WHEN TO ALERT DOUBLES
The current EBU rules about alerting and announcing have been in force since August 2007, but they still cause some confusion. I have presented the EBU's summary of the arrangements elsewhere on this website. The notes on this page are focussed on the issue of alerting doubles of suit bids, and arise from specific incidents that have arisen at the club.
The purpose of the EBU rules is to attempt to eliminate the scope for perceptions that one side or the other might gain advantage through unfairly misleading the opponents. On a normal club night, one would hope that the atmosphere is relaxed and that players will not worry too much about minor indiscretions by their opponents, but, understandably, from time to time sensitivities might be heightened.
The rules about alerting doubles are very simple - albeit in the eyes of some top players somewhat perverse as they go against 'natural law' in some situations.
Rule 1: The double of any suit bid naturally below the level of 3NT is assumed to be for take-out. If the double is for take-out, it need not be alerted; if the double means anything else - e.g., penalties, or suggesting a holding in a specific suit - it should be alerted
Rule 2: The double of a suit bid artificially below the level of 3NT is assumed to show the suit actually bid. The double should be alerted if it means anything else.
Rule 3: The double of any 1NT bid - opening bid, or re-bid, or response - is assumed to be for penalties, and it should be alerted if it means anything else, e.g., take-out.
What happens if there is a failure to alert?
The situation is governed by point 5H1 in the EBU's 'Orange Book' - a copy of which is available for inspection on all club nights. This point reads "A player's claim to have been damaged because the opponents failed to alert or announce a call will fail if it is judged that the player was aware of its likely meaning and if he had the opportunity to ask without putting his side's interests at risk." Note that there is an 'and' between those two phrases.
1 All players should try to remember the rules about alerting doubles, and to alert partner's doubles whenever appropriate. Be aware that Rule 1 above (and indeed Rule 3) can lead to some perverse situations that may be viewed as counter-intuitive by some experienced players. "It's obviously penalties in this situation" - not if the situation violates Rule 1!
2 If an infringement is alleged, then the Director should be called immediately it is identified, e.g., during any review of the bidding prior to the opening lead. If the Director is not called until the hand has been played, then the 'wronged' pair leave themselves open to the suggestion that they are merely 'whinging' - trying to get their bad result on the board nullified, especially if, after looking at partner's hand it is revealed that there was a less bad contract. Would you in practice have reached that less bad contract had you been appropriately alerted and had you not seen partner's hand before you called the Director?
3 There is onus on each player to query the meaning of any double at their turn to bid even if not alerted - especially so if there is any scope for ambiguity and if the explanation could reasonably influence their own actions - e.g., if you intended to pass regardless of the explanation, don't ask.
4 If your partner fails to alert your (penalty) double then do not draw attention to it until the bidding is over (Declarer / Dummy) or until the end of the play of the hand (Defenders) - the best ploy is to remain 'poker-faced'. By alerting the failure to alert you may be alerting partner to the fact that he has 'forgotten the system' - this would be construed as unauthorised information, and could add to the woes!
5 If the double is alerted late, e.g., after the next player has bid, then that player can 'take their bid back' after the full explanation has been given.
6 Ensure that your system card accurately reflects your agreements about doubles of suits - e.g., if you play 'take-out to 2S' then that is what your card should say - but you still need to alert doubles of three-level naturally bid suit contracts if they are for penalties.