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Please see more general comments about 'Unauthorised Information' that is available in an accompanying note.

Take the following situation: you hold a 14-HCP hand with 4-4-3-2 distribution. Partner opens 1NT ( 12-14). You would like to find out if partner has a four-card major, so you bid 2♣. Stayman is announced these days, so you are not expecting partner to alert. However, he does. He then bids 2.

And then you remember; with this particular partner you play Gladiator, not Stayman where 2♣ is a puppet to 2, either to play there or to show various other types of hand. What are you supposed to do now?

If you had remembered that you played Gladiator, you would have bid 2, natural and forcing. You may still do so, and two opponents and one partner will be none the wiser, for you will appear to have bid your hand in correct systemic fashion. However, if you bid anything other than 3NT now, you are making use of unauthorised information (UI). In this case, the UI comes from partner’s alert. Here, if you bid 2, you will get away with it, because, unless you make some indication that you have had a memory lapse, the use of UI is undetectable. But you will know, and how you feel about that says a great deal about you as a bridge player.

In the early days, some quite influential players considered it normal to convey information to partner by means other than a simple bid. For example, they would raise 1♠ to 2♠ in a quiet tone of voice with a minimum hand, and in a confident tone of voice with a better one. This was not, at the time, regarded as cheating; the players who did this genuinely thought that this was how bridge was played, and that any disagreement with this was pious nonsense.

Led by the American player Edgar Kaplan (1925-1997), a group of New York players decided that this was not how bridge should be played. Edgar was the most influential player in the world regarding the new Laws that relate to the game of bridge, and the Law that relates to Unauthorised Information is mostly of his design.

Bidding boxes have done away with verbal bidding, although there remain a few incorrigible players who can still make a verbal intonation with a bidding card. At international level, and more recently in national competitions, screens have been in use. They were first used in the Bermuda Bowl (the bridge World Championship) in 1975. The screen is exactly what it says; it is a screen that bisects the table. North and East sit on one side of the screen, and South and West on the other. Bidding boxes are in use; the bidding cards are placed on a tray that slides under a small slot in order to get to the other side. You do not know what bids have been made on the other side of the screen until the bidding tray returns to your side.

These days, the screen extends below the table as well, so that there is an effective “brick wall” between you and your partner. To understand why this was deemed necessary, Google “Facchini-Zuchelli” and get the (rather funny) translated version of a Dutch article. And make sure to shine your shoes afterwards.

When playing with screens, you cannot see your partner (a positive advantage in some cases). Conventional bids are alerted – by you, on your side of the screen, to your screen-mate. If he wants to know the meaning of the bid he writes “?” on a large writing pad that is provided by the organisers. You then write the explanation, something like “5M5m 6-10 HCP”, or whatever. The tray then passes through the screen; your partner will alert your conventional bid to his screen-mate, and written explanations may follow. Woe betide you if the explanations differ; the opponents may require the tournament director.

The point about all this is that you have no knowledge whatsoever about what is happening on the other side of the screen. If partner forgets that your bid is conventional, you will not know it.

Let us go back to the hand mentioned above, where you held a 14-count with 4-4-3-2 distribution, and let us see how the bidding would go if screens were in use. The bidding tray comes through the slot; partner has opened 1NT. You bid 2♣ alerting it to your screen-mate (all conventional bids are alerted when using screens), and the tray is passed across. When it comes back, partner has bid 2. Partner has no four-card major, so you bid 3NT. This bid is passed out (but see a note at the end of this article). As it happens, partner has a 4-3-4-2 distribution, the opponents take the first five club tricks, and Four Spades is a lay-down. You see, you had no idea that your partner alerted your 2♣ bid as Gladiator – as far as you were concerned, partner was responding to Stayman. This time, you have not been alerted to your error.

If you feel that a player may have made use of UI, the correct procedure is to state that you reserve the right to call the Tournament Director. Players tend to get upset about that, as they feel it is akin to being accused of cheating; but that should not be a deterrent. If at any point you feel a player has done so, then Law 16A2 applies: “When a player has substantial reason to believe that an opponent who had a logical alternative has chosen an action that could have been suggested by such information, he should summon the Director forthwith. The Director shall require the auction and play to continue, standing ready to assign an adjusted score if he considers that an infraction of law has resulted in damage.”

In this example, after 1NT-2♣ -2-3NT, the 3NT bid may well have a conventional meaning (else why not simply 1NT-3NT?). If so, opener will make the appropriate system response – he knows that 2♣ is Gladiator, after all. And here is where responder may get lucky, as he will now know, from the bidding, that opener has misinterpreted 2♣ , and he may base his actions on that - the bidding itself is not UI. Or he may not get lucky. Opener will still be treading the Gladiator path.

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