[BLML] UI Essay

Steve Willner swillner at nhcc.net
Fri Sep 21 03:02:43 CEST 2012

Here's a little essay I wrote on UI.  The target audience is players 
just out of the beginner class, so there are no nuances or subtleties 
here.  I welcome suggestions for improvement, taking the audience into 

Unauthorized Information -- What It Is and What To Do About It

Have you ever wished you could say to your partner, "Lead a spade?"
Bridge would be an easier game if that were legal, but the game would
also be pretty boring.  The fun of bridge is deducing the correct
action from limited information, and the only information we can use
from partner is what comes from his calls and plays.

There is a problem, though, because sometimes partner can tell you
something about his hand by acting fast or slowly or by a "look" or a
remark.  Information conveyed in any of these ways or by partner's
tone of voice or manner of asking questions is _unauthorized
information_ (UI) for you.  This means you are not allowed to use it
to select your own calls or plays.  Also UI are partner's unexpected
alerts or failures to alert and his answers to opponents'
questions. Bridge is a thinking game, and players are allowed to
think whenever they have a difficult decision to make.  However, the
fact that the decision was difficult is UI to partner.

What do you do when you have UI from partner?  You must "carefully
avoid taking any advantage" (Law 73C with further requirements in Law
16B).  The requirement is stronger than just choosing the call or
play you were going to make anyway. If partner's action suggests a
particular call or play, you must not choose that action if there is
a logical alternative (LA).  This means any alternative that is
sensible, even if inferior.  You don't have to pass a forcing bid or
bid spades when you really have hearts, but if there are multiple
choices available, you must select the one least suggested by the UI.

Let's try an example.  Suppose partner thinks for awhile and then
makes a penalty double.  You are a bit short in the trump suit and
maybe have an extra card in your own suit, so you'd like to pull the
double.  Perhaps you are sure you would always pull the double in
normal circumstances.  However, that's not enough.  You must consider
whether passing the double is completely silly; if not, you must
pass. Partner's thought suggests the double is doubtful.  That is UI
to you, and you must go out of your way to "carefully avoid" taking
advantage.  Of course if you have a hand where passing the double is
obviously stupid, feel free to bid on, but make sure pulling the
double really is so obvious that everybody with your cards -- and
without the UI -- would do so.

What can you do when you might have created UI yourself?  Sometimes
not much, but sometimes you can choose an action that avoids giving
your partner a problem.  You might, for example, be able to choose
the final contract for your side rather than involve partner in the
decision.  Or perhaps you could bid Blackwood rather than a delicate
slam invitation.  These won't always be rational choices, though, and
you just have to remember that creating UI is not illegal (except in
rare aggravated cases).  The UI may put constraints on your partner's
choices, but that's all.

In fact, sometimes UI has no effect.  Suppose you have opened a
strong 2C bid, and opponents compete.  Most pairs agree that 2C
creates a "forcing pass" situation: opponents will not be allowed to
play undoubled.  If your partner thinks for a long time and makes a
forcing pass, the long thought is still UI, but it doesn't suggest
any preference between doubling and bidding on.  You can do either
one with no concern.

What should you do when you think the opponents have created UI?
First, recognize that this will happen quite often, and most of the
time it's harmless.  However, if there could be any doubt about the
facts, you can seek agreement as soon as the UI is created.  Using
the example above, if an opponent makes a slow penalty double, you
might immediately ask the opponents, "Do we agree that the double
came after some thought?"  If they agree, just go on.  If not, call
the Director to decide on the facts and protect everyone.  It is
important to avoid upsetting anyone or becoming upset yourself.  No
one has done anything wrong so far.

What if you think an opponent has taken advantage of UI?  Continuing
the example, let's assume an opponent has pulled the slow penalty
double.  You should _not_ call the Director at this moment.  For all
you know, pulling the double was entirely automatic with the hand
that player held.  Wait until you see the hand -- either when it
comes down as dummy or at the end of play.  If _then_ you think
pulling the double was dubious, that's the time for a Director call.
Again there's no need for either side to get upset.  There may have
been an infraction, but it's the Director's job to put things right.

UI situations are tricky, and if you play bridge long enough, you
will be ruled against no matter how hard you try to avoid it.  You
will also revoke, lead out of turn, and do lots of other illegal
things.  Try to avoid them all, but realize you will never be 100%
perfect if you are a normal human being.

Finally, what should you do if you get UI from someone other than
partner?  If it's from your opponents at the table, it's not UI!
(There are some rare exceptions, but they involve infractions, and
the Director should advise you if one of these happens.)  If an
opponent's slow penalty double tells you he doesn't really have a
super trump stack, feel free to play accordingly. Your opponents will
take advantage of information you give them, so that's a good reason
to try not to give them -- or your partner -- any that you don't have
to.  If you get UI from somewhere else, say a loudmouth at the next
table, tell the Director.  In doing so, avoid giving the information
to anyone else who might not have heard it. The Director's job in
these cases is to avoid giving a disadvantage to either side. In an
extreme case, the Director can declare the board unplayable and give
average-plus to both you and your opponents -- and a penalty to the
loudmouth!  But the Director has some options, depending on the exact
information, and may be able to have the board played fairly.

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