Slow Play & Claiming

I’ve discussed slow play before. There are lots of things that can be done by players to speed up the game, but I would like to chat about one that does not seem to get much press.

Over the past few months, as I wandered around the tables, I noticed something that is not only annoying but against the bridge laws. That is, some players play out every trick — and some of them rather slowly — even when they have a clear-cut claim.

Here is what Law 74b4 says:

B. Etiquette

As a matter of courtesy, a player should refrain from: …

4. prolonging play unnecessarily (as in playing on although he knows that all the tricks are surely his) for the purpose of disconcerting an opponent.

Clearly if this is being done to “disconcert” the opponents, the law has been broken. Even if the “opponents” at the table are not bothered, this behaviour slows play and ultimately inconveniences — disconcerts & annoys — other pairs playing in a pairs duplicate game. This brings us to another law, Law 90 (my emphasis)…

A. Director’s Authority

The Director, in addition to implementing the rectifications in these Laws, may also assess procedural penalties for any offence that unduly delays or obstructs the game, inconveniences other contestants, violates correct procedure or requires the award of an adjusted score at another table.

A simple and obvious claim, especially if only a few tricks are involved, speeds up the play of a hand. One way or another, the person failing to claim when it is clear how many of the last few tricks are his, is delaying the game and inconveniencing other participants.

So what can be done about this?

If a table has not started the last board of a round when only one or two minutes are left in the round, the director can indicate they have to take a late play. Clubs are permitted not to allow late plays, in which case an adjusted score is awarded. This is fine if the slow play is sufficiently flagrant that this form of correction can be used — the pair where one has been failing to claim can be given an average minus and the non-offenders average (or average plus). However, establishing the facts can be difficult and disputed by the errant declarer, and of course I need a director call about the “behaviour” before I can act.

Worse, is that the type of offence under discussion usually results in a hand started in plenty of time not being finished until well after the round has been called — this is when I’ve noticed the problem as I monitor tables that appear to be falling behind (the BridgeMate software used at the club allows me to monitor how many scores have been entered at each table for the current round).

I don’t know what the solution is. If pairs who encounter this type of “prolonging the play” would call the director, then it could be dealt with. However, most pairs that are good enough to recognize that the rest of the tricks belong to declarer will often simply concede the remaining tricks — I do that myself. There is also the retort by the offending players that, “I’ve made claims in the past and been burnt when they were challenged.” I once asked a player, when I noticed the failure to claim, why he hadn’t claimed and received the response, “I didn’t know if there was still a trump out” — ouch!

As a director, I can only intervene when called to a table or (Law 81c1) “to maintain discipline and the to ensure the orderly progress of the game”. In that last example I gave, the round had been called and the table was the only one that hadn’t finished (the pair coming to the table were standing around and the next table were twiddling their thumbs waiting for this late pair to finish and come to their table). I really wanted to penalize the pair, but if declarer doesn’t know the rest of the tricks are his…

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