Do bridge tournaments need referees?


by Jude Goodwin © Great Bridge Links

If you’re used to playing bridge at home with friends, you might wonder if duplicate bridge games, such as a club game or other tournament, have any kind of referee. Although the basics of bridge are simple, as your group gets better and better at the game, you might be feeling a need for someone who knows the rules. For example, did you know there are rules for things like a ‘lead out of turn,’ or ‘dropped cards,’ or even a ‘revoke’ (failure to follow suit). This is where the Bridge Director comes in.

A Bridge Director is the person in charge of overseeing bridge games at clubs and tournaments. Think of them as the game’s host, organizer, and referee all rolled into one. They ensure that everything runs smoothly and that the rules are followed. When you walk into a bridge club, you will often be first greeted by the Director. And throughout the game, you’ll see the Director wandering around, answering questions, maybe passing boards, and eventually totting up the results. At a club game, the Director wears many hats.

What Does a Director Do?

  1. Setting Up the Game: Before the game even begins, the Director is busy setting up the tables, perhaps dealing the hands, and making sure everything is in place for a fair and enjoyable game.
  2. Explaining the Rules: Bridge has a lot of rules, and the Director is there to explain them. If a player has a question or if there’s a dispute about the rules, the Director steps in to clarify. Just put up your hand! See below for tips on calling the director and when.
  3. Handling Infractions: Sometimes, players make mistakes or misunderstand the rules. The Director is there to handle these situations. They ensure that any infractions are dealt with fairly and consistently.
  4. Keeping Things Moving: The Director keeps the game on schedule. They manage the timing of rounds and make sure that players are where they need to be. You’ll often hear the Director call out “All Move Please” – which means time is up for that particular round.
  5. Scoring: After the game, the Director is often in charge of the scoring, ensuring that everything is calculated correctly and the results are accurate.

When to Call the Director

If you find yourself in need of assistance during a bridge game, calling the Director is the way to go. But how exactly do you do that?

You should call the Director if:

  • There’s a dispute about the rules.
  • You suspect an infraction or mistake has occurred (see below).
  • You have a question about the game mechanics.
  • There’s any kind of confusion that needs sorting out.

Calling the Director

  1. Raise Your Hand: The simplest way to get the Director’s attention is to raise your hand. This signals that you need help without disrupting the game too much.
  2. Say “Director, Please”: While raising your hand, say “Director, please.” It’s a polite and clear way to let everyone know you need the Director’s assistance.
  3. Wait Patiently: The Director might be helping someone else, so give them a moment to come over. Continue to hold your hand up if needed, so they can spot you easily. Especially if there are a lot of tables in play.
  4. Explain the Situation: When the Director arrives, clearly and calmly explain the situation. They are there to help, so provide as much detail as necessary to resolve the issue.
  5. Follow Their Guidance: The Director will explain what needs to be done. Whether it’s adjusting the score, clarifying a rule, or resolving a dispute, trust their judgment and follow their instructions.
  6. What if you Disagree? There might come a time in your bridge playing experience when you disagree with the Director’s ruling. This is perfectly ok. Directors can make mistakes. There is an Appeals process for these kinds of circumstances. If you would like to follow up on a ruling, you can ask for an Appeal. Typically you’ll finish playing the game and the appeal will happen afterwards. This wouldn’t really be something that happens at a club game. But at higher level tournaments this can be quite common.

Calling the Director ensures that the game is fair and enjoyable for everyone. It helps resolve issues quickly and maintains the flow of the game. Plus, it takes the pressure off the players to sort out complex situations on their own.

Top 5 Most Common Director Calls

Here five of the most common director calls that bridge players might encounter:

  1. Insufficient Bid:
    • An insufficient bid occurs when a player makes a bid that is lower than the previous bid. The Director is called and they will offer options to the opponents, which might include accepting the bid or requiring a corrected bid with specific penalties.
  2. Lead Out of Turn:
    • This happens when a player leads a card when it is not their turn to do so. The director will provide options to the non-offending side, such as accepting the lead or requiring the correct player to lead. If the incorrect lead is not accepted, the card becomes a penalty card​.
    • If you happen to lead, and it’s not your turn, don’t pick the card up. Just wait until the Director is called and they will sort things out. Leads out of turn are very common. A good habit is to lead ‘face down’ and wait for confirmation that it’s your lead. In fact, lead your card face down and say “Any questions partner?” If partner has questions to ask the opponents, they need to wait until your lead is face down before they ask. This avoids their questions influencing your lead. But also, if it isn’t your lead, the error is corrected before anyone sees your card.
  3. Revoke (Failure to Follow Suit):
    • A revoke occurs when a player fails to follow suit despite having a card of that suit in their hand. The director will adjust the score if the revoke is discovered before the end of the play. If it’s discovered later, penalties might be applied based on the impact of the revoke​.
    • Correcting or adjusting for a revoke is complicated. As soon as you realize you or an opponent has revoked, stop the play and call the Director.
  4. Claims and Concessions:
    • When a player claims or concedes the rest of the tricks, disputes can arise if the opponents do not agree with the claim. The director will step in to assess the claim and determine the outcome based on the cards held and the play up to that point.
    • Feel free to call the director if you don’t understand  your opponents’ claim. Some new players might feel intimidated by an opponent’s claim and give up to it even though it could be inaccurate. Calling the Director is absolutely expected and acceptable at any time. So do it!
  5. Insufficient or Incorrect Alert:
    • If a player fails to alert a conventional bid or provides an incorrect explanation of a bid, the director must determine whether the opponents were damaged by this lack of information. The director will then decide on any necessary score adjustments to rectify the situation.
    • Don’t worry too much about this one – you’ll learn more about ‘alerts’ as you progress in your learning.

These common director calls highlight the essential role of the bridge director in ensuring fair play and resolving disputes. Directors are trained to handle these situations efficiently to maintain the integrity of the game and ensure that all players have a positive experience. Check out the Bridge Genealogie for some common Director Calls. Director Please is also a good resource for information on Bridge Directing and the Laws of Duplicate Bridge.

Directing a bridge game is a job.

Bridge Directors Get Paid

Bridge Directors often get paid for their work, especially at larger tournaments. Their pay can vary depending on the event and their level of experience. For smaller club games, Directors might receive a modest fee or even volunteer their time just to get started, but for major tournaments, their role is crucial, and they are compensated accordingly.

Directors are responsible for knowing the rules, assessing situations, and assigning penalties if necessary. However, the majority of their job focuses on assisting players and resolving disputes rather than penalizing them. For those who enjoy travel, being a Tournament or National Director offers plenty of opportunities to see different places. Here’s an overview of the various levels of bridge directors in the ACBL and their typical earnings:

Club Director

  • Responsibilities: Overseeing club games, handling minor disputes, ensuring games run smoothly.
  • Pay: Typically ranges from $50 to $100 per session. This can vary based on location, the size of the game, and the club’s budget. Some directors might work on a volunteer basis or receive a small fee for their services. Training as a club director is the first step for persons interested in directing as a career. Expect to shadow and volunteer a lot in these early days.

Local Director

  • Responsibilities: Managing larger club games and local tournaments such as Unit Games, handling more complex issues.
  • Pay: Can increase with experience and the ability to run larger events, potentially earning $100 to $200 per session.

Tournament Director

  • Responsibilities: Overseeing sectional and regional tournaments, resolving complex disputes, managing multiple games simultaneously.
  • Pay: Varies widely depending on the size and prestige of the tournament. Directors at regional events can earn between $200 to $500 per day. Larger national tournaments may offer higher daily rates and cover expenses.

National Tournament Director

  • Responsibilities: Managing major national tournaments, ensuring compliance with all rules and regulations, training and overseeing other directors.
  • Pay: Often salaried employees of organizations like the ACBL. Their annual salary can range from $50,000 to $100,000, depending on experience and the number of events they manage.

The demand for bridge directors is steady, with opportunities for advancement as the game’s popularity and the number of tournaments continue to grow.

How to get started as a Bridge Director

A good bridge director should possess a blend of patience, fairness, and attention to detail to manage various player levels and ensure the rules are followed correctly. Effective communication skills are essential for explaining rules and resolving disputes, while decisiveness helps maintain game flow. A thorough knowledge of bridge rules and strategies, coupled with diplomacy, aids in handling conflicts smoothly. Strong organizational skills and problem-solving abilities are crucial for managing tournaments and unexpected issues. Finally, maintaining composure under pressure ensures the director can handle high-stress situations effectively​.

Benefits of being a Bridge Director are many! You’ll meet and interact with many people from all walks of life. If you’re a tournament director you’ll meet and get to know some of the most famous bridge players in the world, and you’ll get to travel some some amazing places. If you like people you’ll like this job. If a director has a large personality it can colour any tournament. Phil Wood was an infamous director based in the Metro Vancouver BC area. Many of my early tournaments were directed by Phil Wood with his booming voice and his good work was memorialized with trophies and awards. Another well-known BC-based director, now retired, is Matt Smith. You can read a 2016  interview with Matt here, which has insight into what it’s like to be a bridge director. Matt Smith‘s directing skills took him all the way to the top, where he was Head Tournament Director for the World Bridge Federation. After his retirement, he was elected WBF Honorary Head Tournament Director in 2021. Matt was inducted into the ACBL Hall of Fame in 2022.

If you think you have what it takes here are some basic steps to starting your career as a Bridge Director.

1. Learn the Rules of Duplicate Bridge

Understanding the Laws: The first step is to thoroughly understand the rules and laws of duplicate bridge.

Books and Manuals: Consider reading books such as “Director, Please!” by Josephina Burrie, which explains the laws in the chronological order of a bridge session, making it easier for aspiring directors to learn and reference the rules​. There are many other well known books for aspiring directors including Groner’s “Duplicate Bridge Direction” and Larry Harris’s “Bridge Directors Companion”

2. Gain Practical Experience

Play Bridge Regularly: Regularly playing bridge helps you understand the practical application of the rules and the common issues that arise during play.

Volunteer at Clubs: Offer to assist at local bridge clubs. This hands-on experience is invaluable for learning how to manage games, resolve disputes, and handle the logistics of directing.

3. Attend Training Courses

The ACBL offers director courses and seminars that provide formal training. These courses cover everything from the basic rules to advanced rulings and are essential for anyone serious about becoming a director​. Other national bridge organizations will also offer director’s courses and updates.

4. Take the Director’s Exam

The ACBL offers an official exam for aspiring directors. Passing this exam is necessary to become a certified director.

5. Certification and Beyond

Once you pass the exam, you will be certified as a bridge director. Certification may need to be renewed periodically, so staying updated with any changes in the laws or regulations is important. The world of bridge is always evolving, and so are the rules. Regularly attend advanced courses and seminars to keep your knowledge up to date and improve your directing skills.

Does the Director have a whistle?

Ha ha. No a bridge director does not have a whistle, or any kind of noise maker. However, it can help if they have a booming voice, like Phil Wood. In a room full of bridge players, you might hear the director calling out things like, “Who Called Please?” or “All Move Please” or ‘Next Round!” But most of the refereeing is done by a director quietly at the side of a bridge table, and often with a book in hand for reference.