Monday, November 8, 2010

Alert Procedure

This is Sean. Andre invited me to post on his blog whenever I have something I think is relevant, and after this last weekend of unsuccessful bridge I did take away some possible posts. After this weekend in Atlanta, I walked away with more gripes about our opponents than usual. We started the weekend with an argument with a good Atlanta pair who were extremely rude and refused to check the seating chart or explain that they asked the director for that particular seat - the directors had accidentally forgotten when placing the seating assignments so they reassigned us. From that point it might have been impossible for me to feel good about my opponents, but there were a lot of things that stuck with me more than usual.

Although I am a junior and may make some borderline tactical and psychic bids, I still view myself as a very ethical bridge player. During the Sunday Swiss my RHO picked up: ♠xxx Qx Qxxx ♣Txxx. I preempted a 9-12 2♠ in first seat R/w: 2♠-[X]-P-[2NT]*;P-[3NT]-X-?. 2NT was alerted as Lebensohl. 3NT should show a very strong hand: 22-25 Balanced ((too strong for 3NT over 2♠)). The only real options here in my mind are pass or a penalty redouble; I can’t imagine anyone pulling 3NT. At the table, however, 2NT was not alerted by LHO. This makes it pretty clear to pull to 4 of a minor which is what occurred at the table. I called the director after the bidding and she told us to call again if we feel we were harmed. We got 1100 against a possible 1400 in 3NT so we didn’t call the director because it wasn’t worth the time. I believe that the director should have been much harsher on this point, however. In my eyes it is a pretty clear violation of the rules and thus cheating. It is illegal to compensate for partner’s lack of an alert. This was clearly the least ethical thing I saw all weekend, but there were also some other minor irritations.

I feel strongly about people using proper procedure when it comes to alerts. If I alert my partner’s bid and you are my LHO then don’t ask what it could be and don’t expect a response. This might annoy many people who are trying to get the information, but it is very easy to give away information while asking. Since it isn’t your turn to bid it you can simply be asking to give partner information or ask for the benefit of partner which is illegal. I feel extremely strong about asking solely for the benefit of partner because of an incident in the Mini-Spingold in New Orleans. Also if you look at my convention card and then put it down and ask a question such as “do you play 2/1” or “so that was ____?” then I feel extremely torn at answering. Is it possible that you looked at my card and were unable to find the 2/1 box? I doubt it. You can only be asking because you don’t think partner has the sense to ask or look for themselves. However, I am a junior and any action that seems to be taken as offensive such as not answering this type of question becomes the fact that I am rude and inconsiderate.

The correct way to ask what an alert or bid is to ask “please explain” or “what is ____”. Almost any other way could accidentally be revealing information about your hand to partner. Take for instance the auction 1H-[P]-3♣*. Let’s say you ask “is that Bergen?” That implies that you know that your right hand opponent doesn’t have a club suit because you must have the suit. If you ask “is that a fit jump?” it implies just the opposite – you have club shortness. Simply ask what 3♣ is if you are thinking of entering the bidding. If you aren’t thinking about entering the bidding then wait for the auction to end and your partner to select his lead; you are entitled to the information, but you want to make sure you don’t give the opponents a chance to exchange any information they don’t deserve or know.
The worst of these scenarios may be when my partner makes a bid such as a natural weak 2 opener and my RHO thinks for a while and says “2 is natural?” I always want to respond “yes, but his diamond suit isn’t nearly as good as yours.” When asking questions in this fashion you are telling your partner that you have reason to believe that 2 can’t be natural such as a good diamond holding.

If the opponents do not alert an alertable bid then the director is going to be forced to bend over backwards to help your side. Had you been told that their 2 opener was Flannery or Mini-Roman and you would have bid then the director will adjust the score to make sure you were not harmed. Not asking will also give you the added benefit of the opponents having a misunderstanding and giving you a good result while you have no way to be harmed because the director will adjust the score in your favor had the information helped you. Asking in these situations goes from a net gain to the only help from asking is so help let your opponents “wake up” and to get yourself in trouble by incidentally giving partner information about your hand that will give the director a reason to rule against your side.

Alert procedure is very easy to follow and should never be misused. I feel very strongly about how alerts should be done and it is a major pet peeve of mine when someone doesn’t do it correctly. On different tone, I dislike all announcements – most of all a natural 1NT, but that is a relative side point.

-- Sean


  1. The worst is when they say, "Alert, that's Cappalletti" (or some other convention).

    Why can't they just say, "Alert," and let me ask if I want? Is that so hard?

  2. I also hate announcements. I don't think many people, myself included, know the proper procedures surrounding them either.

    Should a "nebulous" 1D opener be described in detail? A lot of strong-club pairs just say "could be short," and leave me to dredge up the information that yes, it denies a five-card major, and yes, it is limited, and yes, it's not a balanced hand in their NT range. Maybe you could have "alerted" us to these things--if only there was a way to "alert" the opponents to a conventional bid...wait a minute...

    If I've overcalled 1NT, should my partner announce the range? (No, but many people do.)

    If I've overcalled 1NT and my partner transfers, should I say "transfer" or "alert" or nothing?

    If the bidding goes 1NT (2C) x (Stayman), should I alert the double? (Many people don't.) What if instead of doubling, my partner bids 2H, which we play as a transfer? (Again, I vote for "alert," but lots of players vote for announcing "transfer," which I think is egregious.)

    If I open 2C and my partner bids 2D showing less than 8 HCP, am I obliged to say something? Many people seem to think I am, but I don't.

    Many people also think my bid of 2NT after my partner's weak two is alertable, and get annoyed when I don't alert it.

    On the other hand, many people don't alert 1H-3H (preemptive), or 1H-2S (preemptive). Not to mention the weak players around here (North Jersey) who think that 2/1 is "standard" and don't announce when their 1NT response to 1M is forcing.

  3. If it is at all possible to find out about the alert by looking at their convention card, that is what should be done, to keep the opponent from giving his partner unauthorized info. That's why we alert and say no more unless asked to.

    I agree whole-heartedly with everything except about pulling from 3NTX to 4C. Pulling from 3NT undoubled to 4C is clearly unethical because he has to play partner for a huge hand, but I think my double of 3NT kind of reveals that someone has forgotten Lebensohl and he is allowed to make that inference based on my bidding, not his partner's.

    Patrick, I think "could be short" is appropriate for a precision 1D opening as you described.

    Transfers to a major after partner has opened/overcalled 1NT are always announceable, but transfers by partner after LHO has opened 1NT are alerted! If double is stayman that is alertable; 2M-2NT is not alertable if it is forcing and asking aboout opener's hand (regardless of what it is asking).

  4. Just a comment about the 1H-(P)-3C* example. If you only ask about this kind of auction when you are considering entering the bidding, that in and of itself can reveal a large amount of information to partner (if not during the auction, then certainly afterwards). Perhaps when a sequence has a large number of possible meanings it is best to ask regardless of your hand?

  5. Right or wrong, ACBL guidelines and directors almost always say that you should only ask about alerts during the auction if it might influence what you bid, but that may be mostly to avoid interrupting the auction so much and save time by having everything explained at the end.

    And while it is annoying for people to ask the wrong question, ACBL clearly says that the proper way to ask about an alert is "Please explain" but if they ask any question about a bid, even a poorly phrased question, you are required to tell them everything.