Bob Mackinnon

Jekyll and Hyde Bridge

There are some lessons that need to be learned over and over again. Here is one of them. In 4th seat, nonvulnerable against vulnerable, I opened 1NT on AJ75 AT2 K84 QJ2, right in the middle of my range of 14-16 HCP. The auction proceeded without opposition as follows: 1NT – 2; 2 – 2NT, alerted as invitational not promising 4 hearts. Should I accept the invitation at matchpoints where going plus takes precedence? A hand with 5 controls, 2 jacks and a ten looks promising despite the 4=3=3=3 shape, but I decided to pass against a pair that could be expected to play excellent defence. Our opponents were Matt Smith, the international director, and his brother, Duncan Smith, a leading Canadian player who has amassed over 12000 masterpoints. After the hand was over Matt asked why I hadn’t accepted the invitation as I was above the minimum for my range. I didn’t answer because I hate discussing the hands at the table – there are too many factors involved, some of them personal. Besides which, once the hand is over we should file it away for later. Here at last is my answer.

One aspect to keep in mind is what the field will be doing on a deal. One can expect the very same start. What will the majority decide? In the present case I am sharing with the field an auction that I hate. The closer the decision the better it is not to give away information that will benefit the defenders. Rather than invite with 9 HCP and no 4-card major, I would just as soon that partner would bid 3NT from the start. The diamonds are developable, and the 3 outside controls make this dummy better than invitational opposite a strong NT. Without this pointless rigmarole one is more likely to get a favourable lead. Here is the deal in its entirety:

 
N-S
South
N
 
Q10843
QJ85
107
K10
 
W
 
92
K72
Q985
A964
 
E
 
AJ75
A102
K64
QJ2
 
S
 
K6
943
AJ32
8763
 

When the dummy comes down some may ask themselves what The Field is doing, as if The Field were an individual. This is akin to saying, ‘I wonder what Dr Jekyll is doing this evening, as a scientist having a quiet dinner with his virginal fiancée (played unconvincingly in the 1941 movie by Lana Turner) or out on the town as a wildly popular figure among the dissolute London ladies of the night (represented unconvincingly by the wholesome, intelligent Ingrid Bergman. What was Hollywood thinking?) Myself, I have always wondered about the hidden resources of the former and her innermost thoughts behind the frozen smile concerning the dull doctor who only talks about his work. If it were at all possible, Jekyll and Hyde would have formed a formidable bridge partnership. Any attempt to emulate The Field is to put oneself in danger of acquiring a dissociative identity disorder.

The tendency of many is to play to justify the contract – if they are in 3NT they go all out to make 9 tricks, but if they are in 2NT they pull in their horns and are content with 8, the contract taking on the aspect of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The double dummy result is 1NT making 2, so it appears to make sense to play carefully to make the contract, but to achieve it South must first avoid leading his 4th highest from his longest and strongest after which 9 tricks are easy to come by. Duncan Smith, who gives due regard to an opponents’ bidding, sensibly chose to lead the 9 giving nothing away. This was the position with me on lead having won 2 tricks with good prospects of 3 tricks in clubs and 2 more in the majors:

W
John
K7
Q985
A94
 
E
Bob
J7
102
K64
Q2

If finessing the 9 results in 9 tricks being made there is no gain when the field is in 3NT making. In 2NT one subconsciously hopes the diamond play fails. A diamond to the queen safely fulfills the contract, whereas a diamond finesse losing to North’s minor honour puts 3NT in danger if North holds the A as well – he will set up his 5th spade with an entry intact. Consequently I led to the Q and claimed 8 safe tricks. Wrong at matchpoints! North’s holding AJ or AT was much against the odds (2 in 15).

So what were the results across the field of 14 tables? My assumption that most pairs would be in 3NT was far off the mark. Two pairs stopped in 1NT, 2 pairs played in 3NT, making, and 10, yes 10, pairs played in 2NT. Half of the multitude in 2NT made 9 tricks obtaining a 62% score, while the other half who, like myself, achieved the double dummy result, scored a lowly 27%. My supposed safety play proved costly.

While it is dangerous to guess the statistics of results on a single board, it is valid to generalize on the basis of a pair’s record of achievement over several sessions. If a pair is consistently below average, one can conclude safely they are not so good. We don’t play for averages against such a pair, because to achieve a good score overall one must score above average against them on the boards presented. On the other hand if one is facing a good pair, like the Smith brothers who score consistently above 60%, an average score will put you ahead of the field by 10% on that board. Logically it pays to take more chances against good players as you are risking less. On the above board if I had boldly bid 3NT and gone down 1, I would have scored a zero, but if I had succeeded, I would have scored 12 MPs. However, making 9 tricks in 2NT was worth 8 MPs, so bidding and making game would gain a mere 4 MPs while risking 8. In a field of non-aggressive players the chickens come home to roost in 2NT.

The very next deal gave me a chance at recovery. Having learned my lesson I put my faith in the diamond suit.

 
E-W
West
N
 
J1072
109
K42
8732
 
W
 
95
J62
Q7653
KQJ
 
E
 
KQ83
AK7
A9
A1054
 
S
 
A64
Q8543
J108
96
 

After the auction, 2NT – 3NT, I was sure I was in a contract shared by the field. The low heart lead appeared to be normal, the J winning in dummy. When against a strong hand a careful player makes a dangerous lead from a broken suit I expect him to have an outside entry, else he might have tried to set up tricks in his partner’s hand. Thus I was inclined to place the A with South. Nine tricks were assured by playing on spades, but what about an overtrick? As I was in a contract shared by most if not all the field it made sense to take a risk for a 10th trick. It would be somewhat dangerous to rely on spades for two tricks if I played to the K and South held up his presumed ace, a defence I would fully expect from this South. Eventually I would have to play on diamonds, so why not now, before the defenders got wind of what was happening?

The a priori percentage play in diamonds is A and Q, and I didn’t mind losing to North, the 9 and 8 represented some safety with respect to a spade switch. North took the Q with his K and returned his remaining heart, which caused little worry. With diamonds 3-3 I eventually made 10 tricks without scoring a spade trick. This time I got it right – every pair played in 3NT, but 4 were making less than 10 tricks. Over the two deals we scored near average which is what I hope for against superior opponents.

A Director Comes Calling

I am annoyed when a player opens a standard 1 and his partner announces, ‘could be short.’ To me it makes sense to open 1 on AQ 543, so what’s the big deal? Most of the time 1 is opened on 3 or more cards in the suit, even with 543 AQ, which to me is even more deceptive. The auction proceeded: 1 (Pass) 1 (2 by me). So what so you think my 2 bid signifies? At the table I was the only one who was sure of the meaning. Is that a matter for legal experts? Here is the full deal.

 
Both
South
N
 
984
104
A862
A872
 
W
 
Q1073
K85
KJ
QJ43
 
E
 
AK65
9732
10975
6
 
S
 
J2
AQJ6
Q43
K1095
 
W
West
N
North
E
East
S
South
1
Dbl
1
2
2
Pass
Pass
2
All Pass

Everyone cooperated in getting me to the right contract. South asked John what my 2 bid meant and he answered he didn’t know. He thought I might have clubs, or I might be asking him to bid his better major. The 3 was led, the A taking the J. A club was returned to the king. The club continuation and ruff set up the J as a winner in the dummy. Not the best start for the defenders. At this point the director was called. The complaint was that I had bid clubs when I didn’t have clubs. The Director asked me if John should have known what my bid meant, a question that puzzled me. My assertion was that ‘could be short’ doesn’t mean, ‘is short’. In fact ‘could be short’ most often acts as a smoke screen for hands that have many clubs.

Here 1 was called on a perfectly normal shape. It was the takeout double that was rather questionable, albeit effective, yet there was no howls of protest when dummy appeared without at least 3 cards in each unbid suit, not even 4×4 in the majors. Should I announce this double next time as ‘may be long in clubs’? As Charles Dickens might have written, ’if the law supposes that, the law is an ass.’ Most of the time one must rely on judgement when choosing bids and not to be required to give free lessons to the opponents. Of course, it is regrettable when one makes a bid so brilliant that even a partner can’t fathom it. Here I draw the veil. RIP Marshall Miles.

Weak Two in First Seat

Recently we saw on BBO men and women competing for places at the world’s championship in Wroclaw. Male commentators, who tend to be judgemental when it comes to women’s bridge, place the likes of Karen McCallum two rungs above Elizabeth Warren on the Goofy Ladder, while showing sympathy for male players who are just as loony. We men have trouble with interpreting what’s really going on in a woman’s mind.

A man shouldn’t ask a woman directly what she wants. There is a huge difference between what women say they want and what they settle for. If you asked Hilary Clinton what she wants she might say, ‘a world safe for our grandchildren, free from poverty and discrimination,’ but I suspect she would settle for becoming President of the United States and bombing the bejeezus out of Libya. It’s like bidding at bridge – you learn to make do with what comes your way. You’re happy only if you think you’re happy.

I see there were USBF competitions for youths. The trouble with the next generation is always that they want to change things rather than leave well enough alone. Here is my version of what the younger generation of bridge player may be thinking, but I hope I’m wrong.

Dear Secret Diary:

I can’t believe that in a week’s time I’ll be playing for the Rona Cup in my first USBF Championship ever. I’m sure to meet lots of famous players, like Adam Kaplan and Ben Kristensen (He’s gorgeous.) Tomorrow Leni and I will go twinning at the mall so we can catwalk our sisterliness at the tournament. She can have Ben if he doesn’t see me first! Our moms insist on tagging along, but at least Leni’s mom works at the mall, not 20 miles away downtown. Get a life, Mom. Leni wants so much to win – I hope I don’t totally screw up. (I won’t.) She’s a Leo and I’m a Libra, so we’re a good combination. Leni thinks you can get anything you want if you want it bad enough, but I think that if you want something too much, you won’t.

I wonder what my very first opening bid will be like. I hope I have 5 spades, is that too much to ask? I know that’s not everything, but those hands are so much easier to bid. Points aren’t so important. Dad taught me good players make do with less, but, call me chicken, I don’t feel comfortable with less than 9 HCP including an ace and a king. It’s nice to be surrounded with helpful queens and jacks and tens, like relatives you’d invite to a wedding, but I found singleton kings aren’t much help. Those are like smelly Uncle Ed all by himself in the Klondike panning for gold and never taking a shower unless it happens to rain while he’s out wandering around. Talk to you again tomorrow, when I bet you won’t recognize me behind my neat Revo wraparounds.

Light Openings

In 1989 Mike Lawrence published Passed Hand Bidding, a book that dealt exclusively with opening bids opposite a partner who had previously passed. He applied commonsense in allowing light opening bids with a 4-card major. For example, he recommends 1 on AQJ7 85 764 QT53 and pass on QT53 85 764 AQJ7. The problem with opening the second hand with 1 is that it might provoke a partner to overbid with a good passed hand. We’ve all experienced that. The first hand can be taken care of by using the Drury convention. A key element of Lawrence’s third hand bidding structure is the weak two whose role is expanded to include hands that have only a 5-card suit, or have a second 4-card suit in the other major, or have a void, or are extremely weak. For example, he suggests a 2 opening bid at favourable vulnerability on QJ987 8643 Q643, an 8-loser hand.

Lawrence asked, ‘why not open light in all seats?’ His answer, ‘responder will have to spend so much time finding out if opener has a real opener that other important facts will get lost.’ That was true in 1989, but no longer as response structures have been devised to overcome the apparent flaw. Nonetheless, sometimes partner is handcuffed, as Karen McCallum showed during the recent USBF Women’s Semi Finals. On Board 17 of the 6th segment she opened 2 in first seat on T85 AT964 3 8532, a 9-loser hand, only to find partner doubling the 3 overcall. What can one do in that case except hope partner has her double?

 
None
North
N
McCallum
1085
A10964
3
8532
 
W
Rosenberg
KJ973
K82
K7
1094
 
E
Sulgrove
2
Q73
AQJ9852
76
 
S
Baker
AQ64
J5
1064
AKQJ
 
W
Rosenberg
N
McCallum
E
Sulgrove
S
Baker
2
3
Dbl
All Pass
 
 
 

 

Ideally before taking an action at the table a player dispassionately estimates the risk-to-gain ratio. Lynn Baker is a law professor and a world champion, a consultant in corporate law, so she is well qualified to exploit the loopholes in McCallum’s bidding system, but it is hard to argue on the case that her penalty double had much to gain and little to lose in this situation. Yes, looking at her hand alone, 3 might be going down 1, but the score would be increased insignificantly from +50 to +100. There is a real risk that partner will contribute very little to the defence. On the other hand, if the preempt has been effective, after a pass Debbie Rosenberg, motivated by greed, will be obliged take some risky action opposite an unlimited overcall. The defence against 3NT doubled should prove much easier than the defence against 3* as the South hand contains 5 tricks off the top after a black suit lead.

When Baker avoided leading her partner’s bid suit, opting instead for 3 rounds of clubs, she lost 12 IMPs. No one says it’s easy – and even Stephen Hawking might pursue the same you-can’t-fool-me defence without the benefit of an intelligible signal from a nearby terrestrial being (and I am not referring to some wee doggie signalling a need to leave the room.) The strategy behind the weak weak-two is to promote uncertainty, but there should be some way for a partnership to unravel the mystery subsequently if it is in their interest to do so, and clear defensive signalling was required in this situation.

At the other table Shannon Cappelletti passed as North and Irina Levitina pre-empted with a bid of 3, which under these circumstances implied weakness, not strength. Jill Meyers doubled as South and got the response I would have feared, 3 from partner. This contract on a 5-2 fit at the 3-level was ‘unbeatable as the cards lie’, as critics say disapprovingly when someone successfully violates one of their sacred conservative principles.

The Weak Two in the USBC Open Trials

The strategy of the God-awful Weak Two is based on greed that distorts the process by amplifying the potential gain while reducing the possible risk. An opponent may be provoked into imagining he is missing game. He bids his suit rather than doubling, which fits the aim of the preemptor to get away with murder.

When one is pre-empted it is often good policy to keep greed in check as far as possible and to settle for 3NT. The actions on Board 27 of the Open Final offered the viewers a contrast of styles with greybeards at one table and young guys at the other.

 
None
South
N
Fleisher
KJ943
632
Q76
J10
 
W
Platnick
A108765
J
108
A763
 
E
Diamond
Q
AQ8
AJ9542
Q42
 
S
Martel
2
K109754
K3
K985
 
W
Platnick
N
Fleisher
E
Diamond
S
Martel
2♦*
2
Pass
3NT
All Pass

 

The greybeard auction hardly needs comment. It is like a ferry ride across a calm harbour. Martel has rather too much defence for a preempt, but there is still hope the Multi may cause confusion as it did decades ago when it was first introduced. The opponents bid the obvious bids and Diamond made an overtrick after Martel led from his long suit. Three boards to go before lunch. At the other table the sea was rough, the journey hazardous.

W
Moss
N
Lall
E
Grue
S
Bathurst
3
3
Pass
4
Pass
5
All Pass
 
 

If the South hand is too good for 2, it must be right for 3. Now the greed engendered by a preempt is proportional to the level of the preempt, so although Platnick’s bid of 2 is reasonable, Moss’s 3 may be classified as being overly stimulated. Grue thought his partner must have a significantly better hand than he did, so he made a move towards slam somewhere, perhaps imagining 4NT would be a biddable and playable contract. It was playable, as Diamond demonstrated, but biddable it wasn’t. The cost was 11 IMPs.

More Weak Twos at the USBC Open

In the quarter-finals Grue opened 2 on: 7 87 KJT952 AQ75, and incurred a loss of 8 IMPs. Partner showed a good hand, so when Levin-Weinstein bid to a doomed 4, Grue with extras carried on the 5, also going down. The lesson is this: don’t have extras when you preempt lest you be tempted to bid again. An 8-loser hand is about right.

It is wrong to think that light opening bids makes constructive bidding more difficult. Here is an example from the finals where Moss, not vulnerable vs vulnerable, opened a Weak Two on a 5-card suit in an 8-loser hand and Grue, rich in controls, raised immediately to game. The Weak Two made their life easy for the time being.

W
Moss
1032
KQ953
Q743
3
 
E
Grue
A6
J865
A8
KJ1075

Greco got off to the good lead of a diamond to partner’s K and Hampson switched to a spade. With one trick to lose in each suit it appeared that the preempt would cost 6 IMPs as at the other table the contract was 2 making 4. Bathurst had passed, Lall opened 1NT and was transferred to 2 with no one the wiser. However, with Moss’s hand something of a mystery, the defence failed to cash their aces in a timely fashion and the game came home with an overtrick for a gain of 7 IMPs. Results like this encourage rough-and-ready bidding after partner opens with a descriptive limited bid. At Teams there is little advantage to exploring with a delicate auction and stopping below game when the defence may be persuaded to yield an extra trick. Nonetheless, in the end, after a long struggle, discipline overcame gamesmanship as the all-Precision Diamond team won the honour of representing the United States.

Too Many Bids, Mozart

Famously the Austrian Emperor Joseph II commented to Wolfgang Mozart that although he admired his lively opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio, he felt the work contained too many notes. Many bridge players feel similarly that some auctions contain too many bids. Indeed there is a feeling among players that the fewer the number of bids the better. They are willing to jump to conclusions in the interest of withholding information.

Bidding systems are geared towards reaching the most probably profitable conclusion, so players will do the same without a strong interest in the exceptions. Once a reasonable goal is in sight a player may go for it without further ado in the hope that normal conditions apply. Otherwise a player may choose not the most descriptive (honest) bid, rather a bid that has the best chance of steering his partner in the direction of a high-scoring contract. In practice attempts at uncovering exceptional circumstances often prove fruitless and may give rise to enlightened defences. Of course, in a bidding contest uncovering the exception circumstances is the key to winning, and there is no cost involved as the defence is assumed to be perfect regardless.

Mozart replied to Joseph II’s criticism by claiming that the work contained only as many notes as were necessary. If one likes to bid for the beauty of it, as I do, then one tends to lengthen the journey and enjoy the scenery along the way. It is not as costly as some may fear. Here is a recent example.

 
None
North
N
North
987
AKQ
Q5
109762
 
W
West
KQ52
85
J76
KQ53
 
E
East
AJ103
J102
AK94
AJ
 
S
South
64
97643
108523
84
 

 

John
Bob
11
2NT2
33
34
35
46
47
48
Pass
(1) 16+HCP
(2) 11-13 HCP
(3) Stayman
(4) Spades
(5) Top honours?
(6) 2 of top 3
(7) heart controls?
(8) No A, K, or Q

If we consider the bidding as a process, we can see than opener can set the final contract reasonably at any point after the first response that shows a flat hand with 11-13 HCP. Experience tells us that slam is usually not available on 2 flat hands and a total of at most 31 HCP. It is probable that responder holds more hearts than spades. Rather than ‘give away information’ opener may choose to bid 3NT. With this many points there may be just as many tricks available in NT as in a major suit game. Unlucky here, as 3NT scores a bottom.

Conventional wisdom suggest one should choose to play in a 4-4 major fit rather than in 3NT, so opener goes through the motions and arrives at the common contract. South had no difficulty leading a heart simplifying the play and I quickly claimed 11 tricks. The question then arose as to whether I would have made 12 tricks on a non-heart lead? It was possible (the Q falling doubleton) but was it likely that I would have made 12 tricks if I had not asked in hearts? The question did not arise at other tables as North was on lead against 4. Some declarers held themselves to 10 tricks, so the immediate analysis at the table was a waste of time, as it often is.

Nonetheless there is a trade-off between the cost of information and potential for profit. Once the 4-4 fit was uncovered, opener could simply jump to game opposite the limited response, however, 7 controls are well above average for an 18-point hand. Could this deal produce a magic fit? What were there chances of a pay-off? Yes.

AJT3

 

KQ52

JT2

 

A95

AK94

 

76

AJ

 

K853

7 controls

 

4 controls

If the bid of 4 had asked for the total number of controls held by responder, the reply in this case would tell the opening bidder that one control was missing, either the K or the K. Slam is biddable under the normal circumstances of longer clubs opposite than diamonds and South will have to make a ’blind’ lead. The cost of obtaining the information is reduced because the information conveyed is easier to interpret by the opener who holds 7 controls than by the opening leader who may hold no controls. This bias of benefit is one reason why Blackwood is effective.

However, when playing matchpoints in a mixed field one must always ask the question as to whether the plurality of pairs will reach slam on hands containing less than the usually required 33 HCP. Standard bidders have a problem after the start 1 – 1. Opener has a hand too good for 1NT and not good enough for 2NT, so he starts with 1. Responder doesn’t promise much, but he could have a good hand. Should opener choose to describe his hand by bidding 2NT, which will keep 3NT in the picture? Maybe the hearts aren’t quite good enough to justify suppressing the spade fit. Should opener jump raise to 3? That will give responder a problem as he can hardly have much in the minors and his trumps may be poor. He could even pass. Why not take the pressure off partner and just jump to 4?

In fact opener doesn’t want to make a limited descriptive jump bid, eating up space, and handing over the captaincy to the weaker hand with few controls. What he really wants to do is make a non-jump forcing bid and have responder do the describing. The bid that does that is the reverse to 2. In this way the opening bidder maintains control of the auction and may return to spades later in the auction. A reverse is supposedly a shape showing bid, a genuine two-suiter, but it promises only that the second-bid suit is shorter than the first-bid suit. It may be only 3 cards in length (or 2 in the case of a diamond reverse.) Maybe you didn’t realize that. There is nothing a tame partner can do to ruin this plan and even 3NT is not ruled out. The opponents may be deceived into thinking opener holds better hearts, and that may actually help on the opening lead, but it is not the only occasion where a 2/1 bidder has to ‘lie’ to fit a hand to an inappropriate slot.

What is the Truth?

In a recent court case in Canada a male celebrity was acquitted of sexual assault charges on the grounds that the accusers had lied about certain details following the incident, in particular, a love-tweet sent to the accused the morning after the night before. One accuser later explained she had lied about sending the embarrassingly unambiguous message in order to make her truthful statements more believable. That makes sense to me, but the judge ruled on the narrow basis that one should always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

By modern standards the judge was a bit of a stickler. We know that witnesses at the scene of a crime may give conflicting versions of what they saw. Should we assume that some of them are lying? No, it is possible they may be giving an accurate account of what they remember. One witness may state sincerely that he saw spirits hovering over the dead bodies, but the legal authorities are not likely to call him as a witness, are they? That’s not the version they want to hear in a criminal court. On paid-program TV? Absolutely OK. In human terms truth is highly subjective. The measure of truth is not how intensely someone believes it.

After a bridge game players often receive a print out of all the hands along with a computer analysis that tells that are the optimum results available on each hand, given best play by both sides. Some may consider this the Platonic ideal. If you haven’t achieved the double dummy result you (or, more likely, your partner) have done something wrong. Not at all. The hand that appears on the analysis sheet is just one of many possibilities given the bidding and play at any point in the action. Players must choose to make decisions on the basis of which manifestation is most probable given the evidence to date. There are no guarantees that what is most probable on the evidence is the hand printed on the paper.

Hands are rare for which the evidence from the bidding is overwhelming and definitive. Recently on the first deal in a team game my partner opened 1NT (14-16 HCP) and I held the following: Kx Kx AKQJxxxx x. I asked for aces and found partner with 3, so was able to bid 7NT with some confidence without knowing the full details of his distribution. When partner was able to claim on the opening lead, I jokingly suggested we reshuffle the hands as this board was obviously of no interest, but I was wrong. Partner held just 14 HCP, an unusual mix of 3 aces and 2 jacks along with Tx. At the other table where their NT range was 15-17 HCP, the opening bid was 1, ‘natural’, and the first response was 1, which saved space. The lack of evidence for a fit put a damper on the auction, which in the confusion ended with a desperate jump to 6NT. I felt sorry for them, at least to the degree that one might fell sorry for opponents whom you are doing everything in your power to crush.

The System is Rigged, Folks!

As it is impossible to construct a completely accurate description of the hands given the crudity of the instruments available, the objective of the bidder is to determine the feasibility of achieving certain favourable goals, the most common of which are 3NT or 4 of a major. Bidding systems are geared to uncovering major suit fits and the number of HCPs available. Other details are largely ignored. So we commonly encounter an auction that proceeds as follows: 1NT – 2; 2 – 2NT; 3NT – Pass. The players know they have no 4-4 major fit and enough HCP between to expect to make 9 tricks most of the time. Of course, 9 tricks are not assured and the defenders may run off 5 quick tricks on the opening lead, but usually they don’t. That state of affairs is acceptable. It is better than acceptable if all pairs are using the same bidding system with the same definitions and restrictions, as the occasional cost of being wrong will be reduced. In this way, the search for the truth gets replaced by a quick tour through a land of hypothetical fantasy. The number of tricks one can take gets replaced by the number of HCP at one’s disposal. Because the bids are controllable where the facts are not, the flexible bidding structure is given more consideration than the solid reality that gives rise to the bids. Making 7NT on 30 HCP may be labelled lucky instead of obvious.

Bidders are divided roughly into 2 groups: those who struggle to tell the truth at all times and those who count on others to tell the truth so they don’t have to. Much of expert advice is aimed at informing the non-expert when to adjust his bid selection to overcome the restrictions set by the system designer, for example, when to avoid opening 1NT with a flat hand and 15-17 HCP even if that is what is stated on the front of the convention card. Based on an overall evaluation of the hand he holds, the expert seeks out the bid that comes closest to matching his perception of the quality of the hand and its potential for taking tricks in various contracts. Our opponents in the aforementioned team game would have done much better if the opening bidder had upgraded to 1NT on the basis of holding 6 controls with a mediocre club suit within a 4=4=2=3 shape. The bid of 1 was a misrepresentation of convenience in a 5-card major system, a ‘lie’ to make opening bids of 1 or 1 more credible. I see the bidder as a naïve victim of his system. To label 1 as being ‘natural’ is illusory, because playing the hand with clubs as trumps is one of the conclusions the bidder most strongly hopes to avoid.

It used to be said that bridge was like war, but today it mostly resembles politics.

The Icarus File

The Greek legend of Icarus should remind players that it is dangerous to aim too high in a world characterized by uncertainty and doubt. At a recent club game a pair of visitors handed us a shared top on the last round when the lady sitting South playing in a cold 5 contract won the first trick in dummy with the singleton K and saw a route to 12 tricks through entering her hand immediately in spades in order to discard diamond losers in dummy on her AQ. Her punishment was instantaneous as the spades were split 5-0 against her. She tied for a bottom with a declarer who went down 1 in 4, which should be worth an extra a quarter matchpoint for her, don’t you think?

‘Sorry, Dear,’ she apologized to her frowning spouse, ‘that is sure to be a bottom.’

‘Don’t be so sure,’ I quickly consoled her, ‘you haven’t played here before. It is hard to get a bottom in this club with 13 tables in play. You need to play a complex system like Precision to achieve bottoms with any consistency.’

This is true. Our best result that day was playing in 6 after 6 rounds of bidding missing 2 cashable aces while most EW pairs were mired in 3NT making 4. My 4NT on the 5th round was a sign-off not RCKB, so when partner bid 5, I felt I had to bid 6 to get a decent matchpoint result. The opening leader cashed her A which caught an encouraging 9 from her partner. With the K visible in the dummy she continued with a low heart whereupon I claimed. It seems in a perfect world the 9 was suit preference for spades. You see, both sides were trying too hard for perfection which was, temporarily at least, beyond their abilities to achieve.

Priebe’s Problem

The following problem was suggested by Jim Priebe, the well-known author of bridge mysteries, who in a team game defeated a slam which declarer could have made. The problem illustrates the difference between a priori probabilities and a posteriori probabilities that involve vacant places. In theory the correct play depends on what information has been provided during the bidding and early play.

In order to calculate probabilities in 2 suits after something is known about the other 2 suits from the bidding and play, we assume a random distribution in the unplayed suits. This means that probabilities can be calculated exactly form the numbers of possible card combinations. Sometimes a refinement must be added that complicates matters as on the following example where the distributions of spades and hearts become known early, and a decision had to be made on best play in clubs and diamonds.

W
West
KQ1086
A9
J108
A75
 
E
East
A972
A973
KJ963
W
West
N
North
E
East
S
South
2
Dbl
4
5
Pass
6
Pass
6
All Pass
 
 

North leads a heart, ruffed in dummy, and West takes his time to access the possibilities before him. The club finesse has obvious appeal as even just 4 club tricks will allow him to discard diamond losers from his hand. That has an a priori probability of 89%. The double finesse in diamonds has its attractions because of the intermediate spots. A double finesse gives a 76% chance of success with the 4th diamond providing the discard of a potential loser in clubs. If South should win the first diamond, he cannot safely return a club.

Eventually declarer leads the 7 towards his hand and is much surprised to see South show out. This means North has preempted most unexpectedly with 6 hearts and 4 spades. The vacant places remaining to accommodate 11 minor suit cards are 3 in the North and 8 in the South. Suddenly the previous analysis must be tossed out of the window. The a priori odds are no longer applicable, as they are based on an assumption of symmetry. Even an imbalance of 2 in vacant places is cause for a re-evaluation.

West must win in hand, finesse in trumps, cash the A and return to hand with a club to the A in order to draw the last trump. South discards hearts. Declarer must now play for 1 loser in the minors. He cashes the A looking to discard from dummy to one of the following 6-card positions.

West

Position I

Position 2

6

T8

A9

A973

75

KJ96

KJ

In Position 1 declarer plans to establish clubs by finessing for the queen. Even if the finesse loses and a hearts come back, he may ruff, return to the dummy with the A and discard diamonds on winning clubs. In Position 2 the plan is to run the J and if this loses to run the T next. He must decide immediately on one position or the other as South is posed behind the dummy to discard appropriately. A facile argument might go like this: once it is known that North holds 3 cards in the minors, he is more likely to be short in the suit in which EW hold the most cards, clubs, so declarer should play on diamonds. One should try to be more exact than that. There are 3 apparent initial distributions:

 

Case I

Case II

Case III

Spades

4 – 0

4- 0

4 – 0

Hearts

6 – 5

6 – 5

6 – 5

Diamonds

0 – 6

1 – 5

2 – 4

Clubs

3 – 2

2 – 3

1 – 4

Combinations

10

60

75

On this basis if North is short in clubs (Case III), declarer should play on diamonds, whereas if North is short in diamonds, he should play on clubs (Cases I and II) keeping A9 in dummy. The total combinations favour the diamond play keeping KJ in dummy by 75 to 70. This is a crude estimate as in Case II a singleton honor in the North allows the diamond play to get through successfully.

The single most likely distribution is Case III, and one might choose to play for that situation as this is the easiest to calculate at the table. However, one round of clubs has been played with North following with the 2, South, with the 4, the remaining combinations are now as follows.

 

Case I

Case II

Case III

Spades

4 – 0

4- 0

4 – 0

Hearts

6 – 5

6 – 5

6 – 5

Diamonds

0 – 6

1 – 5

2 – 4

Clubs

2 – 1

1 – 2

0 – 3

Combinations

3

18

15

The effect of one round of clubs is that Case II has become single most likely distribution. One sees the attractiveness of playing for the club finesse. North has followed with a low club, but not just any low club, but with the 2 specifically and South with the 4. From an original split of 2 opposite QT84 there were just 2 plausible plays, the 2 from North and either the 4 or 8 from South. This assumes that the defenders would not play the T or Q unless forced to do so. We are in a restricted choice situation, so what I have called the Extended Kelsey Rule can be applied. Specifically, it is correct to compare directly the reduced combinations from differing splits when there is equality in the number of plausible plays across the board. This is a consequence of Bayes Theorem.

What Works Best?

Playing for the most likely case is a shortcut that often works, but to obtain the probability of success of a method accurately one must add up the number of success over all remaining combinations. Under Case II there are 2 situations where playing on diamonds succeeds, namely, when a singleton honour sits in the North. So the successes of the diamond play are increased by 6 combinations. On the other hand under Case III the diamond play is successful only 3 times out of 5, a reduction of 6 combinations. The success rate for the club play is 21 out of 36 (58%) and for the diamond play 15 out of 36 (42%).

When the Opposition is Silent

In the actual situation encountered at the table by Jim Priebe, there was no opposition bidding, so the heart suit could not be placed with confidence. When South showed out of trumps, it was most likely that the hearts were split 5-6, not 6-5 as assumed for the analysis above. The vacant places to accommodate the minors are most likely to be 4-7. One may ask how much better is the club play than the diamond play under that condition.

 

Case IV

Case V

Case VI

Spades

4 – 0

4- 0

4 – 0

Hearts

5 – 6

5 – 6

5 – 6

Diamonds

1 – 5

2 – 4

3 – 3

Clubs

2 – 1

1 – 2

0 – 3

Combinations

18

45

20

Assuming from the absence of opposition bidding that South would not hold a 5- or 6-card minor to go along with his 6 hearts, we are left with just 2 cases. If declarer decides to play on clubs, he will be successful when clubs split 2-3, 45 combinations out of 65, a 69% chance. The diamond play will be successful in 27 combinations out of 45 when diamonds split 2-4 and 16 cases out of 20 when diamonds split 3-3 for a total of 43 combinations in total, a success rate of 66%.

I need only add that, of course, the winning play at the table was to bank on the diamond play. Against the odds clubs were dealt QT84 in the South, the losing combination for the club play. Here are the hands in full.

 
Both
South
N
North
J543
J107654
K4
2
 
W
West
KQ1086
A9
J108
A75
 
E
East
A972
A973
KJ963
 
S
South
KQ832
Q652
Q1084
 

It could be said that, like Brutus and Cassius at Philippi, both declarers fell honourably upon their swords.

Vacant Places when Spades are 2-2

If the spades split a normal 2-2, the distributions after one round of clubs could be as follows:

 

Case VII

Case VIII

Case IX

Case X

Spades

2 – 2

2- 2

2 – 2

2 – 2

Hearts

6 – 5

6 – 5

6 – 5

 

Diamonds

1 – 5

2 – 4

3 – 3

4 – 2

Clubs

3 – 0

2 – 1

1 – 2

0 – 3

Combinations

6

45

60

15

With the vacant places being 5 in the North and 6 in the South the imbalance is only 1.

The success rate for the diamond play is up to 72%, close to the a priori estimate of 76%, but the club play is much more successful at 88% (111 out of 126.) The probability of a singleton club remaining far outweighs that of a void.

Strong 1=4=3=5 opposite 1NT

In previous blogs we suggested modifying standard Stayman practices after a strong 1NT opening bid in order to allow for competing for part scores in a minor suit, a much neglected area. Note that the part score deals (7-9 HCP) outnumber the slam try deals (14-16 HCP) about 6:1, which justifies pursuing the part scores if we can do so without greatly degrading the pursuit of slams. The most obvious change was a definition of a 2NT follow-up by responder as a forcing bid. Essentially this 2NT is akin to the Lebensohl 2NT for the Better Minor as recommended by the late Ron Andersen in his book, The Lebensohl Convention Complete. The loss of 2NT as an invitational bid with 8 or so HCP and a flat hand is not a serious one.

In this blog we look at how this modification affects slam bidding. Basically to explore slam after the Stayman reply, responder starts with a forcing 2NT. Opener replies 3 or 3, the latter only with distinctly better diamonds. There are 2 ways responder may proceed thereafter. If he wants to bid cooperatively to slam, he bids a new major suit at the 3-level indicating this major as a trump candidate. If he wants to take charge, he jumps to 4 or 4 as Six Ace RKCG. The designated suits are as follows: 4 for the 2 suits bid by the opening bidder, and 4 for the two suits not bid by opener.

Here is a computer example where the responding ‘standard’ software takes charge and employs Simple Gerber after Stayman to reach the wrong Grand Slam.

W
West
AK107
J832
AK3
96
 
E
East
2
AKQ7
QJ4
AKQ73
West
East
1NT
2
2
4
4
5
5
7NT
Pass
 

One can’t complain about responder taking charge with his terrific hand. After partner shows the AK and AK responder guesses that 7NT will be better than 7. Clubs could be 3-3 or opener could hold AKx Jxxx AKxx xx.

Which is the more likely: AKxx Jxxx AKx xx or AKx Jxxx AKxx xx?

There are more card combinations for 2 out of 10 missing spades than 2 out of 8 missing diamonds. The a posteriori odds are about 5 out of 9 in favour of 4 spades and 3 diamonds. In fact clubs were 3-3, so all went well in Cloudland. Under our revised scheme the bidding would proceed as follows.

West
East
1NT
2
2
2NT (F)
3
4♣*
4♥(3 KC)
5♣ (CAB)
5♥ (xx)
7
Pass
 

It takes 2 extra rounds of bidding to get to the better contract, but I feel the headache to be worth it in the long run. Let’s go through the mechanism to see what information responder has been able to gather and at what cost.

2NT (Better Minor): responder wants information on distribution

3: better diamonds than clubs

4: 6 Ace Roman Key Card Gerber in and

4: 3 key cards AK and A

5: control in clubs?

5: third round control (xx)

7: safer than 7NT.

In 6ARKCG the 6 key cards are AK of the designated suits (diamonds and hearts) and the aces of the other 2 suits. The relay over the reply (here 4) would ask for the number of queens in the designated suits. A new suit bid (here 5) asks for the control of that suit. If the reply had been 5, xxx, no control, responder would have bid 7NT.

Some may look upon this as an example of Science getting in the way of a good result. Admittedly it may have been easier if responder could have described his hand accurately so that opener would be in a position to make the final decision (Danny Kleinman’s Principle of the Balanced Hand), but responder’s hand is too good to relinquish the captaincy. Most pairs are going to get to a Grand Slam, regardless. There are other hands where the opener would tend to be conservative on a minimal hand when there are favourable factors from the point of view of the responder, as in the following case.

W
West
KQJ9
AJ5
76
A952
 
E
East
A
Q1052
KQ5
KJ1087
West
East
1NT
2
2
2NT
3
4
4
4NT
5
6
Pass
 

Responder’s 15 HCP make it safe to go beyond 3NT, in which case it may pay to explore fully for a club slam. Here 4 asks for key cards in spades and clubs. 4 shows 3 from the six: AK, A, A, and AK. It is just possible that the A is the missing key card, so responder bids 4NT, nonforcing, after having shown slam interest. The QJ and 9 are important extra not revealed by the auction, so opener invites slam by showing genuine club support. In the end the auction becomes cooperative after all. The bidding method is not optimal because the full extent of the club fit is not revealed until late in the auction. The main advantage is that the structure is easy enough to remember and apply under many circumstances.

There are deals where the better approach is one of early cooperation with opener using judgement in his selection of bids. To switch into cooperative mode early, after 2NT responder bids his major at the 3-level, as below, where 3NT goes down on a diamond lead. The pair needs to recognize the weakness when there is an alternative game available.

W
West
KJ109
AK3
Q87
K76
 
E
East
A
QJ54
1092
AQJ92
West
East
1NT
2
2
2NT
3
3
4
Pass

Over 3 the opener bids what is most obvious based on what he sees. Although responder’s minor is unknown, with just one ace and a 4-3-3-3 shape he is not worried about missing slam. This is deceptively simple. The following is more complex.

W
West
A1032
Q3
KQ63
KJ2
 
E
East
9
AJ92
A54
AQ643
West
East
1NT
2
2
2NT
3
3
3NT
4
5
5
5NT
6
Pass
 

Responder has 6 controls and a good suit, so with the appropriate fillers slam may be a good proposition. He moves over 3NT, thinking that 4NT could be a safe resting place. Responder’s minor suit length is unknown, but opener has good cards in both minors and can accept a correction to 5. With K3 he would bid 3/3, but with just 4 controls he has done enough and responder takes the initiative. The 5 bid indicates that opener has 4=2=4=3 shape, as he would not raise on a doubleton club. As the cards lie, despite a 4-1 split in trumps, 13 tricks are made with the KT7 under the AJ92.

What’s the Problem?

The analysis is based on the assumption that the 1NT opening bid is restricted to flat shapes not including 5-3-3-2 in a major or 4-4-4-1 with a singleton honor. This goes against the current trend of opening 1NT on a numerous variety of shapes. The more deviation one allows the more dangerous it is for the responder to take control. A player whose wide-ranging bids raise doubts is a player who remains partly in charge. With regard to opening 1NT with a 5-card major, there are better ways to handle 5-3-3-2 shapes with a 5-card major than are available under American systems, but the naked truth is that the human species feels an irresistible attraction to concealment and deceit that predates even the invention of unnecessary clothing.

A system has as its hidden foundation a set of priorities which bias the auctions towards results that are favourable before the auction begins. In his book, The No Trump Zone, Danny Kleinman emphasizes the application of judgment when selecting an opening bid and attempts to convince the reader that both these hands should be opened 1NT:

KT AQ JT653 AQ82,    and    KT92 K9763 AQ KJ.

This is not judgment at work so much as an attempt to bend the auction towards an end that appeals on the basis of one player’s preconception of where the hand should be played. What these hands have in common is 16 HCP with slam potential, in which case opening 1NT will be a bad start, unless, of course, the system being used can’t provide better alternatives. Under such circumstances I would judge it to be a rotten system indeed. Both hands could be opened 1 in a Strong Club system which facilitates the exchange of specific information about how the cards were dealt. A player knows where good scores come from, so can apply judgment based on facts, not fancies.

If one’s partner opens 1NT on the hands given above, what motivation is provided to look for a minor suit part score? None, as it is highly unlikely that a minor suit partial will provide the best score. The system’s bias is a wind that blows all ships in the same direction.

Polonius’ advice to Laertes on his way to his first Nationals was: stay within the field; be neither the first to take up new fashions, nor the last to abandon old ones; count your points and strictly bid thereby; beware of entering the auction, but, once in, act with firm resolve; if you must join with female partners choose age over beauty; above all to your own self be true, and it must follow as night to day, no great harm need come to you.

(Of course, Laertes obeyed none of his father’s instructions, overspent his allowance, and had a marvellous time.)

1435 Opposite 1NT

In a previous blog we employed the expected numbers of total trumps as a guide for competing with a weak 4441 hand opposite a strong NT opening bid. We noted that a second nonforcing bid by responder is required in order to stop at a low level if the initial reply to Stayman doesn’t uncover a major 4-4 fit. Here we look at the case of responder’s holding a 1=4=3=5 hand and less than game-forcing values.

Again we calculate the a posteriori probabilities under the assumption that the opener holds a hand that is 4333, 4432 or 5332 with a 5-card minor. From these we obtain the probabilities of the various divisions of sides, hence probabilities of the number of total trumps.

Total Tricks

1=4=4=4

1=4=3=5

15

9%

8%

16

36%

29%

17

31%

37%

18

20%

15%

19

4%

9%

20

0%

1%

The most pronounced difference between the 2 hand shapes is that for 1=4=3=5 the most frequent number of total trumps is 17, not 16, as the a priori probabilities predict. This is expected, as for 1=4=3=5 the difference between the longest suit and the shortest suit is 4, the maximum contribution to total trumps being 17 (13+4) instead of 16 (13+3). Indeed, there is a 2/3 chance of 16 or 17 total trumps and an 80% chance of having 16, 17 or 18 total trumps. This encourages activity even on weak hands that carry the auction to the 3-level.

The Replies to Stayman

The normal replies to Stayman are limited to 3 calls: 2, 2, and 2. There is little provision for finding partials in a minor suit. In 3NT it is usually the majors that represent the first line of defence and the minors that produce the bulk of the tricks. The minors come into their own in the part score deals, usually played at the 3-level.

With the 1=4=3=5 distribution the 3 standard replies occur equally 1/3 of the time. The 2 reply discloses the 4-4 major fit immediately and doesn’t deny opener also holding 4 spades. The 2 reply will deliver 3 hearts 4 out of 5 times, so a nonforcing 2/2 may land responder in a 4-3 fit. He may not be left to play there.

2NT Asking after a 2 Reply

The number of forcing bids one requires depends on whether one is describing one’s hand or asking partner to describe his. One forcing bid is all that is needed when one player has a good appreciation of what to expect in his partner’s hand, as here. The five possibilities for the opener are ranked according to frequency as follows.

Case

Shape

Sides

Occurrence

1

4=3=3=3

5=7=6=8

28%

2

4=3=4=2

5=7=7=7

24%

3

4=3=2=4

5=7=5=9

21%

4

4=2=4=3

5=6=7=8

15%

5

4=2=3=4

5=6=6=9

13%

As responder holds 5 clubs, he can bid 3 to play, indicating invitational values. Opener may pass or take a shot at 3NT if he has a maximum with club support. That being the case, responder needs a forcing bid for his better hands and 2NT can be used in that capacity. Opener is asked to bid 3 or 3, the latter case only when his diamonds are longer than his clubs. This reply scheme is necessary in case responder has 1=4=4=4 shape and wants to play in the better minor suit fit. Responder may take further action if he has a good hand, perhaps by bidding 3, forcing. The meanings of these sequences are different from the current standard practice, where, for example, 3/2 would be a slam try with long clubs and 4 hearts. (I don’t recall ever having reached slam by that route, but, who knows? it could happen tomorrow.)

Having reached this point one cannot expect the opponents to enter the auction and rescue one from a bad contract, so it is important that one have a suitable hand for declarer play in 3 of a minor. What might that look like? As 3 would be a descriptive bid, inviting further action by opener, it is best if the hand conforms to expectations, that is, no top honour in spades, honours in clubs. Hearts needn’t be strong, but better than diamonds, as hearts may sometimes be required to be trumps in a 4-3 fit. Here is a fitting example from a computer search.

W
West
KJ97
AJ
J754
A105
 
E
East
10
Q1032
932
KQ432
West
East
1NT
2
2
3
3NT
Pass

Game was made on defensive mistiming when AKQ were cashed early setting up the J. One often sees this sort of thing at the local club. The opening leader may have been eager to cash his tricks before they disappeared on the clubs. Wait a minute, can a computer feel that way?

Here is another computer deal where it paid to bid aggressively on a less suitable distribution of HCPs. Fortune favours the bold, and sometimes everything falls into place.

 
E-W
South
N
North
4
K1042
K85
J8732
 
W
West
A3
J853
Q7632
Q4
 
E
East
Q108762
Q9
AJ
965
 
S
South
KJ95
A76
1094
AK10
 
W
West
N
North
E
East
S
South
1NT
Pass
2
Pass
2
Pass
3
Pass
3NT

The North hand has a meagre club suit, so not ideal for an action that might lead to a 3 contract, but there was a chance of playing in hearts. The K should be the K. Given the hope of a makeable game by North’s 3 escape, South feels that 3NT is quite possible. Note he holds 6 controls, worth 20 equivalent points, with great club support.

West led the 3, ducked to the J. The A was cashed and the 5 followed. West won the 9 with the A and returned a passive diamond won by dummy’s king. Declarer played the AK, dropping the Q and made his 9th trick in spades. This may appear miraculous, but Deep Finesse shows us that 3NT is unbeatable on any lead, and in some sequences declarer can afford to lose the club finesse. So, it is not correct to state the contract depended on dropping the Q doubleton.

Some will be concerned that 3NT was an option on a mere 22 HCP, but one should be aware of the nature of those points: 2 aces, 4 kings, and no queens. Eight control points with a long suit to run are worthy of game consideration. One may think NS were very lucky here, but I think that a game that can make on any opening lead is worth bidding, and that it is up to the bidding system to get the user there. A system based solely on HCPs is not doing its job.

The 2 Reply

If the opening bidder doesn’t hold a 4-card major his response will be 2, so responder will know immediately that the opponents hold at least a 9-card spade fit. It is a situation where several live possibilities exist. The final contract will be resolved in an atmosphere of uncertainty with the responder in the best position to resolve it. Uncertainty is manifest in the multiplicity of the possible division of sides that remain.

Case

Shape

Sides

Occurrence

1

3=3=4=3

4=7=7=8

23%

2

3=3=3=4

4=7=6=9

17%

3

3=3=5=2

4=7=8=7

14%

4

3=2=5=3

4=6=8=8

12%

 

 

 

 

5

2=3=4=4

3=7=7=9

9%

6

2=3=5=3

3=7=8=8

8%

7

3=2=3=5

4=6=6=10

6%

8

3=4=2=5

4=7=5=10

5%

9

2=3=3=5

3=7=6=10

4%

10

3=2=4=4

4=6=7=9

3%

It is an exciting moment for the responder as he, and only he, knows the opponents have a workable 9-card fit in spades. Passing 2 is not a good idea. There is a 1/3 chance of an 8-card fit, but such passivity may only set the LHO in motion. Bidding 3 is likely to find club support in dummy, and the better the support, the more likely it is that partner will push to game. Not so good. A nonforcing bid of 2 is a way to keep the ball rolling with all options alive. The overall chances of hitting a 4-3 heart fit are over 80%, but the door is left open for the opponents to make a move.

Here is an example from the computer where the opener bid an encouraging 2NT on the basis of his good controls in the majors and good fillers in the minors. That is the formula for success.

W
West
KQ2
AQ7
J107
QJ106
 
E
East
4
K1085
Q64
K8752
West
East
1NT
2
2
2
2NT
3NT

Responder was a maximum for an invitational bid. Spades were led, but with the A onside and the AK split, there was no problem making 10 tricks on sleepy defence. More often the opening pair will find themselves playing in a dicey 3, where the opponents can make 8 or 9 tricks in spades. Here is a rare 4=6=7=9 sides (Case 10).

W
West
K106
A3
Q643
AJ72
 
E
East
9
10965
J87
KQ862
West
East
1NT
2
2
3
Pass
 

Rather than making an ambiguous move in hearts responder bids where he lives hoping to steal the contract. Partner has exceptional support for clubs, but recognizes that a single stopper in either major may not be enough to assure 9 tricks. The opponents can make 9 tricks in spades against a porous defence, so even 4 off 1 would be a good result. The number of total tricks is 18.

In the next blog we shall investigate how to bid slams within the structure of nonforcing rebids by responder.

One No Trump Opposite 4441

If one is dealt a balanced hand with 16 scattered HCPs, and has just one bid to make, what would it be? 3NT! The single most likely situation is that the remaining HCPs are divided evenly about the table, 8 HCP for each player, so it makes sense for you to bid 3NT, your best chance for a good score. Some theorists feel the invitational 2NT is a wasted bid as little useful information has been added, so they think of other uses for that bid. How many choose to stop in 2NT and profit thereby?

‘The No Trump Zone’ by Danny Kleinman, gives a conversational overview of personal experiences that varies between extreme fussiness and extreme fuzziness. Kleinman suggest the NT bidder holding 75 AQ85 QJT AKJ7 should bid 3NT over an invitation 2NT, unconcerned about the weak spade holding. Attempts at refinement may do more harm than good, he notes. Responder probably has a spade stopper, but even if a spade is the killing lead, the opening leader may choose a passive heart lead after an uninformative auction. Also, bridge is easier if, rather than watch partner sweat, you guess early yourself, going with the odds given the information you have at the time.

4441 – Strong

Sooner or later a player makes a decision based on the assumption that partner holds, as far as his bidding allows, a balanced hand as this provides the most card combinations, hence is most probable. It would seem that responder is generally in the best position to make the final decision as a limited, balanced hand opposite is guaranteed. This is the advice given to beginners (see page 46 of the Dec 2015 issue of the ACBL Bulletin).

To the contrary, Kleinman gives us the Principle of the Balanced Hand: when one player holds a balanced hand and his partner holds an unbalanced hand, the player with the balanced hand should be the captain as he can better tell how the hands mesh. This sounds fine if holder of the unbalanced hand has given a good description of the unusual nature of his holding through an informative sequence of bids. This goes against the widely held idea that players should hide their weaknesses and merely bid what they hope they can make, either because they think they can make a score, or because the opponents may not discover how to defeat the contract until it is too later, which yields an even better score. Herein lies the fundamental conflict partnerships face.

To show 4-4-4-1 naturally may use up several levels of bidding and partner may not correctly interpret the ambiguous messages. To overcome this problem, some pairs use a jump to 3 of a major to show shortage in the suit named plus slam interest in any of the 4-card suits. Here is how it works on a good day:

W
West
Q106
KJ5
AQJ4
K86
 
E
East
3
AQ104
K962
A1073
West
East
1NT
3
6
Pass

Opener makes the final decision based on the expectation that partner’s points are distributed evenly between his 4-card suits, probably on average 4 HCP in each. He assumes the spade suit is poorly held. Slam depends largely on the diamonds splitting 3-2, so it is a good slam. If the distribution of HCPs is not up to expectations, slam may be a poorer proposition: K AQT4 T952 AT73. On such a hand responder should take a different route planning to settle for 3NT or 4, as the hand is weak in one of the trump candidates, a condition that the opener could not anticipate. The 1NT bidder is not in control as the shortage has been hidden and he will be surprised when the dummy appears. Many BBO commentators warn against 50% minor suit slams, such as this one.

W
West
Q106
KJ5
AQJ4
K86
 
E
East
K
AQ104
10952
A1073
West
East
1NT
2
2
3NT
Pass
 

4-4-4-1 – Invitational

Some system analysts admit there is no good way to invite in a minor after a strong 1NT opening bid. One reason is that most of the responses are geared to finding a major suit game, failing which they opt for a speculative 3NT, the reason being that the lucky hands have a bigger potential payoff than a sensible part score in a 4-4 minor suit fit. The argument is weaker for matchpoint scoring, as the frequency of plus scores is important.

When responder holds the unusual 4-4-4-1 shape, he is in a better position to place the contract in game or in a partial, so it is better for him to make the decisions rather than the opening bidder whose hand is limited and balanced. Here is an example from a recent club game.

W
West
Q106
KJ5
AQJ4
K86
 
E
East
3
Q1043
K962
A1073
West
East
1NT
2
2
2NT
3NT
Pass

Responder underbid greatly with 9 HCP as he didn’t like his shape. 2NT did not guarantee a 4-card major. Opener envisioned a flat hand opposite, so had no hesitation going to game with his very nice collection, expecting some help in the spade suit.

3NT was down 3 for a score of 3 out of 12. 2NT down 2 got an average score. The best score was 4 making, with 5 down one worth an amazing 9 out of 12. The opening leader had passed over 1NT holding AJ9754 987 3 J94. Those who bid 2 on those cards scored poorly when allowed to play in that contract going down (4 times out of 12).

As indicated in the previous blog, it is easy enough to attach probabilities to the responses if we limit the NT distributions to 4333, 4432, and 5332 with a 5-card minor. Here are examples of the 2 most likely the division of sides (shown in brackets): 8765 (36%) and 8774 (19%). In Case I, the reply to Stayman will be 2; in Case 2, 2.

 

Case I

 

 

Case II

 

 

Responder

Opener

Player B

Player C

Opener

Player B

Player C

1

4 (5)

4

4

3 (4)

5

4

4

2 (6)

3

4

3 (7)

3

3

4

4 (8)

2

3

4 (8)

3

2

4

3 (7)

4

2

3 (7)

2

4

Obviously the trick is to go plus on these hands, and responder has the best estimate of the distributions around the table after the opener denies a major. Responder can expect an 8-card fit in a minor with the opponents holding an 8+-card fit in spades. The number of total tricks is 16+. No matter which defender is on lead it is likely that a spade will be led against 3NT. Therefore, it appears that playing in 3NT, or even 2NT, will not be a winning decision and it is up to the responder to reach a better contract by asking for more information from partner. 2NT is the obvious choice for locating the minor fit.

2NT as a Forcing Asking Bid

With regard to Stayman there are normally just 3 responses allowed: 2, 2 and 2, which roughly speaking are equally probable. If the response is 2, responder has a 6 in 10 chance of being in a 5-4 or 4-4 diamond fit. This isn’t satisfactory as diamonds may not be the best strain available. More importantly, responder knows the opponents have at least a 9-card fit in spades. With a mediocre hand he might try a nonforcing 2 hoping to stay at the 2-level in a 4-3 fit. A better tactical bid would be 2NT, asking opener to bid a minor, specifically 3 unless he holds more diamonds than clubs, in which case, 3.

The responses to 2NT are natural with 3 of a minor indicating a 4-card suit, nonforcing. Opener may even bid an uninformative gambling 3NT if he is so inclined, otherwise he makes the most useful suit bid indicating where his values principally lie. So nothing is lost, except the ability to pass 2NT, which is not much of a loss. Here is the hand that arose at our local club, this time with 2NT as an asking bid.

W
West
Q106
KJ5
AQJ4
K86
 
E
East
3
Q1043
K962
A1073
West
East
1NT
2
2
2NT
3
Pass

That would have been an easy way to score 12 out of 12. On the next 8774 combination an optimistic opener might bid 3, suggesting that a 4-3 heart fit would play well.

W
West
1096
AK5
AQ84
K86
 
E
East
3
Q1043
K962
A1073
West
East
1NT
2
2
2NT
3
4

Declarer needs to pull a rabbit out of the hat in order to make 10 trick on a 4-2 trump split, losing one spade, one heart and one club, but stranger things have happened. With good hands rich in controls the minor suits come back into play. Here slam in diamonds is a much better proposition than 4, so opener should show the quality of his diamonds rather than try for 3NT or 4. He has a maximum with 6 controls, worth the equivalent of 20 HCP. It shouldn’t hurt to bid informatively.

West
East
1NT
2
2
2NT
3
3
4
4
5
6

After 3 responder was in the better position to make the final decision knowing that there is no wastage in the spade suit. The key descriptive bid is 5 by the opener. If responder has a weak hand and wishes only to razzle-dazzle the silent opposition he’ll be content to pass 3, but he will be concerned about playing in a 4-3 heart fit at the 3-level.

What about the Opposition?

On many hands where the opposition have a 9-card spade fit, they will be bidding early. The absence of activity has only a slight effect on the probability of the division of sides, the actual distribution under 8774 being less likely than Case II. Passing with a decent 6-card spade suit is possible but unexpected, but that doesn’t greatly alter opener’s decision to go to 3NT. One shouldn’t hold back because of an ungrounded fear of bad breaks. Responder knows the opponents have a 9-card spade fit, so he is in a better position to make the final decision, contrary to Kleinman’s Principle of the Balanced Hand. The invitational 2NT based on point count alone is a bad bid under the circumstances as it implies a balanced hand.

Note that after a 2 overcall, using Lebensohl, responder can bid 3 as ‘Stayman without a Stopper’, the additional information making it easier to get to 4, the best contract. Only one pair managed to overcome all predispositions and achieve that happy result- which doesn’t make it wrong.

Going to a Better Place

Nothing personal, but sometimes it just doesn’t feel right to let partner play in 1NT. Most responders with a flat hand and less than 8 HCP will pass, and the more players who stay passive the more sense it makes to close one’s eyes and think of +120. But when partner opens 1NT and you have a bad hand without an entry, the standard approach is to wake up and try to get to a better place. Alas, the path to bottoms is paved with such good intentions. Maybe there isn’t a better place.

The 1NT opening bid has a preemptive effect that works in its favour. A small minus score in 1NT may represent a good result. On the other hand experts have often pointed out that game in a 4-4 major fit plays better than 3NT. Even more so in a partial, where in addition the minor suits come into their own whenever they give the best chance of getting a plus score. Alas, normal Stayman is not geared for that eventuality.

Here is an unconvincing example of an optimistic undertaking from ‘No Trump Bidding – the Scanian Way’: T953 J83 KJ943 5. It is recommended that responder employ Stayman and pass opener’s reply. Of course, 1NT might play better than 2 on a 4-3 fit, as with the following mix where hearts don’t matter.

W
West
KJ3
10642
AQ2
AQ108
 
E
East
10953
J83
KJ943
5
West
East
1NT
2
2
Pass?

One would be more optimistic of elevation if the diamonds were poorer (QJ943), as dummy might be dead during NT play with no entry available for taking an essential finesse in a major. So, another case of less is more (when nonvulnerable). Here is an example of what is sometimes deridingly referred to as Garbage Stayman, as reported by Bart Bramley in his Vanderbilt report in the December, 2015 issue of the Bridge World. The 5-card boss suit seemed to provide some degree of safety.

W
Zia
1064
AQ3
KJ10
AQ84
 
E
Duboin
K9532
J1086
65
97
West
East
1NT
2
2
2
Pass
 

This time responder had to make 2 bids in his attempt to reach a better place to play. With such weakness it is necessary to make responder’s second bid nonforcing. This made the weaker hand declarer, and after a diamond lead through the broken diamond suit in dummy, Duboin went down 1. Interestingly, by a different path at the other table South (Greco) also became the declarer in 2, making on a clever deduction that his RHO held K doubleton. That gained 4 IMPs. Neither pair was able to reach the optimum contract of 2 making 3 played by the opening bidder, preferring to mess about in hearts. Even 1NT makes 8 tricks.

One No Trump and a Weak 4441

The classical takeout situation is where responder has a singleton club and can in good conscience pass the opener’s reply to Stayman. If one holds a 4441 shape, the a priori odds are that there is at least one 8-card fit with partner 80% of the time. The Law of Total Tricks indicates that if one partner holds a balanced hand with 15-17 HCP and the other partner holds 3 to 7 HCP, ideally they should be able to compete gainfully for a part score at the 2-level. If one really believes that, the question one must ask oneself is: how good is my bidding system at getting me to the right spot? It may not be in diamonds, and there’s the rub.

Normally Stayman is limited to 3 replies, 2, 2 and 2, thus removing clubs from consideration at the 2-level. If responder uses Stayman how often will he immediately hit a playable fit? To get an approximate answer using paper and pen, we limit the shape of the 1NT opening bid to 4333, 4432, or 5332 (5-card minor only). Here are the approximate fractions we obtain for direct hits (4-4 or better).

Reply

4=4=4=1

4=4=1=4

4=1=4=4

1=4=4=4

2

2/9

2/9

1/5

2

3/10

3/10

3/10

2

2/9

1/3

1/3

If the reply is 2 of your major, the job is done, but if it is 2 there is more information required. The ambiguous situation could be improved if a 4th reply (2NT) showed a maximum with 5 rebiddable clubs, no 4-card major, allowing for the hand to be played there. Call this Explicit Stayman. It rules out playing in a major 4-3 fit at the 2-level.>

Weak 4=4=4=1

Half the time responder will find a 4-4 major suit fit. That is a gambler’s position, but after a 2 reply it is probable that the clubs are well held by the opening bidder. This is because opener is more likely to have longer clubs opposite a singleton than long diamonds opposite 4 cards. When the reply is 2, opener will hold 4 or 5 clubs without 4 diamonds more than twice as often as 4 diamonds without 4 clubs. Therefore, if the Stayman reply is 2, responder most likely has taken a backward step and worsened the contract, so he should relay to 2 in a search for a major 4-3 fit at the 2-level. Thus, responder’s escape from 2 to 2 must be nonforcing, but correctible to 2 if opener holds better spades. Here are the total tricks expected.

Division of Sides

Total Tricks

Percentage

A Priori

7766

14

17%

10%

7775

15

8%

5%

8765

16

32%

24%

8774

17

11%

7%

8864

17

8%

5%

9764

18

5%

7%

9773

19

2%

3%

The number of total tricks is somewhat lower than the a priori odds indicate. There are 14-16 total tricks 57% of the time as opposed to the expected percentage of 39%. This argues for caution. The 8765 division of sides is still the most frequent with a total trick sum of 16, but that is achieved when the singleton club sits opposite a 4-card club suit in the opener’s hand. The deadly 7766 division of sides occurs when opener holds 5 clubs.

Weak 4=4=1=4

Often on BBO we see commentators grow impatient when an opening 1NT ends the auction. Next! says Joey Silver, but Life is what you make it. With a singleton diamond responder will find an 8-card fit in at least one of the majors about half the time. The probabilities of the division of sides with diamond shortage give much the same picture as for club shortage, with a 25% chance there is no 8-card fit. A 2 response makes it clear that responder has made an unlucky move from 1NT and needs must scramble.

Here is a recent example from the Gordon vs Becker match late in the 2015 Reisinger (BAM scoring) where a declarer took it upon himself to do the correcting. This move would be more obvious if declarer had a broken suit, however, keeping the strong hand hidden had a detrimental effect on the defence as 2 went down just 1.

W
Corin
Q93
KQ9
KQ75
A54
 
E
Kamil
J654
J532
10
J872
West
East
1NT
2
2
2
2
Pass

At the other table after a similar start Sontag-Berkowitz stopped in 2, down 2. If the normally wary David Berkowitz took it upon himself to freely enter the auction with 3 jacks, it must be OK. The division of sides was a moderate 7775. Deep Finesse tells us that EW can score 9 tricks in a diamond contract, but I didn’t find a pair who managed it. Six tricks in hearts and 9 in diamonds add up to 15 total tricks – right on!

Weak 4=1=4=4

It is trickier when responder holds 4 cards in just one major. Shortage in hearts is the worst situation. There is a 1 in 3 chance of having a 4-4 spade fit, but only a 1 in 5 chance of getting a 2 response. There is a 2 out of 3 chance of at least one 8-card fit, but one may have to go to the 3-level in a minor to find it. There will be at least 17 total trumps 5 times out of 9 partly justifying such a move. Here are the percentages.

Division of Sides

Total Tricks

Percentage

A Priori

7775

15

9%

5%

8765

16

36%

24%

8774

17

19%

7%

8864

17

12%

5%

8873

18

9%

2%

9764

18

11%

7%

9773

19

4%

3%

When opener bids 2/2 (just below half the time), he will be hiding a 4-card spade suit a quarter of that time, and responder must take further action and bid 2 with the agreement that it is nonforcing. The usual American practice is to use this Stayman sequence to show an invitational hand with 5 spades too good to transfer to 2 initially. Without that assurance, opener will be hesitant to let 2 be played in a 4-3 fit from the wrong side. Many are reluctant to give up the captaincy when holding at least 40% of the HCPs. With inherited riches comes the privilege of expressing opinions however wrong they may seem to be to the dispassionate observer. There are hands on which opener may refuse the suggestion to play in spades and bid 2NT to play and he may be correct in that some of the time. However, if opener had replied to Explicit Stayman with 2NT showing a good hand with 5 clubs and no 4-card major, responder would have been informed immediately of the good 9-card club fit.

Weak 1=4=4=4

The expected division of sides is the same as for the previous case, but there is the advantage that if opener bids the short suit, denying 4 hearts, responder knows there is a good chance of at least one 8-card fit in a minor, perhaps even a 9-card fit. There is a better than 50% chance that the total trick count is at least 17, backing a move to the 3-level. That’s good. It is best to think of Stayman as a move to play in a minor suit contract with the added bonus of hitting a heart fit one-third of the time.

If the reply is 2 responder knows he has a fit in a minor, but can’t be sure that clubs aren’t a better trump suit than diamonds, however, the opponents have at least a 9-card fit in spades. The number of total tricks is at least 18. That’s even better. This is a time to take action before the opponents catch on – bid 2NT as a takeout to the opener’s better minor. After a 2 reply (which occurs one-third of the time) responder may take out to a minor by bidding 2NT/2. After that move one will get to an 8-card fit at the 3-level about 3 out of 4 times, that is, unless opener has an unlucky 4=3=3=3. We call this 2NT a Transcendental Elevation.

To guard against a disaster, as far as that is possible, responder needs convertible values in the minors as opener will not have a 5-card minor along with 4 spades. With balanced power, NT may play better. Here is a computer generated example that provides encouragement for an active approach when holding a stiff without the stuff.

W
West
AJ82
AK7
109
KJ63
 
E
East
9
Q1086
KJ52
10974
West
East
1NT
2
2
2NT
3NT
Pass

Even though responder hasn’t the values needed to invite game, if opener can assume that responder lives by his own rules, the hand is worth a raise to 3NT – maximum controls, the majors well held, and partner promising at least one good minor suit, probably diamonds. In this way happy heretics may reach a far, far better place to go than perhaps they deserve or expect.

Next!

Countering Ambiguity

I understand that early in World War II the Home Guard went about changing road signs in Southern England in the hope of confusing the Germans should they invade. It strikes me as a peculiarly English ploy. Imagine the Germans’ consternation when they find they have entered Uckfield on the A22 thinking they were in Cuckfield on the A272.

Some like to think of bridge as primarily a game of logic, but logic will not lead to the right conclusion if the mental road signs are pointing in the wrong direction. If the evidence is flawed, the end result of a logic progression based on that evidence will be flawed. As Bobby Wolff has reminded us, bridge at the Bermuda Bowl is different from bridge at the local club, experts playing the cards extremely well, however, reading the cards depends on what evidence lies at hand. The club player and the world champion may struggle equally when faced with ambiguity at the crossroads.

Today’s bridge player knows it pays to get into the auction even on, or especially on, inadequate holdings. A common technique is to introduce ambiguity into one’s overcalls, drastically reducing their information content. Even after a well-defined 1NT opening bid the opening side may have difficulty coping when an overcaller’s suits are not fully specified. Here are 2 similar examples played last week, one during the Bermuda Bowl Final and one at my local club, when experts and non-experts alike reacted disastrously. Later I suggest how one may handle the situation to better effect.

 
N-S
North
N
North
J5
A9732
AK5
A98
 
W
West
Q8
QJ108
7632
1043
 
E
East
A763
K64
Q
KQ652
 
S
South
K10942
5
J10984
J7
 
W
John
N
Dolores
E
Bob
S
Fred
1NT
21
2NT
3
3
4
Pass
Pass
4
All Pass
 
(1) Astro

NS, Life Masters, are risk takers who rely mainly on the opposition to inject some accuracy into their competitive auctions. I wouldn’t have opened 1NT on the North hand – too good for that with 7 controls that point towards a suit contract. The danger by underbidding in this manner is that one feels later on that one still has something extra that remains to be revealed.

My 2 bid was ‘modified’ Astro showing 4+spades and 5+ in an unspecified minor. John wrongly alerted 2 as showing ‘spades and a minor.’ Bidding 2 on the East hand is not as dangerous at it might appear. If South passes, advancer can pass if he has diamonds, bid 2 to suggest a preference in that major, or bid 2NT as a takeout to partner’s minor. The general defence is to double the artificial suit bid (2) to show defence against the anchor suit (spades) without reference to the minors.

Obviously Fred was unfamiliar with Astro and had no systemic bid available. He tried an off-shape 2NT presumably showing a spade stopper in a limited context. Over 2NT, knowing he had a fit for either minor, John bid 3 which left open the possibility of playing in diamonds if that were partner’s minor. EW were now in a bad place if NS were able to double for penalty, but Dolores had a hidden heart suit. My 4 raise put us in danger of a bottom score if doubled, but acting on the principle that ‘if they have a fit, we have a fit’ Dolores went the whole hog in hearts, down 3 for a bottom. Even at matchpoints the lure of the vulnerable game was too much to resist. She blamed Fred for not bidding his diamonds without specifying when he should have done so.

Let’s not be too critical of the club players’ missed opportunities. How often have we observed the same effect at the expert level. Everyone wants to get into the auction and not every one has his bid. Aggressive players tend to over-react. When all 4 players are bidding confusion arises, and it becomes difficult to double and stop the bidding at the right moment. To demonstrate how this works here is the related deal from round 7 of the Sweden – Poland Bermuda Bowl Final. A strong NT was overcalled at both tables.

 
Both
South
N
North
KJ752
A7
K87643
 
W
West
AQ
AJ95
Q965
A109
 
E
East
8643
KQ643
K83
2
 
S
South
109
10872
J1042
QJ5
 

Select (you can triple-click it) and over-write this text below the diagram.

Table I

W
Sylvan
N
Kalita
E
Wrang
S
Nowosadzki
Pass
1NT
2
3*
Pass
4
All Pass
 
 

At Table I the auction was an unremarkable Lebensohl transfer sequence. North showed spades, East transferred to show hearts, South stood clear, and West knew what to do. It must have seemed a totally predictable result, but at the other table an element of uncertainty triggered chaos.

Table II

W
Klukowski
N
Upmark
E
Gawrys
S
Nystrom
Pass
1NT
2*
Dbl
RDbl
Pass
2
Dbl
Pass
Pass
3
Pass
Pass
Dbl
All Pass
 
 

Upmark’s 2 bid showed ‘hearts or spades’. What action should East take? To introduce hearts is risky and gives up on a lucrative penalty double on a misfit deal. Double keeps the possibility alive. As it turned out East was over-committed to a penalty option and the 9-card heart fit was never revealed. 3* made 670 and Poland lost 16 IMPs on a simple deal made complex by the ‘either-or’ interference. Note the division of sides was 9-7-6-4, not the shape with which one wants to be doubling a part-score.

A further feature of the auction was Nystrom’s redouble, costing nothing and signifying nothing. Like the changing of the English road signs during WWII, it was a frivolous action that might nonetheless provoke a chaotic reaction.

 

The Ambiguity Double

If your side has been subject to interference it behooves responder to have available a choice of informative bids. In the early stages, limited descriptive bids are very useful. Wide-ranging doubles not well defined with regard to shape or high-card strength are uninformative and dangerous to those who employ them.

To counter the ambiguous overcall I suggest one retain one’s favorite form of Lebensohl (mine being Rubensohl) with the following restriction that acts to reduce the uncertainty: a double indicates a limited hand suitable for a penalty double in the known suit and/or the lower ranking ambiguous suit. If the overcall showed hearts or spades, as on the Bermuda Bowl deal, a double would suggest penalty in reference to hearts. In Gawry’s situation an ambiguity double would act in effect as a transfer to hearts, sooner or later making West declarer in 4.

If a 2 overcall is Astro, showing spades and either clubs or diamonds, the Ambiguity Double shows limited values in clubs with a penalty option in spades. There are other ways to show a good club suit accompanied by the values to suggest 3NT. 2NT3 may be employed for hands that wish to compete in clubs, perhaps weak, but maybe strong, and a direct 3 is forcing. Consider the situation shown at the beginning. With the Ambiguity Double in place, the bidding could proceed as follows.

W
West
N
North
E
East
S
South
1NT
2*
Pass
2NT1
Dbl
3
3
All Pass
 
 
 
(1) asks minor

As when negative doubles are in effect, South’s initial pass does not rule out a hand with defensive values in diamonds. North must remain aware of this. It is probable that West will place the contract in the suit in which EW have at least an 8-card fit. At matchpoints North can act over 2NT as South must have values in spades, but couldn’t double without clubs being covered. Given encouragement, South can bid his weak suit and make it stick. In this way NS achieve a 70% score. 3* would be a top. It’s nice when you can guess between a 70% and 100% result. . Note the division of sides is 8-7-6-5. If the South hand were more balanced, then a penalty double of 3 would be more attractive, possibly in a 7-7-6-6 division of sides. Now consider the situation with the minors interchanged.

 
N-S
North
N
North
J5
A9732
A98
AK5
 
W
West
Q8
QJ108
1043
7632
 
E
East
A763
K64
KQ652
Q
 
S
South
K10942
5
J7
J10984
 
W
West
N
North
E
East
S
South
1NT
2
Dbl1
Pass
2
Pass
2
Pass
3
All Pass
 
(1) ♣&♠

North has to decide what action she should take after the opponents fortuitously land in their 8-card fit at the 2-level. For North the time is ripe to reveal her heart suit, leaving clubs as a possible resting place. Now South can bid 2 naturally as his double has already shown a limited hand with values in the black suits. Although 2 works this time, North takes the safe route and shows support for clubs. Once again NS can choose between a good score and a top, as 2 can make but was never declared.

These examples show why the Ambiguity Double is referenced to the lower ranking minor. With the higher ranking minor one can always bid it later, nonforcing, without going up a level. The primary aim is to reach your best part score contract while maintaining an option of catching the opponents in an indiscretion.

Against the Field

Against the Field

What distinguishes matchpoint from Teams is the amount of consideration one gives to what others are doing with the same cards. At matchpoint scoring emphasis is placed upon reaching a common contract and outscoring the field through clever declarer play, and/or uninformative bidding practices. There are added advantages to be got from uncertainty. The general perception is that accurate bidding gives a pair a better chance of reaching the right contract but a lesser chance of beating par. An example from a recent club game illustrates the downward trend.

Playing in a mixed field of 13 tables using 2/1 methods, how might West approach the problem of what to open in third seat holding AKJT3 6 AKQ9 KT4, 20 HCP with 3+ losers and 7 controls. In making decisions, sooner or later, one will tend to bid what is best according to what is most probable given the partial information available at the time. Only rarely can one bid with perfect certainty, so it is usually a question of how much information one feels is needed to make a decision and achieve a good result. Most follow the expert advice inspired by successful Wall Street traders: ‘bid on rumor, defend on count.’

As West holds 20 HCP, there are 20 HCP up for grabs, and the fact that 2 players have passed already, it is reasonable to assume partner holds the expected number, 7. That should be enough to cover one loser, but not necessarily 2. Should one explore for the perfect cards opposite or merely blast to 4, the most attractive contract, with high expectations of making it? On this deal we can tell you that 10 of 13 pairs played in 4 and you will score 70% if you play in 4 without a club lead. Using Wall Street logic, if you took the gamble, you deserve the reward. Of course, your gain from taking an unusual route to a common contract would be an innocent opponents’ loss.

If West plays by the book by opening 1 to begin a cooperative auction, who knows where it might lead? After a pass by North, East now faces a problem with 9876 AQ754 JT9 7. From his point-of-view the expectation is that the other three players hold 11 HCP each. In his book, Passed Hand Bidding(1989), Mike Lawrence placed considerable emphasis on the possibility that partner may have opened in third seat with a load of garbage, and that the opponents, if given the chance, may be poised to enter the auction, or at least gain information valuable for their defence. A jump raise would show this degree of support, 4 trumps and an unspecified singleton, thus serving 2 strategic purposes simultaneously.

Of course, nondescriptive bids based largely on HCP ranges are not conducive to accurate slam bidding. 4NT usually constitutes a desperate attempt to extract some useful information albeit above game level. Three Wests felt it is incumbent upon themselves to try RKCB, and finding there was an ace missing, they signed off in 5, held to 12 tricks. This awful approach scored an undeservedly high 33%, 37% less than any blaster to game who escaped the club lead.

To be sure there are ways to reach 6 with 2/1 methods, and 2 pairs out of 12 achieved that, scoring 11 matchpoints while being held to 12 tricks only. A pair of ‘super-blasters’, the kind that can ruin an opponent’s a good game, got to slam in an auction that was the mental equivalent of arm wrestling: 2 – 2( an Ace or King); 2 – 4NT; 5 (3 key cards) – 6. Overall they scored 42%, so we can cancel the committee.

Only one pair reached slam presumably by legitimate 2/1 methods as they are both bridge teachers who always have their bids. That good result may ease their consciences as they preach the word to their congregations of unrepentant transgressors. They got to the slam, yes, but devoid of sharp practices scored just 50% overall, a field-happy result.

Finally, the only pair of Precision bidders in the field managed to bid slam informatively and scored 67% overall. They adhere to the strategy of ‘accuracy in construction, aggression in competition’, made feasible by their limited-bid structure.

 
Both
East
N
North
Q4
1086
8743
A865
 
W
West
AKJ103
8
AKQ9
K104
 
E
East
9876
AQ754
J106
7
 
S
South
52
KJ32
52
QJ932
 

John

Bob

Pass

1*

1**

2

4***

4

4♥

6

Pass

 

1

16+HCP

1

0-7 HCP

2

game force

4

splinter, 4+spades

4

A

4

A

6

to play

 

 

The auction was brief and to the point. Declarer decided the final contract without knowing everything about responder’s hand, but he knew the essentials. It is worth noting that responder’s 4 bid promised the ace, so was informative. It was not of the vague ‘wait-and-see’ kind which crops up in co-operative 2/1 auctions.

So now we can see how the slam could be bid with 2/1 methods, in fact, in a superior manner: 1 – 3 (splinter by a passed hand); 3 – 3; 3(forcing) – 4, etc. Below game level the opening bidder knows more about responder’s hand than does the Precision bidder and is in a position to extract even more information. So why didn’t the field reach slam? Well, the system lends itself to a great deal of variation. Maybe responders don’t play a limit–raise splinter by a passed hand. Maybe 3 is a preemptive jump shift, or maybe a fit showing jump, or a nondescriptive mixed raise. Does the pair play Drury? Is responder strong enough for Drury, and if so, what are his options on the next round? The fact there are so many choices indicates none is very good, although each might work best on any given deal. Overall it’s a mess.

Swinging to Catch Up

There was one peculiar result manufactured by a competent veteran pair – 4 making 5.

Checking their scores reveal a series of tops and bottoms during the session. One can imagine a state of mind in which declarer feels desperate to get back in the running after a disappointing result on the previous board. After a nondescriptive auction to 4, declarer can see his side has missed a slam if the Q drops. To generate a swing he hopes the Q will not drop, so he goes against the field and finesses on the second round of trumps, the only way to hold himself to 11 tricks.

Some would accuse him of antisocial behaviour for operating in this selfish fashion, asserting that a player should strive to preserve the integrity of the field, such as it is, especially if he is having a bad game. Personally I have lost many a matchpoint by playing against the odds in an attempt to make up some ground. I blame Hugh Kelsey for suggesting one should modify one’s approach based on what one thinks the field has done. This is akin to driving downtown traffic while constantly looking in the rearview mirror. If the field is in 6, 2 overtricks in 4 will be wasted. So you may hope the Q doesn’t fall. However, if it does fall, you can’t beat the slam bidders, and all you can hope for is to match the others who, like yourself, play in 4. You will score below average by making 12 tricks, but you will not score a bottom. If the Q doesn’t fall, you will have a decent score making just 11 tricks. It pays to overcome your disappointments.

Here is an example of declarer play that may be more in line with what Kelsey had in mind.

W
West
K92
K863
AQ6
K62
 
E
East
Q1064
Q542
K87
A3
West
East
1
1
2
3NT
Pass

One can see what declarer was thinking when he opted for 3NT rather than 4. His hand taken in isolation is very suitable for play in a NT contract with decent chances of making as many tricks in NT as in a heart game. He knew he was bidding against the field. I picture The Field as a Granny full of commonsense advice, a bit behind the times, and mostly unaware of what’s going on behind the scene. Granny won’t bid a slam unless she can count on 12 tricks off the top, and it is pretty obvious that on these cards The Field will be playing sensibly in their 4-4 heart fit, normally making 10 tricks.

The opening lead was a non-life-threatening fourth-highest 3, a reprieve from the quick establishment of defensive tricks in clubs. Two aces are missing so timing will be important. Hearts, which are known to be divided 4-4, seemed to be the suit to tackle. If the hearts are played in the manner of those in 4, usually declarer will take 2 heart tricks, but be held to 9 tricks, thus getting a bottom. Nevertheless declarer won the diamond lead in his hand with the A and played the hearts abnormally, ducking to 9 on his right, an onerous safety play not usually recommended at matchpoints. Ominously the RHO regained the timing for the defence by switching to clubs. Declarer won the A in dummy and ducked another heart, losing to the J on his left when the T appeared on his right. This went against the rule of restricted choice, as with JT9 initially the RHO might have played the J previously. Disaster ensued, down 2 being the woeful result.

Rather than worry about how the field might handle the trumps in 4, declarer might have considered how to play for the maximum number of tricks in his NT contract. Spades are a 7-card suit and hearts an 8-card suit, but the spades lack only AJ8 whereas hearts lack AJT9. Spades will have to be played eventually, so a reasonable play is to win the K in dummy and finesse the 9. This gives a 3-times better chance of making 3 tricks than does playing on hearts and has the added attraction that one can still entertain the hope that the hearts are behaving badly. Furthermore, it is often advantageous psychologically to make your early play towards the hidden hand.

With the RHO holding AJ8 the play yields 3 spade tricks and the freedom to establish a trick in hearts for the 9th trick. This would be a good recovery at Teams, whereas at matchpoints it is a ‘costs nothing’ play, because down 2, down 1, or making 9 tricks will score the same zero. The best result is got when upon winning the A the RHO persists in diamonds – now 10 tricks come home – another top attributable to a misguided defence. Well, doesn’t Granny advise, ‘always return your partner’s suit’?

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