Alerting of negative inferences

Suppose a partnership is playing a convention which is fairly likely to come up (e.g. "1!s over 1!h is artificial and shows 2 or fewer hearts", which is often seen in 2-over-1 systems). Obviously, 1!s is alertable. If the opener bids 1!h and the responder bids something other than 1!s, and the opponents ask what it means, the opener would of course have to say something like "it's a natural bid, but my partner would normally bid 1!s with 2 or fewer hearts, so they likely have heart support"; the negative inference is part of the partnership agreement so it should be explained when the opponents ask.

My question is: in this sort of situation, should natural bids other than 1!s be alerted, so that the opponents know that there's something to ask about? (What about bids like a natural 2NT, which most players would interpret as denying hearts even in the absence of the negative inference?)

Comments

  • Alert : A notification, whose form may be specified by the Regulating Authority, to the effect that opponents may be in need of an explanation. (Definitions)

    Also - see law 20F

    1. During the auction and before the final pass any player may request, at his own turn to call, an explanation of the opponents’ auction. He is entitled to know about calls actually made, about relevant alternative calls available that were not made, and about inferences from the choice of action where these are matters of partnership understanding.

    So I think you would have to alert the calls (Especially if 2NT shows 3-card heart support) so opponents can exercise their rights under law 20F.

  • I am not sure I understand the method: are 2C/2D natural, GF - but a GF hand with a minor and only 2 H might bid 1S?

    If 1NT or 2NT (for instance) show 3 card support then they should be alerted - this is a positive inference.

    If 2C/2D are GF then they should be alerted.

  • In the simplest case, 2C and 2D are natural and have the usual meaning. The only difference from a "normal" bidding system is that a 1S bid is available to show short hearts, so 2C and 2D imply that the hearts aren't short.

  • Then they should be alerted as showing secondary hearts support.

  • I guess that makes sense. So whether you alert or not is based on how surprising the negative inference is (e.g. 1!c guaranteeing "not a balanced minimum" – as that hand would have been opened 1NT – is not surprising so is not alerted; but guaranteeing "not a 4441 hand" possibly is surprising and would need an alert).

  • Your opponents can't be expected to know the nuances of your various treatments and methods. If your partner makes a bid which holds a non-obvious/unexpected/possibly surprising meaning then you likely have information which you would be denying to them if you fail to alert.

    Of course, some treatments are normal and common and opponents can be expected to deduce the inferences, such as your 1C example likely not showing a balanced 12-14 when you play weak NT. Equally, it could hold a 5332 hand with five decent clubs and 12-14 and this might catch them on the hop but that's just bridge. What's more, you're as informed as they are.

  • Law 40B5(a):
    "... a player shall disclose all special information conveyed to him through partnership agreement or partnership experience but he need not disclose inferences drawn from his knowledge and experience of matters generally known to bridge players".

    Whilst this strictly applies to explanations rather than alerts it seems sensible to follow the same approach in relation to alerts which may be required because something is "unexpected". You are not likely to know exactly what your particular opponents will find unexpected, unless you know them very well, but a lot of the time you will have a pretty good idea of whether a particular aspect of your methods is likely to be unexpected to the field generally.

    There will always be cases where you alert something because you think it may be unexpected, but opponents think it is perfectly normal, or when you do not alert something because you think it is normal, but opponents turn out to find it surprising. That's inevitable.

    Bear in mind that in most situations the lack of an alert provides more specific information than an alert does. If you don't alert you are implicitly saying "that's natural and nothing unusual is going on". If you alert, it may be because the call is completely artificial or because you believe there is an unexpected inference about an otherwise natural call. Opponents should ask if they want to know, rather than assume, and if it turns out that you have alerted something because you think it may be unexpected and opponents think it is perfectly normal, no harm should arise.

    So when in doubt, be inclined to alert. I don't think it really makes any difference whether the inference that may be unexpected is a positive or negative one.

  • I might start by saying that I have never, ever seen anyone play that 1!H - 1!S is artificial and shows 0-2 hearts while all other responses promise 3+ hearts (so I disagree with the idea that is is 'fairly common'*).

    However, the principle is correct. If all responses other than 1!S promise 3+ hearts then that is so unexpected that I think it is alertable.

    We cannot have a general regulation that says 'all negative inferences are alertable' because otherwise you end up alerting a 1!S opening and saying 'usually denies a seven card suit elsewhere or a hand suitable for a different opening bid'.

    Generally we say that we don't alert inferences that partner had an alternative opening bid that he hasn't chosen (e.g. alerting a 4!S opening and saying that partner could have opened 4!D Texas, if that's played).

    You are right that it is down to how unexpected the negative inference is.

    *(I have seen 1!H-1!S as artificial, denies a heart fit if less than game forcing and 1!H-1NT as 5+ spades but that's different - there's no negative inference to alert)

  • In the ACBL, negative inferences are typically not alerted. A common example would be

    1D-Pass-1H-1S
    ?

    If playing support doubles, Double (3-card heart support) is alertable and any direct heart raise (4 or more hearts) is not alertable,

    The negative inference from Pass (tends to deny more than a doubleton heart) is not alertable in ACBL land,

    Does EBU have explicit guidance on this topic?

  • @budh9534 said:
    In the ACBL, negative inferences are typically not alerted. A common example would be

    1D-Pass-1H-1S
    ?

    If playing support doubles, Double (3-card heart support) is alertable and any direct heart raise (4 or more hearts) is not alertable,

    The negative inference from Pass (tends to deny more than a doubleton heart) is not alertable in ACBL land,

    Does EBU have explicit guidance on this topic?

    When I play support doubles in EBU-land I alert:
    (a) the support double itself;
    (b) the direct raise showing four;
    (c) a bid of something else which denies 3-card support; but not
    (d) a pass which denies 3-card support or anything else I want to say.

    (a) is obvious, IMO, as it is not a takeout double, even though there are hands on which you would double whether playing takeout or support doubles. In fact the Blue Book is silent on the subject (which I hadn't realised).
    (b) and (c) seem to me to be sensible because support doubles are not nearly as common here as they would be in ACBL-land, so there is enough of an element of unexpectedness.
    (d) is because alerting a pass seems to confuse more than it helps. At the end of the auction, if the declaring side, I do volunteer that a support double was available at the point of the pass, so the hand will not have 3 card support.

  • I know there are others who disagree with me on this, but I do not alert a four-card raise for the simple reason that this is what beginners are taught and is standard in some countries/systems like Standard French. If we expect those playing support doubles to alert their direct raises, so too would we need to ask beginners to alert what they do, which is clearly ridiculous.

    The other point is that we do not in other circumstances alert negative inferences: we do not alert limited openings as part of a strong-club system, and we do not alert five-card major-suit openings or the three-card minor suit openings that arise as a consequence.

    The problem with alerting negative inferences is that you would need to alert far more situations than would be helpful. It is important to note though that alertable and discloseable are not the same thing, and even if something is not alertable it should still be disclosed as much as possible, both on the system card and in response to general questions.

  • @gordonrainsford said:
    I know there are others who disagree with me on this, but I do not alert a four-card raise for the simple reason that this is what beginners are taught and is standard in some countries/systems like Standard French. If we expect those playing support doubles to alert their direct raises, so too would we need to ask beginners to alert what they do, which is clearly ridiculous.

    Perhaps my stance is a throwback to the previous alerting rule (abandoned something like 12 years ago) which used a form of words like "natural but affected by other agreements that your opponents are unlikely to expect" (my emphasis). Under that rule it was arguable that a direct raise playing support doubles was clearly alertable, the agreement to play support doubles being the "other" agreement concerned.

    I do think that there is a meaningful distinction between someone whose raises show 4 because they have been taught not to raise on 3 (or just think that raising on 3 is bad bridge), and someone whose raises show 4 because they have a different way of showing a 3-card raise, and I would only dream of alerting if I were in the latter camp. But I certainly don't have a problem with the logic of not alerting for the reason given.

    I suppose I can't really envisage a situation in which I would be persuaded as a TD that redressable damage had occurred. Inexperienced players may not recognise either that an opponent's raise might be on three cards or that it might be helpful to know whether it might be or not; and experienced players will definitely recognise the possibility and ask if they want to know. Neither will therefore be inconvenienced by the lack of an alert.

  • @gordonrainsford said:
    The other point is that we do not in other circumstances alert negative inferences: we do not alert limited openings as part of a strong-club system, and we do not alert five-card major-suit openings or the three-card minor suit openings that arise as a consequence.

    The problem with alerting negative inferences is that you would need to alert far more situations than would be helpful. It is important to note though that alertable and discloseable are not the same thing, and even if something is not alertable it should still be disclosed as much as possible, both on the system card and in response to general questions.

    I rather liked the old rule (also abandoned about 12 years ago) that players were responsible for finding out what basic system the opponents were playing at the start of the round. Of course that did not absolve the opponents from the obligation to have properly completed convention cards and to alert correctly, but it did stop problems arising from things like only one member of a partnership realising that the opponents were playing a strong club (in those days a short club was alerted).

    It is quite sensible to find out such things irrespective of any regulation, of course, because you don't really want to be faced with the opponents opening something really weird, duly alerted, of course, but that's not much good if you haven't agreed a defence and would have wanted a quick discussion at the start of the round if you had realised.

    The point of mentioning this is that I would not wish to suggest alerting anything by way of a mere inference that the opponents would already know if they knew what basic system you were playing.

    But I'm sure you are right that alerting of inferences can be overdone, and I'm quite happy with the emphasis on pro-active disclosure by other methods.

    FWIW I much prefer our relatively simple basic rules, backed up with Blue Book examples which have the force of regulation, to the ACBL-style regime of pre-alerts, ordinary alerts, self-alerting calls and delayed alerts.

  • I play support doubles, and I alert the double (seems obvious to do so to me). I know Gordon disagrees with me, but I often alert the 4-card raise as well, however I don't think that's compulsory (and it depends a bit on the opponents)

    However, I don't play that
    - pass absolutely denies 3-card support
    - bidding a new suit absolutely denies 3-card support

    After 1D P 1H (1S) I would not double on

    KQxx
    xxx
    AQxx
    Qx

    nor would I double on
    x
    xxx
    KQJ10xxx
    Ax

    (to take two extreme hands)

    so unless you play absolutely strictly that you must double on all hands with 3-card support, I don't think it's any different from the negative inference that a 2D bid (say) 'denies a hand that would usually bid 2H'

  • @Frances said:
    However, I don't play that
    - pass absolutely denies 3-card support
    - bidding a new suit absolutely denies 3-card support

    After 1D P 1H (1S) I would not double on

    KQxx
    xxx
    AQxx
    Qx

    nor would I double on
    x
    xxx
    KQJ10xxx
    Ax

    (to take two extreme hands)

    so unless you play absolutely strictly that you must double on all hands with 3-card support, I don't think it's any different from the negative inference that a 2D bid (say) 'denies a hand that would usually bid 2H'

    Thanks - I'll buy that.

  • I think that this is just a situation where expediency has to rule. The problem is that the law is pretty clear - If a player asks then he has to be told about relavent alternative calls that were not made. (Obviously you don't have to volunteer the information), so the next question is: is an alert required?

    Alert: A notification, whose form may be specified by the Regulating Authority, to the effect that opponents may be in need of an explanation.

    In the EBU, the requirement for an alert is : "potentially unexpected meaning". Support doubles are specifically mentioned, because one does not expect a double to show support. However a direct raise - showing the denomination, is not unexpected.

    A player must alert any inferences drawn from partnership experience or practice which have a potentially unexpected meaning. A call with an alertable meaning arising from an implicit understanding must be alerted. - white book. BUT

    General bridge inferences, like those a new partner could make when there had been no discussion beforehand, are not alertable.

    In the last example, responding 1S over 1C has a negative inference that the hand does not hold hearts as well - this is a 'general bridge inference'. Similarly responding 2NT over 1S has a -ve inference that partner doesn't have 5 hearts - again 'general bridge knowledge'.

    I think that when there is a negative inference available that is potentially unexpected then you would have to alert. Thus in the OP - bidding 1 Spade that has the negative inference, denies 3 hearts - would be alertable as this is potentially unexpected, as would any other bid that suggests 3 card heart support. If a player has the knowledge that partner has heart support then the opponents are entitled to the knowledge as that will help them in the auction e.g. deducing partner is short in hearts. To give a further example - it may well be that the auction would give the appearance that there is a misfit and opponents (not being aware of the unannounced support) may double for penalties.

    A player should at least alert any call with a 'potentially unexpected' negative inference when they are intending to take advantage of that inference.

  • I will normally raise a major (plating 4 card majors) with just 3 card support, rather than bidding 1nt. Should this be alerted? How about 1nt response that essentially denies 3 card support?
  • @Martin said:
    I will normally raise a major (plating 4 card majors) with just 3 card support, rather than bidding 1nt. Should this be alerted? How about 1nt response that essentially denies 3 card support?

    I don't think either is unexpected. When I play 4-card majors, I play the same style and it had not seriously occurred to me that I should be alerting either.

  • I think raising with 3 cards is probably matters generally known to bridge players. and thus exempt (40B5(a)). If you have an agreement that 1NT specifically denies 3 card support then that should probably be alerted - but not if it just means 'probably' - after all with a 4--3-3-3 hand you may very well respond 1NT, unless you have an agreement otherwise.

  • Interesting... i will have to consider things and chat with my partners about this biiding...
  • There is, on the Bridge Club Live comments board, a discussion as to whether 1H - NB - 4H should be alerted if it specifically denies a splinter, no void, no Ace - just a pre-emptive response like ♠T6 ♥QT652 ♦QT9 ♣Q63. Is this something that would "surprise" an opponent sufficient to require an alert?

  • If it was merely pre-emptive then I think that would come under 'general bridge knowledge' (that is also open to interpretation, especially if the hand could be as weak as the one illustrated), but if the agreement is that it denies a singleton, void or ace then I think that would be alertable (assuming it happens on the 1st round of bidding) as the information couid affect the opening lead, for instance, not to mention the decision as to whether to compete (if there is no void or singleton then suits are likely splitting better and the defence are unlikely to get a ruff).

    The important thing is that it is the bid itself that must be pre-emptive - but opponents mustn't be dissuaded from competing because it sounds stronger than the agreement says it is.

  • Blue Book 4H2 (c) (2) says that a pre-emptive raise to three is alertable, I conclude that a preemptive raise to four is not alertable.

  • @TawVale said:
    There is, on the Bridge Club Live comments board, a discussion as to whether 1H - NB - 4H should be alerted if it specifically denies a splinter, no void, no Ace - just a pre-emptive response like ♠T6 ♥QT652 ♦QT9 ♣Q63. Is this something that would "surprise" an opponent sufficient to require an alert?

    I think it is a matter generally known to bridge players that different partnerships have widely-differing requirements for direct raises of 1M to game. It is therefore easy enough for an opponent to ask "what's your style of raises?" if they need to know.

    I think it is also a matter generally known to bridge players that there are two schools of thought when it comes to splinters (particularly agreements as to the lower end of the range). One is that a splinter is not necessarily stronger or more constructive than a direct raise to game, just having (whatever the partnership defines as) the values for a raise to game, but with a shortage. The other is that a splinter is more constructive than a direct raise to game. In the hands of the first group it would not therefore be surprising to find opponents playing a direct raise to game as denying a singleton or a void.

    I think I would be surprised to find opponents playing that a direct raise to game specifically denied an Ace, but as I can't envisage a situation in which my action would depend on whether my responding opponent had or had not denied an Ace, I don't think an alert of such an agreement would be particularly helpful.

    I would not therefore consider this style of direct raise to be alertable.

  • Suppose the bidding went 1H : 4H : 4NT : 5S: 7H and you held an Ace and thought there had been a breakdown in communication and so doubled.

    It turns out that 4NT was RKCB for Kings and the Queen of trumps as the 4H call denied an Ace. Wouldn't you think you were damaged?

  • @weejonnie said:
    Suppose the bidding went 1H : 4H : 4NT : 5S: 7H and you held an Ace and thought there had been a breakdown in communication and so doubled.

    It turns out that 4NT was RKCB for Kings and the Queen of trumps as the 4H call denied an Ace. Wouldn't you think you were damaged?

    I would be damaged by my (insert desired adjective) failure to ask about the auction. Once they have got to 7!h questions are not going to wake them up to any useful extent if they have had a wheel come off, so asking is risk-free. Besides, doubling a grand slam because you think you have a cashing Ace isn't really the odds thing to do. If it cashes, you are on to a very good score at any form of scoring if you don't double, and if it doesn't you are just throwing more a lot more points at the opposition that you stand to gain by turning +50 into +100 or +100 into +200.

    If my opponents bid a grand slam after a 1M-4M start, something doesn't add up. In practice I would probably assume that, given declarer's failure to open 2!c , they were probably playing the raise as stronger than usual. But I don't have to base my action on that assumption, as it is completely routine to ask, whatever has or has not been alerted.

  • I disagree with your "at any form of scoring" there. If the opponents reach an unusual grand slam at matchpoints, it's normally correct to double whenever you don't need the pass as lead-directing; either it goes down, in which case the difference between 50 and 100 may well be significant (when comparing to, say, the opponent's counterparts playing in the wrong suit at other tables), or it doesn't go down, in which case you get a zero regardless of what you do.

    In this particular example, I'd assume that the 5S was conventional (responses to Blackwood are very varied), and it wouldn't be alertable regardless of meaning. (This is probably a good assumption as the 5S is the bid I actually know about!)

  • @ais523 said:
    I disagree with your "at any form of scoring" there. If the opponents reach an unusual grand slam at matchpoints, it's normally correct to double whenever you don't need the pass as lead-directing;

    So against an "unusual" grand slam at matchpoints you would pass if you held a normal Lightner double, and double otherwise? Now there's an alertable treatment for you! But how do you define an "unusual" grand? Seems to me like an accident waiting to happen.

  • I only use the treatment in question in partnerships that aren't playing Lightner doubles (typically with new players who haven't learned them yet). The double isn't alertable because it isn't directing any particular lead, it's purely for scoring purposes.

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