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The Closure of Full Disclosure?
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Some time ago Debbie Rosenberg asked if she is entitled to ask questions like – "How often does your partner pass a 14-16 1NT opening holding a hand with 9 HCP?". A poll was made where 75% of pollees voted for "Yes" and 23% of pollees voted for "No".

My first reaction was:

"The current laws allow you to make questions like that, no matter how silly they might sound".

Kit Woolsey said:

"Yes, in Utopia you should be entitled to the full knowledge and experience that the opponents have with each other, including their subjective perceptions of the percentages of times their partner would or would not take a certain action. No, in the real world you aren't going to get those percentages."

Michael Rosenberg said:

"Opponents are definitely entitled to know what you have AGREED with YOUR current partner PLUS what you know from your EXPERIENCE while playing with this current partner."

The reason why I'm writing this article is because now I disagree strongly with what I said initially. I just didn't pay enough attention to what the laws were saying.

If we read the relevant laws carefully we can see:

Law 40-A-1-a

  • "Partnership understandings as to the METHODS adopted by a partnership may be reached explicitly in discussion or implicitly through mutual experience or awareness of the players."

Law 40-B-1-b

  • "Whether explicit or implicit an AGREEMENT between partners is a partnership understanding..."

So, what does it mean, exactly?

Well, let's begin with an example. Suppose you are playing a tourney with some player you don't play often with and the 1NT-2-2-3 sequence occurs. What do you bid now holding the 2353 hand? You didn't discuss such sequence but since your partner is a good modern player you assume Smolen is on, bid 4 and feel happy when dummy hits with 4531. If such sequence happens again, your obligation is to disclose you are playing Smolen – because now you know this is a method you have agreed upon implicitly, even without discussing it.

However, what will partner do with his 9 points facing a 1NT opening is neither a matter of your agreement nor of a method. It is just a matter of partner's hand and his/her judgement. And partner's judgement is not a method you agreed upon. Therefore, there is nothing to disclose. Or, as Kit Woolsey thoughtfully said:

"If I open 1NT partner is captain. I don't know or care what partner is doing. I just follow instructions. If partner invites, I accept or reject based on where my hand stands in my perception of our 1NT range. I give no thought at all as to what partner is doing. Partner is the captain of the ship, and she can do anything she wants."

The same goes about mixed sign-offs we've been discussing recently in my Handling Air series. Some players accused me of robbing/cheating the opponents when sign-offing in 3 with a singleton because we didn't (and don't tend to) disclose such possibility. Well, of course we didn't disclose it – because it is not a method. It is not like we have an agreement "In 80% of occurrences the hand of the 3 sign-off will have long hearts and in 20% of occurrences will have short hearts". Such agreement might eventually fit a definition of a method. But if a player occasionally signs-off in his singleton, in practice this happens because his judgement tells him this might be his best bid with the actual hand, not because he tries to conform with the frequencies of the method agreed upon. If 3 is a sign-off instructing partner not to contribute in the further bidding – that's a method and that should be disclosed. But that's all.

Similar for hyper-aggressive preempts. If a player might open a favorable fist seat 3 with xxxxxxxT98xxx this could be a method or could be not. If such pair uses the 2 opening as "5+, 7-11" implying the 3 opening will be done exclusively with 0-6 HCP, this is a method and should be disclosed. But if a player might occasionally throw an unusual hand like xxxxxxxxQJTxx in the standard range of his 3 preempt, that's not a method. Because there's not an agreement like "Unfavorable we will open 3 with most 2335 hands" and because such decision might be opponents-dependent. One player I used to play against had a guideline she was very proud of – "Whenever D.P. opens a favorable preempt my biggest priority is to double him for penalties". Against such player my judgement will tell me not to open such hand with 3, regardless of my style. But not because this is a method agreed upon. My partner isn't obliged to explain which is my perception of the game or of the opponents, although he might know that as a matter of experience.

Many players like to disclose whatever they can because they feel they are kind of protecting weaker opponents this way. And that's okay. But that's not what the Laws of bridge are expecting since the wording of relevant laws is very clear. The fact there might be directors who are misinterpreting this issue, or not knowing what a method is, still doesn't change the laws.

Michael Rosenberg asked:

"Do you think it's fair that you can bid and defend knowing stuff about your partner, but the opponents are not entitled to that info EVEN WHEN THEY ASK?"

The correct answer appears to be – if that knowledge isn't a matter of methods, of course it is fair to know such stuff, the same way it is fair for your opponent to know non-methodical stuff about his partner. You are exactly in the same position and there's no valid reason to find such relation unfair, as long as opponents are informed about relevant methods in use.

What do you think about this interesting issue?

Do you agree with my point of view or you think Bobby Levin should (pre)alert Steve Weinstein's leads against grand-slams as "My partner could be leading a trump from Qxx(x)" too?

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