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Suppose someone said that I was "telling lies" at the bridge table. The reasons are that 1) he is a better player and 2) my bids at the bridge table don't quite agree with what I have in my hand. That is not intentional, but I do make mistakes of this sort, and possibly mislead my partners.

Would the above constitute "telling lies," within the context of bridge? That is, suppose someone asked him what he meant, and he said, "Tom doesn't always have in his hand what he says he has." (In bridge, people occasionally bluff outright, and some others "shade" their bids up or down. What I did fell into the latter heading. That is, I had a "borderline" hand, and I put it into the wrong category.)

Suppose a non-bridge player heard this bridge player accuse me of "telling lies" at the bridge club, without understanding or inquiring into the context, and I lost business as a result. Would the statement constitute defamation?

  • In this hypothetical, is the statement true or is the statement false? – user3851 Aug 26 '16 at 16:26
  • @Dawn: What happened is that I had a weak four card holding, and bid it as if I had only three cards. There are some bridge experts who advocate bidding a strong four card holding as it if had five cards, and a weak one as if it had three. Let's say for the sake of argument that my (inadvertent) action constituted a "lie" at the bridge table. A non-bridge player overhears the statement and believes that I "lie" in real life. – Libra Aug 26 '16 at 16:35
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Would the above constitute "telling lies," within the context of bridge?

No. Lies involve a purposeful mental state or intent to mislead those who are expected to rely on your statements. What you describe reflects lack of skill at bridge, whence "lies" is a careless term for criticism of your bids.

Lies have to do with statements of facts which can be objectively verifiable either as true or false. Your bids (what the hypothetical person calls "lies") are not falsehoods, but the product of your subjective (1) assessment [of your cards] and (2) your bidding style. Although your bids may be affected by a lack of skill, they in no way constitute or imply a (true or false) statement of fact. If your bids led your partner to infer that you have certain cards, that is merely a subjective interpretation he made from your subjective assessment.

Can a statement be defamatory if it is damaging “out of context?”

Yes. At the end, I'll outline an exception where saying "he tells lies" could defame a bridge player and can effect harm out of [bridge] context. We need to be mindful, though, that this hypothetical scenario is extreme and only for illustrative purposes.

Suppose a non-bridge player heard this bridge player accuse me of "telling lies" at the bridge club, without understanding or inquiring into the context, and I lost business as a result. Would the statement constitute defamation?

It depends on what exactly his statements are. When the statement can be reasonably construed as opinion, it is not defamatory. Only false statements of fact (or sufficiently implied falsehoods) may lead to a viable claim of defamation.

Your example "Tom doesn't always have in his hand what he says he has" is rather inconclusive and not derogatory because it merely reflects the nature of the game: As you correctly point out, it is habitual and totally valid for bridge players to engage in "bluffing" as part of their bidding style.

For it to constitute defamation, the statement would have to convey something that tends to injure your reputation. For instance, if the publisher conveyed that you purposefully do things to make your partner lose, then that would be defamatory because it tends to discourage others from associating with you:

(1) others would refuse to be your partner in bridge, for they suspect you'll try to make them lose as well, and/or

(2) they'll think of you as an unethical person who betrays his partners.

The first hypothetical effect tends to impair your opportunities to play bridge in clubs or tournaments. The second hypothetical effect might deter others from doing business with you.

  • Bridge is very often objective under an established bidding agreement. The inference of a particular (potential set of) hand(s) from a given (series of) bid(s) is no more subjective than the winner of a trick or the number of points for a given bid. – Nij Jun 10 '18 at 1:40
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A clarifying comment says, "Let's say for the sake of argument that my (inadvertent) action constituted a "lie" at the bridge table."

That is, for the sake of this hypothetical, the statement is true.

Truth is always a defence to defamation. That a third party overheard the statement and drew their own incorrect hasty generalization (that the statement was a broad statement about Tom's life in general) isn't relevant.

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