Laws Home Local Next

When is a card played?

by David Stevenson

in response to questions in italics by Douglas Newlands, Australia


Doug Newlands asked:
South is declarer and leads a club from table, East follows, South follows and West thinks then exposes the C4. He then retracts this card but declarer says she thinks it is played. The director is summoned and ascertains the above facts. Declarer correctly names the card exposed and says it was detached and horizontal, face up [West held his cards in his left hand with his forearm vertical and close to his chest; he detached the card and held it as South described in front of, close to and at the same level as his left hand (dummy's account)]. Dummy corroborated South's account of the events and confirmed that the card was the C4. West said he hadn't played the card as it wasn't on the table. East said she hadn't seen it and that the card was held vertically with its back to her.

What is the appropriate rule?

Law 45 - Card Played

C. Compulsory Play of Card
1. Defender's Card
A defender's card held so that it is possible for his partner to see its face must be played to the current trick (if the defender has already made a legal play to the current trick, see Law 45E).

Assuming dummy's suggestion of what the appropriate rule was is correct, how should the committee interpret "possible".

The word possible means in this case that if the defender would have seen the card if he had been looking in that direction then the card must be played. The word possible is included so that "I did not see it because I was looking the other way" [at the legs of the girl at the next table was once the standard excuse!] is no defence whatever. So long as it is in a position where he could see if looking, then it must be played.

OK, now both declarer and dummy describe a card face up and horizontal or even turned outwards as one sometimes does in playing a card. E-W both claim the card was never other than vertical. Remember both named the same card and W, I don't think, would deny he was handling that card.

How does one resolve it without the implication that N-S rubber-necked? After all, how did they see it if it wasn't exposed?

If you sit down at a table and handle your cards carelessly then it sometimes occurs that your LHO or you RHO can see at least one of your cards. This comes about because you do not hold your cards vertically [well, one person in a hundred may do so, but no more: take a look next time you play] and because you move your cards about so sometimes they turn a little to the left, sometimes to the right. Despite this partner is unlikely to see them.

When you play a card, you will usually move it downwards, outwards and spin it about its shorter axis at the same time. It will probably move slightly about the longer axis since this movement of cards is not perfect. This means that it will come into an opponent's view before your partner's, and often into both opponents' view. Again, the best time to think about this is next time you play. Watch the cards, and consider this.

I think the reason that some people consider both opponents having seen it implies that partner could is that they are only thinking of both opponents seeing it simultaneously. This is not so easy without the partner being able to see it, but there is no reason that it should be simultaneous, and when the player jerks it back, she is very likely at that moment to show it to either opponent who has not yet seen it.

One thing that I have never said is whether the card itself was played: I do not know: if approached correctly the TD at the table is far more likely to get a sensible view than anyone else.

You have said a lot of negative things and I am interested in what you expect to be able to extract that will allow a ruling that you could approve of.

You arrive at the table and they explain the problem [yes, all at once!]. Shut them up, especially dummy, listen to declarer first: keep dummy quiet, ask the partner of the person who played a card what happened, then her partner: now let dummy speak. Read the relevant Law [L45C1] out of the Law book. Ask the player to repeat the action with another card [borrow one of dummy's]. Your only interest is whether you believe it reached a position where it could be seen by partner. When the player repeats the action everyone will comment: listen to all of them and compromise until you get the action repeated in the way that probably happened. Then you decide whether the partner could have seen it if she had been looking that way. If so then require the card to be played: if not, tell her to replace it in her hand and play whatever she wished.

Do nothing to indicate the identity of the card, or to encourage any of the players to indicate its identity. If it is eventually ruled that it is played then it does not matter, but if you do not require it to be played then you may have another problem. If the identity has been revealed by declarer or dummy ["I saw it, and it was the FOUR OF CLUBS, so there: it must be played"] then tell the defenders that it is authorised information and tell the player concerned that he should not be silly and give information away. If the identity has been revealed by the partner then it may become a penalty card [!!] and has to be dealt with [see laws 50C, 50D and 50E]. If he volunteered what it was, treat it as a penalty card: if he was led into revealing it by opponents or by the TD, treat it as unauthorised information for partner.

Make sure that the card you have borrowed from dummy is returned: make sure that they are clear whether the card had to be played or not, reading L45C1 out to them again if necessary: make sure a card is played: return to your own table and misdefend the hand you were in the middle of!!!

Educate your other TDs and your AC members that decisions of fact are normal parts of their decisions: that they should hear all the evidence and then make a decision, allowing for the fact that human nature is to exaggerate and also to make errors (either of commission or omission), so decisions made are judgements on the evidence with no consideration for the possibility of people lying but without taking their words as gospel-truth either.


Editor's note:

Laws Home Top Local Next
Top of