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The protagonist is West (W). Declarer leads a small card of a suit in which dummy, to W's left, has A8. West hesitates before playing in the following four situations:

  1. He has Kx (x<8). This is the mark of weak player who has "given away the game," and the declarer has all the advantages.
  2. He has T6, which "straddle" the 8. If the tournament director (TD) asks why he hesitated, he responds that he was trying to decide whether or not to "top" the 8.
  3. He has T9 or 76, "equal" holdings that lose to the A, but either beat, or fail to, the 8. If the TD asks him for an explanation of his conduct, he replies that he was trying to decide whether or not falsecard the higher card to induce the declarer to lose count.
  4. He has a singleton, and hence no decision to make, and should play "naturally." As it is, he's pretending that he has more than one card when he doesn't.

The last case would clearly be one of wrongful hesitation. Would any of the other three cases, or others that I missed, constitute such misconduct, and why?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Hesitating in case 3 is clearly unethical, as West has no problem in playing from either T9 or 67 in this scenario. One may hesitate in order to determine which card to play from a technical perspective, but not whether or not to signal to partner without an accompanying technical problem. Otherwise one would always hesitate when showing an even number with 2, and never hesitate when showing an even number with 4, thus creating a(n illegal) signal that clearly distinguished between holdings of 2 and 4 cards based on the manner in which the cards were played rather than the particualr cards played.

Even in the absence of the above, hesitating would clearly be seen as an attempt to mislead declarer on the location of a single card between the A and 8. It is quit likely that Declarer is not harmed in this instance, but that does not preclude the award of an adjusted score to the offending side, EW here. The appropriate penalty for a first offense would be the actual score for NS, and lower of actual and Average-minus for EW.

Update - Added comments from below

1) "False carding to make the declarer lose count" is not illegal in this instance, but "reinforcing" it by hesitating is, right? – Tom Au
Yes; but it is important to realize that all signals not made in tempo comprise Unauthorized Information (UI) for partner; namely that there was a question about whether or not to make the signal, and thus that the signal is in some fashion weak. Likewise false carding must be done in tempo in order to not be seen as an attempt to improperly deceive declarer; but this is really just a special case of the preceding as partner is also given UI.

2) In example 2 (and even example 1), you have two cards that "straddle" the 8, so you have a technical problem, right? Then hesitating under those circumstances would be amateurish, but not wrongful, right? -- Tom Au
Yes, that is correct; however the decision on carding if Declarer plays low towards Dummy should have been made as part of West's review of dummy right after it came down. Hesitating when the play occurs is still UI for partner, and will hinder effective defense in consequence. Practice taking a full 3/4 second or so on every play as defender, to give yourself a couple tenths reaction/thinking time when you need it.

Yes, the experts do what you suggested, and it's the amateurs that wait until it's too late = Tom Au
So true.

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"False carding to make the declarer lose count" is not illegal in this instance, but "reinforcing" it by hesitating is, right? –  Tom Au Apr 22 at 19:13
    
It is important to realize that all signals not made in tempo comprise Unauthorized Information (UI) for partner; namely that there was a question about whether or not to make the signal, and thus that the signal is in some fashion weak. Likewise false carding must be done in tempo in order to not be seen as an attempt to improperly deceive declarer; but this is really just a special case of the preceding as partner is also given UI. –  Pieter Geerkens Apr 22 at 21:27
    
In example 2 (and even example 1), you have two cards that "straddle" the 8, so you have a technical problem, right? Then hesitating under those circumstances would be amateurish, but not wrongful, right? –  Tom Au Apr 25 at 1:26
    
@TomAu: Yes, that is correct; however the decision on carding if Declarer plays low towards Dummy should have been made as part of West's review of dummy right after it came down. Hesitating when the play occurs is still UI for partner, and will hinder effective defense in consequence. Practice taking a full 3/4 second or so on every play as defender, to give yourself a couple tenths reaction/thinking time when you need it. –  Pieter Geerkens Apr 25 at 1:39
1  
Yes, the experts do what you suggested, and it's the amateurs that wait until it's too late. So a pause of three-quarters second, or even a full second every time is legit, as long as it's about the same length each time. –  Tom Au Apr 25 at 1:42
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I believe that cases 1-3 are all ethical, but these are simple problems that should have been solved at the end of some earlier trick (In duplicate bridge, after all the cards to a trick have been faced, players should indicate that they are thinking about the hand by keeping their card face up. Play does not proceed until all players have turned their cards face down.).

None of 1-3 damage declarer, and in any case you may pause to think whenever you have an actual bridge problem. However, your hesitations may also transmit unauthorized information to your partner, and so your partner may be constrained in their future actions.

Jeff Goldsmith has a useful and interesting discussion about unauthorized information on his website, which covers this area, and discusses what you should do in case partner has accidentally given you unauthorized information.

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