About the 1997 Laws of Duplicate Bridge Changes
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What ACBL Players Should Know
About the 1997 Laws Changes

By Gary Blaiss
ACBL Chief Tournament Director

Note: This article is extracted from the March, April, and May 1997 editions of The Bridge Bulletin.
Copyright 1997, American Contract Bridge League. All rights reserved.


Gopher Editor's note:


Contents Contents:


The 1997 revision of the Laws of Duplicate Contract Bridge are effective in ACBL events beginning on May 27, 1997.

This article will discuss significant changes that may have an impact on ACBL players. Most of the changes that were made to the Laws involve wording. There was no intention of changing current interpretation. Many of the changes were intended to make the wording consistent with current interpretation and practice.

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Bidding Box Proprieties

The first significant change to discuss is Law 25, Change of Call. The change in this law has a great impact because of the increased use of bidding boxes. Under ACBL rules, players must choose (decide on) a call before touching any card in the bidding box. It is best to decide upon your call before you even reach for the box. A call is considered made when a bidding card has been taken out of the bidding box with intent.

The new law permits a change of an inadvertent call without penalty (as long as the change is made or attempted to be made without pause for thought) if done prior to partner making a call. Under the old version you were permitted to make this change without penalty only until left hand opponent (LHO) called. If you have pulled a card other than the one you intended, and you notice your error prior to your partner making a call, call the tournament director. It is best not to say anything more until the tournament director arrives. In most cases to hold to a minimum any unauthorized information or penalties in case the call is not deemed inadvertent, the tournament director will talk to you away from the table first.

ACBL tournament directors in judging inadvertent changes without pause for thought are very liberal when they are reasonably certain that the original call was due to a mechanical error. Please call a tournament director, explain that you have made an inadvertent call and let the tournament director take it from there.

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Unauthorized Information

Law 16, Unauthorized Information, has been changed. In the past, once an offending side had paid a penalty imposed by law, information from its side's withdrawn calls or plays was authorized. Under the new law, withdrawn calls or plays made by the non-offenders remain unauthorized to the offending side and withdrawn calls of the offending side are unauthorized to the partner. One example of this law in action is a major penalty card. If a defender has an Ace of hearts as a penalty card when partner is on lead, even if the declare has selected an option that permits the player to pick up the card, the location of the Ace of hearts is unauthorized to the partner unless this information is derived from an authorized source (previous or subsequent play or from the auction).

Another change in Law 16 deals with the handling of unauthorized, extraneous information from partner. The old version said that "...the partner may not choose from among logical alternative actions one that could reasonably have been suggested over another by the extraneous information." The 1997 version uses the word demonstrably rather than reasonably (there are other substitution in similar laws of demonstrably for reasonably). The actions that will be removed by law (an adjustment made) will be those that were obviously suggested. It must be readily apparent that the extraneous information suggested the action over a logical alternative rather than the product of a reasonable though subtle bridge argument.

This is an attempt to have results be determined by skill at the bridge table and bridge equity rather than to have the result determined by one's skill at litigation. Players must still cultivate the habit of trying not to advantage their side by attention to extraneous information (e.g., tempo variation) from partner. Additionally, one should try to put yourself (as objectively as possible) in the opponent's seat before calling the "cops" about a possible infraction of this type. As an example of what I mean, take this hand AK, AKJT8xxx,Tx, x. You are East, not vulnerable against vulnerable. You Pass and the auction continues, Pass, 3 clubs, 4 hearts. You now bid 5 clubs, South passes after considerable thought, West passes and North bids 5 hearts followed by three passes.

You choose to wait until you see North's hand (after the play) to decide whether to call a tournament director. Do you? I suggest that should you decide to call for a decision, you have not tried to see the situation as though you had been North. Try to win by skill, flair and luck not by going to court to see if the court will award you something even when your side was not disadvantaged.

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Dummy Calls the Director

Another significant change to players is in Laws 9 and 43. This change permits the dummy to ask for a tournament director after attention has been drawn to an irregularity. In fact, the wording, "The Director must be summoned at once when attention is drawn to an irregularity." which also appears in Law 9, places the responsibility to call a Director on Dummy as well as the other players once attention has been drawn to the irregularity.

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Insufficient Bid

The insufficient bid Law has been changed regarding the correction of an insufficient bid to or from a conventional call. If the insufficient bid may be conventional, or the lowest sufficient bid in the same denomination may be conventional, or if the insufficient bid is corrected by any other sufficient bid or by a pass, the offender's partner must pass whenever it is his turn to call for the remainder of that auction.

Under the previous version, if you bid 3 notrump over your partner's 4 heart call, you would be able to bid 4 notrump with no penalty. Under the revised Laws, you could make any legal call you wished (including 4 notrump), but your partner would have to pass at each turn for the remainder of the auction. This is because the 4 notrump may be conventional.

By the way, if the Director deems that the insufficient bidder could have known that it would be disadvantageous to the other side to make his partner pass when the irregularity was committed (3 notrump was bid), the Director will require the auction and play to continue and consider awarding (most likely will award) an adjusted score - in fact, he most likely will do so.

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Maintaining Conditions of Play at the Table

Everyone has always been told that North is responsible for (procedures at) the table. In reality, some people (such as North) are more responsible than others. Law 7 is better worded to say that, "Any contestant remaining at a table throughout a session is primarily responsible for maintaining proper conditions of play at the table." This is much better. We are all responsible, but stationary players are more responsible.

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The Deal

Another change which has brought intent and common sense closer together concerns dealing (Law 6).

While cards must still be dealt one at a time face down, minor variations from a strict clockwise distribution may be permitted by the tournament director. For example, many tournament players deal back and forth into five groups. The three groups in the middle have 13 cards and the two end groups have seven and six, respectively. The two end groups are combined to one hand and the four hands are now placed in the board.

This was against the letter of the previous Law and some players used the Law as a weapon against the opponents. Minor variations such as the one above will now be permitted as long as the tournament director agrees that this coincides with the intent of the Law to distribute the cards one at a time into four random hands.

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While the Laws do not extend to players the right to subject opponents to inquisitions, the Laws provide some latitude in asking about calls. Law 20 now makes clear with the addition of a parenthetical phrase that questions may be asked about relevant calls available but not made as well as calls that were actually made. Please remember that bridge is a game of "full disclosure." To continually question and cross-examine opponents hoping that they will say something that can justify a request for an adjustment later is contrary to the spirit and intent of the Laws.

Whether you feel that the opponents are not answering your questions or that the opponents are asking too many questions, rather than fuss with one another it is best to summon an objective person (tournament director) to resolve the matter and get on with the bidding or play.

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Unauthorized Information

Also, when asking a question, you should be aware that, even when you ask a question at a legal time, your question may convey unauthorized information. For example, consider this auction (you are South):

WestNorth EastSouth
1 NTPass3 NT ?

Although you may legally ask questions at this turn, it is better to wait until your partner makes the opening lead. By waiting, there is no possibility that your question(s) will inadvertently influence partner's opening lead.

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Insufficient bid

At present, if you open 1H and later bid an insufficient 3H and at that turn you call something other than hearts, there would be a lead penalty if you turned out to be a defender and you had not bid hearts again after withdrawing the 3H call. According to the revised Law 26, there is no lead penalty if you specify hearts before or after the withdrawn call. Therefore, with the revised Law 26 on the above auction there is no lead penalty. You may remember, however, from the above paragraph about the change in Law 16.C.2 that the tournament director may still make an adjustment in a situation where the unauthorized information may have indicated an action to partner that he or she might not otherwise have taken. A simple (although perhaps extreme) example is

WestNorth EastSouth
3 NTPassPass 3C

If South follows his insufficient bid with a pass, there is no lead penalty, but if partner leads a club when there are logical alternatives and a club lead is successful, the tournament director will award an adjusted score.

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Referring to defenses

The Laws continue to prohibit aids to memory, calculation or technique during the auction and play, but there has been a change with regard to unusual methods.

Under the authority for this change, the ACBL has designated methods permitted by the Mid-Chart or Super-Chart as unusual. Therefore, when those methods are permitted, you may refer to your own defenses as well as an opponent's suggested defenses during the auction and play. This is the only case in which a player may refer legally to his own written material or convention card.

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Penalty card

There has been a change in Law 50 (Penalty Card). The only information that is authorized to the partner of a player with a major penalty card is the requirement that the offender play the card at the first legal opportunity. All other information is unauthorized.

For example, your partner opens 1NT and your side later become defenders. During the play your partner plays the DA to a heart lead and immediately corrects to a heart. From your partner's misplay you deduce that declarer has the CK. You may not use that knowledge to your side's advantage, either in leading or discarding, if there is a logical alternative defense available.

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Revoke inquiry

A reminder regarding an inquiry about a possible revoke. This is not a change, but a difference still remains between ACBL-land and pretty much the rest of the world. ACBL rules about asking another player at the table if he or she has a card of the suit led (the player failed to follow suit):

In most other places, defenders are not permitted to ask one another. You should keep this difference in mind if you occasionally play in non-ACBL countries.

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You might be aware that when a claim is made, declarer is prohibited from playing an opponent for a specific card (usually repeating a finesse) unless that situation has been revealed by an opponent's showing out before the claim or on any subsequent normal line of play.

The statement ". . . or unless failure to adopt this line of play would be irrational"has been added. An extreme example would be a contract of 7NT holding A--Q--J--10 opposite x--x--x--x and needing four tricks. Declarer finesses and claims upon winning the queen. Even though declarer in claiming said only making seven, it would be irrational for declarer to do anything other than repeat the finesse.

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Although there is a consistent philosophy running through the Laws that a player should not gain an advantage from his own irregularity, this will happen occasionally. There is a global Law that attempts to decrease this instance of gain a little more.

Law 72.B.1 calls for the tournament director to adjust the score if the non-offender was disadvantaged by an opponent's irregularity and the director deems that the offender could have known at the time of the irregularity that the irregularity would be likely to disadvantage the opponents.

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Conduct and Etiquette

With this Laws revision, matters of conduct and etiquette are matters of Law.

Although the intent of Law 75 (Partnership Agreements) has not changed, the wording has been modified. If your partner gives an explanation or makes an Alert or Announcement that, in your opinion, is incorrect, you are required to bring this to the attention of the opponents.

On any occasion when, in your opinion, partner has given an incorrect explanation of your agreement --- and this includes explaining an agreement where there is no agreement --- you are now legally obligated to inform the opponents.

You do this by first calling the tournament director and explaining the facts after the tournament director arrives.

NOTE: The time at which you call the tournament director differs for each side. The defenders must call immediately after play ends. The dummy or declarer must call after the final pass.

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Chapter VII was written many years ago as a section dealing with "Proprieties." The intent was to define correct procedure, etiquette and courtesy. That remains the focus today. Over the years, however, this section has become clearly defined as Laws. While there are no stated penalties for infringement, there are items that will enable the director to award adjusted scores.

Further, since misbehavior undermines the intended civility of the game, procedural penalties or disciplinary measures which do not affect comparisons are issued to players who misbehave, are discourteous or do not follow proper procedure.

One more important change in Law 72 highlights the importance of making sure that your scores are earned at the table.A.2 reads "A player must not knowingly accept either the score for a trick that his side did not win or the concession of a trick that his opponents could not lose." A.2 previously read, "It is improper for a player...." If an opponent claims, giving you the high trump and you do not have it, speak up. If an opponent says "making four" and you think he made five, speak up. If the other team drops by your table saying, "Congratulations. You pipped us," and you figure that you lost, speak up. Many players do not realize that it has always been incumbent upon them to speak up. Now it is very clear.

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While a portion of Law 73 states that it is desirable for players to maintain even tempo and unvarying manner, it goes on to say that players should be particularly careful in situations where variation may benefit their side.

For example, if dummy holds K-J-x in a side suit and declarer may be missing the ace and/or queen, you should try to decide after the opening lead what you will play if and when declarer leads toward this combination.

This is one of several types of situations where it is especially important for you to make your play in tempo. Neither throw your card on the table as though it were a hot coal nor agonize over which card to play.

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The Laws (specifically Law 74) state that a player should maintain a courteous attitude. It also admonishes players not to annoy or embarrass other players or interfere with their enjoyment of the game (except by doubling and/or taking more tricks).

The bottom line is that the Laws mandate civility and courtesy. For example, the manner in which you address the tournament director should be courteous --- and it should not be discourteous to other contestants.

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Mistaken explanation

Law 75 contains an important change regarding an erroneous explanation by partner, an incorrect Alert or Announcement or the omission of an Alert or Announcement. The time period for bringing this mistake to the attention of the opponents remains unchanged. If partner has erred in one of the above ways, the declarer or dummy must call the director and notify the opponents after the final pass. A defender facing the same situation must call the director and notify the opponents after play ends.

The important change in phrasing is that the Law now reads that this must take place when, in the player's opinion, there has been a mistaken explanation or mis-Alert.

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Appeal penalties

The change in Law 83 empowers the director to go forward with an appeal even if the appellant decides to withdraw the appeal. This change could result in the alteration of the victor in knockout and Swiss matches.

In the past, appeals often have been filed during a KO or Swiss match on the theory that "we'll go forward with this if we lose, but we'll withdraw it if we win." Now a director can insist that an appeal, one which the director feels has no inherent worth, go before the appeals committee. If the committee agrees with the director, the committee could assess a disciplinary penalty against the appellants. Such a penalty conceivably could convert a tight victory into a loss.

The Director may also use Law 83 to ensure that close cases involving complex bridge judgment are reviewed by committees. For example, a pair not in contention may choose to accept a decision rather than appeal. When the Director believes that there should be more discussion by more people of this particular case and that such review may lead to a different assessment of the bridge facts, the Director may refer the matter to a committee. In these situations the Director is appealing for the remaining participants (the field) who may be affected by the decision but may not appeal that decision.

Therefore, this Law can be used by the Director to have an issue reviewed by an appeals committee in the absence of an appeal or, in essence, refuse to permit a contestant to withdraw an appeal.

Law 92 underwent a small change that is aimed at keeping frivolous appeals -- appeals with no substantial merit -- from taking place. In the past there was no penalty stipulated under the Laws for appeals with no particular merit. Now, however, appeals committees will be legally empowered and encouraged to subject such appellants to a score penalty -- perhaps a fraction of a board in a matchpoint event or a number of IMPs in a team contest.

The concept behind this, of course, is that the appeals process should be used in a reasonable manner -- never in an attempt to gain an advantage in a situation where "it can't hurt."


Gopher Editor's note:

See ACBL Home Page
Write to ACBL Headquarters at ACBL@acbl.org with questions or comments

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