Judy Kay-Wolff


I would like to address a bridge subject that has long been the bane of my existence — and worsening day by day.  There is nothing as irritating and disconcerting to me as players who either create breaks in tempo (with resultant problems) or those who take advantage of said BITs by their ensuing action, claiming "they were going to bid anyway."   LOL!

Let us address them from two perspectives –  from the club level to the highest echelon of the game.  There are two factors involved: (1) In which venue it occurs; and (2) The strength of the enforcement and mind set of those in command.  

At the club level, whether one wants to admit it or not, no one (director/manager/owner) wants to lose a customer.  It is characterized by reduced attendance and money out of their pockets.   However, if a club operates under the auspices of the ACBL and issues masterpoints, it is really obligated to uphold the basic rules of the game.  Of course, the ACBL is in a similar position to the club owners and just as the club owners may find their card fees ebbing by disgruntled attendees who have been reprimanded (even politely and gently) — the ACBL may find their dues dwindling because of malcontents.   I don’t think either of these issues matter as the equity and honor of the game must be upheld at any cost.

As an aside, allow me to cite two personal experiences.   I played duplicate in Philadelphia for about forty-five years.   For some reason I cannot recall these unethical practices early in my career.   Maybe I just didn’t know enough about the game and its nuances and pitfalls.   However, for the last twenty years there, I attended only one duplicate club and I can tell you, especially on the days run by my partner, Jane Segal, it was a no-nonsense operation.   Then I remarried and moved.  Since about 2006 we have been playing at LV Bridge World, recently taken over, owned and run by Dixie Perkinson and Joanne Euler.   They make an incredibly well-directed, concerted effort to guide their people to play by the rules and those who follow the straight and narrow appreciate their stalwart efforts.  Those who were unaware of their failings, have come around to the proper deportment at the table — or else they have suffered the consequences of having the auction rolled back or received adjusted scores.

The decisions made at sectionals, regionals, nationals and beyond are the problems of the ACBL and their tournament staff.   Wearing a director’s badge does not necessarily mean you are knowledgeable or familiar with establishing equity — but as they say — let their mother worry.    By the way, the solution I ‘love’ the most is where it is suggested that a poll of the subject party’s peers be taken.   Does that mean if an unskilled, moronic individual is the subject of discussion, you take a poll of "like" morons to determine that their bids are in accordance with the one in question.  Perhaps the directors and appeals committee members should be better trained and be in a position to make crucial judgments without such ludicrous polls.

However, I am more concerned here with the inefficiency of the directors at the duplicate club level as it is prevalent in hundreds of clubs all over the country and the issues are either ignored or not taken seriously.   Just add up the scores and send in the points.  That is the disgusting familiar scene to which most clubs give way.   It is the easy way out — but it does not bode well for the future of the game.

If you want to play by your own rules, go home and play old-fashioned kitchen bridge where you can bid One Club to show a real four card or longer suit or bid A Club to show an artificial suit of three or less.   That’s how I played when we first learned — but everyone bid the same way — so no one had an advantage.   But, here we are in 2010 and it is time someone took the bull by the horns and put a stop to all of the illegal exchange of information, non-alerts, inappropriate alerts, not knowing your system (known as Convention Disruption), huddles, hitches and any other type of Breaks in Tempo (BITs), etc.  It has to start somewhere and teaching the club directors the whys and wherefores is a good place to begin.  From our  present experience, few are qualified.  It is the director’s absolute responsibility to run a ‘clean’ operation and must take the initiative to explain the no-nos of the game in a tactful, pleasant, firm and respectful manner.

Let’s examine the rationalization of the player who takes advantage of partner’s huddle:

1.  Do you truly believe that he or she does not know that one must bid based ONLY on the thirteen cards before them?  It should not come as a surprise to them. (Yes)

2.  Do you think that because they have gotten away with it for so long, they have just become a creature of habit? (Yes)

3.  Do you think that if no one politely calls the director (when appropriate), it will stop on its own? (No)

4.  Do you think it is fair to the rest of the field to allow the BITs and pay them no mind, knowing the partner will take full advantage of it? (No — except that few will care and will rarely know about the situation at the other table)

5.  Do you think it might not be a good idea for a "teacher" to indoctrinate new players by explaining the protocol of the game before teaching his or her students to count up to thirteen?  (Absolutely!!!!)

6.  Do you think it will not be a ‘shocker’ when players climb from ‘C’ to ‘B’ to ‘A’ strata and eventually play in tournaments where they will find themselves before committees?  (Yes.   It is part of the process — though an embarrassing and rude awakening they should have been spared by their local club director)

Perhaps sage advice to ethical players (who are not in a game forcing sequence) is that if they pause a long time before passing, they have placed their partnership in jeopardy, creating an awkward situation.   So, they may as well bid as they have barred their partner unless he or she has automatic action.   If it is a close decision, partner of the passing huddler should feel compelled to bend over backwards not to bid.   If the director is a believer in active ethics (and fortunately our primary directors are), you will see how fast the balancer comes around after a reversal of the auction a time or two!!!!

There are many offshoots of this concept, but let’s concentrate on the above and leave the rest for another time.


John Howard GibsonMay 4th, 2010 at 11:27 am

dear Judy, the bane of my life isn’t so much those telling hesitations that represent a subtle and softer form of cheating, but the bloody long ones that bring the game to a succession of grinding halts. In bridge all beginners should be taught the principle of preparedness, whereby they must anticipate possible bids or plays from partner ( and opponents ) and have their responses prepared. Moreover, there is nothing wrong with taking a few seconds to consider one’s best option, so long as it is done in a similar tempo ( as before ) which doesn’t provide their partner with some unauthorised information or insights. Passing after a telling hesitation is criminal. A telling hesitation in defense often tells partner about either a particular holding or problem. But how to get rid of this irritating and unethical practice will be no easy matter, as it is impossible to distinguish hesitancy which is innocent and/or incapable of being interpreted by partner, from those which are meant to be telling and/or can be interpreted by partner. And what’s worse is this damnable practice is so commonplace, we are talking about laying into and chastising thousands. Anyway, let’s first go after the slow players who can be identified, duly charged with theft, and ultimately punished with banishment from the game. It is these players that give bridge a yawning and soporific image.

I too did a newsletter article a couple of years back on this very subject, which I might well publish soon to help RAM HOME THE MESSAGE. Yours a real fan of your blog, Howard

Judy Kay-WolffMay 4th, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Dear John:

I appreciate your reflections and informative views on the provocative subject of hesitations. You are always Johnny-on-the-Spot expounding your thoughts on ridding the game of the vermin and no one applauds it more than I do!

My feelings have more to do with players (both experienced and inexperienced) who huddle and pass. It is no crime (in and of itself) to consider your options and then pass, but unless your partner’s action is automatic, you should get the worst of it. Slam Dunk! Of course, who should be making the decision? The director, of course! But, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that many are not qualified to do so.

I had the perfect example a couple of months ago. I was keeping my private score card as well as the Bridge Mate. I passed and the auction proceeded: P 1C P 1N — and then all of a sudden I recognized my holding from the previous hand and realized I had never put them back in the board and pulled out the current hand. I explained to my opponents what happened and knew that I could now call (and were encouraged by my opponents to do so) — but I did not want to make my own ruling, so I called the Director. That’ll teach me!

He told us to put the cards back in the board and get on with the third board. He never got back to us as to the disposition of the Board and I believe he averaged it. First of all, no damage was done as I had never seen my real hand and BESIDES, WHAT DIRECTOR DOES NOT KNOW THAT A PASS OUT OF TURN IS CONDONED BY A BID BY THE OPPONENTS? Well, MY director did not. So, you can understand that when a director doesn’t know a basic law like that — we are fighting City Hall.

Cam FrenchMay 4th, 2010 at 12:24 pm


I think you see a conspiracy of BIT.

I think we need to teach active ethics, at the novice and club levels.

I also think sometimes good players using the BIT as an alibi to adjust or appeal a score based on their reputations.

One recent case had the plaintiffs (experts both) crying for the director after what they admitted was a 3 or 4 second break in tempo, of course the “defendants” saw no break whatsoever.

There is a whopping difference between club games, which are essentially a social event and national events which are more serious competitions.

I just finished a book “Bridge Behind Bars” (Masterpoint Press Julian Pottage and Nick Smith) where you might imagine the ethics were less than upstanding.

One unrepentant criminal and good (prison) player suggested “reverse tempo doubles.” So one took a long time before doubling (for penalty) to suggest partner can no long pull! I trust the authors had tongue firmly in cheek.

What does it say to the rank and file when cheaters retain the fruits of their crimes?

I applaud your effort to keep the game clean and sound. Now – if we could change the penalties for unlawful communication and outright cheating, maybe we might get somewhere.


Judy Kay-WolffMay 4th, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Hi Cam:

I welcome your comments. Unfortunately, there are too few of us who recognize and want to alter the course in which we are heading — growing worse by the day.

Yes, teaching, preaching and screeching Active Ethics to newcomers and at the club level will go a long way toward honoring the once-majestic game that bridge represented. Unfortunately, the greed for masterpoints seems to get in the way. If the excuse is that the newer players (or those who have come back to the fold after taking a sabbatical) don’t know not to take advantage of the BITS, then it is time they learned. What is a better starting point than at a duplicate game — but only if the director is willing to lead the way.

Loved your reverse tempo doubles tale. But at this stage of my life, nothing would surprise me! I think I’ve seen or read ’em all.



Judy Kay-WolffMay 6th, 2010 at 4:04 pm

With the exception of Howard and Cam, everyone seems strangely silent on this subject.

Out of curiosity, I would like to know the mannerisms of the players at YOUR clubs. Do they respect the honor of the game or do they take advantage of hitches and huddles? Do the opponents close their eyes and let them get away with their shenanigans? Are the directors called? If so, what are their leanings? Toward keeping peace and protecting their regulars OR do they exert an effort to arrive at an equitable solution and play on a level playing field?

I have received several private mailings on this, but can’t imagine why the cat has everyone’s collective blogging tongue!! This is an age old problem but most seem to be so closed-mouth about it — I begin to wonder?

Peter GillMay 8th, 2010 at 4:19 am

Here in Sydney Australia I find that 99.9% or more of my opponents do not perform such shenanigans. Bridge at clubs is growing well in Sydney, a city with over 60 duplicate registered bridge clubs. The speed of play here is quite fast and fairly uniform. I wonder if there is a link.

In Sydney’s media this month, there’s a debate about a non-religious group who want to introduce Ethics classes into high schools. Church leaders and others are against this idea, on the grounds that non-religious groups should not be allowed to teach ethics to children. This makes me, even though I think our local bridge ethics are OK, worry somewhat about the long term future of our country.

Moving back to bridge, American bridge has a Zero Tolerance policy, doesn’t it? We don’t.

I wonder if there is a connection.

Bobby WolffMay 8th, 2010 at 6:11 am

Hi Peter.

Moving forward with your frank and earnest discusion.

Upon examining world history, can anyone doubt that religion is a business? While never trying to denounce church leaders as evil, I think it is safe to say they are not, however, they are probably merely trying to protect what they consider church related activities against independent intervention.

I would love to see any group, as long as they were strictly monitored, teach ethics in high schools or hopefully even before. America has long ago become financially greedy with money, as important as it is, still greatly overrated. My feeling is that tendency contributed greatly to the current meltdown of the world’s economic stability and unless somehow now short circuited, still looms continuously dangerous.

We need to get back to life’s fundamentals. Creativity, not financial wealth, should be our goal. Active ethics in life should be our calling card. Moderation and teamwork, not violence, demand, and unilateral action, should reign in getting there.

Strangely, the above applies to bridge as well, but before we are able to make significant progress, we need many, especially our bridge icons, to serve as our role models.

Do we have a chance to get there? The answer is problematic to even those who are generally optimistic, but it is always worth continuing to try. Crusade, anyone, everyone????

Judy Kay-WolffMay 8th, 2010 at 9:41 am

Hi Peter:

I enjoyed your educational and informative comment about the scene in Sydney. Are there really 60 bridge clubs in Sydney?? Hard to believe in comparison to the Wolves’ home base of Las Vegas.

In the LV area, there is one well attended club (LV Bridge World) which caters to all levels of bridge and since new ownership took over after the original owner died (and a nearby club closed down), the average attendance increased steadily to 15-20 tables — and often more. They are in the process of moving to larger quarters as it is a county owned art center which hosts many other events and they can only hold games Tuesday-Saturday afternoons — and no nights and often get bumped when the space is needed. The new building will allow them to expand their activities (with no holds barred) and hopefully will be available by June.

There is another club about 15 minutes away where we used to play that started out as Fridays only and then after we left, branched out to Tuesdays as well. Since it has been four years we have attended (and they don’t have a web site to see results or attendance), I don’t know if their clientele has changed, but it was mostly newer players with a social atmosphere There is also a club in Henderson (about half hour away) which I hear is lovely (which we’ve never seen) but they don’t run very large games. The main game down at the Strip run formerly run by a nice gentleman, Jeff Neal, has now closed. And there is a club here and there in the suburbs — but they don’t attract large crowds. So, basically, we only have one large club here (LVBW) where some of the top players are seen and often attracts out of town visitors who are looking to take a break between the gambling and the shows.

So, hearing about 60 clubs in Sydney boggles my mind. I think that is incredible.

As far as Zero Tolerance, since we haven’t been at a NABC for two years, I can hardly recall the term being used. Here we are pursuring Active Ethics which of course runs hand in hand with ZT. However, Rome wasn’t built in a day and little by little we are seeing improvement. Every little bit counts!

Nice hearing from you.



James McLarenMay 10th, 2010 at 12:43 am

Hi. I am one of the ‘yawning and soporific’ (John) ‘vermin’ (Judy), a slow player. I would like to tell you how it looks from my side of the table.

When I watch high level tournaments on vugraph, I see 2 1/2 hrs allotted for 16 hands, a civilized amount of time in my view. When I go to a club or local tournament, the ACBL decrees 2 hours for 16 hands. This might be a good choice for keeping most of the people happy, but why do the nervous folk who want to slap down the cards and maximize the number of hands they can squeeze into an hour try to arrogate Virtue to their side?

When I am slow in making a call, it is usually because I am trying to first figure out what the situation is before I (second) drag available mechanisms out of my memory and (third) make a choice. Once the first step is completed, a rapid pass is often the easy call. To me it seems like no hesitation at all, merely an unpractised and sluggish mind. Partners and opponents draw inferences at their own risk.

How do you think the following idea would fit with zero tolerance for unethical behaviour? If the opponent thinks that there was delivery of unauthorized information, he can state what that information was. If his mind reading was good, my side bears whatever provisions the laws decree. If his mind reading was off base, his side gets charged with unsportsmanlike behaviour for accusing an innocent party of ill intentions. (If you need an example, I recently was stuck cudgelling my memory for quite a while when my partner leapt to 4 hearts. We hadn’t played together before, but there had been confused talk about Namyats and South African transfers. I didn’t want to pass if I should be bidding 4 spades, nor vice versa. The transfer of information was zero. The masterpoint disparity with the fellow on my left who called the director was considerable. About 15,000 vs 150.)

Are rules even the way to tackle the problem of cheating? A hesitation in order to tell partner that I have a hand on the brink of raising the auction seems like a very clumsy form of cheating. I expect that good players who want to cheat use much better methods. If people are known to be cheating, refusal to play with them or socialize with them might be at least as effective.

A lot of rules are traditional, with no particular logic to support them. In baseball, for instance, it seems to be fair play to slide into second base with your spikes high. Maybe even de rigueur. In bridge it seems to be good stuff to observe whether your opponent is sweating, and draw shrewd inferences. Table presence. But bad to do the same with your partner.

Another rule that puzzles me is that I must play a singleton promptly. Why do I have to say to the opposition, “Here. This is a singleton.” ?

I have read and heard several times that one must play frequently with a partner to form a good partnership. This avoids misunderstandings and develops good choices among alternatives. Should I applaud? It sounds to me that there is a lot of communication going on that the opponents couldn’t possibly be aware of. It took the partners, themselves, a long time to get the hang of it. How does this reconcile with the principle of no private understandings? This looks like a bigger and broader problem than that of slow passes. But it is probably more difficult, so it gets ignored while slow passes are demonized.

Judy is curious about the mannerisms of players and directors at our clubs. I live 110 miles one direction and 140 miles the other direction from the nearest clubs. They are both very small. I think 5 tables is a good turnout for them. At sectionals and regionals, I have been very pleased with the behaviour of most of the players. The more experienced players are more blase, but they generally respond well to questions or misunderstandings. The less experienced players seem to bend over backward to do things right and avoid any evil. The directors soon know all the usual players and do a good job of ignoring bumpf and administering justice. Some of them dispense education, some of them just the rules. Our most admirable director recently quit in order to go into bridge politics. That is unfortunate in my view. I like to see the best practitioners on the front lines.

Peter GillMay 10th, 2010 at 8:25 am

The 60 clubs in Sydney are shown at http://nswba.com.au/clubs/map.asp?z=m.

They are the registered clubs who give master-points. There are many more golf clubs and social clubs with good bridge games, and also Paul Marston’s unregistered club with about 1,000 members and 40+ tables per daily (or twice daily) session. There are also many more clubs about an hour or two out of town in most directions. We are lucky to have such choice.

I direct (and love doing so) at one club called Hunters Hill, with predealt hands, hand records, free tea, coffee and biscuits, A$5 for pensioners, A$6 for members, A$8 for visitors.

$A1 = US$0.90. The club makes a small profit. For each session, I average about 10 director calls, about half of which are wrong scores, usually scores in the wrong column. When the committee of volunteers asked me if Hunters Hill should purchase BridgeMate2 for instant scoring, I recommended not to, because I worry that those scoring errors would never be corrected with computerized scoring. About 2 calls per session are revokes, with a couple of leads of out of turn, insufficent bids etc. There is perhaps one call about tempo every six months – in most of these cases, I have had to award an adjusted score, accepted graciously by everyone except once about 4 years ago (now forgotten by those involved, at least I hope so).

When I fill in playing at Hunters Hill, I’m yet to encounter an ethical problem of the opponents using tempo to their advantage. OK, so it’s less likely to happen at the Director’s table, but it still is remarkable. When I play in Sydney’s strongest games, it is still fairly rare to see tempo problems in my opinion, but, as the previous respondent indicated, not quite as rare as among the lower echelons at the local club (Hunters Hill).

The quality of our bridge teachers in Sydney might be part of the reason. Moving on …..

The Director has been called against me and my partner over our tempo twice this year,

both times by the same highly ranked pair in National events. The first time, the Director

ruled against us. The second time, both vulnerable at imps scoring, I held

Axx, AQ98xx, KQxx, void in clubs, and opened 1H, LHO doubled, partner bid 2H, pass,

I bid 4H of course, 5C on my left, pass, pass to me. I recall my thinking at the time as:

“My partner passed 5C rather quickly, I wonder if his unusually fast tempo Pass gives

me any ethical problems, perhaps suggesting no wastage at all in clubs, making 5H

more attractive? Does this mean I can’t bid 5H? I thought not, so I bid 5H. LHO doubled and led CA, I drew xxxx, J10x, J9x, Kxx in dummy. LHO had: KQxx, void, 10x, AQJ10xxx, 5HX made, and

I recall thinking that LHO’s curious CA lead (when SK seems obvious to me) might have been inspired by the thought that dummy could not have Kx(x) in clubs to pass 5H so quickly.

After play, LHO called the Director to complain about dummy’s slow Pass of 5C making my 5H bid mroe attractive, the opposite of what I thought the Director call was going to be about. The Director never got to speak to me – first he asked my RHO what he saw, and the RHO said that he saw nothing, the tempo all seemed normal to him. The Director promptly dismissed the complaint. This was a nationally rated Director who directs at World Championships – the previous time we had a less experienced Director. I was impressed by his efficiency, and by my RHO’s honesty.

My interpretation of all this: the highly ranked pair we were playing came last, and we did well.

I think the guy on my left worries too much about tempo, and would do better to concentrate on the bridge, not on the side issue. Do you disagree? It’s OK to throw me to the wolves, if that is appropriate.

My conclusion from my true but odd story from a month ago is that, as the previous respondent wrote, it’s easy to get obsessed by tempo problems, as in my opinion my LHO was. It’s a very difficult area. This makes finding the solutions that much harder. Even someone who directs, like me, has trouble in this area, trying to do right but maybe accidentally doing wrong – it’s not easy.

Judy Kay-WolffMay 11th, 2010 at 8:55 am


A question and a remark:

In what country do you live — as I would like to understand whether you are referring to the ACBL guidelines or not.

My primary concern (which has come to light in spades) is the manners at the club level where long hesitations (sometimes warranted and sometimes not) are taken advantage of by partner. Partner (who may have a genuine problem) may study for a long time and pass. However, partner MUST bid (not on the hesitation) but based on the thirteen cards before them. THAT IS LITTLE ENOUGH TO ASK OF ANY ETHICAL BRIDGE PLAYER. If they don’t know that, it is time they are educated.

There is no crime in thinking a long time brefore making a call, but it is a felony for partner to not make a normal call — totally disregarding your problem (bid or pass).


James McLarenMay 11th, 2010 at 11:43 am


I live in Saskatchewan where ACBL rules apply. One size fits all, from Cavendish to 3-table games at a tiny club. It falls to the directors to establish a comfortable fit, and they seem to do a very good job of it.

I rarely play at a club, so I have little to say about your primary concern.

As regards a slow pass, the directors always explain it as you have; there is no crime in a slow pass – the problem comes with partner’s response. But why, then, does the cry for a director usually come immediately after the pass? Why not wait until the possible offense occurs? And why is it made in a stricken tone of voice, followed by a frozen mien and refusal to utter a word until the director arrives? I find it very unfriendly behaviour.

As for the widespread and emotional aversion to slow play of any kind, I say that the ACBL pace of 8 boards per hour ALREADY is a quick pace. My main official evidence is the allocation of an extra 15 minutes, as I see done at vugraph tournaments. If speed is what a person likes, rather than card combinations, why not play ping pong?

(Thanks for the historical anecdotes. It is one of the main reasons I read this site.)


Judy Kay-WolffMay 11th, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Hi James:

I am most appreciative of your taking the time to respond and know that you are a Canadian neighbor. As I’ve confessed before — some of my best friends (and Bobby’s — as well as Norman’s) were and are Canadian.

As far as not being lightning fast — I fit the bill. Having reached the 3/4 of a century mark and on a few meds, has not accelerated my play at the table. From watching Norman for so many years, I was taught to take many things into consideration and perhaps that is why I often sympathize with slow players. However, at no time do my partners (primarily Bobby) ever take advantage of my breaks in tempo. And, I agree with your remark about ping pong. Bridge is not a Nascar Race.

Many players are at the games strictly for recreation and to pass the time of day — often playing the card nearest their thumb — perhaps by instinct. Others take it far more seriously and are thinking about situations that would not occur to the rank and file player or neophyte. I like to believe our wonderful game is deserving of giving one’s all and not being put to task for it!

Regarding the proper time to call a director is a touchy situation. I have found that in a very respectful, non accusatory manner (and immediately after the BIT), THAT IS THE PROPER TIME TO CALL. No fingers are pointed — just a review of the auction for the director’s edification so he can know all the facts in advance. I have found it is far worse to wait until the partner of the huddler may or may not have taken advantage of partner’s slow call (bid or pass). By doing it in advance, it may make the partner of the huddler aware that the honorable onus is on them to make ONLY the call they would have made ordinarily — not one based on a BIT. By the initial director call (after the huddle), no one is being accused — merely having a problem — which is not in infraction in itself). It may serve as a preventive to wrong doing. Bobby has always believed in such a situation, that opposite a BREAK IN TEMPO, PARTNER SHOULD BEND OVER BACKWARDS NOT TO TAKE ADVANTAGE — IF IT IS A CLOSE DECISION. If one’s call is automatic — so be it!

By calling the director in advance, he will usually advise to continue with the auction, and if the opponents feel injured by any further unwarranted action, they should feel free to summon the director back to the table.