Bobby Wolff


I find it compelling to explain the dire necessity for the ACBL to markedly improve their alert procedures and update their bridge knowledge to effectively and fearlessly deal with modern problems concerning essential alerts.

The “Need to Know” Theory (introduced to me by Andy Robson, my favorite bridge authority from the United Kingdom) is what I use as my guide to familiarize innocent and/or inexperienced opponents about what is going on regarding the use of certain relatively common topical conventions in practice across the ACBL. The outstanding superiority of the Andrew Robson Bridge Club focuses on and strives to keep extraneous information at a minimum and insists upon mandatory alerting only when necessary and appropriate.

The primary convention under scrutiny in this blog concerns itself directly with the popular Forcing 1NT Response to partner’s one of a major opening bid. The expected and most common treatment of this convention is that 1NT is forcing for one round and the standard practice is usually employed with a hand which most often features somewhere in the vicinity of 6 to a maximum of 12 high card points? Those who depart from the generally accepted norm of 6-12 and use the forcing NT to show somewhere between zero and 5 high card points should be obligated to share this information with their opponents. It is not the standard method and often intimidates the opponents from balancing, suspecting the opening side has a combined minimum of eighteen HCP — deterring them from entering the auction. Employing the 0-5 point method of keeping the bidding open (and forcing — especially with a four piece trump fit — which you will bid at your second call) is a form of controlled psyche and thus should be alertable. It sounds like a reluctant effort to support partner (while in fact it is a method of misleading and discouraging your opponents from entering the auction, thinking you have a misfit despite the fact the hand may well belong to them)!

While some prefer the use of unannounced surreptitious sub-minimum responses (0-5) with which most partnerships prefer to pass, others have tipped the scales in the other direction — allowing the 1NT RESPONSE to exceed the standard upper limit (perhaps as high as 16 points) and with no conscience or legal obligation to inform their unwitting opponents of their private understanding. At this point in time, I see no prohibition in ACBL land to outlaw undisclosed sub-minimum or above standard maximum point spreads.

If playing that the forcing NT may be beyond the standard 12 point upper range, it needs to be alerted in order for an unsuspecting opponent to be aware that he or she may be at risk entering the auction at this stage. Needless to say, the opponents know (or at least should) what they are doing and are now in a position to nail an unwary opponent making a call at the wrong time. (See Judy’s medical assessment in her blog “I’ve Got A Secret.”)

I now want to digress for a moment to let you know how the logical theory of this treatment originated (in the days of Roth-Stone, later Kaplan-Sheinwold, Walsh and Eastern Scientific). Some players felt that in order to make a game-forcing 2 level response in another suit, that player needs to have a good 5 card suit (AQ10xx) or good four-carder (AKJx) which would lend itself, after finding at least a 3 card fit for the five-bagger from partner, to a better suit game or slam contract (in preference to 3NT or 6NT). These were recognized as standard treatments, nothing extraordinary and the bids meant exactly what they sounded like.

Enter the new breed: The Foxes! They recognized that 3NT contracts were far more common than slams and began applying their cunning in order to achieve better results. They altered their heretofore prosaic bidding sequences which were natural because they provided the disadvantage of tipping off the opening lead and subsequent defense of their opponents to the detriment of the declaring side. These crafty bidders found it inadvisable to bid 2 of a suit such as AQ10x(x) or KQ10x(x), but rather would opt for 1NT forcing in all safety (with no maximum range) in order to have a better chance to get that suit led since the opponents would not have the benefit of hearing that suit being bid against them. However if the eventual declarer, usually in 3NT, would have been dealt A653(2)or, worse yet, 7653(2) then the suit would be bid, again advantageously used to try to deflect its lead and direct a favorable defense for declarer. Surely, in order to play that way, the 1NT response had to raise its upper limit several notches over the normal 12 high card points now in vogue by a good many players.

I am not suggesting that this chicanery (sometimes called a tactical bid) be declared illegal or barred, but rather I am prevailing upon the ACBL to wake up and ask that unusual not-to-be-expected type treatments be alerted, both as to possible high card points held and, more importantly, the tendencies of that particular partnership to what they are doing (i.e., style). If bridge warrants the dignified description of being a Gentlemen’s (or Ladies’) Game, it needs to have rules worthy of that distinction. Let us try to encourage total disclosure and at the same time make it much more difficult for pairs to raid their sections and events by practicing subtle (and perhaps not so subtle) questionable tactics. These methods over the years have cleverly been concocted in poison gas bridge labs with the sole intent of plying their trade, advantaging themselves over counterparts sitting in the same direction — similar to shooting fish in a barrel.

Perhaps the most frequently asked bridge question after my book, THE LONE WOLFF was released, was “Why would anyone want to cheat when all one is stealing is ego?” My stock answer: In these days of increasing professionalism, money has entered the equation, making for enticing incentives; and the risk is so minuscule compared to the gain because of the lax policing position assumed by our parent organization which constantly seems to take a Hands Off Policy to avoid dealing with controversial issues (and in some cases the fear of law suits).

Many of our convention card regulations must seriously be reviewed, amended, rewritten and reprinted. Lines should be inserted to designate varying point count ranges; the propriety of pre-alerts and timely alerts should be stressed — including other nonstandard treatments which are assumed to be normal. COMPLIANCE SHOULD BE DEMANDED — from the lowly club levels up to the ultimate sphere of the NABCs and THE TRIALS! Otherwise, there is no deterrent for clever players to add questionable gimmicks to their repertoire, though not necessarily illegal, because the ACBL has allowed them to call their own shots.

The brewing coffee needs to be smelled and safeguards must be seriously reviewed, revised and updated. NAIVETE AND LAISSEZ FAIRE ENFORCEMENT MUST STOP! If not, we will be no better off than the inhabitants in “Lord of the Flies” — the allegorical novel of marooned British teenagers who assumed the running of an island to the detriment of everyone in the confinement of their realm.


Chris HasneyApril 24th, 2009 at 2:34 am

Bobby and Judy,

I understand your desire to have the highest ethics and the very best procedures and enforcement, but who will be playing if this is our focus? At 58 (almost) I’m the second youngest player in my club. My students tend to be retirees. Most don’t want to get anywhere near a duplicate game. And when I do convince them, they get run off by the bridge police.

At NABC+ and Regional Flight A I agree with you both. But with new players we need to take a chill pill on this stuff. Let them have fun, and enjoy the game enough to get hooked on it. We’ll explain the laws to them as they progress in the game.

ACBL’s focus, and all of ours, should be on infecting kids with this game. “Bridge Court” immunizes them against our game.

Judy Kay-WolffApril 24th, 2009 at 5:26 am


You talk about being run off by the bridge police and bridge courts immunizing youngsters against our game. Perhaps you should be examining how we arrived at this point! Maybe we should be doing some soul searching — who is responsible for reaching this sad juncture where policing is now a mandatory part of protecting the sanctity of the game.

I taught bridge at country clubs in the seventies and eighties. Some were relatively new and others experienced — but all my lessons began the same way — not that there were fifty two cards in a deck; North/South and East/West; four different suits plus no trump; and thirteen cards in suit. No sir! I thought it would serve them in better stead for their pleasure at the bridge table for years to come to dwell upon the ethics and proprieties of bridge — which is what makes it the most glorious game on earth.

These were long before the days of the sophistication of screens and bidding boxes and now bridgemates and similar types of scoring machines. We talked about bidding based on the thirteen cards staring you in the face — not influenced by the body movements, shoulder shrugs, fast or slow tempo of your partner’s calls, etc. So perhaps if more of our teaching gurus concentrated on the importance of good manners (to partner and opponents), explain what unauthorized information is, teach them how to make out an explicit convention card, etc. — we might not be witnessing what we are seeing today.

Educating newcomers (young and old alike) about manners and ethics should start the first day of kindergarten. After they have gotten that down pat, then we move toward getting them hooked on the game.

And, as long as the ACBL is accepting dues and entry fees and issuing master points, NO ONE should be exempt from living up to the standards of the game. Directors should be better trained to handle these situations without pointing a finger or speaking in accusatory tones — but explain why or what was wrong so that it does not happen again.

Your example of the NABC and Regional Flight A playing by the rules and letting the lesser lights just have fun and enjoy the game (just to get ’em hooked) I found infuriating. You say “We’ll explain the laws to them as they progress in the game.” If I weren’t such a lady, I would tell you your sequence is known as ‘ass backwards!’

bobby wolffApril 24th, 2009 at 1:14 pm

Hi Chris,

In many cases you will be right and policing our game strictly, in many cases, will tend to drive relatively new players away. However, let’s examine our problem closely.

In the last number of years, I have suggested that a special pamphlet be added to our rules which would only apply to high-level games (HLG). I defined HLG as all flight A games at Regionals and Sectionals as well as all Regional and National Championships at Bridge Nationals and, of course, anything having to do with International representation. I even offered to write the pamphlet, together with thorough annotation, footnotes, and everything required to make it not only fully understandable, but also the reasons for it and how certain twists might tend to make the interpretaion of it questionable and why.

The ACBL specifically rose up against it, saying that our Tournament Directors should not be required to learn two different rules procedures and that Bridge is one game and should only have one set of rules. In addition part of our high level bridge community (certainly made up of the foxes previously alluded to in previous blogs) also reacted against it saying that they often played in lower ranking tournaments (with very good results) and to make them play different rules would simply not be fair to some of ACBL’s best customers. Finally even the semi-experienced younger (there are a few) wannabe players who have grown to love the real game of bridge and are in the developing stage (that all top players must go through to make it) are also against it saying my pamphlet will just take them longer to realize their potential.

Back to square one, but nevertheless information gleaned which can be analyzed:

1. The real game of bridge must be played according to the rules Judy suggests. Otherwise we will have no game at all to play, at the very least, no game worthy of the respect necessary to set it apart from all other games, especially all other card games.

2. Are the fun-loving players you allude to real or Memorex? Without the full ethics required and apparent at all times while playing, isn’t our game just another episode of parry and thrust, con or be conned, or summing up, just another version of liar’s poker?

3. Europe, for many years now, and China, recently, has established bridge in our schools (a great tribute to the game’s recognizable overall scope and beauty) which will have, and already has in Europe, solved their bridge perpetuation problem (they have grown 8 fold while we have subtracted). Of course, talking powers who be into doing such a thing, requires much effort, but shouldn’t the ACBL take it upon itself to at least give it a maximum effort, at least to try?

4. Being a geezer (and an older one, at that) the old adage of “anything worth doing is worth doing well” constantly, through the many years, has haunted me regarding getting bridge in the American schools. Seeing other countries succeed while the USA and all of Zone 2 (including Canada and Mexico) have failed or, perhaps better put, have not succeeded yet, only exacerbates my impatience.

5. At least to me, bridge, with the logic required, together with mathematics, psychology, problem solving, interaction both with partner and the opponents along with legal cunning and deception is the “perfect storm” of learning important skills which will be useful in many different endeavors in life, making bridge a superior course to be learned early in life.

6. However, let’s not forget, bridge without it’s distinctive proper active and, for that matter also, not so active ethics, is nothing less than impotent and consequently not worth playing. Chris, it is not that I like your suggestion for bridge less, it is that I like what Judy’s will bring to the future of bridge, much more.

PaulApril 24th, 2009 at 1:30 pm


The ‘need to know’ theory is a nice tag line and works well in the closeted environment of Andrew’s bridge club. It also works well with truly ethical players who have a broad understanding of the game and how it is played by different people.

But it is very difficult to encapsulate the theory into the alerting procedures, but this is necessary if you want everyone to be playing by the same rules.

The ACBL alerting regulations are poor. The English regulations are definitely superior, but do not fit on a single page and debates rage endlessly about which doubles are to be alerted. It is not a simple to get it right, but unfortunately the ACBL seems happy with them remaining poor and this is disappointing.

The idea of pre-alerting the nature of a non-standard Forcing 1NT sounds attractive. But how many other pre-alerts would be needed in the same vein? As a European who only plays at the NABCs my system contains a number of Mid Chart conventions and our list of pre-alerts numbers six items. The experts are very happy to see this, but in the Regional events boredom sets in around item 2 and people really just don’t want to hear (often accusing us of not wanting to just play bridge).

If the majority of people who attend NABCs do not want to hear lists of pre-alerts, what about the average club player?

So I definitely want to see full disclosure provided. But it is not as simple a problem to fix as you imply.

Luise LeeApril 24th, 2009 at 3:26 pm

I usually just watch these threads with interest as they appear and try as best as possible to ignore the drama and stay out of it… After all, my experiene with the game is limited, at best, and I am not as knowledgeable as all of the above. However, this time, I feel compelled to make a comment in response to the discussion about “New Players”.

Judy, Bobby, Chris, I will not presume to know anything about the rulings or judgements of the ACBL, I know nothing in that regard and I cannot comment as to the correctness of whether this bid or that bid should be alertable, or what have you. I can only comment on my own experiences with tournament bridge. I am responding as a “New player”…

Did I ever tell you why I quit playing bridge in the first place? I remember I was in university at the time. My parents and grandparents had tried to teach me bridge numerous times prior, but it was not until I actually saw my peers playing at the card tables that I actually took an interest in the game in the first place. Anyway, I took a few lessons from Eric Sutherland, who was a senior at the time that I knew him… I learned enough that my friend and I used a simple system, and there was a university tournament being arranged in the big city and we were all going on a field trip! Sounded like great fun to me, I was looking forward to it.

I was so nervous that I would make a mistake (This was well before I learned the lesson that every mistake is merely an opportunity for learning). Anyway… on the second or third board that we played, the dreadful sound “DIRECTOR!” emitted from my opponents mouth. I had never heard this before… What does it mean? The harsh tone that it was spoken with clued me in that this was not a pleasant word and that something very bad was about to happen. A very tall and intimidating gentleman appeared, spoke to my opponent, spoke to me (which was impossible because my brain shut off and I was rambling jibberish by then) and the director ruled against me.

I was distraught with the whole experience (not to mention the fact that this particular director behaved inappropriately, was curt and rude to me, and said directly “I don’t believe you”). It took all the strength I could muster to make it through the rest of the board before I had to excuse myself and go have a good cry in the hallway.

That was my one and only experience with tournament bridge, and I will very probably never go back to that situation again.

Here’s how you get “new players” into the game:

1) Get BRIDGE into the schools – specifically, Colleges and Universities

2) Keep it FUN!!!

3) Keep the ACBL bureaucratic b.s. out of it! “New players” don’t care — they just want to have fun

I now return you to your regularly scheduled discussion on rules and regulations (which I maintain that I have no opinion one way or the other as to correctness of either side).

Bobby WolffApril 24th, 2009 at 6:35 pm


I doubt if there is a word in your blog that I do not agree with.

Having said that, perhaps in your first paragraph, you make your most important statement, at least the one which has its greatest impact on me, to the tune of “really ethical players…..”. It is high time that the world’s whole bridge community, especially the highest level ones, stood up as one and applauded the well known world experts who exhibit the most consistent active ethics possible and by so doing, make them world heroes.

My two favorites and over many years are simply, Patrick Huang from Taiwan and the late Tim Seres from Australia who contribute and have contributed so much positive influence on every bridge player they have touched.

Chris HasneyApril 24th, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Don’t sugar coat it Judy, tell us how you really feel, lol.

Perhaps I didn’t say things right. I do teach bridge etiquette, ethics, and laws to my introductory and all further classes. It’s wrapped into my lessons, and I often use humor to help ease the tension and cement the ethical lesson. For example, when a student is learning to finesse and another student hesitates without the missing honor card I tell the Al Roth story (“Why didn’t you win the trick with the queen???!!!” Al’s reply: “I thought you had it!”)

My problem with all of this is probably due to the size of our games and the paucity of new players entering (we are not replacing the dead and other folks who can’t play any more). We can’t put together a separate section for new players, nor even an adjunct couple of tables in their own area where they can talk and laugh, etc. (I am so SICK of being shushed when I laugh during a round, I’m almost ready to quit duplicate and open a rubber bridge club.) Anyway, our games are stratified and in such games proprieties must be observed and taught, but GENTLY, and with director discretion to adjudicate based on player experience. (“Pick it up and continue play, see me after the game and I’ll explain the rules for that situation.”) Of course, such things cannot go on forever, but at the club level where the director knows everyone in the game s/he will know when to tighten up on the newbie. In general, I like the idea of full disclosure. But in some cases it’s simply intimidating. (“What are your agreements on carding?” “Huh? What’s Carding?”)

Bobby WolffApril 24th, 2009 at 11:37 pm

Hi Luise,

I have much sympathy for your sad bridge experience. Club directors and tournament directors could all use a course on managing new players and “table side” manners.

Unfortunately TD’s who work for the ACBL do not, nor are they encouraged, to take courses on manners nor any new policies on how to direct or police the game. In the very old days the best directors all had bulging senses of humor in addition to being much better than average players, enabling them to be better qualified to direct games. The hidden X factor is that most of them really loved bridge and it showed, since they tended to favor the well intentioned good player, rather than the better bridge lawyer, in settling disputes. Nowadays, most of the TD’s are lacking real self-confidence, generally because of their lack of history with the game. Time marches on and time has not been kind to that very important aspect of the full bridge experience for the players.

Luise, you do nothing short of a marvelous job on your web site. We are all very lucky to have you and without you, no one can predict what might happen, but it would rate to be a lot less successful.

Thank you and one day, after you gain more confidence with your reading and experience with bridge, please try again to play. You deserve fun at bridge just as surely as you bring so much joy to all those of us who enjoy your talent in allowing us to converse with each other through the magic of the internet.



Judy Kay-WolffApril 25th, 2009 at 12:28 am

Dear Luise:

I was about to post my response to your tale of woe — but I see Bobby beat me to the punch. Nevertheless, I will add my two cents anyway:

I wanted to cry when I read the nightmare you experienced. Though we have never met face to face, despite all your administrative help with my blogs, I have gotten to know an extremely bright, consciencious, caring, sensitive human being who obviously has and maintains extremely high standards (besides being a loving parent and wife in her spare time). From our correspondence over the last six months, it is so apparent you are determined to do the right thing — dismissing the time involved or the challenge of the task.

The humiliating experience you suffered was criminal. However, the source of the problem was not what you did or did not do– but the way it was handled. The more I have gotten involved in these issues, the more crystal clear it becomes that some (not all, of course) people in high administrative positions flaunt their power with no consideration for the person on the receiving end.

(As an ‘aside’ I was once told told to raise my hand and politely say, “Director, please”). It certainly beats SCREAMING …. “DI-RECT-OR!!!” where your voice can resound in the far-off Restrooms. None of the unpleasantries should have occurred — regardless of what his or her beef was.

Attaining the exalted position of director should not merely mean he knows the rules, or is a competent reader from the Rule Book but equally important is that he knows how to handle other human beings — whether they have committed an infraction or not. There is no room for harsh tones or unpleasant words from any staff member. I am not certain if your ‘incident’ took place at an independent function or was under the auspices of the Canadian Bridge Federation. However, it makes no difference on what continent, planet or battleship it occurred. Haughtiness and rude treatment by a director are no-nos. Perhaps instead of just making it mandatory to know the rules, a special course should be given on “people skills.” Believe me, it would be time and money well spent.

As to your ‘new players’ theories. Yes, bridge in the schools (during the early years preferably) and alternatively later in universities is sensational. It helps with mathematics and logic, is a marvelous social asset which many fall back on in later years. It has been a delightful salvation for many handicapped or houseridden people via the internet and is a fantastic way for eager, unattached individuals to find new circles of friends. And, how about being on foreign soil and locating a nearby duplicate game. Its attributes are boundless. Hooray for bridge!

And yes, Keep it Fun — but it is imperative to be taught the amenities and ethics before you learn to count to thirteen. I assure you thousands of unpleasantries and altercations over the decades would have been avoidable had everyone started out on the same page — learning right from wrong.

And, a third Yes about keeping the administrative ‘b. s.’ out of the equation — but I can tell you from being on the scene as an observer for 54 years, it is easier said than done.

Keep on plugging. You are a tremendous asset wherever you set your sights!

Judy Kay-WolffApril 25th, 2009 at 1:04 am


For a moment, I wrestled with the possibility that you had a twin who wrote the earlier blog. I am ecstatic to learn of all your positive efforts regarding bridge etiquette, ethics and laws both to your introductory and more advanced classes. Your Al Roth story makes a wonderful point. Bobby loved it so much he told it in The Lone Wolff.

Perhaps I misunderstood your underlying premise. I believe if an impropriety comes to light or an infraction occurs, it should not be overlooked — but adddressed and rectified. If people keep violating the bridge laws (whether unintentionally or with malice aforethought) — the situation cannot continue. They must be set straight or else one is making a farce of the game. And, yes, it must be corrected and adjudicated GENTLY AND TACTFULLY without insulting the offender and making a big public issue about it. Discussing the problem privately after the session is a super idea. Avoids embarrassment and simultaneously gets your point across!

I believe if more effort is exerted at the club level, the newer players who ascend from C to B to A and on to sectionals, regionals and nationals will be getting their basic training from club owners, directors and managers who gear them for the big times and teach them how bridge should properly be played. I think it is little enough to ask. It is always best if problems are nipped in the bud!

No need for sugar, Splenda, Saccharin or Sweet and Low this time!

Luise LeeApril 25th, 2009 at 1:47 am

Judy, Bobby, thank you for your kind words regarding my experience that I described. I know now that the director was doing the best he could at the time and he was quite young and inexperienced so I no longer fault him for my horrendous experience (my own insecurities also had a lot to do with the end outcome). I believe that I did actually earn a small portion of a master point for that game (my one and only) so it must have been an “official” game, but honestly, it was so long ago, that my memory could be faulty. Colin might remember the details, but I seem to have blocked out all of the unimportant details from that day…

But on a different note – the reason I say that bridge should be at the university level is that I believe until you teach to a college or university age group you aren’t really making any lasting progress. A young child can certainly gain a love of card games in general, but I don’t think a person really decides to become a “serious” anything until they are at least out of high-school. I just think making an effort to get Bridge into elementary or secondary schools would be a wasted effort for a few reasons: 1) unless the elementary and secondary presence of bridge is a LONG-TERM one, by the time the student has a diploma they may have already forgotten about bridge, or they may simply move onto something completely different, as a lot of us do once high-school is over. And 2) It will be such a long time until those kids “grow up” that you will have invested a lot of time and effort, and it will be a LONG time before you actually see any kind of return on your investment.

MichaelApril 25th, 2009 at 10:17 pm

I second the comment that the chief problem at most local club games, from the perspective of the average player, is too many alerts – not to few. I play a few gadgets and artificial bids and systems and dutifully alert as required, but by far the most common complaint is too many alerts and pre-alerts (similar to the description Paul gave of people’s eyes glaring over).

Moreover, things like the style of one’s forcing 1nt are minor IMO compared to other things like the non-alerting of cue bids (everyone assumes Michaels even if it is actually top+bottom or bailey’s or transfer to a single suit, etc.). If one needs to know the information about the forcing nt style, one can ask.

Bobby WolffApril 26th, 2009 at 12:22 am

Hi Luise,

Europe, particularly France, Italy and almost all of Scandanavia. installed the teaching of bridge into the primary and secondary schools starting about when the children are around nine years old. I’ve heard that in varying degrees the courses have become more and more popular and the kids take great pride in learning. I, myself, came from a card playing family (much more popular before the days of network TV) and many other options for a child to consider. During my WBF years I often traveled to Europe on bridge matters and then my association with our Junior Teams have convinced me that young people, especially ones who have some talent, will stay, in the absence of unusual circumstances, bridge players the rest of their lives.

Obviously, since teaching bridge in the schools has only been popular for no more than twenty years, the jury is still out, but when kids are exposed to the sheer fun of mental competition and especially when played with everyone practicing active ethics, it is a hard proposition to equal (I realize I am biased, but nevertheless the enthusiasm by the Italian youths toward bridge has to be seen to be believed). When I was their age I did learn bridge, but since other boys my age certainly preferred to play rough and tumble sports, I would be careful not to brag about the game for fear of being called ugly names. Not true in Europe since it is fast becoming the competition of choice.

Time will tell, but as of right now I love the way they are doing it in Europe. China is only in the beginning stages, but since the government is backing it, I have no doubt that it will also fast gain in popularity, and, remain that way for a lifetime. Luise, it will not stay that way for everyone, but for those with arithmetical talent, mixed with a love for competing, it will be hard to beat.


Bobby WolffApril 26th, 2009 at 12:49 am

Hi Michael,

Your views on too many alerts are probably shared by many. However, because of the nature of our game there are other considerations.

1. If partnerships would agree to practice active ethics and always want their opponents not to be disadvantaged, the competitive nature of fewer alerts would probably tend to work. For example Judy and I (we play locally twice a week) always volunteer ‘natural’ when, after one of us opens 1NT (weak NV and strong V) and partner bids 2 hearts or 2 spades simply because we do not play transfers, which is probably played by around 80% of the players in our games.

2. The problems begin when any partnership, always with the idea of adding to their score, likes to see their opponents fall victim to careless attention to the game itself. Sure they can ask, and I do believe that cue bids should pretty well be self-alerting since, a cue bid itself sends up a flare to be noticed.

3. There are also partnerships who really do not pay close attention and are playing to merely escape from reality and for other personal reasons, but those people nevertheless help determine the winners. In a perfect world, everything will balance out, especially luck, but being a fierce competitor since I was about 6 years old (played cards and board games against my equally fierce dad every night after dinner), I was taught the Vince Lombardi theory long before he took claim to it: “Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing”.

4. Mental competition, in order to be taken seriously, should have a common denominator of everyone (in bridge, every partnership) to have an equal chance for success and that success will be determined by skill, luck, and what one brings to the table. When some try and tilt the scales so that they can possess every advantage, some OK, some not so OK, we’ve crossed the line into the bad parts of the game.

Obviously I could go on and on of how that happens and maybe even when that happens, but you shouldn’t have to be bored by all this. While some of us do not take the game as seriously as others, we still should have the decency to play within the spirit of the game. Bridge started out almost 100 years ago being known as “A Gentlemen’s Game” and still should be played that way. Without doing that we might as well cut cards with high card winning, because the playing field is not even close to being as fair to one side as it is to the other.

Gary M. MugfordApril 27th, 2009 at 7:23 am


I’ve responded to Judy over at her blog, so no sense repeating it here. I believe in full disclosure, but I also believe full disclosure runs the risk of turning a night of bridge into a full night AND day of bridge. As I have a few partners willing to play with me (G), the fact is that I have a LOT of agreements, explicit AND implicit. I can probably make a good five-minute comedy routine out of our pre-alerts alone.

Full disclosure requires something that nobody really knows. The understanding of bridge by the opponent. When I’m teaching something–programming, softball or bridge–the first words out of my mouth are, “I’m going to be going with a general guess of what you know. IF I am wrong and I’m talking over your head, or too fast, which I am guilty of most of the time, then it’s up to YOU to stop me and ask me to slow down and assume you know less than I think you know. Nothing wrong with that and I’ll be happy to oblige.”

If I were to sit down at a table with my local peers in ability, setting out to give a long-winded alert about forcing NT to any one of them would be treated with derision. Similarly, if I started out to give the full monty to somebody quite new to club bridge who is just concentrating on not reneging (been there, myself), I would be more intimidating than accommodating. The group between my two examples probably needs the full explanation in their attempt to get better. So do you guys in the elite class who want to know every subtle ramification of a call to help you discern what hand I DO have from what I didn’t bid. Some of my more egotistical peers are a lot less willing to immediately launch into a full explanation in this latest instance. The feeling THEY profess to me is, “If they are so good, then they should KNOW to ask for a fuller explanation.”

There has to be a certain kind of pidgin that is acceptable, not as a full explanation, but as the start of one, if warranted. We can not lather on minutes of potential superfluous explanation and convention cards nearing novella-length and expect bridge to continue to thrive. It’ll die under its own red tape. As I’ve said to Judy, let the opponents ask to “Explain, please” and when still unsure after the explanation, to continue “Ramifications?” to get the long-form explanation. Possibly, the brief explanations should contain a verbal asterisk to indicate further explanation might prove helpful. i.e. “Forcing 1NT. Modified” Mentioning that the ‘standard chart’ definition has been modified will prompt further discussion. i.e. “Could show less than four points. There is no upper limit, although it denies a good five-card suit if there are game-going values.” Or, “6-18 points, less than three-card support if game-going values.”

What this does is to force greater definition onto the standard chart and for that chart to become a much greater part of club bridge that it currently is. In fact, I never saw a chart at any club I played at regularly. I did see it when a high school buddy and I ventured into Toronto to play at the Regal one night. But I’ve never seen it in any of the local clubs. Say 12 in all. Ever. Without the expanded and visible presence of a standard chart, there is NO hope of full disclosure because it gives players no minimum starting point FOR that disclosure.


Bobby WolffMay 7th, 2009 at 10:07 pm

Hi Gary,

Although I had read your blog, the thought did not occur to me to answer it until Judy reminded me that it was addressed to me.

You present a relatively accurate picture of where we and the ACBL stand on some of the perplexing issues concerning tournament bridge today. The only sunlight I could hope to shine on anything regarding the problems you suggest, is to first talk about the problems.

1. There are far too many classes of bridge players in abilities, further compouded by those who enjoy of publicly underestimating their prowess, so as to be able to sneak up on worthy adversaries with surprising unexpected talent.

2. Players who genuinely love the game and are constantly practicing active ethics are outnumbered perhaps 100 to 1 by others who are either in it strictly to make money (professionalism today as opposed to gambling among each other in bygone days), wanting to be recognized among the elite, but not having the matching talent to go with, wanting to serve as big time coaches, captains, or other administrative political positions (ACBL BOD, USBF, or District or Unit BODs) in order to at least earn enough expense money to continue to be around the high-level game at least in some capacity.

3. Old time aging players who have had the facility to stay close to the game, have no real aspirations for big victories, but nevertheless consider bridge a life long hobby worthy of cozying up to as long as health allows.

4. Hit and run types who have mostly lived by their wits, and find the bridge world challenging enough to see just how well they could do, if dame fortune shines on them with good partners and favorable luck.

5. Retirees who blend with the other types listed above and feel that bridge cannot be beaten as a hobby where they spend the twilight years of their lives. Among this group are many who open or buy bridge clubs, hoping to at least finance at no cost their favorite game and be right in the middle of at least weekly action.

The good news is that there is room for all those types and no one has to register his desires, beliefs, bridge preferences, amount of time spent playing, serving or directing, or feel the pressure of playing up to any special standards or ethics.

Add to the above, the spouses and very close friends of the above and the cast of characters does come into focus.

The bad news is that all of these mixed types of people do not, in this very competitive environment, blend together in a cohesive manner since almost every individual player has his independent likes, dislikes, preferences and morality which exclusively determines his involvement.

Enter the rules of contest and to expect large groups of the above to pay attention, be circumspect, continue to learn, be polite, develop good sportsmanship, and otherwise contribute to friendly atmospheres is a real pipe dream. Psychologists will tell us that in a competitive environment the worst of a person’s disposition and character is much more likely to show itself than the best.

In every other popular competitive environment the games themselves take care of the above. In tennis and golf, club players compete against other club players. City champions play in city tournaments and professionals play against other professionals and in this day and age get well paid because others want to see the best play against each other and TV money has risen to the skies.

I have long been an advocate of the top level bridge players have their own pamphlet of rules, basically expecting higher standards of understanding and certainly ethics. Many club players and the ACBL BOD’s itself as well as the Memphis home office have rebelled against such a thing saying that tournament directors should only have to learn one set of rules. Lesser players do not like to be thought of as inferior (who does?) and so they like to attempt to play the same game as the big shots, but in reality do not have the bridge aptitude to understand what is involved.

Summing up, probably no game that comes to mind can be played successfully and intelligently by the very wide mix of abilities which all the above represents so all of our half hearted attempts at sorting out the problems, are bound for failure.

Will it ever be accomplished? Unlikely, unless real money (like all the major sports we know) comes into bridge which, in turn, may result in bridge becoming a viable spectator sport. Right now, many who would not make that grade of excellence, would be against it as would the non-spectator types who would much rather play (one cannot play football, baseball, basketball, soccer, hockey, tennis, and even golf is a problem once we reach the average age of our current ACBL member which is fast approaching 70).

Should we stop trying? No, but until bridge gets unbiased, non-political, real leadership behind it, it would be too much of a miracle for it to happen. Probably the beginning toward success would be to get bridge into the primary and secondary schools in North America (the way it currently is in Europe and China) before we can set sail to greater things. Time will tell, and it is worth praying and working for, but someone young enough has got to see the vision and act on it.

Ray LeeJune 16th, 2009 at 10:45 pm

I learned to play chess about the age of 7, and played it competitively for most of the next 20 years, at school, at university, and afterwards. I see no reason why kids can’t learn bridge in the same environment — indeed, as a partnership game it seems to me it has extra educational advantages. Linda and I have been working on our 9-y.0. grandson his week, and already he shows great promise 🙂

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