is full disclosure. If it holds up the game a bit, so be it (unless the fire alarm is blaring)! Which is more important? Racing through an afternoon or evening at the table and on to your next activity — or leaving the table feeling you have honored the game, giving your ‘all’ as it was originally created to be played?

Admittedly (and rightfully), at its inception the only major reward was priding oneself for besting the field. Today professional advancement, monetary rewards and masterpoints have colored players’ thinking. Bridge is now in second place …. and has been … for a long time!

Danny KleinmanApril 28th, 2009 at 3:44 am

I’ll comment [in brackets] about Richard’s comment:

RichardApril 27th, 2009 at 3:47 am

Frankly, this seems to be a fuss over something rather small.

[Yes, this is one small part of a larger syndrome, the “Do we really have to tell them?” syndrome. It isn’t just forcing notrumps. The point is that the burden of disclosure should fall upon the users of fancy methods and artificial bids (which a forcing 1NT is, as Kaplan and Sheinwold stated in their books half a century ago), not upon opponents who may not even know which questions to ask.]

As you finally admit (in the comments), your position is rooted in your early preconceptions that the bid had an assigned range of 6-12hcp.

[Not a preconception, but a definition to be found in the classic Root-Pavlicek book “Modern Bridge Conventions” and in the books of Kaplan-Sheinwold, Roth-Stone and Max Hardy (with only tiny variation0.]

I don’t know that that was ever true, and you concede that even back then, some people you knew played differently. Given that you know that diverse ranges are in use NOW (you say as much), on your example auction 1H 1N 2D 3N, might it not occur to you to ask what the final bid showed?

[That’s just the point. It should not have to occur to opponents to ask. Users of the conventions should be required to tell.]

And if the answer was 13-16hcp, would that have been enough to change your choice of opening lead?

I don’t see any real problem with putting a range entry on the convention card. But I would expect to see 0-16 from all the forcing NT guys and 0-12 from all the semi-forcing guys. How would this help you?

RichardApril 29th, 2009 at 12:21 am

Judy: “You mention a possible bidding range beginning with ‘zero’. That, per se, and subject to logical interpretation, should be considered illegal because it is nothing more than a controlled psych, a no-no that has been outlawed by the ACBL for more years than I can remember.”

I find that rather an odd comment. Zero points doesn’t automatically make a bid a psyche – a psyche is inherently a lie, so if the bid is defined that way, it is clearly not a psyche. If you want to talk about controlled psyches, you should discuss Drury, and the thousands (maybe millions) of American players who think it’s OK to make an opening 1-bid on a four card suit and a 9-count – they know it’s safe because partner won’t bid normally. That’s clearly a controlled psyche, sanctioned by the ACBL, and one of my pet peeves.

Danny: “That’s just the point. It should not have to occur to opponents to ask. Users of the conventions should be required to tell.”

In principle I agree, of course. And it would be nice to think that there are standard definitions of some bids, so that telling and/or asking wasn’t necessary. But the simple truth is I’ve never met two “2 over 1” pairs that play exactly the same system, although not many of them would admit that (they all play “real” 2/1). And the “Standard American” bidders are not much better. Perhaps it’s that I learned to play in England, and the variety of systems and conventions (even at a local level) was much wider than you seem to meet in the typical American club or tournament. When you sat down at a new table, you announced your system, the no-trump range, and your leading/signalling style, and also you would generally explain your bids at the end of the auction. But at the same time, asking one or two judicious questions during or at the end of the auction wasn’t thought of as a huge burden. It’s like the boxing referee says “let’s have a good clean fight, but defend yourself at all times”.

Bobby WolffApril 29th, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Hi Richard,

You bring up several provocative discussion points which need to be addressed.

A “controlled psych” in bridge has been defined as either a gross overbid or a distortion to the extent which doesn’t come close to representing what the bid would usually show, with the main intent to deceive the opponents into using poor, or at least, losing judgment, while, and perhaps, at the same time, and most importantly, incurring little or no risk to themselves, because of built-in safeguards within the system played. Note: the tendencies of pairs playing questionable treatments have the huge advantage of “been there, done that” more than once, while their opponents may have never been subjected to their modern thoughts and treatments.

Playing the forcing 1NT to one of a major and incorporating within that system the ability to show 3+ of partner’s major with few or no high card points is ENTIRELY legal, if (and here’s the rub) the opponents are made aware (by either it being explicitly on the convention card and attention called to it) or by an announcement (alert) at the table at the time. Without the preceding procedure it can and should be ruled a “controlled psych” and subject to a rather severe admonition and penalty.

Bridge, in spite of getting further and further away from it, is supposed to be a gentleman’s game wherein partnerships compete fiercely, but under an Active Ethics umbrella which would always be assumed to require total and complete disclosure of any and all unusual or distorted tactics which some might suspect lead to undeserved and sometimes illegal gain.

Richard, please do not forget the nature of bridge competition, particularly matchpoints, wherein your real competitors are actually not the opponents against whom you play, but rather the pairs sitting in the same direction as you, playing against a whole field of would-be-strangers to you, and which you as a pair have no way to control their actions. At least, it should be a very important caveat that every pair of your stranger teammates (which it actually amounts to) should be well enough informed so as to not give your real opponents too much undue advantage.

When your competitors, although sometimes fine people, discuss their systems, it is human nature for them to incorporate what they think will be methods which will give them their most advantages. We, as their competitors, are not privy to their discussions, but the rules should ALWAYS create a fair playing field, one in which our laws are up to date, to the point and hopefully not totally naive.

We (you and I) should always be in favor of the above, because at this time in our global society, ethics and morality seem to be going out into the looming forest and the laws of the jungle too often applied.

Summing up, most reasonably intelligent methods should always be approved, but with the very strict covenant that the opponents are made aware of their responsibilities to the whole field of players.

Ever onward, EVER UPWARD!

RichardApril 29th, 2009 at 11:23 pm

Bobby: “Playing the forcing 1NT to one of a major and incorporating within that system the ability to show 3+ of partner’s major with few or no high card points is ENTIRELY legal, if (and here’s the rub) the opponents are made aware (by either it being explicitly on the convention card and attention called to it) or by an announcement (alert) at the table at the time. Without the preceding procedure it can and should be ruled a “controlled psych” and subject to a rather severe admonition and penalty.”

OK, I understand where you’re coming from. I would phrase it that the damage inflicted is the same as by a controlled psych, and therefore the penalty should be the same, but broadly speaking we agree.

Dwayne HoffmanMay 1st, 2009 at 8:50 pm

This thread has made me reexamine not just my current partnership, but my last partnership, as a gut check on how truly open I was with disclosure.

I agree with many, that the Alert Procedure is a mess. However, I think the larger issue is something of the fact that the game in the last 10 years has accelerated in terms of technical development AND application, that more and more players, have grabbed onto these “new and exciting” concepts, and have frankly bombed in the disclosure of the agreements.

The forcing NT here is listed as the prime example, but I think transfers and fit bids have had even more of a damaging effect on pairs that do not adequately explain both the meaning of the bids, and implications.

Transfers over takeout doubles have been become commonplace for the ability to get into a suit to play – however I’ve yet to hear from the opponents what handtypes the bid can be made on. Is partner allowed to transfer and then rebid 2 of a major to show honor-doubleton? Values? Suit quality? And so on…

Fit bids – to me, a Bergen 3M raise is a fit bid, because not only is there a pre-defined number of trumps, but what about shortages? side suits? does it deny a side suit if they play transfers? For me, it is grossly inadequate, to announce a Bergen 3M raise as, “0-6, 4 trumps”. That doesn’t tell me anything except that the guy’s bidding it up.

I think the solution begins, with a much clearer, well defined, convention chart and alert procedure. For me, there is a clear disconnect between the two, and I think they should be much more closely tied to one another. Once that happens, then the application part of improving directorial education (for me, this is a sensitive topic) in helping them not only be better directors, but better at the process of directoring, which is a different process entirely.

Thank you Judy, for forcing me, to reexamine my partnerships, and more important, how I approach disclosure.

Leave a comment

Your comment