ACBL 2003 - A Player's
Guide to Tournament Play
in the 21st Century
(courtesy of the
Introduction: The American Contract Bridge League
(ACBL) sponsors three North American Bridge Championships (NABCs) and
sanctions more than 100 Regional and 900 Sectional Tournaments annually. The
purpose of this pamphlet is to summarize the rules and regulations that
govern these tournaments. In some cases the reader will be referred to other
sources for additional details. Questions, comments and suggestions about
the content of these pages should be sent to tournaments. We hope that
contestants in any ACBL competition will become more aware of both their
options and obligations when entering any ACBL event
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Table of Contents:
- The Tournament Director
- Alert System
- ACBL Convention Cards
- Slow Play
- Appeals of Tournament Director Ruling
- Bid-Box Rules
- Stop Card Use
- Score Correction Period
- Other Important Information
- Frequently Asked Questions
1. The Tournament Director: All Tournament
Directors (TD's) are employees of the ACBL and are trained in all aspects of
tournament direction. The Director-in-Charge (DIC) and his/her staff, after
consultation with the tournament sponsor, are responsible for conducting the
tournament according to ACBL regulations with sponsor input on all optional
matters. Therefore, any questions or concerns, should normally be directed
to a TD who will address your problem.
When attention is drawn to any irregularity at the bridge table, the TD must
be summoned immediately. Ideally, this call will be in a calm tone of voice,
"Director, please." Failure to summon the director at once may jeopardize
the rights of the players.
2. Eligibility: Many, if not most, events
are restricted by some combination of masterpoint level, gender and/or age.
In general, membership in the ACBL is not a prerequisite for participation.
However, non-members are required to check with the director-in-charge
before entering any event which has a masterpoint restriction. After
discussion the DIC will inform the player(s) of what events they are
eligible for. ACBL members should also check with a Tournament Director in
cases where he/she is close to any of the masterpoint limits. The TD will
check the data base in use at the tournament to verify eligibility.
Non-members will normally be charged more to play in an event than members.
A person can avoid this surcharge by becoming an "instant" member of the
ACBL. The nominal membership fee is quickly offset by the savings in
entry-fees for even an infrequent tournament participant. The Bridge
Bulletin which is published monthly and other additional benefits make
ACBL membership a true bargain. You can become an "instant member" at this
tournament and receive your player number on-the-spot. From that point on,
any masterpoints you earn will be automatically recorded to your account.
Ask any Tournament Director for an application.
3. Participation: When a player, pair or
team enters an event they are expected to play for the duration of that
event or until they fail to qualify for the next level of play. At the end
of a matchpoint session or at the conclusion of any round of a team game,
players may be excused from further play as long as the movement isn't
adversely effected. Emergency situations will be dealt with on an individual
basis, as per the conditions of contest of the event.
Most team events are open to teams of four, five or six players ( The "Compact
KO" event, a knockout which lasts only two sessions, and a one session
Board-A-Match team (BAM) do not allow more than four members. Playing
requirements for each team member to maintain eligibility and receive
masterpoint awards depend on the type of team game and the duration of the
event. Players are urged to consult the conditions of contest for the event
or request the information from a tournament director.
A player may play and earn masterpoints in as many sessions of bridge as
possible while not entered in a concurrent or overlapping event, except
- Players on teams with more than four members or teams with byes may
play in concurrent one-session events only. For this purpose a Continuous
Pairs event is considered a one-session event.
- The players noted in number one above may be credited with
masterpoints only from the event in which they earn the larger number of
masterpoints (the overall points from a continuous pairs event included).
4. Deportment: While it is recognized that
bridge, especially tournament bridge, is a very competitive endeavor for
some, all players are expected to maintain proper decorum throughout. The
ACBL Board of Directors and Management are committed to improving player
behavior at all times. The ACBL "Zero
Tolerance Policy" outlines what is expected of all players during ACBL
sanctioned tournaments as well as in the playing area before and after each
The ultimate purpose of this Zero-Tolerance policy toward improper behavior
is to create a much more pleasant atmosphere at our tournaments. We are
attempting to eradicate unacceptable behavior in order to make the game of
bridge more enjoyable for all. Below are some examples of commendable
behavior, which, while not required, will significantly contribute to the
- Being a good 'host' or 'guest' at the table.
- Greeting others in a friendly manner.
- Praising the bidding and/or play of the opponents.
- Having two legibly completed convention cards readily available to the
opponents (this one is a regulation, not just a nicety!)
The following list are some examples of behavior which will not be
- Badgering, rudeness, insinuations, intimidation, profanity, threats,
- Negative comments concerning opponents' or partner's play or bidding.
- Constant and gratuitous lessons and analyses at the table.
- Loud and disruptive arguing with a director's ruling.
If a player at the table behaves in an unacceptable manner, the director
should be called immediately. Annoying behavior, embarrassing remarks, or
any other conduct which might interfere with the enjoyment of the game is
specifically prohibited by Law. The tournament director has the authority to
assess disciplinary penalties.
If it is established that there was unacceptable behavior, an immediate
quarter board disciplinary penalty (3 IMP in team games) may be assigned to
all offenders. This may involve any one or all four players at the table
irrespective of who initiated the unacceptable behavior.
5. Conventions: The "Laws
of Duplicate Contract Bridge" define a convention as:
1. A call, that by partnership agreement, conveys a meaning other than
willingness to play in the denomination named (or in the last denomination
named), or high-card strength or length (three cards or more) there.
However, an agreement as to length or strength does not make a call a
2. Defender's play that serves to convey a meaning by agreement rather than
Law 40 of the same book allows sponsoring organizations to regulate the use
of bidding or play conventions.
The ACBL regulates the use of conventions by publishing a list of "allowable
conventions" for any given event. This usually takes the form of assigning
one of three convention charts to each event: "General
Convention Chart" (GCC), "Mid-Chart"
(MC) or "SuperChart"
(SC). Since the governing convention chart is event-specific, please check
with a tournament director to see which applies to the event you are
playing. Playing an "unauthorized " convention may result in an adjusted
score or penalty being assigned. In order for you to play any particular
convention, you must be able to find it on the appropriate convention chart.
The convention chart also lists calls which are specifically prohibited
(e.g. psyching artificial opening bids).
When playing in any MC or SC event, it is the responsibility of any pair
playing a convention not authorized under the general convention chart to
provide to the opponent, in writing, a description of and a "suggested
defense" for that convention. The description and defense are required to
be full and complete. The opponents may use your suggested defense, and
refer to it during the auction and play, or use their own methods. The ACBL
publishes a pamphlet of suggested defenses to some common methods permitted
by the MC and SC. These may be obtained from the ACBL Sales Department, if
not available at the tournament, or by downloading from the ACBL Web Page.
The defenses in the pamphlet may be used to satisfy the preceding
6. The Alert System: Concealed Partnership
Law 40 also states "A player may not make a call or play based on a special
partnership understanding unless an opposing pair may reasonably be expected
to understand its meaning, or unless his side discloses the use of such call
or play in accordance with the regulations of the sponsoring organization."
The ACBL requires players to Alert opponents of bids which carry unusual
messages for their partnership.
The objective of the Alert system is for both pairs at the table to have
equal access to all information contained in any auction. In order to meet
this goal, all players must understand and practice the principles of full
disclosure and active ethics. Ethical bridge players will recognize the
obligation to give complete explanations. They will accept the fact that any
such information is entirely for the benefit of the opponents and may not be
used to assist their own partnership.
Bridge is not a game of secret messages; the auction belongs to everyone at
the table. Remember that the opponents are entitled to know the agreed
meaning of all calls. The bidding side has an obligation to disclose its
agreements according to the procedures established by ACBL. When asked, the
bidding side must give a full explanation of the agreement. Stating the
common or popular name of the convention is not sufficient. The opponents
need not ask exactly the "right" question. Any request for information
should be the trigger. Opponents need only indicate the desire for
information -- all relevant disclosures should be given automatically. The
proper way to ask for information is "Please Explain".
A player who remembers that a call requires an Alert but cannot remember the
meaning must still Alert. In all Alert situations, tournament directors have
been directed to rule with the spirit of the Alert procedure in mind and not
simply by the letter of the law. Players who, by experience or expertise,
recognize that their opponents have neglected to Alert a special agreement
will be expected to protect themselves.
Adjustments for violations are not automatic. There must have been damage,
and an adjustment will be made only when the Alert violation was a direct
cause of the damage. Note also that an opponent who actually knows or
suspects what is happening, even though not properly informed, may not be
entitled to redress if he or she chooses to proceed without clarifying the
When an Alert is given, ASK!, do not ASSUME. A complete description of the
ACBL Alert procedures can be found in the "Alert" pamphlet, available from
the ACBL Sales Department, at most
tournaments and here. At
the conclusion of the auction, if declarer or dummy is aware that partner
has given misinformation to the opponents, he is required by law to
correct the misinformation before the opening lead is made. Failure to do so
may result in a procedural penalty as well as a score adjustment.
A defender must announce the misinformation to his opponents at the
conclusion of the play of the hand and the director should be summoned.
7. The ACBL CONVENTION CARD: As stated
above, each member of a partnership MUST have a completely filled out
convention card, identical to his/her partner's card, available for the
opponents. These cards must accurately reflect the partnership agreements
currently in effect. Generally, the color "red" on the convention card
indicates that the agreement must be Alerted but the Alert pamphlet is the
final authority in cases of disputes on the Alertability of any conventional
call. Similarly, the color blue on the convention card indicates a call
requiring an "Announcement."
Players should review their own convention cards before the start of the
session to make sure that they are current on the agreements with this
particular partner. In cases of misinformation vs. misbids, it is the
responsibility of the bidding side to prove beyond reasonable doubt that a
misbid was made rather than misinformation given. The convention card and
previous auctions are the most obvious ways to resolve any disagreements
concerning misbid vs misinformation.
Copies of the ACBL convention cards can be obtained at any tournament or
through the ACBL Sales Department.
8. Slow Play: Players are normally allowed
approximately 7.5 minutes to bid and play each bridge hand. Thus a round is
called every 15 minutes when playing two boards per round and every 21 or 22
minutes for three board rounds. For longer segments additional time is
added. Failure to finish on time can do a great deal to chase players away
from the game and is extremely distressing to waiting players. Bridge is a
timed event. If a pair takes more than their share of the allotted time for
each round, they are inconveniencing their fellow competitors as well as
gaining an unfair advantage over them. When a pair has fallen behind it is
incumbent on them to make up the time lost as quickly as possible whether at
fault or not. All players are expected to make a concerted effort to catch
up when they have fallen behind, regardless of the reason for their
lateness. All players are expected to develop this habit.
- !! REMEMBER: SLOW PLAY IS SUBJECT TO PENALTY, and the
penalties are well earned when slow pairs disrupt the normal progression
of the game.
Additionally, players should be available to start each subsequent round
promptly, avoiding wherever possible being late to a table for non-bridge
9. Appeals of TD's ruling: Unlike many
similar competitions, tournament bridge is unique in that a "contestant may
appeal for a review of any ruling made at his table by the Director." All
appeals must be made through the Director-In-Charge (DIC). The Director is
the final authority on all matters of Law or regulation.
The appeal period for or of a Director's ruling expires 30 minutes after the
completion of a session or the starting time of the next session, whichever
is earlier for pair events. For team games the appeal may be made until the
start of play at either table for a playoff, or at the announced starting
time of the next segment.
When any contestant asks for a review of a TD's ruling, an appeals committee
will be formed if possible. When it is impossible to form such a committee
without upsetting the orderly progress of the tournament, the DIC will hear
all facts of the matter and make a final ruling. At NABCs, appeals of
rulings from all events (except for appeals from National events with no
upper masterpoint limit) are heard by a panel of TDs.
10. Bid Boxes: The use of bid boxes at
tournaments has now become standard. In fact, players appreciate the
benefits to such an extent that many use them in less formal settings such
as when playing at home. Since the laws of bridge were primarily written
with spoken bidding in mind, two situations must be addressed specific to
The first is the determination of when a bid has been made. According to an
appendix to the Laws a bid is made when the bid card is removed from the
box with intent. Thus when a player runs his/her hand over the bid cards
and starts, but does not actually remove one, he is not considered to have
made any "call". However, unauthorized information (UI) may have been
transmitted to partner. There are no specific penalties, but the director
will adjust the score if he determines that partner's actions might have
been influenced by the UI.
The bottom line: decide on your call before you reach for and touch a bid
The second point covers a more common instance -- the inadvertent call. What
is normally a clear situation with spoken bidding becomes a little more hazy
when bid boxes are used.
The Law reads: "Until his partner makes a call, a player may substitute
his intended call for an inadvertent call but only if he does so, or
attempts to do so, without pause for thought."
It is important to understand what is meant by inadvertent. A call is
inadvertent if, and only if, it was a "slip of the fingers", the bid box
equivalent of a "slip of the tongue" (e.g. in reaching for the 3 club bid,
the 3 diamond bid accidentally came out). In these situations the correct
call may be substituted without penalty. A player who calls attention to the
inadvertent bid as soon as he notices what he actually pulled from
the bid box, is usually judged to have done so without pause for thought,
even if some time has actually gone by.
Change of mind situations are not inadvertent. For example, if you
were playing strong notrumps yesterday and opened 1NT and then realized that
with today's partner you are playing a 10-12 point range, your 1NT bid was
not inadvertent no matter how fast you tried to recover from your error. The
penalty provisions of the Laws would be applied.
In trying to determine whether or not the original call was, in fact,
inadvertent, the director should generally take the bidder away from the
table and question him in private.
Some players tend not to look at the bid card even as they place it on the
table. ACBL tournament directors are instructed to be liberal in judging
that mechanical irregularities are inadvertent, but don't expect to convince
a director that you inadvertently pulled the pass card when you meant to bid
6 spades. Edgar Kaplan used to say that his partner Norman Kay would pull a
playing card from his hand and hold it out to check to see if it was the
card he intended to play. Kaplan went on to say that in all their years
playing together, Kay never changed the card he had selected. Try to make
it a habit to look at your bid card before pulling it completely out of the
Alerting when bidding boxes are in use: Except when screens are in
use, a player must say "Alert" out loud while tapping the
Alert strip of the bidding box.
11. The Stop Card: Players should protect
their rights and those of their opponents by using the stop card prior to
making any bid that skips one or more levels of bidding. Use of the stop
card is optional, but highly recommended. Players who choose to use the stop
card must use it whenever they jump the level of bidding.
Proper procedure is to place the stop card so that LHO sees it (the skip
bidder is responsible for gaining LHO's attention). The skip bid is made.
The stop card is then replaced in the bidding box. NOTE: If a player forgets
to replace the stop card there is no penalty. It is each player's
responsibility to maintain appropriate tempo, a pause of approximately ten
seconds, after a skip bid whether or not the opponent has used the stop card
or announced a skip bid.
If the stop card is placed on the table and a skip bid is not made, the
director may judge that the bid card was played inadvertently or not. If the
judgment is that the card was played after a "slip of the mind" therefore
with intent, then the situation is an Unauthorized Information (Law 16)
situation, not an insufficient bid.
12. Score Correction Period: Score
correction periods for player or director errors in tabulating the scores,
are event specific. Please consult the conditions of contest for the event
you are playing in or check with a tournament director. In pair events the
score correction period for player errors expires at the completion of the
session following the one in which the error occurred.
For director errors the correction period, generally, expires 24 hours after
the completion of the event or 30 minutes after the completion of the last
event of the tournament, whichever is earlier. For qualifying events the
score correction period for both player and director errors expires one hour
before the announced starting time of the first final session.
13. Other Important Information:
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE FOLLOWING, CLICK ON THE TITLE
- EVENTS - Descriptions and
definitions of tournament events and event nomenclature.
- MASTERPOINT AWARDS - A
complete description of the ACBL masterpoint recognition program.
- ACBL ALERT
PROCEDURE - The prose ACBL Alert Procedure as well as the summary in
CONVENTION CHARTS - The current
General Convention Chart,
Defenses to artificial preempts permitted by the Mid-Chart and SuperChart.
- CONVENTION CARDS
and Convention Card Editors - useful to complete and/or print an ACBL convention
- GENERAL CONDITIONS OF
CONTEST - General conditions for types of events. There may be
specific conditions of contest for an event which will take precedence
where there is a difference.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ's):
- 1. What are the differences between stratified, flighted and
- Most ACBL events are restricted by the masterpoint holdings of the
participants. A typical flighted event might have 3 flights: A: Unlimited,
B: 0 - 1000 and C: 0 - 300 masterpoints. In a flighted event players only
play against other pairs or teams in the same flight. You may enter any
flight for which you are eligible. The potential masterpoint award and
competition level increase as you move to higher flights.
In a stratified event all participants play directly against all other
pairs or teams with masterpoint awards given for each strat of the event.
Since all players are competing, head-to-head against each other, players
are eligible to earn masterpoints in their own stratification level as
well as any higher strats. Unlike the flighted events, where players might
want to play in a higher stratification, players should always sign up for
the lowest strat for which they are eligible in a stratified event. This
maximizes potential masterpoint awards (including pigmentation) and the
competition is the same regardless of which strat they sign up for.
Stratiflighted events have several flights and are stratified within these
flights. Players should choose which flight they want to play in as if the
event was flighted and then sign up for their lowest eligible strat within
that flight. For these events flight or strat eligibility is determined by
the masterpoint holding of that player of the partnership or team with the
highest number of masterpoints.
- 2. What is a Bracketed KO?
- Bracketed KO's are probably the most popular events at most
tournaments. Some players play KO's because the masterpoint awards are
greatest for these events and some like playing in KO's against other
teams with relatively the same bridge acumen as their own. Brackets for
these events are determined by the average masterpoint holding of each
team. Depending on the number of teams entered in the event, brackets are
then constructed putting the top teams in the first bracket, the next
teams in the second bracket, etc.
Usually this method results in forming brackets where most teams within a
bracket are relatively equal in terms of experience and ability. The
larger the entry the more this is true. The Bracketed KO is usually a four
session event with masterpoints for winning any match and overall awards
(gold points at regionally rated events) for surviving two sessions.
Additionally, whenever a bracket is "full", 8 or 16 teams in the bracket,
a playoff may be held. This means that all second round losers, may play
another match for overall awards.
- 3. I wanted to play in a one session side game and was put in the
Continuous Pairs. What is that?
- Perhaps the most inappropriately named event on the tournament
schedule, the continuous pairs is really a one session pair game with a
potential bonus for players who play more than one session over the course
of the event. Each individual session is normally run as a stratified pair
game with overall and session awards for each strat.
Players buy entries for each session as pairs; they may play with
different partners in different sessions; they may play as many sessions
as they wish. Players compete for the "bonus" overalls (not stratified) as
individuals. The overall score for each is the sum of the percentage
scores of his two best sessions. The two best scores may be achieved with
different partners. At Regionals, flight A section tops become gold points
for players who play more than one session in the event. Bonus overall
awards at Regionals are also gold.
You must play in two sessions in the same continuous pairs event to be
eligible for the bonus overall awards. Since most tournaments have more
than one continuous pairs event, check the schedule carefully. In general,
you should play in a two session championship event whenever possible
rather than a continuous pairs for maximum masterpoint "exposure."
- 4. I opened 1NT with a 4-4-4-1 distribution including the singleton
king of clubs. When the opponents saw my hand they called for the
director. How come?
On many of the occasions that someone opens 1NT (or
2NT) with a singleton, someone else at the table becomes upset with the
opener. Half the time it's an opponent (who has ducked an ace and lost to
a singleton king) and the other half it's opener's partner who has
transferred into the suit in which the opener has the singleton, causing
the partnership to play in a 5-1 or 6-1 fit (going down) when the contract
should have been some number of notrump.
Bridge players have different understandings of what
the rules are concerning opening notrump with a singleton. It is
described, depending on who you ask, as illegal, immoral, unethical or
fattening. The answer is almost always --- none of the above.
The ACBL General Convention Chart states, "A notrump
opening or overcall is natural if not unbalanced (generally, no singleton
or void and only one or two doubletons)." Also from the General Chart is
this definition of natural opening bids and suit responses: "An opening
suit bid or response is considered natural if for minors it shows three or
more cards in that suit and for majors it shows four or more cards in that
suit." Players who, by agreement, use opening bids that are not natural
may use only the conventional methods permitted by the General Chart.
If your notrump opening shows a balanced hand, you may
occasionally pick up a hand with a singleton which you may want to treat
as balanced. You may use your bridge judgment to open or overcall a
notrump with a singleton, provided that:
- It is a rare occurrence (no more than 1% of the time), and
- Partner expects you to have at least two cards in each suit, and,
- You and your partner have no agreements which enable you to discover
the NT opener has a singleton.
For example, using strong notrumps, a player may elect
to open 1NT with
K83, AQ72, A9653, K. He might judge that he did not want to open 1
diamond and rebid such a weak suit, or raise spades on only 3 three cards
after partners 1 spade response, or rebid 1NT. You may feel such judgment
is incorrect but that was his decision. Similarly, a player playing
five-card majors may opt to open AKQJ, 87642, K8, Q9 with 1 spade rather
than 1 heart.
In today's bridge world, you should exhibit some
tolerance and understanding of an opponent's judgement when he or she has
opened or overcalled a notrump with a singleton, especially for hands
where moving one card from a long suit to the singleton will produce a
If, however, your opponent has opened 1NT with an
outlandish distribution, say, 6-5-1-1 or 6-4-3-0 or some such, or has
agreements about one-of-a-suit opening bids or other openings which mean
that they have to open all 4-4-4-1 hands with 1NT, you should report such
to the director. The director should determine whether the pairs's opening
1NT is natural or conventional. There is one conventional 1NT opening
permitted on the General Chart. Its a forcing 1NT opening which indicates
a hand of 16 or more high-card points which may be balanced or unbalanced.
A example of this is the Dynamic 1NT opening which is a cornerstone of the
Also, there are two types of conventional notrump
overcalls permitted. The first is a two-suited takeout, i.e.., the unusual
notrump. If used by an unpassed hand at the one level or as a non-jump
overcall, it requires an Alert. The second is a three-suit take out
similar to a takeout double. This always requires an alert.
- 5. Where can I obtain additional information or have other questions
- The ACBL web site is an excellent
source of additional information if you have access to the Internet.
Questions may also be directed to the ACBL Tournament Department via
phone, e-mail or fax. At
tournaments, any tournament director should be able to answer your
question. The ACBLscore computer program's "Tech Files" are also an