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Delayed Alerts: Theory and Practice

Delayed alerts appear (from my cursory survey) to be an ACBL innovation. The World Bridge Federation’s (“WBF”) alerting policy says simply, “Any call at the four level or higher, with the exception of conventional calls on the first round of the auction” should not be alerted.

The English Bridge Union (“EBU”) provides for limited alerts when the auction escalates above 3NT, only for:

"(a) Artificial suit bids above 3NT made before the opening bidder’s second turn to call (i.e. the first bid and the next three calls) {splinter examples omitted}

"(b) Lead-directing passes

“(c) Doubles or redoubles that are lead-directing but ask for the lead of a suit other than the suit doubled (or redoubled)

"(d) Doubles and redoubles of no trump contracts that call for a specific suit to be led." (Blue Book Rule 4B4)

The ACBL regulations

The ACBL’s Alert Procedures pamphlet (“the Alert pamphlet”) states: “Once the auction has progressed to the point that the opening bidder has had the opportunity to make a second call, conventional calls at the four level or higher are not Alerted until the auction is over.”

There is a special application to ace-asking bids. “4NT Blackwood (any variety over suits) and 4 Gerber (any variety over notrump) and expected responses thereto do not require an Alert of any kind. All other ace-asking bids and responses require an Alert, but some of these Alerts must be ‘delayed,’” unless the ace-asking begins below 3NT, in which case the alert is immediate. “Unusual ace-asking bids, such as Kickback, Minorwood, Redwood, Super Gerber etc., above the level of 3NT starting with opener’s second turn to call all require a Delayed Alert.” Examples are provided in the Alert pamphlet. The delayed alert aspect of keycard auctions was explored in an earlier article on this site.

The theory

The reason for an alert during an auction is to let the opponents know that a call by your partner may have either an unexpected meaning or at least a meaning in addition to the expected meaning. As stated in the introduction to the Alert pamphlet, “The objective of the Alert system is for both pairs at the table to have equal access to all information contained in any auction.”

Delaying an alert obviously deprives opponents of immediate access to information. The reason I’ve seen suggested for delaying high-level alerts is that such alerts are more likely to benefit the bidders than their opponents.

I find this reason unpersuasive. Your partner’s immediate alerts and any explanations are unauthorized information and should not influence your subsequent calls (though you must observe them for purposes of correcting any misinformation at the appropriate time under Laws 20F4 and 20F5). This seems equally true of bidding at any level.

Also, the absence of an immediate alert may well deprive the opponents of an opportunity to make a lead-directing double. Let's suppose opponents have the following uncontested auction,

W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
4
P
4
P
4
P
5
P
6
P
P
P
 If you knew, for example, that 4 was a keycard ask instead of a control bid, might you double for a lead with the appropriate holding?

Delaying alerts may well save time during an auction, but does it ultimately save any time if the postponed alerts and accompanying explanations are given?

The practice

When your partner makes an alertable call, correct procedure with bidding boxes ordinarily is immediately stating “Alert” as well as tapping an alert card in the bidding box or on the table. Per the Alert Pamphlet, for delayed alerts, "The dummy or declarer Alerts the defenders before the opening lead. The defenders Alert after the opening lead has been made but before it is faced."  "As with normal Alerts, the partner of the person making the Alertable call is the person who makes the delayed Alert and explains the agreement." 

At the end of the auction I posited above, does dummy say “alert, alert” and declarer also say “alert, alert?” Is one alert per partner enough?  Simply stating "alert" will not inform the opponents about which call(s) you are alerting, so it seems that to make a delayed alert meaningful, it should be in the form of an announcement, such as “4 was a splinter in support of s” and “4 asked for keycards in s.” If the delayed alert is not in the form of an announcement, then opponents will be effectively required to request clarification under Law 20F2 just to find out what calls were alertable.

What do you think of the delayed alert exception to the ACBL’s alert rules?

1) There is no good reason for exempting alertable calls above 3NT from immediate alerts.
2) The range of alertable bids above 3NT should be reduced, but should still require immediate alerts, as per the EBU.
3) The ACBL has struck a reasonable balance by requiring alerts above 3NT to be delayed.
4) No nonopening calls above 3NT should be alerted, per the WBF.
5) I'm not subject to these ACBL regulations, so it's not my problem.
6) Other. (Please explain.)

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