Delayed Alerts

What a way to start the 2016 New Year – with a zinger of an argument at the table, and winning it!

With the Voidwood (or Exclusion Blackwood) convention, my partner Christine and I reached an unbeatable 6 Clubs contract in the auction, but our very competitive opponent, the solid A player Freeman Bunn, had two Aces, so he doubled.

Before play started but after the auction was over, Freeman’s partner, Nancy Marquardt, an equally solid A player, asked a series of questions, all of which we answered straightforwardly, revealing that I was void in Hearts (the suit of one of Freeman’s two Aces) and that Christine had one Ace.

Freeman then called the director, the very capable Jack Wilson who has 10 years’ experience directing at our home club, the Vero Beach Bridge Center, although he freely admitted he does not have experience as a director at tournaments sanctioned by the American Contract Bridge League. Freeman protested that my 4 Hearts Voidwood convention bid, asking my partner for keycards (Aces plus King of trump suit), but excluding the Ace of Hearts (the suit of my void), should have been alerted.

I countered that nothing at or above Game level is alertable, but Jack, the director, initially gave a split ruling that favored our opponents. He ruled that my 4 Hearts bid (whether Voidwood or not) was an obvious cue bid showing first-round control in Hearts and as such was not alertable. However, he also ruled that Christine’s 4 NoTrump reply showing one Ace should have been alerted by me as such. And therefore, he allowed Freeman to withdraw his double.

I made the Small Slam – undoubled for the moment – for a 920 score, but it was only third-best on the hand because two other pairs playing in our same direction bid 6 No-Trump and were allowed to make 7 due to some incredibly bad defense (naturally, the hand with the 2 Aces wasn’t on lead).

But that wasn’t the end of it. Jack the director researched the matter further, checked with Gerry Browning, head director for Regional tournaments in Canada, and found out that I was right – nothing at Game level or above is alertable. My 4 Hearts bid wasn’t alertable either as an Ace-asking convention or as a cue bid, and neither was Christine’s 4 NoTrump reply in the Ace-asking convention.

Both those bids are subject to so-called “Delayed Alerts,” that need to be given after the auction is over and before the first lead is made, but Freeman’s double had been part of the auction, so it stood. That changed our score from 920 to 1090 and gave us a top on the board that helped us propel to second place with a 55% game that earned us 1.13 MasterPoints.

We had been totally prepared to give the Delayed Alerts, but our opponents’ questions and our own answers revealed all the information required, so the double stood. Jack said he’d never seen a case like this in his 10-year directing career, and Freeman learned that he should ask earlier what bids mean before launching an ill-advised double, so a lot of people learned a lot.

The hand – and the protest – is so interesting that it deserves a Bridge Burglar entry, so hapless Freeman will play the Flustered Flo role as East, while I’ll be her nemesis, Smug Sam, as the South Declarer.

West Dealer; neither side vulnerable

10 9 6 5
K J 9
A K 9 7
8 5
West East
J 7 3 2 A 4
Q 10 8 7 3 A 6 5 4 2
J 5 2 10 8 6
9 7 6 2
K Q 8
Q 4 3
A K Q J 10 4 3
West North East South
Pass Pass Pass 2
Pass 2 NT* Pass 3
Pass 3 Pass 4 **
Pass 4 NT*** Pass 6
Pass Pass Double All Pass

*alerted as a “steps” bid showing 10 or more high-card points
**explained in a Delayed Alert as a Voidwood (or Exclusion Blackwood) bid asking for Aces and Club King
***explained in a Delayed Alert as showing one Ace (but not the Ace of Hearts)

Opening lead: 3 of Hearts

Alerts are complicated enough and so-called “delayed alerts” are so convoluted that even veteran directors sometimes get confused.

Flustered Flo, who sat East on the diagrammed deal played at her home club on New Year’s Day, couldn’t believe that her South opponent, her nemesis Smug Sam, had the gall to bid a Small Slam when she had two Aces, so she slapped down her double card.

She immediately regretted it when Sam and his north partner. Shy Shem, explained their bids. They hadn’t alerted anything else after the artificial 2 No-Trump response to Sam’s strong 2 Clubs opening, but after Flo’s West partner, Loyal Larry, put his lead face down on the table, they proceeded to explain that 4 Hearts had been a Voidwood or Exclusion Blackwood bid asking for Aces excluding the Ace of Hearts because he was void in the suit. And Shem’s 4 No-Trump reply had shown one Ace.

“He’s void in Hearts?” Flo asked, now in consternation mode. “That should have been alerted. Director!”

“Nothing at or above Game level is alertable,” said Sam, smug as always. “Call the director if you wish.”

The 10-year veteran director initially came up with a surprising ruling. The 4 Hearts bid had NOT been alertable; it was an obvious cue bid indicating first-round control in Hearts. However, he ruled Shem’s 4 No-Trump bid should have been alerted and therefore, Flo was allowed to withdraw her double.

Sam reacted with raised eyebrows, but since it was just a club game and not an American Contract Bridge League-sponsored game with extra points at stake, there would be no appeal against a director’s ruling. “I disagree, but let’s just play the hand and not hold up play anymore,” said Sam.

The actual play wasn’t very exciting. On Larry’s opening Heart lead, Sam played the Jack from dummy, forcing Flo to play her Ace, which Sam promptly ruffed. After drawing trumps, he collected four rounds of Diamonds and the good King of Hearts and only gave up a trick to Flo’s Ace of Spades, making his Small Slam for 920 points.

However, more excitement ensued after the round was over and the director returned to the table.

“I have researched alerts,” he said, “and actually, no bids above 3 No-Trumps are alertable and that includes cue bids and Ace-asking and –answering bids in conventions. So the double is reinstated and will count. I am adjusting the score from 920 for North-South to 1090. It will be a difference of a match point plus for Sam and Shem, and a match point less for you and Larry, Flo.”

“I can’t believe this,” protested Flo. “They’re using some secret code, we have no idea what’s going on, and that’s okay? That doesn’t seem ethical under the principle of full disclosure.”

“They disclosed everything at the proper time,” said the director. “They did nothing wrong. Before putting the double card down, you could have asked Sam’s partner what the 4 Hearts bid meant.”

“I’m not very happy with this,” said Flo.

“I learned something new myself,” said the director. “In 10 years of directing, I’d never run across this. Just consider yourself lucky that you learned something new, too, to start off the New Year.”

“New Year – same old, same old,” said Flo, shaking her head. “Sam still finds a new way to steal points from me.”

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