Ask Robin - Mechanical Error

Another interesting and informative Ask Robin section in the latest English Bridge Magazine.

I hope you don't mind me suggesting that the final Ask Robin answer could've been enhanced by offering a bit more guidance on the questions TDs should ask. For those with very slow postal delivery, the scenario is: 2NT (20-22) passed out. Declarer's partner had ten points, claimed their pass was mechanical error and that they mean to bid 3NT. TD agreed. Robin advises TDs to be sceptical of mechanical error explanations.

In this case I think the key questions are did declarer use the Stop! card and (much more importantly) did partner announce "20-22". If it was announced then you can rule out partner thinking it was 1NT and mechanical error seems more likely.

I can imagine a ten pointer would consider 4NT quantitative and then decide against it. They think "let's not go any further and just settle in 3NT" and, getting ahead of themselves, they accidentally pass. If they offered this explanation, is this a mechanical error or a loss of concentration?


  • I have heard people saying that it is more likely to be a mechanical error if the bid card and intended bid card are close to each other.

    I am not convinced by this as I have seem many mechanical errors. My favourite being an opposition declarer losing their hand. I faced my lead, dummy came down and then declarer could not find any of their 13 cards! Int he board, under the board, on the floor? All no. Turned out that she had gathered them up and put them in the bidding box!. This was not a forgetful moment, but a direct mechanical error.

    With these kinds of mis-matches between intend and what the hands do, passing in error when intending to stop or bid 3NT is eminently possible.

    Obviously, people playing on this is equally possible, trying to correct their error unlawfully.

    As a playing director I opened 1NT (15-17), partner bid 2NT (transfer to diamonds). I thought should I break the transfer and bid 3C, or should I just complete the transfer and bid 3D. I decided that I was not quite strong enough and the fit was not good enough to break the transfer - so I passed! Ooops.

    This was not a mechanical error, it was a thinking error. This was the first hand at the club and I was busy listening out for any problems with the BridgeTabs at other tables, so distracted made the wrong bid. Obviously, I lived with the consequences and it was a funny hand to play (and the result was surprisingly good too). Now, another player may have tried to claim a mechanical error. I had indeed alerted the 2NT, I was asked what it meant and I correctly advised that it was a transfer to diamonds.

    For me, there is a big onus on players to be honest and at friendly, social bridge clubs I would think that either people would laugh it off and put up with a bad contract (as I had done), or others would laugh it off and tell them to correct their bid. In more serious clubs and competitions, I can see the director being called more often than not and the director has a difficult job to do.

    The directors job to resolve some problems are really easy - revokes, LOOT etc... its a simple(ish) case of establishing what happened and applying the correct laws. More difficult are cases where judgments are needed, breaks in tempo, "mechanical errors" etc...

  • If the player had said he was trying to bid 4NT and used the Pass instead of the stop card then this was a mechanical error.
    If the player was going to make a slam try and decided against and passed to play in game and then found they were not in game, then this is not a mechanical error.

    When I wrote

    I am not convinced that North made a mechanical error – even though he said so. The director might have asked more questions before concluding it was a mechanical error.

    I was being kind to the tournament director - with apologies if he/she is reading this.

    Given that the player said they wanted to bid 3NT, I might have said

    I am sure North had not made a mechanical error – even though he said so. The director might have asked more questions before concluding it was not a mechanical error.

  • Many thanks both for the clear advice.

  • Opponents often know from the reaction of the player whether it was mechanical or not. Ethical players will inform the TD

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