In bridge, there are some times when you can assure yourself of x number of tricks (just enough for your contract) by making a safety play to guard against an adverse 4-1 distribution. If you don't make the safety play, and instead lead out three top cards, you will make an overtrick if the suit breaks 3-2, and go down one if it breaks 4-1 (because you can't get back to dummy to take the fifth trick. Most rubber players would make the safety play to maximize expected points, and most duplicate players would take the three tops to maximize expected tricks.

Suppose you are a member of a "traveling" duplicate pair. As you approach a certain table, you notice declarers looking glum as they leave the table. From this, you infer that one or more declarers caught a bad break. Sure enough, when you sit down and declare, you see the road fork between making a safety play and laying down three top cards.

Now it's unethical to peek at the score sheet to find out whether others made an overtrick, their contract, or down one. But is it unethical to make the safety play based on the body language of the two preceding declarers?

Suppose someone else was the only declarer to make the safety play. The tournament director observes this and accuses him of cheating. He defends himself by saying that he was dissatisfied with his position in the standings, was in a "top or bottom" mode, and earned a top on this one hand. How would these claims be resolved?


1 Answer 1


Under no circumstances is one entitled to draw inferences from the actions of a partner or teammate.

Under certain circumstances one is entitled to draw inferences from the behavior of the opponents at one's table, on boards one is playing against them. As you note, deliberately peeking at an opponent's scores is not one of these cases.

However, under no circumstances is one entitled to draw inferences from the behaviour of opponents at other tables, about boards not currently at your table. In this instance, there additionally seems to have been a conscious interpretation of forbidden knowledge, making the violation particularly egregious. Other than for a novice, I would likely assess average-minus on the board in question, and a further procedural penalty of one additional full board if I felt there was sufficient evidence to establish a likelihood that the egregious violation occurred, other than from lack of knowledge.

If I felt that the offender had lied in order to hide the deliberateness of the offense, that is blatant cheating. If sufficiently established I would immediately eject the player from the game, consequences to the movement not withstanding; impose a lengthy suspension from the club; and file a full incident report to the ACBL describing my actions and the evidence I used to reach the decision..

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    Addendum 1: There are situations where one sees or overhears the behavior of opponents of other table without intending to, and it becomes impossible to play a board normally. In that case, you should inform the director, who will probably give both sides an average-plus on the board if he or she agrees the board can no longer be played normally. Sometimes a player will realize the significance of an overheard remark only in the middle of playing the board, and the director should be informed then. Nov 26, 2015 at 0:43
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    Addendum 2: It is of course possible to cheat, and in many cases the director will not notice or will be unable to establish sufficient evidence to make a ruling. A director who is suspicious is supposed to file a Recorder Form with the ACBL Unit. The Unit likely will not do anything (after all, the director at the scene did not see fit to do anything), but it might investigate further or tell directors to be careful if they see several reports on the same person. Nov 26, 2015 at 0:48
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    If an "onside" opponent at your table hesitated when you were playing a finesse, that would be a permitted inference, right?
    – Tom Au
    Nov 26, 2015 at 17:27
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    @AlexanderWoo: So then the ethical thing to do is to inform the tournament director as soon as you realize that you inadvertently have an 'unfair advantage," right?
    – Tom Au
    Nov 26, 2015 at 17:44
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    @TomAu - correct on both counts. Nov 26, 2015 at 21:19

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