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Asking questions and passing puts partner under pressure

Hand played on:

12/07/2012 (Kidney Research Simultaneous Pairs)

Board number / section:





NS Vulnerable

The Hands and the Bidding


The Bidding

No 2

2 3
1NT 1


  1. Not alerted
  2. At this point North asked whether the 1NT overcall was natural, and then passed
  3. The validity of the 2 bid was challenged


There is no problem with South's opening bid of 1; West is slightly light for the 1NT overcall, but the hand commentary provided by the event organiser noted the possibility of upgrading to such a bid. The 1NT bid was not alerted, so it should have been taken as natural. North does have an awkward choice to make at this stage: the hand is not good enough for a penalty double, and unless the partnership is playing 5-card majors, a 2 bid would also be unwise, so the only realistic option is a smooth pass, hoping to defeat 1NT or that partner would be in a position to re-open the bidding. By asking a question about the bid, and then passing, North has passed unauthorised information to his partner that he has some interest in the hand.

In practice, the 3 contract failed by one trick, for a score of 100 to East/West.


The situation is covered by Law 16B1, reproduced below:
(a) After a player makes available to his partner extraneous information that may suggest a call or play, as for example, by a remark, question, a reply to a question, an unexpected alert or failure to alert, or by unmistakable hesitation, unwonton speed, special emphasis, tone, gesture, movement, or mannerism, the partner may not choose from among logical alternatives one that could demonstrably have been suggested over another by the extraneous information.
(b) A logical alternative is one that, among the class 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.

A logical alternative to the challenged 2 call by South, would be 'Pass', especially taking into account the adverse vulnerability and the fact that South's left hand opponent has indicated that both the outstanding high cards and the top hearts are badly stacked from his perspective. The extraneous information - the indication by North that he has some interest in this hand - may tip the balance in favour of 2, and certainly without the unauthorised information, many players would choose to pass on the second round with the South hand. The usual test deployed by the club in such circumstances is to seek the views of a sample of seven club players, and the actual call is only allowed to stand if 70% of that sample (ie 5 or more players) agree with it as a reasonable choice. Seven players were asked and the first four who responded rejected the validity of the 2 call by South.

There are two discussion issues that stand out about asking questions about the opponent's bidding:

  • You should only ask questions (at your turn) during the course of the auction if the possible answers will affect your call. In this example, the 1NT bid was not alerted, so therefore North should assume that it was 'natural'; had it turned out that it was an unalerted artificial bid, then North could have had grounds for redress. [Of course, additionally, if you are on lead at trick 1, you can ask about the opponents' bids before you select your lead; if partner is on lead, you can ask (additional) questions about the opponents' bids after partner has selected the lead but before it is faced - but all players should already know all that.]
  • If you do ask questions about the bid during the course of the bidding, and then pass, you are putting a lot of pressure on partner, because he now has 'unauthorised information' that you have some kind of interest in the hand. The only 'authorised' information that partner has are the 13 cards that he can see in his hand, the bids made by other players, and the board vulnerability. From South's perspective, he has heard his LHO bid 1NT and his partner and RHO pass it back to him. South is entitled to note that the opponents have made no attempt to invite game, so the worst-case scenario is that the opponents have 24 HCPs between them, which means that the worse case scenario is that North has just 3 HCPs - possibly, for example, QJx of clubs, which would be of no use to South at all. If partner had held such a hand, South could be held to just 5 tricks playing in hearts, or possibly even worse if the hearts broke badly. Now who would fancy playing in 2, vulnerable against not, when you could have passed out 1NT? North's question has suggested that he holds something rather better than the minimum possible, and South has to be able to show that he has ignored that connotation when the 2 bid was selected. Had South held, say, AKx, KQJTxx, xx, xx and had the bidding gone exactly the same - that is South still has 13 HCPs, but now he has realistic prospects of making at least 7 tricks in hearts even with just 3 HCPs opposite - then any appeal by EW would have been quickly dismissed, because the 2 bid would have been judged to be sound.
Another point to note is that had North passed smoothly, South would have been at liberty to bid whatever he liked, such as, 2 - at his own risk of course. Yes, some people at the club do make very light overcalls, but if they are doing so at their own risk without any extraneous information from partner, that is their choice. Of course, in extremis, what they do might constitute a psyche, but then if that is the case it will also probably result in a score of -1100 or worse...

The Ruling:

The bidding should be rolled back to 1NT by West. Good defence would hold this contract to 8 tricks, for a score of 120 to East / West.

Lessons for everyone:

  • If a bid is not alerted then you should assume that it is natural. If it subsequently turns out that it was an unalerted artificial bid, or other bid with a special meaning, then call the Director when that point comes to light - for example, at the end of the play of the board - and if you can demonstrate that you were 'damaged' by the misinformation (i.e., lack of alert), then the score is likely to be adjusted in your favour
  • Do not ask questions about the meaning of bids during the course of an auction unless the answer to your question could affect the call that you subsequently make
  • If you ask questions - or indeed make any comment other than a valid call - and follow with a Pass, then you risk giving 'unauthorised information' to partner and you will very likely limit the options open to him/her

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