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In Aviv Shahaf's "Convention Disruption" thread, Ian Grant wrote:

"...All we need to agree is that the CC is ALWAYS assumed to be correct; in effect a binding contract between the players and their opps."

Ed Reppert responded with an Edgar Kaplan quote:

"A partnership understanding is not an undertaking to {the} opponents."

Ian replied:

"Was this 'Ex Cathedra'?

If we take Mr Kaplan at face value then CCs, alerts, announcements, responses to inquiries are all valueless and the game becomes unplayable. I know what my choice is."

I started writing a response, but it was only going to be mildly related to the discussion, and I decided to post separately so as not to derail the other thread. (And in case anyone was wondering, no, my comment wasnot going to be as long as this article. I know I often write novella-length comments, but this one was going to be a more reasonable size.)

I (strongly) disagree with Ian's position that you have any obligation to the opponents to follow your convention card or, more broadly, your agreements. Others have said it better, but in my view, an explanation is not a "binding contract" of any kind, but rather information that allows the opponents to be on the same page as your partnership.

I believe a common Meckwell explanation is "our bids show what they show; we have what we have." You're allowed to deviate from your agreements. Doing so does not imply that you have a different agreement or that an opponent's inquiry is valueless. Of course, a pattern of deviation might suggest a concealed agreement or a tendency that should be disclosed, but one deviation (or more) does not necessarily imply that.

Here are a few situations that arose recently at a regional. You can form your own opinions about whether the explanations given were adequate or whether the occurrences require different or additional disclosure when these situations arise again.

The scoring is IMPs throughout and with one irrelevant section (on the last page), the opponents are experienced and competent or stronger players.

With a first-time partner, in third seat at favorable vulnerability, I held

South
Axx
Kxx
10x
KQJxx

and I opened 1NT (15-17).

The operation was a success. We reached 3NT, not bid at the other table:

North
KQxx
Jx
A8xx
10xx
South
Axx
Kxx
10x
KQJxx
W
N
E
S
P
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P

West led the J. I won in hand and knocked out East's A. East shifted to a heart, and West played Q, A, and another, so I had nine tricks. Comically, when I ran the clubs, West, who began with J109x and KQ, "knew" he was squeezed, as I "had" to have the J for my 1NT opening. It didn't matter which pointed suit he unguarded, so he threw a spade. Perhaps he thought the chance of my having a singleton spade outweighed the chance of my not having the J.

If I play with this partner again, do we have to disclose that I might be fooling around in third seat? If I play with someone who reads this article, dothey have to explain my third-seat 1NT openings as "15-17, but one time I heard he did it with 13"?

Playing with a regular partner, I held:

South
QJx
Jx
KJx
AQ8xx

and I opened 1NT (15-17) in second seat with both sides vulnerable. This was a purposeful deviation: I don't think this hand qualifies as 15 HCP or even a "good 14." It was the first board, and I wanted to set the pace for the match.

This one was a success too. We reached 3NT:

North
x
AQxx
Axxx
J9xx
South
QJx
Jx
KJx
AQ8xx
W
N
E
S
P
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
3NT
P
P
P

West led the 10, which ran to my J. I crossed to the A and lost a club finesse. The defense switched to spades, so I had nine tricks. I could have taken the heart finesse (virtually guaranteed as the play went) for an overtrick, but I am a coward at heart. The Q was onside as well, so it would have taken an initial spade lead to defeat 3NT.

Does this hand suggest that our 1NT opening really shows 14+-17? Or even 14-17? Should partner announce more than a simple range?

Ditto for opening 2NT (20-21) in third seat, favorable, with:

South
AKxx
AKx
98xx
AJ

Here, again, this was a purposeful tactical deviation, in part because we were trailing by a significant margin at the half and I wanted to create some action.

The same regular partner psyched a 4 splinter (the stronger of two tiers of splinter) over my 1 opening holding:

North
Q109xx
A9x
QJ10xx

This was the first time he or I had psyched a splinter in our partnership.

Do I need to account for this when I explain his splinters in the future?

If Michael Rosenberg is reading this, I hope he's gotten this far. Here are two "forget" situations:

North
Ax
Qxx
xx
xxxxxx
W
N
E
S
1
1
?

My partner bid 3, intending it as a mixed raise, but per our agreement it shows a limit raise (2 would be game-forcing).

South
AKx
AQJx
Kxx
A10x
W
N
E
S
2NT
P
4
P
4
P
6
P
P
P

I opened 2NT and partner bid 4, showing a single-suited diamond slam-try. I alerted, but the opponents did not ask. I bid 4 showing a slam-positive hand for diamonds with 1 or 4 keycards, and partner bid 6. I passed. We have other ways to show both minors and slam interest and a suite of investigatory tools available over 4. I was fairly sure partner had forgotten and thought his 4 was showing clubs (with that hand-type, he should bid 3 then 4). I was correct.

In both cases, the agreements are clearly documented in system notes and on the convention card. I can produce correspondence (text messages and emails) confirming the agreements. However, both cases were the first time the convention had comeup at the table.

If the opponents had been damaged, could they receive redress under the Rosenberg standard of treating the situations as misexplanations rather than misbids?

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