From the golden age of bridge we have sepia-toned photos of tuxedoed gentlemen and beautifully gowned ladies seemingly enjoying a pleasant game of cards. From behind many of the photos, however, emerge tales of outrageous behavior at the card table. Not only was the bad behavior tolerated, it was often celebrated.

Curse words flying freely while drinks sailed through the air and ashtrays were dumped in opponent’s lap made for colorful copy, but eventually the shtick got old.

Canadian bridge club owner and teacher Barbara Seagram recalls: “I had been aware for years that very few of my students ever became duplicate players. They did not have the thick skin required to endure the rudeness and boorish behavior at the table. They would arrive in class and recount the humiliation and discomfort that they experienced. They were embarrassed and intimidated and decided that duplicate was just not for them.”

Seagram became president of Unit 166 (Ontario) in 1996, and found in fellow unit board member Paul Cronin a like-minded activist.

“Paul came up with the title of zero tolerance,” says Seagram, “and drew up the rules of behavior that should be expected in order to create a welcoming environment.”

According to Seagram, Hans Jacobs from Unit 246 created a sign that could be posted in clubs alerting players that unpleasant behavior would not be tolerated. A second poster spelled out the zero tolerance policy dos and don’ts, and the public education campaign was on.

The ACBL adopted its Zero Tolerance Policy in November 1997, and it became effective with the 1998 Spring NABC in Reno.

ACBL’s Zero Tolerance Policy

The ultimate purpose of the Z-T policy is to create a much more pleasant atmosphere in our NABCs. We are attempting to eradicate unacceptable behavior in order to make the game of bridge more enjoyable for all. Below are some examples of commendable behavior, which, while not required, will significantly contribute to the improved atmosphere:


  • Being a good ‘host’ or ‘guest’ at the table.
  • Greeting others in a friendly manner.
  • Praising the bidding and/or play of the opponents.
  • Having two clearly completed convention cards readily available to the opponents. (This one is a regulation, not just a nicety.)

The following list are examples of behavior that will not be tolerated:

  • Badgering, rudeness, insinuations, intimidation, profanity, threats or violence.
  • Negative comments concerning opponents’ or partner’s play or bidding.
  • Constant and gratuitous lessons and analyses at the table.
  • Loud and disruptive arguing with a director’s ruling.

If a player at the table behaves in an unacceptable manner, the director should be called immediately. Annoying behavior, embarrassing remarks, or any other conduct which might interfere with the enjoyment of the game is specifically prohibited by Law 74A. Law 91A gives the director the authority to assess disciplinary penalties.

While the League’s authority to enforce zero tolerance extends only to tournaments it sponsors — NABCs and Regionals at Sea, at this time — clubs, unit-sponsored sectionals and district-sponsored regionals are urged to follow suit.

The ACBL is renewing the public education campaign initiated by Seagram, Cronin and Jacobs more than 15 years ago. The theme, “Play nice,” transposes two words we all like to hear at the table (“nice play!”). New posters have been developed, and are being disseminated to all 3100 clubs.

To view and print the new zero tolerance posters, please click here.