“Unauthorized Information” — What Is It?

A Gentle Introduction

We talked about Dummy — dummy’s rights and what dummy is not allowed to do, such as suggest a line of play to declarer. In a way, what dummy is doing if he reaches for a card in dummy before declarer has called for it, is to tell declarer something declarer should not be privy to — what he, dummy thinks is the right play.

That brings me to an area of The Laws, the bain of a director’s life and one of the main reasons for this series of chats… Unauthorized Information (often referred to as simply “UI”). Perhaps the easiest way to think about unauthorized information is to look at Authorized Information.

What you learn from your partner’s calls and plays is authorized information. Almost everything else is unauthorized information. So when your partner bids 3  and not 4 , or 2NT,  opens the bidding 4 or leads the Q, everything you know based on your bidding system and lead conventions is authorized information. You can base your calls and plays on this information.

With the exception of a few items of information that you will be told about by the director when he makes a ruling at your table, other information is not authorized. If you use that “other” information, you are breaking the rules. So if your partner grimaces and squirms a bit before passing over an opponent’s preemptive bid, you are not allowed to take advantage of the information that conveyed. [“General Bridge Knowledge” is a separate topic for another time.]

Some Misconceptions

Now your partner grimaces, squiggles and squirms, and takes two minutes to Pass over an opponent’s opening 3 bid. Contrary to popular belief, he has not broken the rules (The Laws). He may have created an awkward situation, and he has certainly conveyed Unauthorized Information. Taking longer than normal to think about a bid or play conveys information — but it’s impossible to avoid. Sometimes you have a problem hand and need to think through your options. You are allowed to do this.

The issue is what you do about it when you learn something about your partner’s hand because of the UI. If you take advantage of it, or even appear to have taken advantage of the information, you have run afoul of the laws and the Director may adjust the score. We can talk another time about what you should do when this situation happens. For the moment, just strive to bid naturally and don’t make any borderline calls that might appear to have been influenced by the UI.

However, there is one thing you should know. Many people seem to believe you must Pass when this happens (i.e. the availability of UI). That is not the case.

Director Please!

So there is UI and opponents feel you have taken advantage of it. The Director is called… Director please! What happens?

The director arrives and ascertains the facts and that there is general agreement that “it looks like you may have taken advantage of the UI” — you protest that you only bid your cards and…, but you agree it may look as though you took advantage of the UI.

The director does not necessarily adjust the score. He may, or may not levy a Procedural Penalty against your side. Certainly, in our club, that will only happen if it appears blatant or it is happening too often.

Now the opponents are expecting to get an adjusted score, but that doesn’t necessarily happen. What it depends upon is, were they damaged? Did the infraction prevent them getting to a contract they would have got to without the infraction? Did your side get to a contract you would not have got to without the UI? Did your side make more tricks… and so on. Basically, would the opponents have got a better score if you had not used the UI; that is, were they damaged? If so, and only if so, the director will adjust the score.

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