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In two previous questions, it was clearly agreed that hesitating before playing a singleton specifically, and hesitating during play as a bluff generally constitute "wrongful/unethical hesitation." As an advanced beginner, I don't understand this rule at all.

I know that at the highest level, the best way to play and not give away any information about your holding to the opponents is to play each card at a nice even tempo. I am not a world class player; I am not even an advanced player (if I endplay you, I promise it wasn't intentional). As such, I frequently need to pause and calculate what to play, even in situations where the correct play should be obvious.

Knowing that I will inevitably need to pause and consider a play and that that pause will provide my opponents with the information that I had a potentially difficult decision to make, why is it considered unethical for me to occasionally insert a similar pause before a routine play?

It isn't as if I could use such a pause to reliably signal something to my partner. In fact, this strategy removes the temptation for partner to draw unauthorized inferences from my pauses.

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I don't play bridge, but something sounds really off to me about this "rule". In any other game I know, if you somehow suggested that giving false tells was immoral, you'd be laughed at like a scrub. –  Sam I am Jul 23 at 21:11

3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

If you routinely take 2-3 seconds before each play of the cards, that is ethical. If you usually play cards more quickly, but take a pause when you have a problem, that is ethical.

If, on the other hand, you usually play cards more quickly, take a pause when you have a problem, and sometimes take a pause when you don't have a problem to throw declarer off, this is unethical. Even though your partner is not entitled to know when you have a problem, declarer is entitled to know. Pausing in order to mislead declarer is called "coffee-housing." It is unethical because in bridge only your actual plays should mislead declarer. It is related to the idea that you and your partner may not have secret bidding agreements. Bridge is not poker; you are not trying to bluff your opponents based on your demeanor.

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Well, actually it is quite proper to bluff your opponents; just not by the way you play your cards or make calls, only by the actual cards played and calls made. –  Pieter Geerkens Jul 23 at 20:37
Quite right. I've modified the last sentence to reflect this. –  ruds Jul 23 at 20:51
I knew this was the agreed upon answer when I asked the question, but I don't think it addresses the real thrust of my question which is WHY this is the agreed upon standard. That is why I haven't accepted this answer. You assert that declarer is entitled to know when I have a problem. I'm really not sure why. This isn't so much bluffing a la poker as it is removing a tell. I simply don't understand why my opponents are allowed to infer information from my demeanor but I'm not allowed to then stop them from doing that. –  Kevin Driscoll Aug 14 at 1:42
To wit, I AM allowed to deceive declarer with my choice of which card to play. This seems incredibly counter-intuitive. Knowing you cannot stop the contract and making an odd play with the intent of disrupting Declarer is just as much of a bluff. I don't see how its related to not having secret agreements. There, I always thought the intent was to stop saying one thing to partner but something else to the opponents. Here, I'm trying to conceal information from everyone (partner included, perhaps). –  Kevin Driscoll Aug 14 at 1:47
@HostileFork Thanks for reminding me. I still find this particular element of Bridge ethics to be not well supported by any general principle of what should/shuld not be considered ethical, but this is the accepted answer and Bridge players have no time for my philosophical objections. –  Kevin Driscoll Nov 11 at 4:27

Bridge players derive pleasure from using their brains, be it a technical play, or some nice logic to read the cards perfectly, which includes inferences from opponents hesitations.

Allowing coffee-housing like invalid hesitations just destroys that pleasure, as now there is garbage thrown into the pool of inferences available. That said, beginning players usually hesitate for no valid bridge reason, and many better players indeed try to take that into account.

Note that is very different from deceptive plays in bridge, where you deceive the opponents purely using the card you play (and not in the manner you play it), are completely ethical and quite a useful weapon.

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Just trying to give some reason as to why it is considered unethical... –  Aryabhata Jul 28 at 4:51
But doesn't allowing defenders to make a play which deceives Declarer already 'throw garbage into the pool?' Why such a stark contrast between play and manner of play? I mean, I'm not even suggesting that one should play so as to intentionally deceive Declarer. I'm only suggesting that one should vary one's play so that Declarer can't possibly draw an inference. The intent is quite different. –  Kevin Driscoll Aug 14 at 1:53
It's very strange. It's like you're asking Defenders to 'hang themselves.' I mean, by this logic it should also be unethical to play quickly, without thinking about any difficulties, in a situation where one really does have a problem that might be figured out if defender took extra time to think. It's like we've created a situation where defenders have to help Declarer beat them, otherwise the defenders are acting unethically. –  Kevin Driscoll Aug 14 at 1:56
@KevinDriscoll: Nope. Falsecards don't put garbage in the pool. For instance, AKQ9x opposite xxx. You need to make 5 tricks from the suite. You play a low card to the A. RHO follows with the J. If RHO is a weak defender you finesse the 9 the next round (restricted choice), but if RHO is a good defender you should consider the play for the drop. Consider the same situation where RHO thinks for a while and follows the J. Ultimately he turns out to have a singleton J (where he had no reason to be thinking). –  Aryabhata Aug 14 at 10:01
@Kevin: That is why they advise you to take your time at trick 1. You are entitled to do some thinking upfront. Once you gain more information mid-hand, you can always pause to think about the whole hand. Some people recommend playing a card face down in normal tempo, and doing the thinking, saying "thinking about the hand". You don't have to coffee-house, and you won't be hanged, and as a side effect, planning ahead will improve your results! –  Aryabhata Aug 14 at 10:04

It's related to the 'secret agreements' with partner in this way - Dummy has KJ. Declarer leads toward it, and has a the AQ guess. If you hesitate as if thinking of hopping up with the ACE, declarer will be fooled ( what else could you be thinking of?) but your partner won't , he's looking at the ACE !! Similarly, if dummy J43 of trumps and declarer, holding AK1076, leads the J and his right hand opponent hesitates as if he was thinking of covering with the Queen ( what else could he be thinking of?) then declare will be fooled but your partner can't be - he's looking at the Queen!. You were never at risk for fooling your partner.

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