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Please see more general comments about 'Unauthorised Information' that is available in an accompanying note, and see also the 'example 1' sheet for a description of the use of bidding screens.

Here is a specific hand from the ECBA's Gwen Herga Men's Pairs (2008) – it illustrates the point about Unauthorised Information so perfectly that there is no need to invent another hand – and see how matters would have gone if screens had been in use. You hold as West:





Your system includes a “Multi” and so a 2 opening that can be a Weak Two in either major or a strong balanced hand. You place the 2 bidding card onto the bidding tray, and alert the bid to South. You can either wave the alert card, or, as seems more common, vigorously point to the 2 bid. South then slides the bidding tray through the slot to the other side of the table. South enquires, and you write “wk 2M/23-24 bal” onto the writing pad.

Eventually, the bidding tray comes back through the slot. North has bid 2 and East 3. You alert the 3 to South, who passes. If required, you write an explanation. You place the 3♠ bidding card onto the tray and alert it, writing “wk 2S” on the pad if necessary. South, once again, slides the tray through the slot.

Again, the bidding tray comes back. North has passed and East has bid 4NT. We will look at two possibilities here, that 4NT is (case A) simple Blackwood, and (case B) Roman Key Card Blackwood.

Let us start with case A, simple Blackwood. This is easy – you bid 5♣, showing no aces. The tray goes across, and when it comes back East has bid 5.

This is easy, too. East knows you have a Weak Two in spades and no aces, and has selected 5 as the final contract. You pass. The tray goes through again – and when it returns North has doubled 5.

Well, there’s nothing you can do about that. At least you hold two trumps and a singleton heart rather than the other way round. Thanks to the 2 opening, you get to play the hand in Five Diamonds Doubled.

Now let us investigate case B, where 4NT is Roman Key Card Blackwood (RKCB). Classically, there are two schools of responding - 5♣ showing 0 or 3 key cards and 5 showing 1 or 4 (case B1), and the other way round, where 5♣ shows 1 or 4 and 5 0 or 3 (case B2). This is a common method as the mnemonic is 1430, a score we all recognise.

Case B1. West has no key cards, so he responds 5♣. The bidding tray goes through, and when it returns East has bid 5. Same as above – you pass, and play the hand in Five Diamonds Doubled. However, your partnership may play that after a response to RKCB that says nothing about the trump queen, a step-one bid (if not a clear sign-off) asks about that card. Here, you have the queen of spades, so you show it – a sensible method is to show a side king if you can conceivably do so. Here, you can, so let us say you bid 6♣. Off goes the bidding tray again.

When it returns, East has bid 6. That may have a systemic interpretation, but the likelihood is that partner has just selected a place to play. So you pass. Off goes the bidding tray yet again, to return with North’s double. Again, there is not much that you can do about this – East seems to know what he is doing. If he wanted to play in Six Spades, he would have bid it. Thanks to the 2 opening, you get to play the hand in Six Diamonds Doubled.

Case B2. Again, you have no key cards, and respond 5. Off goes the bidding tray….when it comes back, North has doubled and East has passed.

This situation is more complex, as it depends on the East-West systemic agreements as to what they do when the opposition interfere with Blackwood. While it may be proper for West to pass (East has passed Five Diamonds Doubled wanting to play there), it would not be unreasonable in this scenario for West to return to spades. In the previous cases, West has defined his hand within close limits, and East has selected 5 or 6; it would be unreasonable for West to overrule. Here, East could have bid 5 or 5♠ over the double, and has not done so; passing Five Diamonds Doubled is a logical action for West.

Now let us take a short trip to the other side of the table, and the other side of the screen, and ensconce ourselves in the East seat. Our hand is:





The bidding tray comes through the slot. Our partner has opened 2 strong but not forcing. North, our right-hand opponent, bids 2. We have a superb hand in support of diamonds, so we bid 3, alerting it to North, and North slides the tray through. When it returns, partner has bid 3♠.

This may be a feature, but if so it is a weak feature; perhaps it is a second suit. With our high cards we can hope for a heart feature in partner’s hand; we decide to follow the simple route and bid 4NT. Again, there are two cases; case C, where 4NT is simple Blackwood, and case D, where 4NT is RKCB. There are the two attendant cases D1 (03/41 responses) and D2 (14/30 responses). Off goes the bidding tray.

Case C. 4NT is simple Blackwood, and back comes a 5♣ response. Good gracious, where on earth has partner dredged up a Strong Two from? QJx K Q10xxxxx KQ – something like that. Not much of an opening. Still, we are off two aces, so Six Diamonds will not be a success. East signs off in Five Diamonds. When the tray comes round again North (our screen-mate) doubles, but we are not worried about that. The most likely explanation is that he has two aces and a void (probably in clubs), but has forgotten that he will be on lead. So East passes, and the final contract is Five Diamonds Doubled by West. East may redouble, but West may have two small hearts and there will be three losers.

Case D1. RKCB, 30/41 responses. A 5♣ response will arise. We know from our own hand that partner cannot have three key cards. So, East signs off in 5. However, when the bidding tray comes back, West has bid 6♣.

Well, thank you very much, partner, thinks East. Thank you so much for showing your totally useless club void. East returns, peevishly no doubt, to Six Diamonds, where North doubles. East knows two aces are missing, but there’s nothing to be done about that now.

Case D2, 14/30 responses. Partner responds 5, and North doubles. East knows that West cannot have three key cards, so is happy to play in Five Diamonds Doubled; Redouble is also a possibility, but partner does not have to have a singleton heart. East will be happy if Five Diamonds Doubled makes, and thus passes. The tray goes through to the other side of the screen…..where West, who does not have a strong non-forcing Two Diamond opener but actually holds a Weak Two in spades, is not a happy bunny at all, at all.

The point about this possibly over-long description is that at no point in the auction could either East or West diagnose that something had gone adrift. All bids had a logical meaning, leading to an absurd final contract; but at no point had either East or West done anything wrong, apart from not remembering their methods correctly.

To be sure, what happened at the table was somewhat different. East alerted the 2 opener as a non-forcing Strong Two in diamonds, and West passed 4NT, which made with an over-trick. Ethically, West should have responded to Blackwood as described above, and ended in a ridiculous contract. North-South seemed to be unaware that they were due recompense on this board, as there was no call for the Tournament Director, and East seemed totally unaware that his partner had blatantly taken advantage of UI in passing 4NT.

This is not really cheating. West probably thought that responding to Blackwood would only dump him in deeper do-do than he was in already, and simply decided to bail out before worse befell - a very human response. But, according to the Laws (Law 16A, preamble), he is not entitled to base his actions on the knowledge that his partner has misinterpreted his opening bid.

It is difficult to steel oneself to continue an auction according to your systemic agreements when you know that there has been a misunderstanding due to a non-alert, or an alert of a natural bid that has been taken as conventional. You know that the likely outcome is that you are going to get an absolute stinker of a result. But that is what ethical players should be seen to do. They don’t want to get a bad result, of course; none of us do. But ethical players would far rather get a lousy result than have a case on record where they have taken advantage of UI. At least, they should do.

As a final postscript, it can be seen that in cases B1 and D1 it may be possible for East to work out what has actually happened, as West has continued after a sign-off in a position where he should really be passing, and convert to 6♠. Any adjudication as to the legality of that action would doubtless be referred to an Appeals Committee – and the very best of luck to them.

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