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A player waited 3 minutes to play a singleton. We were playing 3 NT and an opponent paused 3 minutes on the second trick leaving 2 minutes to play 11 tricks. What are the rules regarding this unethical play?

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  • 1
    In what context? Was this a tournament with a director? Why is there a total time limit for the hand? Jan 7 at 23:28
  • 3
    I removed irrelevant tags. You're clearly asking about time limits; is this in a particular tournament setting? ACBL for example? Online/in person?
    – Joe
    Jan 7 at 23:33
  • 2
    Slow Play is subject to penalty. acbl.org/conduct-and-ethics/active-ethics/#slow Jan 8 at 12:46
  • If this was on-line, then many a distraction could explain this. But, then you also have remedies. Occasionally I, unwittingly (it never became a reflex, and now I'm too old to learn it), may hesitate with, say Queen third in a suit where declared just tried to finess the queen from partners hand. The way my brain is wired I am already thinking about the continuation. On BBO, when I see what happened, I will send the opps a chat message "Sorry about the delay, no problem in this trick", and play the queen. This has never caused a scene. Jan 12 at 17:18
  • A friend and a highly qualified TD told me that on-line you really cannot read anything into hesitations because there may be a connection problem. And should not be quick to blame. If I unwittingly hesitate with a singleton in an on-line game, I think it is proper to alert the opps (but not my partner) what happened. Jan 12 at 17:20
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Let's look at the relevant Bridge Laws.

Law 16B1 says:

Any extraneous information from partner that might suggest a call or play is unauthorized.This includes remarks, questions, replies to questions, unexpected alerts or failures to alert, unmistakable hesitation, unwonted speed, special emphasis, tone, gesture, movement or mannerism.

(a) A player may not choose a call or play that is demonstrably suggested over another by unauthorized information if the other call or play is a logical alternative.

Law 73D1 says:

It is desirable, though not always required, for players to maintain steady tempo and unvarying manner. However, players should be particularly careful when variations may work to the benefit of their side.

Law 73D2 says:

A player may not attempt to mislead an opponent by means of a question, remark or gesture; by the haste or hesitancy of a call or play (as in hesitating before playing a singleton); by the manner in which a call or play is made; or by any purposeful deviation from correct procedure (see also Law 73E2).

Law 73E2 says:

If the Director determines that an innocent player has drawn a false inference from a question, remark, manner, tempo or the like, of an opponent who has no demonstrable bridge reason for the action, and who could have been aware, at the time of the action, that it could work to his benefit, the Director shall award an adjusted score

Law 74A2 says:

A player should carefully avoid any remark or extraneous action that might cause annoyance or embarrassment to another player or might interfere with the enjoyment of the game

Law 74C prohibits "violations of procedure" including 74C7:

varying the normal tempo of bidding or play for the purpose of disconcerting an opponent

The above are all from the most recent (2017) Laws of Duplicate Bridge. All boldface is my addition. The laws for contract bridge are very similar except for mentions of a director.

All club and tournament games have time limits for each round. So do all online games that I know of. A three minute hesitation in play, especially when holding a singleton of the suit led (not at trick 1, when there might be a need to plan the play) is very much longer than usual, and would usually be considered quite improper. A director or club management would have discretion whether to take action. It would be normal to ask, after the hand is over, what reason there was for the delay. If there was not a good reason, the player might be warned, or even removed from the game or barred from the club or event. A warning would be usual for a first offense. If damage seems to have been done, an adjusted score would be awarded.

Note, however, that such action is only "unethical" if it is done with intent to secure an advantage or disconcert or annoy opponents. If the player was belatedly trying to plan the defense, that is not unethical, although 3 minutes is excessive.

Online and tournament timing is usually 7-8 minutes per hand, including the auction, with the time limit applied only at the end of the round, often 2 or 3 hands, although it may be as few as one or as many as 5 or more hands long. Club play time varies widely, but many clubs use a rough figure of 7 1/2 minutes per hand. Online "speedball" events are typically 15 minutes for three hands.

2

There are two issues with this pause:

  • it's too long just in general, with a timing issue (but I would caution people that my "I thought for 15 seconds" is the opponents' "it was 2 minutes" was probably actually closer to 35-40 seconds)
  • "hesitation with a singleton" is frequently a problem especially not at trick 1 (as Tom says, declarer is expected to pause 15-30 seconds before playing from dummy at trick 1, and third hand should take that time (whether or not dummy is played quickly) to work out the defence.).

David points out the law issues with "players should be particularly careful when variations may work to the benefit of their side." Sometimes it happens (at least twice this week I've "tanked" with a singleton, because I was reviewing their card after making the opening lead, and then reviewing trick 1 after T2 was played. IRL, it's obvious, because I'll request the cards stay up until I'm ready. Online, not so much.) It causes problems, that one should try to ameliorate (I PM'ed declarer to explain.)

If this happens in a sanctioned game, call the director and have them sort it out. If you're concerned just about running out of time (rather than the "with a singleton" part), call the director and make her aware of who was taking the time. The ACBL has this to say in their online regulations (other sponsoring organizations will have their own rules for this situation):

Unfinished hands: A hand that is partially completed when time expires is adjudicated as equitably as possible to both sides. Any doubtful point will be resolved against the partnership that is considered most responsible for not finishing in time.

In a non-sanctioned game, or where time is not a factor, commenting on it, marking the person in your notes, and knowing better next time (or maybe not playing with them next time) is your only resort.

But remember that you not being able to see a problem (looking at your 26 cards) doesn't mean that the opponent doesn't have a problem (or doesn't think he has a problem). It might even be a problem that you (or I) can't see exists, because this player is so much better (or so much worse) that we are. That's why the Laws are written the way they are, and why it's the director's job to determine "discernable bridge reason" "unauthorized information" (and potential use thereof by partner), "improper deception" (deliberate or otherwise), and so on, not yours (or theirs, or mine, when I'm a player).

Finally, I'll emphasize what David said about ethics. A very high ranking TD in the English Bridge Union said this about proprieties and ethics, and I have always felt it is a perfect way to see the world:

  • Doing something proscribed by the Proprieties (Laws 72-76, they used to be a separate section) is improper.
  • Doing something improper deliberately is unethical.
  • Doing something unethical, knowing it's unethical, in order to gain an advantage is the c-word.

You don't know that this was done deliberately - what if the opponent had a phone call come up, or a kid trip down the stairs just then, or a "false disconnect", or just lost their mind and thought it was partner's play? Sure, they should probably let the table know that, but how do you know? Also, how do you know that they didn't have a bridge problem clearing up trick 1 (granted, with a singleton is a problem, 3 minutes is a problem...)? You can point out the time issues (once), call the director and explain the issue, and then when it turns out to be a (non-obvious) singleton, you can point that out to the director if you misplayed as a result - but that's the end. The TD worries about the ethics, you worry about your bridge and your partner and not the opponents. Remember,

A player should carefully avoid any remark or extraneous action that might cause annoyance or embarrassment to another player or might interfere with the enjoyment of the game. - Law 74A2.

Public accusations of behaviour being unethical violate this Law and are themselves imProper.

1

On the opening trick, a "pause" is justified, even when a player has no problems because of the forced play of a singleton. That's because everyone ought to be spending time to study the dummy. Thus should not take place at the second trick, although an inexperienced player may be excused for doing on the second trick what should have been done on the first.

But that pause should be more like 30 seconds; three minutes is too long for most tournaments, and probably many "home" games as well. One way to demonstrate that the pause is for studying the board is for the person to pull the singleton from hand, turn it face down, study the board, and then turn in face up at the end of the 30 seconds.

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