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The Hesitation - new rules

If a player hesitates before making a call, especially if that call is a pass, then the player’s partner is put under some pressure. The problem is that there is an inference conveyed by the pause that the player concerned has some decent cards. The rules of Bridge distinguish between ‘authorised’ and ‘unauthorised’ information. The only ‘authorised’ information is that which is conveyed by (legal) bids and (legal) responses to (legal) requests for explanations. During the course of the play of a hand, the only ‘authorised’ information available to a player is that which can be deduced from the bidding, explanations given by the opponents, the cards held by the player, the cards held by Dummy (after the initial lead has been faced), and the cards played to previous tricks. In particular, actions such as hesitations or grimaces can be viewed as ‘unauthorised information’.

The rules about ‘Hesitations in Bidding’ – that is just one form of ‘unauthorised information’ – have changed.

Firstly, to help maintain the smooth play of the board, if a hesitation occurs, it is in order for the next player in sequence to verify that it is agreed by the opponents that there was a hesitation. If the opponents agree, there is no longer any need to call the Director at that point, but the transgressor’s partner needs to be seen to ignore any inferences drawn from the hesitation. The Director should be called at the end of the play of the hand. If the Director judges that the pause influenced subsequent bidding or play to the detriment of the ‘innocent pair’ then an adjusted score might be assigned.

Secondly, the basis on which the Director’s judgement is made has been changed. It used to be the case that a bid made opposite the established hesitation had to be one that 70% of the players in that room would have made without a hesitation. The laws now say that the partner may not choose from among logical alternatives one that could demonstrably have been suggested over another by the extraneous information. A logical alternative action is one that, among the class of players in question and using the methods of the partnership, would be given serious consideration by a significant proportion of such players, of whom it is judged some might select it.

Hand 22 from the club night on January 8th poses a very interesting example that raises a number of interesting points. I ought to stress that in practice there was no director call-out, no appeal, and the result was scored as played, though the hand did lead to subsequent discussions and interest

January 8th 2009, Board 22, Dealer East, EW Vulnerable





A7653, JT4, J62, K9

QT2, AQ962, K95, A5

KJ8, K8, AT84, T742

94, 753, Q73, QJ863












* There was a long pause before South’s initial pass. The hand was played in 2, making 9 tricks, for a score of +140 to North / South.

Had the Director been called to the table, then the judgement would probably have been as follows. Firstly, questions need to be asked about North’s 1 bid opposite the hesitation. Many players would have bid 1 in that position, rather than pass out the 1 opening bid, and it would have been allowed to stand. However, there would have been big questions about South’s second pass, which looks like an underbid, even opposite a simple overcall. South should have ignored the fact that ‘unauthorised information’ had been given and should have taken the protective call at face value – it could have been based on a much better hand, and South ought to find some way of inviting game. East/West might try to argue that the defence to 3 might differ from that for 2, and certainly 3 could fail. However, East / West cannot be allowed to ‘cancel out’ what appears to have been a sub-optimal defence because of the unauthorised information – they could try to argue that point, but an appeal may or may not succeed. From the East / West perspective, the score of -140 would stand. However, North / South would be penalised for apparently using the ‘unauthorised information’, courtesy of a match-point fine on the board to take their score down to around 30%.

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