Mistaken Bid vs. Mistaken Information
That a player or director can find the difference between a mistaken bid ruling and a mistaken explanation ruling confusing is evidenced by the fact that the Laws of Duplicate Contract Bridge devotes an entire page to an example clarifying the two (Law 75, Laws, pp. 83-85). The following hand may help players understand the two irregularities, their responsibilities, and the director’s considerations.
Board 29: Dlr: N, Vul: none
N: QT87// KQ// AJ3// A963
E: 62// J9632// 9842// 84
S: K953// 874// Q765// Q7
W: AJ4// AT5//KT// KJT52
1C - P - 1S - 1NT!
3S - P - P - P
Club opening lead
The 1NT was explained as Sandwich NT: the unbid suits, less than an opening hand.
West approached me during the auction (an impropriety noted by North) and explained that their partnership agreement was that East's explanation was only correct if West had been a passed hand. When West was an unpassed hand, the 1NT bid was natural and showed a strong NT. She asked if she should correct the explanation, but I explained that as a defender, she could only correct the explanation after the hand was over.
The South player took a line of play based on the information given and went down one. I ruled that this was a case of mistaken explanation and awarded the North-South pair an adjusted score. That adjusted score was N-S +170, since I felt that South, with the club opening lead and the correct information, would come to ten tricks via 3 trumps, one heart, three diamonds, two clubs, and a club ruff in hand. This result was duplicated at two other tables. Another lead might have made this result less likely, but it's possible N-S could still come to ten tricks via 3 trumps, one heart, three diamonds, one club, and two club ruffs in hand.
An Example of Mistaken Bid: You open the bidding 2D (weak) and are surprised to hear your partner alert and explain the bid as Flannery. Oops! Your partner is right; your convention card clearly states that you are playing the opening bid of 2D as Flannery. The hand is played and the opponents feel they are damaged. The director is called to the table.
- The opponents were given no misinformation by your partner. He or she correctly explained the partnership agreement, and evidence exists to support that explanation: a completely filled-out convention card.
- Although the nonoffenders may have been damaged, the result stands. Opponents deserve an accurate description of your partnership agreements, but they have no claim to an accurate description of your hands.
- You have no obligation to inform the opponents that you have made a mistake in your bidding.
- Many directors, myself included, keep a record of mistaken bids that damage the nonoffending side. If they happen too often in a partnership, it may be time to suggest that the partnership be more careful.
An Example of Mistaken Explanation: You open the bidding 2D (weak) and are surprised to hear your partner alert and explain the bid as Flannery. Your partner’s explanation is incorrect; your convention card clearly states that you are playing the opening bid of 2D as weak. The hand is played and the opponents feel they are damaged. The director is called to the table.
- Your partner gave the opponents an incorrect explanation of the partnership agreement.
- Opponents are entitled to an accurate description of your partnership agreements. If they were damaged by misinformation, the director must assign an adjusted score. This adjusted score is an attempt to restore equity, i.e. return the table result to what might have happened if no infraction had occurred.
- You must inform the opponents that they have been given the wrong explanation of the partnership agreements. However, you must not alert your partner to that fact. Therefore, if you are dummy or declarer, you must inform the opponents after the auction is over and before the opening lead is made. If you are defending, you must inform the opponents after the play of the hand is over.
Point: In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the director must assume mistaken explanation rather than mistaken bid. That evidence is usually the partnership convention card, accurately and completely filled out, or written system notes. Committees have been known to overturn a mistaken bid ruling if the offending partnership did not have two identical convention cards at the table.
The ruling in the actual hand may be less obvious than the examples given above. Sandwich NT is one of the many conventions that may be played in several ways, among them:
- Natural and strong by an unpassed hand; weak with the two unbid suits by a passed hand; (West's assumption), or,
- Weak with the two unbid suits in all situations (East's assumption).
Your partnership is responsible for all conventions you play: what variant and what changes occur in competition. This information should be written on your convention card. If it is not, there will be no evidence to document your partnership agreement and the director will rule mistaken explanation. The fact that you didn’t know there was an alternate variation of a convention does not relieve you of responsibility.
Point: Whether mistaken bid or mistaken explanation, unauthorized information exists. Be careful to base all actions on authorized information only.
Not surprisingly, the East-West partnership was upset by my ruling and the adjusted score. It was too late to form a committee, so I sent the information to Rulings@acbl.org. This was the Mike Flader’s response:
"In the case of part one, I think that this is clear case of a mistaken explanation, and that there was damage as a direct result of the explanation. I, too, would adjust the score on that basis.
"In the case of part two, it seems to me that you have followed law 12 to the letter. What it says is that when the director assigns an adjusted score, for the non-offending side, that score should be the most favorable one that was at all likely had the infraction not occurred. For the offending side, this should be the least favorable result that was at all probable. The two scores need not balance.”