Revokes and Insufficient Bids

Director’s Rulings — Insufficient Bids and Revokes

The latest version of the Laws of Duplicate Bridge have increased the proportion of laws where the Director has to exercise judgement, as in “were the non-offenders damaged?”. In this article I will discuss what the Laws say, rather than how an individual Director might rule. Note: If a particular law does not use phrases such as “in the Director’s opinion” or “if the Director judges”, then the Director is supposed to rule exactly as the law states without using their own judgement.

Although there has been a massive shift in emphasis during the last couple of revisions to the Laws to “restoring equity” (i.e. fairness, what would have happened had the infraction not occurred), I am going to use the old-fashioned term “penalty”. Just think “an adjustment in order to restore equity” whenever I use the term “penalty”.

Revokes — Laws 61 to 64

Definition of a Revoke: We tend to think of a revoke as failing to follow suit to a trick when having a card of the suit led, but this definition is incomplete. One also revokes if one is required to play a card (such as a penalty card) because of an earlier infraction by one’s side but plays another card, even if of the same suit. I will only be discussing “failing to follow suit to a trick when having a card of the suit led”.

There is a misconception that “Dummy cannot revoke” — Dummy can revoke, but there is generally no penalty for a revoke by Dummy (the exception comes under the “were the non-offenders damaged?” judgement of the Director). On the other hand, Declarer can revoke and it occurs just as often as a defender revoking.

Established Revoke: There is no penalty for a revoke unless it is established. However, if it is noticed before it is established, it must be corrected by playing a legal card. If the person who was revoking is a defender, the card originally played becomes a “major penalty card”.

So, when does a revoke become established? It becomes “established” when the offender or their partner play to the next trick whether by playing or naming a card (there is a wrinkle involving claims and concessions that I will not discuss).

Penalty: The ruling involving a revoke is different if the revoke occurs at trick twelve. In this case, the revoke must be corrected (which obviously may affect who wins trick thirteen). If it is by a defender before their partner plays to the trick, there may be “Unauthorized Information” which affects their partner’s play in which case the approriate Law kicks in, but otherwise there is no penalty.

Otherwise the penalty for an established revoke is straightforward:

Tricks prior to the revoke trick are never transferred; that is, only tricks won by the offending side after and including the revoke trick can be transferred.

Note: There is a difference between “the offender” and “the offending side”. The former refers only to the player who revoked, whereas the latter refers to the offender and their partner.

  • 0 Tricks transferred if neither the revoke trick nor any subsequent trick was won by the offending side.
  • 1 Trick transferred if the revoke trick was not won by the offender but it or a subsequent trick was won by the offending side.
  • 2 Tricks transferred if the revoke trick was won by the offender and a subsequent trick was won by the offending side. Note: This can only occur if the revoker trumped the trick.
  • More than 2 tricks are transferred to restore “equity” if the Director deems the non-offenders were damaged by more than the 1 or 2 trick normal penalty. Two examples should make this clear: (1) By revoking the offender prevented Declarer from running a long suit; (2) By revoking the offender was able to make Declarer lose control of the hand (for example, by losing trump control or by being locked in dummy or their hand and being unable to cash winning tricks in the other hand).


  • Any player, except Dummy, can draw attention to a revoke (it is an infraction) during the play, at which point the Director should be called. Do not start looking back through the quitted tricks to confirm or disprove the revoke — it is against the Laws.
  • If a player makes a subsequent revoke in the same suit, there is no additional penalty.
  • However, it is strictly against the Laws to attempt to conceal an infraction (such as a revoke) by making a subsequent infraction (such as by purposefully revoking a second time or by claiming or conceding before all the tricks have been played to).
  • A player is under no obligation to point out an infraction by their side (my personal sense of ethics requires me to point out a revoke if I notice it). There is an exception if there has been a misexplanation of a call.

Insufficient Bids — Law 27

This is a Law that has become more difficult to rule on in the last couple of editions of the Laws. It now requires considerably more judgement and bridge knowledge on the part of the Director.

Insufficient bids out of turn are dealt with under a different Law. I will not discuss that complication nor discuss what happens when a player makes an illegal “call” (a “call” includes Pass, Double and Redouble as well as bids).

I assume everyone knows what an “insufficient bid” is.

When you make an insufficient bid and attention is drawn to it, do not attempt to correct it! At this point, someone should call the Director. Failing to do so, may cause you to lose some of the rights you otherwise might have. If you do correct the insufficient bid prematurely, this does not preclude your left-hand opponent accepting the original insufficient bid.

At this point, there is something very important you need to be aware of that is not part of the Law on insufficient bids. It is covered in “Law 25, Legal and Illegal Changes of Call”. If the insufficient bid was caused by a mechanical error (e.g. one reaches for the 5 Heart bid, one’s fingers slip and what is pulled out is the 4 Heart or 4 Spade bid), then it can be corrected without penalty. However, you need to inform the Director of your intended bid and that what came out of the bidding box was not what you were attempting to pull out. Note: If you made the bid because you did not notice the last bid or failed to digest it (lack of attention), Law 27 applies exactly as written. This is an application of the Director’s judgement — did the person really make a mechanical error or were they just not paying attention. [Personal opinion: I believe that, more often than not, it is the latter rather than the former, except in the case of physical issues where I would always give the benefit of the doubt to the person who pulled the insufficient bid.]

So, what happens now?

The next person to call, the offender’s left-hand opponent, may accept the insufficient bid by making a legal call (as noted, this is true even if the offender attempted to correct their insufficient bid). If that happens, there are no further rectifications — the auction continues as if the insufficient bid were legal. It is as if the level of the auction has simply been reset.

If the insufficient bid is not accepted, then we get into the complications introduced over the last couple of revisions to the Laws. Those complications involve what is meant by the phrase “comparable call”.

First, the offender can substitute a sufficient bid in the same denomination (i.e., the same suit or NT) and there is no further penalty unless the non-offenders can make a reasonable case that they have been damaged.

There is one more case where there is no further penalty: the offender substitutes a “comparable call”. That means (forgive me for quoting the Laws here, but it is important):

  1. has the same or similar meaning as that attributable to the withdrawn call, or
  2. defines a subset of the possible meanings attributed to the withdrawn call, or
  3. has the same purpose (e.g. an asking bid or a relay) as that attributable to the withdrawn call.

Suppose the opening bidder bids 1♣, artificial and forcing; their opponent overcalls 1♠; and their partner, not paying attention, bids 1. “Director!”. For this example, I am going to assume that if the auction had gone 1♣ – Pass – 1, that one diamond would be artificial showing 0-7 HCP. Further suppose in the auction 1♣ – 1♠ – Pass, pass would show 0-7 HCP and less than 4 hearts; and 1♣ – 1♠ – Double, double would be artificial showing 0-7 HCP and 4 or more hearts.

Then the insufficient 1 bid may be corrected to Pass or Double (under (2) above) with no further penalty.

What happens when the offender doesn’t do one of these two things (substitutes a sufficient bid in the same denomination or substitutes a comparable call), but substitutes some other legal call (Double or Redouble is not permitted unless it is a comparable call)? Well then, the offender’s partner must Pass for the remainder of the auction and there may be lead penalties.

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