Hand of the Week, Vol. 2 No. 21

I've recently been asked several questions about what is legal and what isn't after there has been a hesitation in the bidding. A situation at my table at the Tuesday 04 August club game illustrated the key ideas nicely.

Both sides vulnerable, my right-hand opponent dealt and opened 3D. My hand was

S A K J T 4
H A T 4
D 3
C K 9 5 4

The preempt gave me a difficult problem. Some people might choose a takeout double; my choice was a 3S overcall. The bidding continued with 4H on my left, followed by two passes back to me. Now what?

Obviously I can't rebid my suit. Should I sell out to 4H or double for penalty? I have three winners in my hand, SAK and HA. Since partner didn't raise spades, there's a good chance both top spades will cash. With a strong hand on my left and a weak hand on my right, there's only a slim chance the CK is a trick. I need my partner to win a trick to beat 4H. Maybe he can ruff a spade, or maybe he has the HQ, CQ, or even the DA. Passing would be safe but timid; doubling is a gamble but probably works more often than not.

But that's not quite how the auction really went at my table. LHO bid 4H, my partner thought for a long time and then reluctantly passed, and opener passed.

Partner had the right to think for as long as he needed. Once he is done thinking, he is free to make whatever call he thinks is best. But when it is my turn to bid, I have a special handicap. I am allowed to base my decision on what my opponents bid, on their mannerisms and my opinion of their ability, and on what my partner bid but not on how my partner bid it. The fact that partner was considering some other action (either doubling or bidding 4S, I don't know which) is unauthorized information.

My legal obligation is spelled out in Law 73C of the rulebook: "When a player has available to him unauthorized information from his partner, such as from a remark, question, explanation, gesture, mannerism, undue emphasis, inflection, haste or hesitation, an unexpected alert or failure to alert, he must carefully avoid taking any advantage from that unauthorized information."

Dealer West
Both vul
S A K J T 4
H A T 4
D 3
C K 9 5 4
S 9 8
H 8
D A K J T 7 5 4
C 7 6 2
[table marker] S 5 3 2
H K Q J 9 7 5
D 2
C A T 3
S Q 8 6
H 6 3 2
D Q 9 8 6
C Q J 8

On this deal, I had unauthorized information that my partner has some kind of values. From the bidding alone, it was quite possible that partner's hand would be xxx xx xxx xxxxx. Facing a close decision whether to pass or double, I was obligated to consider what partner's hesitation meant -- he's more likely to provide that extra winner I need to beat 4H than if he had passed -- and not choose a call suggested by that extra information if there is a reasonable alternative.

At the table, I passed out 4H, knowing full well I was going to beat it. (In fact, it went down 2 for 200.) Had I doubled, my opponents would have been entitled to call the director after the hand and tell him that South had hesitated and North had made a marginal double. The director would have reduced my score on on the board from 500 (4HX-2) to 200 (4H-2), given me a lecture about my ethics, and chided my partner for giving me the ethical dilemma.

Bottom line: there is no automatic penalty for bidding unusually fast or unusually slow, but if you do, your partner is required to bend over backwards to do the opposite of what it sounds like you want him to do. It's to your advantage to put your partner into that bind as rarely as you can.

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This page last updated 10.08.09
©2009 Gordon Bower