February 2020 English Bridge
The big screen
Bridge with a Twist by Simon Cochemé
creens were first introduced for the World
Championships in 1975. They are now used in
all international events and, in England, for
international trials and the finals of the Gold Cup
and Spring Foursomes. Their purpose is to
eliminate, or at least minimise, the transmission of
deliberate or unintentional illegal information
between partners. Diagonal screens were added
below the table in response to accusations that a
pair of Italians (known as the 'foot soldiers') were
tapping each other's feet.
The way they work is this. A screen, 24 inches
above table height, is placed diagonally across the
table. North and East are 'screen-mates' on one side
of the screen, South and West on the other.
The screen has a small two inch high 'letter box' gap
in the middle of the bottom, just high enough to
accommodate a tray (more picturesquely known as
a slæde (sledge) in Denmark, and a chariot in
France) on which the bidding cards are placed.
When both screen-mates have made a bid, the tray
is pushed to the other side of the screen, see below.
When the bidding is finished a flap is raised and
the letter box gap grows to eight inches, so that all
four players can see the dummy, and their partner's
mid-section - dummy and tummy:
So what's it like, playing with screens? In one
word - peaceful. You are not distracted by your
partner's expression, be it agonised or puzzled, nor
his manner, be it confident or uncertain. He can
dither with his bidding box as much as he likes and
you won't know it. It's quiet, too, because there are
no spoken explanations at any of the tables. You
alert your own conventional bids, as well as your
partner's, to your screen-mate. Explanations are
meant to be written down, but in practice simple
ones are often done by mouthing and sign language.
In the event of a dispute about misexplanation,
written evidence is usually available; it should
match what is on your convention card, and the
explanation should be the same on both sides of the
There are also fewer problems arising from
hesitations. The normal time for the tray to be
returned to your side of the screen is about 20
seconds. If it is much longer than that (known as
BIT - break in tempo), then you don't necessarily
know who was thinking, nor what caused the delay.
Your partner and his screen-mate may be explaining
bids to each other, or sharing information on good
restaurants in the neighbourhood.
There is a nice story about the last deal of the day.
Two players passed and pushed the tray through the
screen. It stayed there for a few minutes - definitely
Cont/. . .