2017 Laws of Duplicate Bridge

What Players and Directors Need to Know

by McBruce

The Laws Commission of the World Bridge Federation works to produce a new updated version of the Laws of Duplicate once per decade, and the newest version is upon us.  In the ACBL, the Laws of Duplicate Bridge take effect on September 25 or 26 (a few tournaments that go through to Monday the 25th are allowed to use the old Laws throughout for consistency).  You can find the new Laws here.  This file is downloadable and can be viewed reasonably well on a smartphone screen, if you can read small type.

As usual, I've had a fairly good look at the new Laws in advance and there are a few changes that we'll all need to learn.  But most of the Laws are in the same spot as before, so those who know the Laws by number will not be disappointed.  In a few places, Laws which were difficult to find have been moved to a more logical spot, and there is an entirely new Law 23 which will affect a lot of situations where an illegal call is replaced by a legal call.  There really aren't many vital things in the 2017 Laws that players absolutely need to know, so only #1 and #2 are directly about the new Laws, but #3-7 are things players should know but don't:

  1. As much as some of you want to get a free good result whenever the opponents step out of bounds, the trend is to find ways to get a result that is fair to both sides.  You don't get free matchpoints or IMPs automatically because of an infraction, but you do get protection if the infraction leads to damage.  (Even that can be lost: if your side commits an extremely serious error unrelated to the infraction, or a gambling action that doesn't work following an infraction, you're on the hook for the effect on the result.)
  2. The Director's role is increased, with a fair bit more judgment in many situations, especially those involving illegal calls that need to be replaced with a legal call.  The flip side of this is that players who directed for thirty years before retiring fifteen years ago who make their own rulings at the table may be damaging themselves by doing so.  Call the Director.  Doing so does not mean anyone is being accused of anything, it is simply a request for impartial assistance.  When you have an insufficient, or out of turn call, there are new Laws that apply and your Director will want to get experience in applying them.  Call, so he or she can.
  3. This (and #4-7) has nothing to do with the new Laws, but is a pet peeve of mine: Law 20F5.  Sadly, this is buried in the middle of a complicated Law dealing with reviews and explanations during the auction, but it is information we all should know by heart, with the exception perhaps of the newest players.  When your partner makes a mistake in alerting (including failing to do so) or explaining a bid of yours, you need to retain a poker face as though nothing has gone wrong.  Your number one objective should be to not wake partner up, until his part in the deal is over.  You only tell the opponents (and call the Director) about the mistake at the end of the play, unless you or your partner becomes the dummy; in which case you expose the error after the opening lead is made face down.  The important part here is that you cannot do anything to indicate to your partner that something has gone wrong.  This includes getting up and finding the Director to ask when you can say something, a tactic which is used too often by well-meaning players who should know better.  I'm going to start giving procedural penalties to players who wake up their partners when they shouldn't, no matter how well-meaning their intentions.  Stay in your seat.  The second you go find a Director, partner will be alerted that something is wrong.  That's exactly what you are supposed to avoid doing.  The number of players who have more masterpoints than an entire section of the Gold Rush Pairs and yet do not know this simple rule about when to let the cat out of the bag is shocking.
  4. Again, not anything to do with the new Laws, but in the 2007 Laws a new rule was added that players should ('should' means 'it's a good idea but we probably won't penalize you if you don't do it') mix their cards before putting them back in the slot, to avoid giving information about the order of cards played, or perhaps a hint that the hand was passed out if the cards are already sorted.  All this is a good habit to get into.  But a growing number of players are overdoing it.  There is a new class of players I call 'clutchers,' who enjoy this new rule so much they will mix their thirteen cards a dozen times or more.  And if I am at the table watching you do this, it probably means you are clutching while I am trying to get the board (and the East-West pair) moved.  Most clutchers are doing so while they comment on the hand, and this causes even more delays.  Some clutchers finally part with their cards only to take another 90 seconds to write the score down!  Make it part of your routine to QUICKLY mix your cards, no more than once or twice, and put them back.  Especially if you are behind the pace.  You lose no rights by putting the cards back in the slot: you can still dispute the result, call the Director, even (time permitting) comment on the bidding or play.  Don't clutch.  It wastes time.
  5. When you have one of those situations where a player has hesitated and his partner has then made what appears to be a dubious call, a significant number of players appear to believe that the bidder should be taken outside and shot, and the now-unplayed board should be adjusted so that the non-offenders get all the matchpoints.  The reality, that we have to get a result and then decide if there was damage, seems to frustrate these players considerably.  Well, get over it!  We're not going to tell you during a live auction that someone's bid was clearly affected by a hesitation and will not be allowed.  That would give you information about the contents of the bidder's hand, which you are not entitled to, no matter how egregious their infraction was.  Finish the hand, get a result.  Maybe your table result will be better than any adjustment.  Sure, you are entitled to assume that the bidder has the cards to make bidding obvious, and if you misbid or misplay or misdefend as a result, that will be considered.
  6. Trick disputes are correctable long after the cards are mixed.  This has been true for some time, but many players seem to believe that once partner and one opponent has agreed, you can always claim a majority and the fourth player's opinion doesn't matter.  It does, and we will do whatever is possible to work out the actual trick score, including playing through the hand again.  So be sure everyone agrees, because if there is a dispute, we have to go with the player whose cards were not mixed, even if that player is the minority opinion.
  7. If you want to get the benefit of the doubt when you call the Director, be clear and concise, not lightning-fast and confusing.  The number of players who assume that a Director, who hasn't been thinking about the current deal for the last 3-5 minutes, can follow an auction containing fourteen bids and eight passes, recited in a single breath in 0.23 seconds including alerts and explanations, is astounding.  Some players recognize this and recite the bids very slowly so I can follow; the trouble is that two minutes later we are still savouring round three of the auction and the real problem is the hesitation in the seventh round of the auction.  Sometimes I arrive at a table that has called for the Director and they continue arguing -- and from the context I am somehow expected to work out what happened.  The vast majority of calls involve getting the facts and applying the correct Law or regulation.  But we remember those who make it difficult, and although we try to be as fair as we can, a rare close case might unconsciously be decided against the difficult ones...  So help us out.  Please.

As for Directors, there is a completely new Law 23 this time that you will need to know about, because it has its tentacles into at least four other Laws.  The old Law 23 was about the possibility of deliberate infraction, and said that if it is possible that the offender could have known that the infraction could damage the other side, we adjust as though it were deliberate, without actually having to accuse the player of deliberate action.  That old Law 23 has been moved to Law 73C.  The new Law 23 defines something new called a 'comparable call'.  This is a call made after an original call has been canceled or withdrawn, which meets at least one of the following criteria:

The general idea is that whenever a player withdraws a call (insufficient, or out of turn, sometimes after giving the opponents the opportunity to accept the call), and replaces it with a comparable call, we continue without forcing the offender's partner to pass.  There is an escape clause: if the offending side, after being allowed to bid normally through a comparable call, in the opinion of the Director, gains information through the infraction that changes the result and damages the opponents, the score is adjusted.  If a non-comparable call is made instead by the offending player, in most cases the offender's partner is forced to pass only once, not for the whole auction.

Directors are supposed to be fairly lenient in determining whether a replacement call is comparable or not.  Often it will require taking the offender away from the table and determining what he was trying to show with the original call, and working out what calls can be deemed comparable.  If the call was insufficient the attributable meaning of the insufficient call will depend on what the player thought he was trying to do, which is information that should not be given to the other players.  The end result will be fewer situations where the offender bars partner and has to take a wild, random guess.  But there is also the obligation on the Director to ensure that allowing a comparable call does not give the offending side an advantage that they would not have had without the initial infraction.  If the non-offenders are damaged because a comparable call route is the only possible way to some unlikely result, an adjusted score is proper.

There are four situations where a comparable call may be considered:

  1. Insufficient bid.  At the table, the Director should first determine whether the bid was insufficient or unintended.  My method is to ask "Answer yes or no without explanation please: when you reached for the bid-box, did you intend to make that call?"  An unintended call can be immediately replaced with the intended call.  There is no unauthorized information from an unintended call since it was never intended to be made.

    If the call is intended but insufficient, give the next player the chance to accept it, explaining that if the insufficient call is not accepted, a legal call will be substituted for the insufficient call, some of which will bar partner and bring the possibility of lead penalties.

    If the insufficient call is not accepted, the offender and Director, now away from the table, determine the intended meaning of the insufficient call.  This is mostly based on why the player made it, and once you know what type of hand the player was intending to show, you consider what calls might be deemed comparable in the actual auction, and ensure the player knows which replacement calls are comparable.

    Return to the table and explain that double or redouble is disallowed as a replacement call (unless one of these is a comparable call) and the player must now replace his insufficient call with a legal call.  When the player makes his choice, explain whether the choice is a comparable call, or not (which means the offender's partner is barred and lead penalties are possible).

    If the replacement call is deemed comparable, be sure that allowing the comparable call does not give the offenders an advantage they could not have had without the infraction.
  2. Pass out of turn.  If the offender has made one or more previous calls and passes out of turn at LHO's turn to call, this is not a pass out of turn, it is a change of call, covered by Law 25, where comparable calls are not a consideration.  A pass out of turn at RHO's turn to call is similarly easy: LHO can accept the pass, but if he doesn't, the offender must pass after RHO makes his call and the auction continues.

    This leaves a pass out of turn at partner's turn to call, or at LHO's turn to call when the offender has not previously bid.  LHO gets the chance to accept the pass out of turn and make the next call.  If he doesn't, the auction goes back to the correct player.  The offender's partner should be told that the pass out of turn is unauthorized information to him.  The offender, at his next turn, needs to make a comparable call to his pass out of turn; otherwise, offender's partner has to pass at his next turn only.  A comparable call to a pass, in most cases, will be a pass, or some call that clearly indicates a weak hand with no strong options.

    If the offender makes a non-comparable call, and becomes a defender, declarer may forbid the lead of any suit not "specified" (bid legally, or indicated by convention) in the auction by that defender, at his first turn to lead.

    If the offender makes a comparable call, the Director needs to ensure that the offenders do not gain from their infraction and cause damage to the non-offenders.

    A pass out of turn that is artificial, or a pass of an artificial call, is treated as a bid (not a pass) out of turn, which is the next section:
  3. Bid out of turn.  Similar to pass out of turn.  If the offender has made one or more previous calls and bids out of turn at LHO's turn to call, this is not a bid out of turn, it is a change of call, covered by Law 25, where comparable calls are not a consideration.  A bid out of turn at RHO's turn to call is similarly easy: LHO can accept the bid, but if he doesn't, the offender must make the same call if RHO passes.  If RHO makes a bid, doubles, or redoubles, offender may make any legal call, but a non-comparable call forces partner to pass at his next turn only.

    This leaves a bid out of turn at partner's turn to call, or at LHO's turn to call when the offender has not previously bid.  LHO gets the chance to accept the bid out of turn and make the next call.  If the bid out of turn is not accepted, the auction goes back to the proper player.  The bid out of turn is unauthorized information to the offender's partner.  When the offender's turn comes up, if he makes a non-comparable call, partner has to pass at his next turn.

    Once again, if the offender makes a non-comparable call, and later becomes a defender, declarer may forbid the lead of any suit not "specified" (bid legally, or indicated by convention) in the auction by that defender, at his first turn to lead.

    With a bid out of turn rather than a pass out of turn, it may be less likely to find a comparable call.  If the offender succeeds in making a comparable call, the Director needs to ensure that the offenders do not gain from their infraction and cause damage to the non-offenders.

    One more section:
  4. Double or redouble out of turn.  Pretty much the same as bid out of turn but for one key exception.  Up until now, it looked like the new Laws had removed the possibility of being barred for the whole auction because of partner's out of turn call.  However, the possibility is still there.  If you double or redouble at RHO's turn and the next player does not accept, the double or redouble is canceled and it is RHO's turn.  If RHO passes, you are stuck with your double or redouble, even if it is inadmissible (a double of partner's bid, or a redouble when the last bid is by an opponent)!  An inadmissible double or redouble is canceled but does bar partner for the rest of the auction (unless LHO makes a call before the Director arrives to sort things out).

Outside the realm of Law 23, comparable calls, and the other sections of Law that are affected, there are several smaller changes in the Laws that will occasionally affect players, Directors, and even club managers and owners.  Here are a few of them:

In conclusion, the biggest difference between the 2017 changes and the 2007 changes might not be comparable calls.  It may be that we haven't really had one hand that screamed for a Laws change.  In 2007 that wasn't quite true, and since it's a great story that nobody's heard in a decade, and it's always a good idea to end on a good joke, let me re-relate the story of the Russian Claim.

This took place in a tournament in Russia about 2005 or so, and the Directors got it right knowing full well that the ruling was as insane as the auction.  Declarer was in 3NT, the bidding did not survive and perhaps that is a good thing, for the opening leader was on lead with the AKQJ863 of clubs.  He led the ace of clubs, observed dummy's 974, and claimed seven tricks, showing his hand.  Down three seemed to be the result until his partner objected, facing the ace of spades and saying "what about this one?"  The Director was called, the facts were taken to a dacha full of Russian directors, two more boards were played while they tried to decide whether the ace of spades would be a fourth undertrick, and eventually the original Director returned and told them to score it up as ... making five!  It seems that in the 1997 Laws, perhaps with a careful reading or possibly due to a poor translation into Russian, exposed cards during a defender's claim, disputed by the other defender, were to be deemed as penalty cards when deciding what the likely result would be!  Declarer thus had the right to demand a low club continuation which dummy could beat, upon which RHO, who began with a singleton club, would be forced to pitch away the ace of spades, leaving ten more top tricks for declarer.

The 2007 Laws made it clear that such exposed cards are not penalty cards.  That was progress!  But this time, there is no headbanging ruling that has prompted a must-change revision.  A few of the cheating scandals in the last decade have prompted new Laws: don't move or rotate the board, don't show dummy or let dummy see a defender's hand, have symmetry in card backs and faces.  But no new material is as vital as the Russian Claim and the quick clarification that ensued a few years later in the new Laws.  That's real progress!