Declarer is playing a hand. Dummy has very limited rights to talk, such as "no more of the suit, partner?" to prevent a possible "revoke."

But suppose dummy asks indiscreetly, "why did you do that, partner?" Declarer answers something like, "transportation." This occurs after the play was made, but before the hand was over.

Now declarer has just given away part of his strategy to others at the table. On the other hand, his side will not benefit from this revelation because dummy doesn't get to play. The declarer, of course, knows his strategy, but his opponents might possibly benefit from hearing it before the hand is over.

In such a situation, is the declarer's side penalized?

  • 2
    Even with my very amateur cryptographer hat on, I can easily create a code where this does benefit the declarer's side: for instance, asking "why did you do that, partner?" could be code for "lead a spade next". So long as you don't use the channel too often, nobody would figure it out. Aug 30, 2019 at 6:18
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    @PhilipKendall. However, it is a violation of The Proprieties to make such an accusation without proof. Three yeas ago there was a huge ruckus when it was discovered that a pair was signalling to each other by how they placed their scoring pencil and the attitude by which they placed their Opening Lad on the table - but these accusations were backed by hours of video testimony. Several other world-class players shortly afterwards also voluntarily forfeited recent awards and withdraew from the upcoming (at that time) World Championships. Aug 30, 2019 at 6:58
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    In a club game, nothing would happen after such an exchange. The more serious the event, the more closely the proprieties are upheld. I do think exchanging levities is fine, no matter the occasion, but the dummy should be extra careful in initiating it. Sep 3, 2019 at 6:06
  • @JYRK That very much depends on the club. Some clubs would bar a player for repated table talk -- I have seen it. See my answer below. Oct 4, 2019 at 21:24

3 Answers 3


The Laws of Rubber Bridge (2014) make clear that this behaviour is unacceptable by Dummy (my emphasis):

Law 43 - Dummy's Limitations

Dummy may not participate in the play (except to play the cards of dummy’s hand as directed by declarer) or make any comment on the bidding, play or score of the current deal. If he does so, Law 16A may apply. During play dummy may not call attention to an irregularity once it has occurred.

Dummy forfeits the rights provided in Law 42 if he exchanges hands with declarer, leaves his seat to watch declarer play or, on his own initiative, looks at the face of a card in either defender’s hand.

In many cases a comment such as you describe could not be claimed to contain unauthorized information. One obvious exception is if there is still trump out in Defender's hands, when the comment has been made particularly if one or more rounds have already been drawn. Other circumstances, such as appearing to abandon Dummy with an unplayed established long suit, might exist.

Law 16 - Unauthorized Information

A player may be subject to penalty if information is conveyed from his partner other than by a legal call or play.

A. Regarding information obtained from partner: If a player conveys information to his partner by means of a remark, question, ..., [it] is unauthorized. When the offending side has profited by use of this unauthorized information, it should, in conformance with Proprieties 1, redress any damage done to the non-offending side.

B. ....


A player on the offending side must not base any subsequent calls or plays on such unauthorized information. If it is determined that this has been violated and the non-offending side has been damaged, the result should be adjusted to redress any damage done to the non-offending side.

However the intent of Rule 16 is to restore equity in these circumstances. There is no penalty applied under this rule unless damage to the non-offending side has occurred (as assessed by an unbiased reasonable observer). If your game happens to have an Arbiter, there is an additional extension of Rule 16 that can be enabled by the Club to have the Arbiter make such a determination.

Dummy also has certain rights enumerated in Law 42, which are lost if Dummy engages in specific activities noted above. If Dummy has forfeited his rights and subsequently attempts to use them certain procedural penalties apply to Declarer, as noted in the second half of Law 43.

The Proprieties also state:


1. General Principles

These Laws cannot cover every situation that might arise, nor can they produce equity in every situation covered. .... The guiding principle: the side that commits an irregularity bears an obligation not to gain directly from the infraction.

To infringe a Law intentionally is a serious breach of ethics, even if there is a prescribed penalty that one is willing to pay. The offence may be the more serious when no penalty is prescribed.


Furthermore, the following are considered breaches of propriety: ...

H. indicating approval or disapproval of a call or play.

It is eminently obvious here that Dummy is both in violation of the Proprieties, in a manner, as noted above, so egregious that no specific penalty has been prescribed. This should be politely noted to Dummy when such behaviour occurs, perhaps by quoting the paragraph above from The Proprieties.

Note that:

The Scope of the Laws

The Laws are designed to define correct procedure and to provide an adequate remedy whenever a player accidentally, carelessly or inadvertently disturbs the proper course of the game, or gains an unintentional but nevertheless unfair advantage. An offending player should be ready to graciously accept any penalty set forth in these Laws or any adjustment or decision of an Arbiter

And, if all else fails in regard to a recalcitrant offender

These Laws do not deal with dishonorable practices where ostracism is the ultimate remedy.


In any organized competition the organizing committee has the right (and should publicize in the conditions of contest) to impose additional penalties, up to and including expulsion from the event, for repeated violations of The Proprieties, whether or not otherwise covered under The Laws of Rubber Bridge.


The excellent answer by "Forget I was ever here" spells out most of the issues here. But I would like to more explicitly point out that by saying "why did you do that, partner?" a player clearly indicates that s/he thinks partner has made an error. This could draw partner's attention to that error, which might lead to partner taking a different and more successful line than had attention not been drawn.

Even when no unauthorized information is passed, this kind of table talk can be highly distracting, and in serious play, even club level play, would draw disapproval from the other players and in club-level duplicate, a rebuke from the director, possibly with a warning of a penalty should the offense be repeated. I have seen a player warned of possible expulsion at the Honors club in NYC for this sort of table talk.

  • I believe you, of course. And fully understand the point. I have never heard "why did you do that, partner" in my club either. And I would not expect to hear that outside the beginners course. Undoubtedly our club is less serious than the one you mentioned :-) Oct 4, 2019 at 21:29
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    @jyrki Honors is the largest club in New York City -- a good many high-level players are regulars. It has inherited many of the regulars from the now defunct Beverly and Manhattan clubs. Not quite your local 6-table once-a-week game. Oct 4, 2019 at 21:45

Over and above the other answers (which are absolutely accurate), the biggest penalty (for criticizing partner at the table, before, during, or after the hand) is not one applied by the TD or the club. It is one of Jeff Goldsmith's Imperious Rules of Bridge:

Be good to partner; try to keep him on your side. It's easy to convince him to join the enemy.

(Please note: These "rules" have no value in Law, and are frequently quixotic:

If something strange is going on, double the Israeli.


Hartman's Law: 4D doubled always makes. Jeff's corollary: all doubles of 4D are takeout.

for instance. But apart from the ones like the above that you can throw out as obviously "there was those couple of weeks where...", it's worth at least considering them.)

I usually phrase this rule as "Remember, there is exactly one person in the room that wants you to do well. It's easy to convince her to join the other side". And it is.

Criticizing partner - especially when you can only see 13 cards and she can see 26 - can easily lead to these patterns:

  1. "Oh, I'm just bad (tonight)" - which leads to lack of concentration, and more errors
  2. "hmm, maybe he's right, I wonder..." which means not paying attention to this hand, which leads to more errors
  3. "I could try this line, but if it's wrong, I'll be hearing about it for the rest of the round. So I'll take the line I can't be criticized for" (but is booked for below average)
  4. "I don't [] care any more. Let's just get through this session and I can go home/never have to play with him again/can get a drink." When you get to "pushing cards" mode, you've lost.
  5. "[] this for a lark. If he thinks I can't play, he can find out what happens when I deliberately can't play."

I have seen all of these. I have won (side) events at Nationals because a pro pushed his client to at least stage 4. I have committed most of them. I have been the person pushing partner to almost all of them. It was wrong when I did it, too.

Find out from your partner what is the best way to review issues, both regular play and systemic. Agree on something and 100% stick to it. Probably best is "nothing at the table, mandatory review of all hands at dinner/at the bar after/coffee the next day". But that's more like work. One of my regular partnerships' rules was "one question, one answer, after the hand. If it takes more than that, end of session." One of my partner's rules with her regular partner is "after the round, away from the table, only."

Bridge is a game played by smart people, and a habit of smart people is they like to show off how smart they are. In bridge, that frequently leads to "See? I'm smarter than you, partner" - and that doesn't fly well.

I feel it is fitting to leave this with yet another of Goldsmith's Imperious Rules:

If partner makes severe errors two hands in a row, offer to get him a Coke. It will break the losing rhythm and maybe get you back on the right track. If you make an error two hands in a row, offer to get your partner a Coke. Same reason. (If partner or you don't drink Coke, know what the appropriate substitute is.)

  • The counter example to all this is of course Barry Crane. But then, Crane was the exception to every rule one could think of - he was one of the top players on the planet (regarded by many as the best Match Point player ever), and richer than most clients. Jun 8, 2020 at 23:58
  • Yes - and no. From Grant Baze:For three days I have been trying to think of a Barry story that would put him into a good light. I have not been able to think of a single one. So I will choose some stories that I know firsthand. [...] Jeff Meckstroth went one better. He played with Barry in a two session regional event just because he thought he should play at least once with "Mr. McKinney." At the end of the event Jeff tore their convention card into ribbons and threw the pieces at Barry, making it very clear that he would never play with Barry again.
    – Mycroft
    Jun 9, 2020 at 16:22
  • Did you read that link? The whole thing. I have, many times. "On the plus side, he was good for bridge. He created a lot of action at and away from the bridge table, he was a celebrity in and out of the bridge world. ... Barry loved a McKinney race. ... Barry wanted the race to be acrimonious, ... This made the year more exciting and therefore more fun for Barry, and frankly it made it more fun and exciting for the rest of us, whether we were directly involved or not. ... Also since Barry's death, there has not been a real race for the McKinney." Jun 9, 2020 at 16:41
  • That's the "yes" (as is the many parts of his "system" that is basically expert standard now). The "no" is that even Passell and Meckstroth were visibly annoyed with him (and tell me that didn't affect their play). And he did it to himself: "When he came back he deliberately threw the next six boards in a row (we lost the event by one-half of a matchpoint, and of course he blamed me)."
    – Mycroft
    Jun 9, 2020 at 22:47

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