My confession has to come first. I was playing bridge the other night and partner was playing a hand (I let him do that every once in a while LOL). As dummy, I could see his plan for the hand and was following right along, so I knew pretty much what card he was going to call from dummy. What I have to confess is that I very nearly pulled a card that he hadn’t called … I knew he was going to ruff it in dummy, and indeed he called for a trump, but my hand was hovering over that trump before he called it. And that is very bad indeed. I don’t think anyone noticed, but I do try to be more scrupulous than that, and I apologize to my opponents.
However, it prompted me to make a post about how to be a good dummy. I see a lot of people who get it wrong; mostly in small ways, but sometimes in large ways like I very nearly did, when I was about to play a card that declarer hadn’t called. Let me lay out a mixture of the rules and the good manners that apply to being a dummy, and we can all practice together.
Laying out the dummy
- Trumps go on YOUR right, declarer’s left. Here, spades are trumps.
- If you’re in no-trumps, it doesn’t matter what suit is on the right. But here’s a tip — if you have a partner who’s calling for a card before he even sees the entire dummy, you can slow him down a smidge by making the suit of the opening lead the last one you put down. Similarly, if you have a suit that has been bid and supported in the bidding, try and put that on your left. Who among us hasn’t realized at about trick 7 that they were in NT instead of diamonds?
- Do NOT detach your cards in the trump suit before the opening lead goes down. Don’t worry, declarer will see them all soon enough. I’ve never heard or seen of a case where the opening lead gets changed after the player notices how many trumps you are holding, but it could happen, so don’t contribute to it. The number of trumps you have is a piece of information to which the opponents are not entitled until after the opening lead has been made, period.
- It’s common sense to lay down your hand alternating the red and black suits. It also decreases the chance that declarer will mix up, say, the red suits. Not everyone has perfect vision.
- If you have a void, don’t leave a space — just lay out your other three suits side by side normally.
- It’s a good idea to count to ensure you have all 13 cards in the dummy. If one card cannot be seen, now is the time to fix that problem, not later.
- Don’t say anything as you’re laying down the cards. Specifically, don’t say anything that would direct declarer on how to play the hand. (Like, “Oh, good thing I’m short in hearts and have lots of trumps to ruff yours!”) The less you say, the better.
- Never, never exchange hands with declarer before the opening lead. That’s really rude and against the rules. Don’t walk around the table and peek at declarer’s hand. Sit down and keep quiet — you’ll see all the cards soon enough!
During the play of the hand
- Customarily, the dummy may select a card without being told, IF:
- The card is a singleton, or if
- All cards in the dummy are touching in rank; that is, 8-7-6 or K-Q-J or A-K.
- That being said — don’t do it. You’ll never be in trouble if you never make a decision.
- It’s a very bad idea to play a singleton from dummy on the first trick without being told. You’re taking away your partner’s thinking time. Wait until she indicates she’s ready to move forward.
- Even if it doesn’t make a difference which card you play from K-Q-J, wait to be told. Many people prefer dummy to play the lowest of touching cards so they can remember more easily what’s gone. There are NO other circumstances in which dummy can select the card to be played, even if you think it’s perfectly obvious.
- Don’t touch, adjust, or hover your hand over the card you THINK declarer is about to play. The general rule is, do not suggest to declarer in any way that she should play, or not play, a particular card. Don’t say anything, don’t point, don’t even stare at the card you think should be called for. Don’t move your hand any further forward than cards that have already been played.
- Obey your partner quickly and quietly. If they call for the ten of clubs, don’t say, “Oh, are you sure?” or hesitate, or give them a steely glance.
- If partner merely says, “Play”, she means “Follow suit with the lowest card”.
- If your partner wins the last trick with dummy’s spade ace and then says, “Jack”, she means the jack of spades, even if there are other jacks in dummy. If there’s no jack of spades, ask her to clarify.
- If you’re not sure which card declarer has called for, say so immediately. Occasionally declarer will call for a card that isn’t there — “Play the ace,” when there is no ace, or “Small club” when there are no clubs. You’re not allowed to decide what declarer means and you have to ask her to clarify.
- Try to avoid adjusting cards that are on the table. Do NOT shift cards over to fill up a blank space. Try not to put played cards face-down in such a way that they cover up cards that have yet to be played; if you do, however, don’t fiddle with it. If declarer needs cards moved, she will say so.
- I’ve been told by a very senior director (the late great Phil Woods) that it is within the rules to indicate to declarer that the lead is in dummy by placing your hand on the table. I personally do this by making a fist, so as not to indicate that I’m “pointing” at anything. Similarly, I try to always put my hand in the same position on the table in the same way, every single time. And of course if the lead is NOT in dummy, keep your hand away from the table. As a corollary, if anyone objects to you placing your hand on the table, stop doing it. There is a rule that dummy is not allowed to “participate in the play of the hand” and they’re entitled to object if they want.
- If declarer says “Play anything,” or “Dummy is dead,” or in some way indicates that she doesn’t care which card you play, select at random as long as you follow suit. But if the opponents speak up and tell you which card to play, they’re entitled to do that — play whatever card they tell you to play.
Yes, dummy actually does have duties. They’re not numerous but they can be very important.
- Dummy keeps track of the number of tricks lost and won. As you probably know, you do this by how you orient the card as you place it face-down — the short end points at the side that won the trick. Every player should keep track, but it’s dummy’s specific job.
- Dummy is allowed to ask partner (only partner!) whether she has any of a suit remaining, when she discards on dummy’s/opponent’s lead. I recommend “Having no hearts, partner?” You are allowed to do this because declarer doesn’t have penalty cards. If you see an opponent discarding, even if you are morally certain they have a card remaining in that suit, keep your mouth shut until trick 13 is over. (Keep track of where they reneged; see below.)
This is the duty with which people have the most trouble.
- Dummy is allowed to prevent an irregularity from occurring. However, very importantly, dummy is NOT allowed to point it out once it has occurred, until after the play of the hand is completely over.
Indeed, as I understand it, it’s the responsibility of all players to make sure that there are no irregularities in the play. Any player is allowed — indeed, encouraged — to say to a person who has detached a card and is about to lead, “It’s not your lead,” or “You’re in dummy.” Similarly, at the end of a trick, if you as dummy notice that someone has placed a card face-down facing the wrong way, you can say, “That one’s ours,” or whatever.
But never say anything after someone has played a card to the next trick. If someone has placed a card face-down incorrectly and the next trick has started, just make 100% sure that you have an accurate record of which tricks have been won by which side, in case there is any question.
If you observe that a player has reneged (shown out of a suit and then played a subsequent card in that suit), keep your mouth shut until the end of the hand, then call the director immediately, as fast as you can. Quickly tell the other players there’s been a renege, and to leave their cards untouched, and not to sweep them up. If you can identify who reneged and when, that will help the director a lot. And in case it needs to be explained, it’s your duty to call the director if your partner reneges. You absolutely cannot keep your mouth shut and hope nobody notices. Sure, you’ll lose tricks on that hand, but the alternative will be deliberately breaking the rules — and that’s cheating. Better to to call the director no matter what. Sometimes there is no penalty; that’s fine, but it’s not your call to make.
Sometimes someone else will call attention to a renege before the end of the hand. That’s their call to do that. (It’s not the best idea, but people do it.) As dummy, don’t do it.
Finally, here’s one more tip on how to be the best dummy; stop thinking about the hand. If you go through 24 boards trying to keep your attention focused at pinpoint accuracy on every single card that’s played, you’ll go home with a splitting headache and the last half of your session will be unpleasant and difficult. When you do get to be dummy — just relax. Concentrate on where the lead is and keeping your fist on and off the table, and pointing the played cards in the right direction. Don’t follow the play too closely; don’t pay too much attention. Don’t take note of partner’s “mistakes” and pounce on her immediately the hand is over. Don’t say, “Oh, you know, that ten of clubs was good, and you threw it away.” Why make your partner start the next hand mad at you? That’s a sure way to a bad score.
Here’s my rule of thumb. If declarer makes the hand, say, “Well done! That looked difficult!” If declarer goes down, say, “Too bad!” and then something like, “That was a bad split, wasn’t it?” You might congratulate the opponents for playing it well, especially if they’re leaving the table at the end of the hand. But do not analyze the hand — don’t participate in analyzing the hand if someone else starts the ball rolling. If you need to talk about the hand, circle it in your score sheet and discuss it at the end of the evening. Your job is not to score points from partner — that just makes the rest of the session more difficult.
If your partner has just made a pig’s ear out of the hand and played it like a nitwit, I recommend a few kind words and perhaps a trip to the snack table to get her a treat. Everyone fouls up a hand beyond all belief at some point in their bridge career, and you already know the last thing you want to hear is partner yelling. Instead, be a saint, commiserate, and try to persuade your partner to forget about it. You won’t erase the zero, but you’ll have a better session than you would have if you’d been scornful. And you will build a reputation such that you’ll be able to play with much better players in the future; that’s how to be a good dummy and a good partner!