ABF Alert Regulations
Bridge is not a game of secrets – if you or your partner use a call that has an agreed meaning within your partnership then the opponents are entitled to know exactly what that bid means.
In the early days of bridge, alerts would have been unnecessary since everybody played a similar system. Even the emergence of new systems such as Acol, with its lower no trump range, wouldn’t have been a problem – the opponents sat down, announced their system, and the auction would then be entirely apparent to both pairs.
In recent years, however, a wide range of new bidding systems has emerged. Whilst calls such as 1♥ and 1♠ are usually consistent in what they promise, there can be a wide range of meanings for the other opening calls.
Doubles have a particularly wide range of interpretations, with the possible meanings now including penalty, takeout, card-showing, responsive, or even a transfer to an unspecified suit!
When addressing the problem of alerts, the ABF sub-committee was particularly concerned with the situation where an alert provided far more information to the partner than it did to the opponents! As an example, pairs playing 4♣ Gerber were often confused as to the meaning of the call in the midst of a complicated auction – it might have been natural, but it might have also been an Ace ask. In this instance partner’s alert, or even failure to alert, often resolved the problem.
With the above problems in mind, the ABF introduced the principle of self-alerting. Self-alerting refers to the situation where a call, by its very nature, is regarded as having been automatically alerted – an alert by partner now becomes unnecessary, and, indeed, illegal. The self-alerting tag has been applied to those calls where there is no common meaning, or else the alerting pair may gain more benefit than their opponents.
The self-alerting calls are:
- All calls beyond the level of 3NT, except conventional opening bids (e.g. 4♦ opening showing a heart suit must be alerted).
- All doubles.
- All redoubles.
- A 2♣ response to a 1NT opening in an uncontested auction.
- Bids of suits previously called by the opponents (regardless of whether or not the original call was natural).
- Bids of suits previously specified by the call of another suit, or No Trumps e.g. if your left hand opponent has opened 1NT, and your right hand opponent has now bid 2♦, a transfer to hearts, then all diamond and heart calls by you are self-alerting.
If a self-alerting call has been made by an opponent, e.g. a double of your 1NT opening, then you should act as if the call has been alerted, and inquire of its meaning in the same manner as you would if an alert had been given.
Alerting is compulsory – you may not ask the opponents not to alert.
Some bids you and your partner make are deemed “Self-Alerting”. You do not alert these calls because opponents are expected to know that partnerships may have a special agreement about these calls – hence they are deemed to have alerted themselves (eg all doubles and redoubles).
You must alert all your agreements (other than those that are self alerting) that the opponents may not fully understand, or may reasonably misinterpret. This includes
- Natural bids having an additional requirement that the opponents would not be expected to know, e.g. if a 1NT opening denies a four card major then it should be alerted.
- Calls that could be taken as forcing, but aren’t e.g. a new suit call after an opponent’s overcall.
- Weak jump responses.
- Bergen raises.
- Inverted minor raises.
- Fourth suit forcing.
- 2-level opening bids that have more than one meaning, including Multi-2♦.
- Conventional responses including pass-or-correct calls, e.g. a 2♥ response to a Multi-2♦
- A pass that conveys a special meaning.
You can ask your opponents about the calls that they have alerted (including self- alerted) when it is your turn to call. If you don’t ask at that time, any subsequent questions from you must be about the entire auction – you are not allowed to query the meaning of a single call.
If you become declarer you should offer to give a full explanation of your auction to the opponents if it contained any alerted (including self alerted) calls, or calls they may not fully understand.
It is strongly recommended that before starting a round or match that you obtain the following information from the opponents:
- Their basic system.
- The strength and style of their 1NT openings.
- Their carding agreements.
The opponents should also advise you before bidding commences of any self alerting calls which the opponents may confuse with other common calls, e.g. unorthodox two openings. Unusual carding styles, e.g. leading low from a doubleton should also be pre alerted.
The ABF has introduced the notion of ‘Announcements’.
What this means is that when you open 1♣ or 1NT your partner should ‘announce’ to your opponents what the bid is about (note that 1♣ is now ‘announced’ rather than alerted, whatever its meaning).
When you open 1NT, your partner should announce the strength range, e.g. “12-14” or “15-17” (or whatever the range is).
If you open 1♣, your partner should automatically announce the essential meaning of the bid.
For a natural system, the announcement is the minimum number of clubs, “4+ clubs” or “3+ clubs” or “2+ clubs”.
For Precision 1♣ openings, you would say “artificial, 16+ HCP”.
For other artificial systems, your partner announces “UNUSUAL” and the opponents can clarify.
Your opponents will still be able to ask questions, but the basics should have already been supplied.
The reasoning for this change is to try to avoid the sometimes pointed enquiries that sometimes happened under the previous regulations.
While no specific penalties have been laid down for failing to ‘announce’, directors have the power to award an adjusted score if opponents are damaged by the failure to announce.
The full ABF Alerting Regulation can be found here.