Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay lies 40 meters above sea level and is approximately 535 m long. It was Juan Manuel de Ayala, a Spanish explorer, who named the island Isla de los Alcatraces, which means Isle of the Pelicans, because a very large pelican population inhabited the island. It was used as a military prison for the United States Department of Justice from 1868 until 1933 until it became a federal prison for dangerous prisoners.

On July 1, 1934, The United States Penitentiary, called Alcatraz, formally opened with Mr. James A. Johnston, who was actually a retired California state prison official, as the first prison warden.

Mr. Warden Johnston decided from the inception that the goal of Alcatraz was not to be the rehabilitation of the prisoners, but rather punishment to the inmates for the crimes which they had committed. The inmates were not permitted to have newspapers, radios, or magazines. In addition, it was decided that all incoming mail would be type-written by his staff officers, so that any and all coded messages contained in the original letters would not be received and subsequently used by the inmates. A rule of total silence was in effect except in the recreation yard and the dining room.


Coup and Crime

A coup is normally defined as a highly successful stroke, act, or move. It also means a clever action or accomplishment. In the bridge community of contract bridge, the word coup is a term applied to any strategic play. However, an Alcatraz Coup, even though it is a successful move or clever action, can carry a huge penalty once discovered by the victims.


In the above situation, the declarer must make three tricks in order to fulfill his contract. Should the declarer finesse by playing a small card from his hand and hope that West has the Queen of Spades. Since the declarer has obtained no information from the auction, no information from the play, no information from the card count as to the location of the Queen of Spades, the declarer decides to perform the Alcatraz Coup.

The declarer calls for the Jack of Spades from the dummy. East plays low, and the declarer fails to follow suit. The Alcatraz Coup has just occurred. The declarer has not followed suit. The declarer has committed a punishable crime, but he waits until West plays to the trick.

Now, if West produces the Queen of Spades, the declarer will discover his mistake, or revoke, and replace the played card with the King of Spades, apologizing profusely that he pulled the incorrect card. This action will permit West to return his Queen of Spades to his hand so that West can now play low to the trick, but declarer has already located the Queen of Spades and, of course, finesses West successfully with the Five of Spades.

Now, if West does not produce the Queen of Spades, then the declarer will again discover his mistake, or revoke, and replace the played card with the Five of Spades, again apologizing profusely that he pulled the incorrect card.

And, in this manner, the declarer has made three tricks, which was his goal.

Crime and Punishment

The declarer has committed several irregularities, or crimes. First, the declarer has revoked, but the Laws of Duplicate Bridge state that the declarer is not subject to penalty for exposing a card, and no card of the declarer or any card planed from the dummy ever becomes a penalty card. So, by applying the Alcatraz Coup, the declarer is not charged with any crime.

However, as with all actions deemed to intentionally provide one player or partnership with a profit, with a benefit, with an advantage unavailable to other players, who play within the moral parameters of the game and the spirit of the Laws, such purposeful and deceiving actions are liable to punishment.

Law 47F: states that the director may award an adjusted score for the Exposure of Retracted Cards by Damaged Side. The declarer is then penalized.
Law 12A: states that the director may award an adjusted score under Director's Discretionary Powers. The declarer may then be penalized.
Law 73D2: covers Intentional Variations. The declarer may be charged with unethical conduct.
Law 73E: covers Deception. The declarer may be charged with intentional deception.

Instead of trying to deceive the opponents, instead of being unethical in any approach to the play, instead of trying to perform a successful move or clever action, as in a coup, it is much better to adopt the attitude of honesty and follow the spirit of the game itself.



If you wish to include this feature, or any other feature, of the game of bridge in your partnership agreement, then please make certain that the concept is understood by both partners. Be aware whether or not the feature is alertable or not and whether an announcement should or must be made. Check with the governing body and/or the bridge district and/or the bridge unit prior to the game to establish the guidelines applied. Please include the particular feature on your convention card in order that your opponents are also aware of this feature during the bidding process, since this information must be made known to them according to the Laws of Duplicate Contract Bridge. We do not always include the procedure regarding Alerts and/or Announcements, since these regulations are changed and revised during time by the governing body. It is our intention only to present the information as concisely and as accurately as possible.