When you don't have enough information to know whether to alert
A bidding sequence I came across recently:
(2C!), P, (2D), X
The opponents opened 2C, alerted; when I asked I was given a typical "strong, artificial, forcing" description (with enough detail that there were no issues with disclosure at that point in the auction). I passed. Responder bid 2D, not alerted. My partner doubled. Should I alert?
I decided to follow the "if in doubt, alert" principle and alerted the bid as "it depends on what 2D means, but I don't think it's takeout" (on the basis that my lack of alert would presumably have informed the opponents that it was takeout). My partnership agreement in this situation was uncertain: SAF 2C followed by natural 2D had never come up before, so there was no relevant partnership experience, and our general principle for undiscussed situations was "if a double can reasonably be takeout, it is". I guess that means the double was in fact systemically takeout (I can't think of any other reasonable meaning for it!), the opposite of what I said! That said, I thought it was highly likely that my partner had missed the lack of alert, so I alerted the opponents to the likely meaning of the double even though it was the opposite of what our agreement said.
Of course, the opponents had forgotten to alert 2D. I was planning to ask a question about it at my turn to call (to avoid creating UI via questions, I follow a policy of "always ask about alerted calls, and always ask about unalerted calls below 3NT if the most common meaning for that sequence of calls is alertable or there are multiple common unalertable meanings"), but I needed to decide whether or not to alert before I had a chance to ask what 2D meant! (Note that if the 2D had been alerted, I still wouldn't have known via AI what the double meant; that said, the UI from my partner failing to ask would clue me in to the meaning of the call, and it's appropriate to make use of UI to ensure that the opponents are not misinformed, so I would have had no trouble in not alerting the double.)
- Should I have alerted?
- Should I have explained the double as I did, or should it have been explained some other way?
- Is the sequence 2C! (SAF), (P), 2D (not alerted) ever possible, or should 2D always be alerted on the basis that any meaning that actually shows diamonds is highly unexpected?
- Suppose the bidding instead goes (2C!), P, (2D!), X (with an alert on 2D). Partner doesn't ask what 2D means. I thus have UI that partner thinks that 2D is purely artificial:
- Should I therefore take the countersuggested action, and bid as though X is takeout?
- Does the answer to the previous question depend on whether or not 2D! actually shows diamonds? (A meaning like "exactly 6 diamonds" would be both alertable and natural, thus it's possible for the double to be systemically takeout in the absence of UI.)
As usual, I have the feeling that there's something wrong with the alerting regulations here. I guess the last question above could be resolved if system cards were exchanged more commonly at all levels of bridge (I wouldn't have the UI that my partner is guessing what 2D means rather than bidding with knowledge of the meaning if there were a reasonable chance that my partner could have read the opponents' system card).
For what it's worth, although most of the questions above could be resolved simply by making a waiting or "nothing special to show" 2D response to SAF 2C nonalertable, I don't think that's the correct solution, as the principle of "alert all non-natural bids" is a very effective way to make the alerting regulations easier to remember. However, alerting a bid that is non-natural but expected has the issue that it rather undermines the main purpose of alerts: if a player is expecting an alert, it means that they normally won't ask, and then their partnership ends up in trouble if the alert turns out to have some unexpected meaning that completely changes the meaning of their own calls. Perhaps we need a separate sort of alert for non-natural calls, and for unexpected calls?