What Is New in the 2017 Laws — Part 1

This is one of a series of articles comparing the current ACBL Laws of Duplicate Bridge, 2016 Revised Authorized Edition with the WBF The Laws of Duplicate Bridge 2017. The former is really the 2008 version of the Laws with a few minor corrections.

Note: The 2017 Laws came into effect in March 2017 for the WBF and will come into effect sometime in late September 2017 for the ACBL.

The ACBL Bulletin, in the column Ruling the Game, is publishing a list and explanation of the most significant changes, which will, presumably include any “elections” chosen by the ACBL. I am going to go through the Laws in a detailed comparison and will point any Laws that have changed or where the ACBL may choose a different option than other zones or the WBF.

This article covers the Laws up to and including Law 16, the end of what used to be Chapter IV.

Changes highlighted, like this paragraph, are ones mentioned in the ACBL Bulletin's Ruling the Game column. While I did skim the first column, I will not be reading subsequent ones until after I have completed my article. You can compare my comments with theirs. If I am obviously off-base with any interpretation, I will edit this so it is not misleading.

Changes highlighted like this are changes that I feel are significant but are not listed in the ACBL articles.


The 2017 Laws has no chapter and title divisions, with the exception of the Preface, Introduction, Definitions and Table of Contents sections at the beginning of the Laws, and the Index at the back. All the remaining sections are the Laws, in numerical order; the Law sections still have titles.

So if you get a copy of the 2017 Laws, which, if you are a director, you should, you may want to mark the previous chapter divisions in the Table of Contents and possibly in the body of the Laws (with post-its or pencil).


All the definitions in the ACBL’s edition start with a capital letter; none do in the WBF’s 2017 version — a pretty meaningless change.

Artificial call — Same wording, but split into three parts.

Dummy — A minor clarification to indicate the player who is dummy “…ceases to be dummy when play ends.”

Game — Added a reference to “(see Law 77)”

Play — An odd word change: “The contribution of a card from a player’s hand…” changed to “…one’s hand…”.

Play period — An irrelevant change in punctuation.

Revoke — Probably an error: the definition has been removed.

Slam — Probably an irrelevant change: “Small Slam” and “Grand Slam” are capitalized in the new version.

Tournament — Added definition: “a contest of one or more sessions (synonym for ‘Event’).

Visible Card — Added definition: “a card held such that its face may be seen by either an opponent or by partner.”

Law 1 — The Pack

The existing Law has become part A of the new version and the following added:

B. The Face of the Cards

The Regulating Authority may require the face of each card to be symmetrical.

C. The Backs of the Cards

The backs of all 52 cards in a deck should be identical. They may incorporate words, a logo or a pictorial design but the image used should possess a centre of symmetry.

Note: Part B is a portion of the Law that the ACBL can elect to enforce.

Law 1(C), in my opinion, says that there should be no marked packs of cards — so do not make up a deficient pack with cards from another pack having a different design on the back. I would go so far as to say, do not replace cards missing from a pack with cards of the same design, but with a visible difference in fading/scuffing.

Law 4 — Partnerships

The parenthetical remark “…except in the case of substitutions authorized by the Director)…” becomes “…(except as authorized by the Director)…”. This appears to be a subtle wording change that increases the Director's descretion.

Law 6 — The Shuffle and Deal

Added to part B: “No two adjacent cards from the deck shall be dealt into the same hand.” This forbids manual dealing left-to-right, right-to-left… into four piles (two adjacent cards would be dealt into the end pile on each pass but the last).

6D1: The reference to Law 16C has been changed to Law 16D.

6D2: The last sentence is now enclosed in parentheses, presumably for a subtle clarification. That last sentence is intended to allow the director to run multiple sections playing the same set of boards (i.e. duplicated boards), but with fewer sets of boards than the number of sections. An example of this is in multi-round team knock-outs in the early stages.

6D3: The wording has been simplified and the Law references changed. It now reads:

The Director may require a new shuffle and a redeal for any reason compatible with the Laws (but see Law 22B and Law 86A).

The references had been to Law 22A and Law 86C.

Law 7A — Control of Board and Cards — Placement of Board

The emphasized words have been added to Law 7A — Placement of Board: “When a board is to be played it is placed in the center of the table where it shall remain, correctly oriented, until play is completed.”

I have written to the ACBL asking for clarification of this Law (they have responded saying they will get back to me). The Law is incompatible with the way playing with screens currently works. The more I think about it, the more it fails to make sense. It is clearly correct when tables are playing without screens.

When playing with screens, when a board is placed on the table, it is placed in the middle of a “tray”. During the auction, the tray is pushed back-and-forth through a slot at the bottom of the screen so that it is fully visible on one side of the screen and not visible on the other. When play begins, the board is lifted off the tray while the tray is being removed (it is usually stood on the floor propped against a table leg) and then the board is replaced on the table.

Law 9 — Procedure Following an Irregularity

9A — Drawing Attention to an Irregularity

Subsection (3) has been reworded and split in to two sections (requiring subsection (4) to be renumbered). They now read:

3. Any player, including dummy, may attempt to prevent an irregularity (but for dummy subject to Laws 42 and 43).

Dummy may not call attention to an irregularity until play of the hand is concluded (but see Law 20F5 for correction of declarer's apparrently mistaken explanation).

9C — Premature Correction of an Irregularity

The reference to Law 26 has been made more specific; that is, the reference is now to Law 26B.

Law 10C4 — Assessment of Rectification

A reference to a Law has been changed from Law 50 to Law 72C. The Law now reads:

4. Subject to Law 16C2, after rectification of an infraction it is appropriate for the offenders to make any call or play advantageous to their side, even though they thereby appear to profit through their own infraction (but see Laws 27 and 72C).

Law 11 — Forfeiture of the Right to Rectification

Except for the first sentence, all of Law 11A has been significantly reworded, resulting in an explicit statement of how a Director is to rule. Here is all of Law 11A

Law 11A — Action by Non-Offending Side

The right to rectification of an irregularity may be forfeited if either member of the non-offending side takes any action before summoning the Director. If a side has gained through subsequent action by an opponent in ignorance of the relevant provisions of the law, the Director adjusts only that side’s score by taking away any accrued advantage. The other side retains the score achieved at the table.

Law 12 — Director's Discretionary Powers

12A — Power to Award an Adjusted Score

A parenthetical reference in the preamble has been made more explicit. It used to refer to Law 86 and now reads: “…(in team play see Law 86B).”

12A(1) has been reworded with a couple of subtle changes in meaning, one of which just follows a trend in the Laws to use the word “rectification”. Here are the two versions:

ACBL 2016 edition

The Director may award an adjusted score when he judges these Laws do not provide indemnity to a non-offending contestant for the particular type of violation committed by an opponent.

WBF 2017 edition

The Director may award an adjusted score in favour of a non-offending contestant when he judges that these Laws do not prescribe a rectification for the particular type of violation committed.

12B — Objectives of Score Adjustment

Interestingly, the new version of Law 12B1 omits the final “… – but see C1(b) below.”

12C — Awarding an Adjusted Score

This one is interesting as the ACBL changed its election on Law 12C (the option was provided in 12C1(e) in the 2008 Laws) to be in line with most of the rest of the world. In the 2017 Laws, the option that the ACBL used to choose no longer exists.

Since there are changes to the wording and order of sections, here is Law 12C(1) in full (I have added bolding to indicate wording I will comment on):

Law 12C(1)

(a) When after an irregularity the Director is empowered by these laws to adjust a score and is able to award an assigned adjusted score, he does so. Such a score replaces the score obtained in play.

(b) The Director in awarding an assigned adjusted score should seek to recover as nearly as possible the probable outcome of the board had the infraction not occurred.

(c) An assigned adjusted score may be weighted to reflect the probabilities of a number of potential results, but only outcomes that could have been achieved in a legal manner may be included.

(d) If the possibilities are numerous or not obvious, the Director may award an artificial adjusted score (see C2 below).

(e) If, subsequent to the irregularity, the non-offending side has contributed to its own damage by an extremely serious error (unrelated to the infraction) or by gambling action, which if unsuccessful it might have hoped to recover through rectification, then:
(i) The offending side is awarded the score it would have been allotted as the consequence of rectifying its infraction.
(ii) The non-offending side does not receive relief for such part of its damage as is self-inflicted.

C1(b): Added. This emphasizes the intent of the Laws (rectification, not punishment).

C1(c): This takes out the option of a Regulating Authority overriding it (“forbids it”). The alternative used to be a tricky to apply section that had “the most favourable result that was likely” and “the most unfavourable result that was at all probable” being awarded to the non-offenders and offenders respectively. That alternative, which used to be C1(e), has been removed.

C1(e): Subtle, but important, wording changes were made that affect what the Law means. If the non-offending side contributes to its own damage, it has to be, not just a “serious error”, but an “extremely serious error”. That appears to mean that the non-offenders shouldn't have their awarded scored diminished just for making an error of judgement (in the auction or play), but it should be a truly terrible action. On the other hand, diminishing the score for taking what is possibly a “double-shot” action has been clarified as meaning a “gambling action” versus a “wild or gambling action” — so there must be that element of “gambling” (“well, if this stab at slam works, we will get a great score, but if it doesn't, we will get an adjusted score anyway”).

A mistake has been made in the wording of the Law. “The offending side is awarded the score it would have been allotted as the consequence of its infraction.” is clearly not what was intended as it literally says if I break the Law and as a consequence get a great score, I'm going to keep it. What I am going to get is the adjusted score awarded as a result of the ruling.

Law 12C(2): It is not clear whether the footnote in the ACBL 2016 edition of the Laws that over-rides C2(c) will be included when the ACBL publishes their branded edition of the Laws.

What the WBF Laws say is that, when awarding an Avg-/Avg+ to the offenders/non-offenders, that is 40%/60% unless the offenders' score on the other boards (in the session) is less than 40%, in which case they get that on the board (i.e. they do not get to improve their average by committing an offence); similarly for non-offenders — they get 60% or more if their session average is over 60%. This means the two scores do not necessarily add up to 100%.

The ACBL overrode that by saying one should compute the non-offenders' score and then subtract that from 100% to get the offenders' score

C2(d): Added:

(d) The Regulating Authority may provide for circumstanes where a contestant fails to obtain a result on multiple boards during the same session. The scores assigned for each subsequent board may be varied by regulation from those prescribed in (a) and (b) above.

Law 13 — Incorrect Number of Cards

Law 13 applies when players have an incorrect number of cards, but the board has the full pack of card or even an extra (“surplus” card(s)). If the board has an insufficient number of cards, Law 14 applies. Law 13 now has a footnote to clarify this:

This Law applies when one or more hands are found to contain more than 13 cards. See Law 14 for cases involving deficient deck.

Law 13 has been reordered, reworded, simplified, and clarified. It has also been changed to allow more boards to be played (i.e. fewer cancelled).

Law 13A — No Call Made

This does not mean that no calls have been made, but no calls have been made by a player having an incorrect number of cards. In this case, the players get to play the board, though there may be an adjustment if a player has seen another player's card(s) and the Director thinks it affected the outcome. The new Law 13A, in full:

If no player with an incorrect number of cards has made a call, then:

  1. The Director shall correct the discrepancy and, if no player has seen another's card, he shall require that the board be played normally.
  2. When the Director determines that one or more pockets of the board contained an incorrect number of cards and a player has seen one or more cards of another player's hand, the Director allows the board to be played and scored. If he then considers the extraneous information has affected the outcome of the board the Director shall adjust the score [see Law 12C1(b)] and may penalize an offender.

Law 13B — Discovered during the Auction or Play

Law 13B addresses the situation of a player with an incorrect number of cards having made a call, except after the hand has been completely played. Its application requires the Director to exercise judgement. Here is Law 13B in full:

When the Director determines that a player's hand originally contained more than 13 cards with another player holding fewere, and a player with an incorrect hand has made a call:

  1. If the Director judges that the deal can be corrected and played, then the deal may be so played with no change of call. At the end of play the Director may award an adjusted score
  2. Otherwise when a call has been made with an incorrect number of cards, the Director shall award an adjusted score [see Law 12C1(b)] and may penalize an offender.

Law 13C — Surplus Card

Remains essentially the same, with a subtle change in emphasis (highlighted in the following quote):

Any surplus card not part of the deal is removed if found. The auction and play continue without further rectification. No adjusted score my be awarded unless such a card is found to have been played to a quitted trick.

Law 13D — Play Completed

Is essentially unchanged, except the reference to Law 13F has been removed (it doesn't exist any more) and the reference to Law 86D changed to Law 86B.

Law 15 — Wrong Board or Hand

When a player takes their cards from the wrong board, the infraction used to fall under Law 17D (Law 17 seems an odd one to have included this infraction), but is now covered by Law 15A (a much more logical place).

15A — Cards from Wrong Board

It now reads:

1. A call is cancelled (together with any subsequent call) if it is made by a player holding cards that he has picked up from a wrong board.

2(a) If the offender's partner has subsequently called, the Director shall award an adjusted score.

(b) Otherwise, after looking at the correct hand the offender calls again and the auction continues normally from that point.

(c) :aw 16C applies to any call withdrawn or cancelled.

3. If the offender subsequently repeats his call on the board from which he mistakenly drew his cards the Director may allow that board to be played normally, but the Director shall award an adjusted score when offender's call differs3 from his original cancelled call.

4. A procedural penalty (Law 90) my be assessed in addition to the rectifications above.

Footnote 3: A substituted call differs if its meaning is much different or if it is psychic.

Law 15B — Wrong Board Discovered During Auction or Play Period4

This replaces all what was the previous Law 15. It has been greatly simplified and is easier to interpret. It now reads, in full:

If, after the commencement of the auction period, the Director discovers that a contestant is playing a board not designated for him to play in the current round, then:

  1. if one or more players at the table have previously played the board, with the correct opponents or otherwise, the board is cancelled for both his side and his opponents.
  2. if none of the four players have previously played the board the Director shall require the auction and play to be completed. He allows the score to stand and may require both pairs to play the correct board against one another later.
  3. the Director shall award an artificial adjusted score [see Law 12C2(a)] to any contestant deprived of the opportunity to earn a valid score.

Footnote 4: This law only applies to pair and individual events — see Law 86B for team events.

Law 16 — Authorized and Unauthorized Information

There are changes to the wording as well as reorganization of this Law. A good example is that the sections labeled Extraneous Information from Other Sources and Information from Withdrawn Calls and Plays have been interchanged — the latter now precedes the former. This makes sense as “Extraneoous Information from Other Sources” implies the section concludes the Law, which it doesn't.

Law 16A — Players' Use of Information

This part references changed because of the reordering of the sections. Law 16A(3) and 16A(4) have been deleted, probably being considered redundant. Here they for reference:

3. No player may base a call or play on other information (such information being designated extraneous).

4. If there is a violation of this law causing damage, the Director adjusts the score in accordance with Law 12C.

Law 16B — Extraneous Information from Partner

Again, simplification and rewording to make clear the intent of the Law. Here is Law 16B(1):

Any extraneous information from partner that might suggest a call or play is unauthorized. This includes remarks, questions, replies to questions, unexpected alerts or failures to alert, unmistakable hesitation, unwonted speed, special emphasis, tone, gesture, movement or mannerism.

(a) A player may not choose a call or play that is demonstrably suggested over another by unauthorized information if the other call or play is a logical alternative.

(b) A logical alternative is an action that a significant proortion of the class of players in question, using the methods of the partnership, would seriously consider, and some might select.

Except for a more specific cross-reference, Law 16B(2) and Law 16B(3) are unchanged.

Law 16C — Information from Withdrawn Calls and Plays

Law 16C(2) has been clarified by minor rewording and Law 16C(3) has been added.

Law 16C(2): There has been rewording for clarification and to emphasize that the Law applies to play and not just the auction. It now reads:

For an offending side, information arising from its own withdrawn action and from withdrawn actions of the non-offending side is unauthorized. A player of an offending side may not choose a call or play that is demonstrably suggested over another by unauthorided information if the other call or play is a logical alternative.

Law 16C(3): Institutes rectification in the case of the non-offending side being damaged. It reads:

The Director shall assign an adjusted score (see Law 12C1) if he considers that a violation of C2 has damaged the non-offending side.

Law 16D — Extraneous Information from Other Sources

Law 16D(1) is unchanged except a cross reference to Law 13A has been inserted as shown below:

When a player accidently… before the auction begins (see Law 13A), the Director…

Law 16D2(d) has the cross-reference, “for team play see Law 86B)” appended.

Law 16D(3): Has a correction to the terminology and the reference to Law 16D2(d) added. The new version reads:

If such extraneous information is received after the first call in the auction has been made and before completion of the play of the board the Director proceeds as in 2(c) or 2(d) above.

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