More on Ethics and Tempo

Author: Larry Cohen
Date of publish: 01/05/2005
Level: Intermediate

Think all you want (that's not the problem)

Continuing our discussion from last month, let's not use that "C" word anymore. A less startling term is "unethical."

This won't make me popular with everyone out there, but let me put it right out there on the table: "It is UNETHICAL to take advantage of your partner's tempo."

If you have heard otherwise, or are confused, this article is for you.

I know, I know. Some of you are thinking, "Larry, these nasty people are ruining our game. You know--the ones that call the director every time I think-- are ruining the game." Yes, I know. I don't like the litigious types who are always "calling the cops." Especially at a "social duplicate," and certainly against new players, there is no need to scream for a director over every tempo violation. I feel your pain!

But, let's not lose sight of the lesson. When your partner takes 75 seconds to pass, you are not entitled to know that he has a problem. It is your ethical duty (obligation!) to not take advantage. If you have a marginal action, you must bend over backwards (I'd prefer you try to break a few bones doing so) to do what is counter-indicated. Example auctions:

Opponent Partner Opponent You
3? Pass Pass ??


Your partner took 70 seconds. You know he was thinking of bidding. You know he isn't broke. He doesn't have a flat 4-count. If you have a marginal balancing decision, you must pass. Unless you are absolutely sure it is normal to take action, then don't. This is the proper approach. It is the right thing. You'll feel proud of yourself. The opponents will respect you. You can die in peace. If instead, you violate the code of honor, you will incur the wrath of your opponents (and maybe a higher source).

Partner Opponent You Opponent
1? Pass 1NT Pass
2? Pass ??  


Your partner opened 1? then took 48 seconds to bid 2?. What do your psychic powers tell you? Surely he has spades and hearts. What strength? He has extra values, of course. He was thinking of bidding more than 2?. With a minimum, he'd have bid 2? in tempo. If you are considering making a marginal invitation now, don't do it! Just pass and take your medicine.

Did I mince any words? Is this not 100% clear to everyone?

Read carefully: It is okay to huddle. Sometimes you have a problem. If you do take 64 seconds to pass, so be it. You did nothing wrong. It is your partner who has to uphold the spirit of the game. As long as he doesn't take advantage, all is well and good in the world.

If you are at all confused about this (I know it is a tricky topic for inexperienced players), please send me an e-mail and ask away.


  1. I repeat--this is not for beginners. We don't want to scare them away. (We do, however, wish to educate them. If there is a nice way to explain this issue, I'm all for it).
  2. This is also not for "social" or casual players. (But, I wish I could explain it to them, as well). At any level, I suspect that players, at least subconsciously, are aware when they take advantage of partner's tempo.
  3. I didn't want to overwhelm you, but there are also issues of tempo on defense! If your partner thinks a long time before ducking his ace, you are not entitled to know he has that ace. Be aware. As usual, you can take all the time you want on a trick. Just don't "read anything" into partner's slow plays.
  4. I've discussed only slow actions. Don't fall into the trap of "fast passing." When the opponents skip the bidding, don't pass in 0.02 seconds to convey to your partner that you are broke. Furthermore, if you open a dead minimum hand, and the competitive auction comes back to you, please don't pull out your pass card while RHO is still placing his bidding card on the table. Such an action is at best unethical. At worst--well, I said I won't use that "C" word this month. Let's use this one instead: