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An Amusing Situation
Playing in a Regional against non-expert opposition, I picked up, vulnerable against not, K9532 1072 A7 Q64 and saw partner (my wife Debbie) open 1NT. RHO overcalled 2 and I waited for the inevitable alert. When it was not forthcoming, I inquired of LHO, “What’s that?” She gave me an odd look and said, “Clubs”. I picked up their convention card and noted it was marked ‘Majors’. But I decided not to press the matter, and bid 3NT. Debbie said, “Alert”, and I suddenly remembered that my bid denied a club stopper in our system. My LHO asked and Debbie did not say what I expected. Instead, she offered, “4-card raise, about opening values.” A close inspection of the auction on the table now revealed that the 1NT bid I “saw” was actually 1.

Debbie now bid 4. As I reached for the 4 card, I realized that I was using unauthorized information to do so. So I thought, “What would I have done had I not heard that alert”? I would have thought she was running to a 5 or 6-card diamond suit. Perhaps I was supposed to bid 4NT now – this is not clear to me. If her response were to be 5, I could reasonably “wake up” now, see the 1 bid on the table, and pass. Finally, I decided that passing 4 was possible and, since that was certainly a disaster (with partner making a slam try, 4 was likely to be making) that’s what I should do. 4 went down 5.

This is how the situation looked from Debbie's point of view:


She had realized, as soon as I started asking about 2, what was happening. (In fact, she thought it was a little eerie because she had given passing thought to opening 1NT). She felt her hand was worth a slam try facing the hand I was supposed to have, hence 4.

Now, I am not looking for an accolade for passing 4. In fact, I am ashamed that my first instinct was to bid 4 - to do the ‘winning’ thing. Rather, it should have been: “What would I have done without the alert?” No, the reason I bring up this hand is that, according to the ACBL, I was allowed to bid 4.

I know this because of a recent appeals case at the Nationals, where I was on the Committee. The auction was different, but the circumstances were analogous. A player had an aberration about what his partner had bid and his partner’s alert ‘woke him up’. The Committee, with the assistance of the directing staff and an ACBL representative, ruled (3 to 2) that the player was allowed to wake up because the bid on the table is always authorized information.

I (along with Jeff Aker) dissented from this ruling. My feeling was, and still is, that there is an excellent chance that a player would not 'wake up' without the alert. Therefore, he should not be permitted to do so – why should the side causing the problem receive the benefit of the doubt?

Back at the table, I did not consider at the time that, according to this ruling, I was allowed to bid. But I’d like to think I would have stuck to my guns and passed anyway.

Now for the post-mortem. This was an amusing situation, and some interesting things could have been said. For example, it was suggested that Debbie, before bidding 4, could have subtly asked her RHO, “Do you really play 2 natural over my 1 opening?” More seriously, she could have announced (as soon as I started asking about 2), “He thinks I opened 1NT,” or, “I opened 1.” According to the ACBL, this UI would be irrelevant, since I can always see the 1 bid on the table.

Another point that interests me (and possibly only me) is what my LHO should say had I persisted with questions. For example, if I said, “the card says you play it as majors”, what should she reply?

Anyway, I’d be interested in hearing whether I am in a minority as to thinking the Director/ACBL interpretation of the rules here is wrong.

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