011: Insufficient bid

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA commenter asks me to speak to the topic of “insufficient bid” (and thank you for asking!). I’m going to be a little disappointing, because I think this is almost always a topic best handled by the director on the spot. Perhaps, though, I can offer some definitions of the situations you are likely to encounter when that phrase is used. I’m sorry you seem to have had a bad experience; the director is sometimes required to administer the rules rather than restore what you might perceive as equity. But getting the director to the table ASAP is usually a good idea in this context.

Let’s suppose that you are the dealer and begin the auction 1S. Your left-hand opponent bids 2H and your partner bids 3S. Then your right-hand opponent bids 3H.

This is, of course, an insufficient bid. Any player at the table is entitled to mention that it’s an insufficient bid, as far as I know, and someone will say, “That’s insufficient.” Here is my thinking. If the 3H bidder IMMEDIATELY says something innocuous like, “Oh, heck, I’ll have to make that good,” or words to that effect, or nothing at all, and immediately draws out the 4H bidding card, I personally wouldn’t bother to call the director.  Seems like it was an honest mistake and it got fixed.

If anything else happens, I would certainly call the director right away, who might have to stay at your table for the rest of the auction.

There are three general categories of things that can happen and are good reasons to get the director to the table immediately.

  1. The insufficient bidder wants to substitute any bid or call for (in this case) 4H. For instance, the insufficient bidder says, “Oh, heck, I’ll pass instead,” or decides to double 3S, or bid 5H or any other legal call. To the best of my knowledge, this is allowed. However, I’m sure that the insufficient bidder’s partner is barred from the auction for the remainder of the auction and must pass at every turn. Other penalties, adjustments, etc., may apply; I haven’t seen this happen at the table and so I’m not 100% sure of what might take place.
  2. The bidder to the left of the insufficient bidder — in this case you, the person who opened 1S — makes another bid before the insufficient bidder can make his/her bid good. That would create a sequence like 1S / 2H / 3S / 3H / 4D (or any other legal call higher than 3H, including a repeat of 3S, double and pass). The 4D bid here “condones” the 3H bid and accepts it as being legal. No penalty applies to the 3H bidder or his partner, but the 4D bidder is instigating something very unusual and has to accept whatever happens as a result. I’d want the director there just to make sure everything was above-board. It’s not likely that anyone ever has a systemic agreement about what bids mean the second time you get to make them! I have seen this situation come up only once, when the bidder after the insufficient bidder passed in too much of a hurry; the auction went something like 1S / 2H / 3S / 3H / P / P / 3S / All pass.
  3. In situation #1 above, the insufficient bidder either didn’t speak or said something innocuous. However, if that person says something like, “Oh, heck, I’m not strong enough to bid 4H” and then does so to make the bid sufficient — that is information to which that person’s partner is not entitled and you need to get the director to the table immediately. Essentially what needs to happen is that the partner of the insufficient bidder needs to do exactly the opposite of the logical inference from the insufficient bidder’s words. For instance, “I’m not strong enough to bid 4H” indicates that generally partner should pass — therefore, he should bid on. You have to bend over backwards to make sure that your opponents are not disadvantaged by any unauthorized information you receive from your partner, and this is the same in every situation at the table whether it involves an insufficient bid or not.  The director will make sure that, even if the 4H bidder makes his contract, he’ll be scored as down one, or whatever seems appropriate.

Opponents are entitled to draw any inference they see fit from the bids and actions of the opponents — 100% at their own risk. If you decide for yourself that the insufficient bidder seems reluctant to bid 4H after an insufficient bid of 3H, and you decide to double for penalties, you have no one but yourself to blame when the insufficient bidder makes the doubled contract with three overtricks. He might have been considering whether to bid 6H directly; he might have been trying to remember where he parked the car. I believe it to be 100% unethical to fake a reaction, trying to induce the opponents to misread you; it’s called coffee-housing and I think you will be penalized dramatically for doing it. Situations like this generally end up in disciplinary committees after the tournament is over; I’ve never been in one of those situations and from what I hear, I don’t want to.

So the moral of the story is, be honest, play fair, and if you make a mistake, fix it quickly and say as little as possible in the process.  And CALL THE DIRECTOR.  That’s why they get paid the small bucks!





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