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In contract bridge, a coup is typically defined as a brilliantly executed maneuver or action, showcasing strategic prowess and cleverness. However, the Alcatraz Coup, while crafty, carries a hefty penalty once unveiled by the opponents. For example:

SA J 10
S??? S???
SK 7

The declarer's contract demands three tricks. Finessing by playing a small card and hoping West possesses the SQ seems tempting. Yet, due to lack of information from the auction, play, or card count, the declarer decides to resort to the Alcatraz Coup.

The declarer calls for the SJ from the dummy, and East plays low. Here, the declarer deliberately fails to follow suit—a decisive moment marking the occurrence of the Alcatraz Coup. A subtle transgression has been committed, one that waits to be exploited.

As West plays to the trick, two scenarios unfold:

If West presents the SQ, the declarer acknowledges the error, replaces the played card with the SK, and issues apologies. This permits West to retrieve the Queen and play low to the trick, setting the stage for the successful Five of Spades finesse.

If West does not produce the SQ, the declarer again rectifies the played card, this time with the S7, once more apologizing for the "mistake."

In either case, the declarer manages to secure the three tricks needed to meet the contract.

Legal Consequences

Although the declarer's actions might seem clever, they raise ethical concerns and potential penalties. Let's dissect the situation.

The declarer commits a revoke, a technical error, but according to the ACBL Laws of Duplicate Bridge, exposing a card does not result in a penalty, nor does any card from the dummy.

However, intentionally manipulating the game to unfairly favor a player or partnership—violating the moral essence of the game and the Laws—can incur penalties.

Several bridge laws come into play:

  • Law 47F empowers the director to adjust scores for exposed or retracted cards by the damaged side, thus penalizing the declarer.
  • Law 12A grants the director discretionary powers to award adjusted scores, potentially leading to penalties.
  • Law 73D2 pertains to Intentional Variations and might charge the declarer with unethical conduct.
  • Law 73E focuses on Deception and may lead to charges of intentional deception.

See also