Judy Kay-Wolff


So much has been written about the Do’s and Don’ts of bridge and the variations between levels of players as well as the venue in which they participate.  Some feel it really doesn’t matter as it is ‘just a game!’  HARDLY!!!  To some addicts, it’s more important than life itself.  Bridge is far more than a game … perhaps the greatest mental challenge which involves reasoning, logical alternatives, numeracy, discipline, imagination, and so much more — all attributes that will assist one in later life when important crises arise.  Sadly (though operative in many of the foreign nations), bridge has not been programmed in the schools here.   There are 200 million children being educated and playing in China .. and nary an official school curriculum offered in our educational system in the U. S.   So, yes, it is not just any game and an all-out effort should be exerted toward improving its methods, standards and above all — ethical behavior so that all contestants are on a level playing field.   Another key factor is that the director is knowledgeable enough to know the basic rules.  Equity and justice should always rule supreme!

There are many schools of thoughts about the standards and requirements of duplicate clubs.  Some people play to pass the time of day, just to socialize, others out of boredom and less physical energy — but some actually participate because they really adore the game and strive to do as well as they can.  To many– master points are their goal; to others, they could care less. 

Let us examine both the criteria and responsibilities of club ownership.  Since these are ACBL sponsored games (with card fees paid and master points awarded) — the owners and players both have responsibilities to follow the rules.  The primary flaw in the directing issue is that most have not been well indoctrinated and not all are knowledgeable enough to make involved decisions.   It is my earnest belief that directors really do their best (with limited training and experience).   In addition, the owners do not want to antagonize any of the players (especially their "regulars") and lose their business to another club.  It is called “human nature.”  That goes with the territory.  Some owners take the high road and try to educate their patrons as to the do’s and don’ts in a non-offensive, educational manner.   They can’t do more than that.

But here lies the rub, as I see it:  Though most players I know are honest by nature and do not deliberately violate the ethical standards — these misdemeanors occur because they are not familiar with their responsibilities (especially in the area of alerts) possibly due to the fact the powers on high keep changing them all the time.  Many are experienced but it becomes difficult to remember what is — and what is not — alertable.  To make certain the opponents are not in the dark, sometimes I even alert when it is not mandatory to protect the opponents.   I know my system — they may not.

Here is a typical example of the damage of non alerts:

The auction goes 1D  X  1S   2C followed by a double (with no alert from his partner — the 1S bidder).   What is that double?  Consider the possibilities:  Takeout?  Penalty?  A Support  Double?   Card Showing?  Take your choice.  Any could apply.  It’s like trick or treat.

Without an alert I would assume it is penalty.  The auction resumes and the responder pulls the double and buys the contract at 2D.   My contention is that if there is no alert by the 1S bidder at the time the red card is pulled from the box and certainly none after the auction, the declaring side (in this case the doubler) MUST announce a Failure To Alert (FTA) before the opening lead.     It is the responsibility of the doubler (regardless of a partnership mixup) to educate the opponents of misinformation that was communicated by FTA — and the director should have been called immediately — before North led.  In the above situation, it was not possible because of the lack of education (or experience) by West.

Obviously, no FTA was mentioned and it was indeed intended as a Support Double (not for penalty) and now the defenders would have known that Opener had exactly three spades.     To my understanding in the case of FTA:    (1)  Before the opening lead, the doubler should announce the failure to alert;  (2)  The director should be called immediately; (3) After learning what transpired, the Director should call aside the defenders (individually) and ask if they individually (if alerted) would have done something different.  In this case, the answer would have been ‘No’ by both North and South;  (4)  When all are back in their seats, they are instructed to continue play and if anyone feels they were injured to recall the Director;  (5)  If and when the Director is summoned at the end of the play, it is his (or her) responsibility to know the correct procedure and espouse the proper disposition of the problem.   In the case at hand, there were definite ramifications due to the FTA.

The opening lead and the next three plays would have been totally different if opening leader knew the doubler had exactly three spades. He would have cashed the AKQ of spades and played the fourth one so partner could ruff and not provide a pitch for a loser in declarer’s hand.   The non-alert was overlooked (not intentionally) and the play proceeded.  The opponents misdefended based on the fact everyone thought it was penalty and failed to get out neutrally (rather than breaking a suit)  leaving it to declarer to figure it out himself.  Making 4D was scored up — though with proper information it would be held to eight tricks.  When the play concluded, one of the defenders called the Director, asserting wrong (or rather lack of) information was given causing them to misdefend believing that the double of 2C was penalty.  The Director was polite but unsure of the ruling and hedged, returning to the table after the next board was played and said the questioned score stood.   REALLY???  The opposite ruling should have been a slam dunk.  The defender protested and at the conclusion of the game, when one of the owners asked another director (who happened to be playing that day), she responded that it WAS alertable. Eventually, after the game the score was rolled  back to -90 (from the original -130) for the good guys, but I learned today that the culprits were allowed to score up 3 for +110 rather than the score they would have earned (+90) had correct and timely information been released.

If such a basic problem as the above is not immediately grasped by the Director — things are broken and need fixing as this should not be happening.  It is understandable if complicated issues arise — but this failure to alert is part of standard operating procedure which every director should have down pat!  Happy endings are simply not enough for me.  I find many correct rulings are sporadic — not routine.  

I simply want to see justice served at ALL times and there is no time like the present to change course.


ReneSeptember 22nd, 2013 at 9:12 pm

Thanks for your open discussion on a usually hushed up subject. Everyone makes mistakes: bidders, declarers, defenders– and even directors. Perhaps bringing it out into the open will help to rectify some of the problems.

Judy Kay-WolffSeptember 22nd, 2013 at 9:24 pm


I am not casting aspersions but I do think that not enough heed is paid to the education of a director. Complicated, rarely common situations do occur and the solution is not always available off the top of one’s head. However, in the case of Failure to Alert — I think the protocol is pretty standard as stated in my blog. FTA is not a crime as we all forget on occasion and nobody is perfect — certainly not bridge players. Surely, it was unintentional. However, it can be easily rectified before the play of the hand — and certainly before the opening lead. Further damage will be avoided.

Robb GordonSeptember 26th, 2013 at 2:08 pm

I think you are right on, both with your explanation of correct procedure and your concern about the knowledge of club directors and players. I became a “certified director” in about 1971. Since that time I have never been tested nor educated (in fairness the ACBL is pretty good about issuing newsletters to club managers) since there is no “continuing education” requirement. I would like to see club directors be required to take a CE course every year or two. These could be 2-4 hours and could be done online. ALL of us should strive to be better at what they do. Thank you for raising this important issue.

Judy Kay-WolffSeptember 26th, 2013 at 4:38 pm

Hi Robb:

I appreciate your suggested solution to the subject problem. Most people want to sweep the dirt under the carpet and pretend it doesn’t exist!
They just close their eyes and hope it will go away! They treat the problem of unqualified directors as “going with the territory.” Far be it from the truth! If long time administrators like yourself would join Bobby’s continuing crusade to recognize and accept the need for an educational program such as you suggest, it would go a long way toward improving our once-marvelous game!



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