Partnership Agreements
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Partnership Agreements

by David Stevenson


The requirements of the Laws include:

Law 75A:
Special partnership agreements, whether explicit or implicit, must be fully and freely available to the opponents.

Law 75C:
When explaining the significance of partner's call or play in reply to an opponent's inquiry, a player shall disclose all special information conveyed to him through partnership agreement or partnership experience; but he need not disclose inferences drawn from his general knowledge and experience.

WBF Code of Practice
'Special' In the laws, regulations, and this Code of Practice, 'special' means 'additional to what is normal and general'.

EBU White book 2004 #75.2:
'No agreement'
To say that one's partnership has no agreement, whilst true in some cases, is frequently inadequate. In such cases every effort should be made to provide opponents with as much guidance as possible, eg as to general principles in similar circumstances.

EBU White book 2004 #75.7:
Law 75 [Partnership agreements] [WBFLC]
Players should describe their agreements as fully as possible, including any comparable situations.
[WBFLC minutes 2000-01-20#7]
Note: This is the EBU interpretation of the cited minute.

EBU Orange book 1998 revised 2002 #3.1.1:
All agreements, including implicit understandings and practices of your partnership, must be fully disclosed to your opponents.

EBU Orange book 1998 revised 2002 #3.2.3:
If you are asked for an explanation of a call on which you and your partner have no agreement, either explicit or implicit, you should say so, but bear in mind that the longer a partnership has played together the more implicit agreements it is likely to have.

EBU Orange book 1998 revised 2002 #3.4.3:
Explain only your partnership agreement: if you do not know the meaning of your partner's call, or you have no agreement, you must not say how you intend to interpret it.

So where are we? Clearly we have to explain agreements with our partners: clearly we do not have to explain if we have no agreement. But how do we look at the grey areas?

We have two extremes. At one end we have people who are unwilling to explain what they know. Their reasons may be good, or may be bad. Some of them claim to do so because their agreements are 'general' rather than special. Some of them claim to do so because they may give UI to partner with their answers. Some of them claim to do so because they have not discussed the actual sequence. Some of them claim too many questions is harassment. Some of them try to win at the game by leaving their opponents in the dark.

None of these arguments has much going for it. A 'special' agreement is one for the partnership rather than general bridge knowledge. An example of a 'special' bridge agreement is that 2C over 1NT is Stayman with this partner. It may be general knowledge that it is Stayman with most partners, but I know of three partnerships who do not play it: they play 2C as Keri, Gladiator and Transfer to hearts, respectively. So it is a 'special' agreement that you play Stayman with this partner.

Suppose you have not discussed it. When you sit down with a strange partner and say "Acol, RKCB, double for takeout over pre-empts, transfers and Sputnik" there are a lot of agreements that you are making without saying so explicitly. You would not say Transfers and not mention anything else if you were not playing Stayman. Once you have said this and partner agreed you have an implicit agreement that you are playing Stayman.

As for the UI argument, you must play to the Laws of the game. Law 75A makes your agreements fully and freely available to opponents: if this gives UI to partner that is tough. Nothing in the laws makes it an infraction to give UI to partner.

The harassment argument has something going for it, and the TD will protect a player if necessary. But harassment comes when the question has been answered fully and the questioning continues. Players that do not answer fully must expect questioning to continue.

How about the other extreme? How far should you explain? The answer is that you should explain your agreements fully and freely. This includes implicit agreements based on experience of the partnership, similar sources for the partnership, comparable sequences, and so on.

But there it ends. The proposal that you should invent some sort of agreement is illegal. It has been suggested that it might be helpful to the opponents. That may or may not be true, but it is a matter for the law-makers, not individual TDs or players who are not prepared to follow the Laws. An explanation that provides something that is not an explicit or implicit agreement is illegal under Law 75 and should be dealt with accordingly.

Specifically we should consider the answer "No agreement". If there is none of course this is the right answer, but great care should be taken to make sure there is no relevant partnership experience or implicit understanding that is relevant.

Despite the fact that some people have good motives - not everyone, by any means - players who will not answer questions about partnership understandings freely and fully have broken the Law, and should be dealt with: this applies whether they have provided insufficient answers, or too much by inventing agreements that do not apply to this partnership.


Editor's notes:

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