Bob Mackinnon

Wrong in Theory, Right in Practice?

If something appears to be right in theory, but wrong in practice, maybe we have to change the theory. Think of Galileo. Even today he is criticized by some for publicly upsetting Ptolemy’s theory of a geo-centric universe that had stood unchallenged for 1500 years and still adequately serves the ordinary needs of the ordinary citizen. However, most of us believe that if a theory doesn’t fit the facts, it has to be changed, regardless. That’s progress. If our bridge experiences don’t appear to conform to what is thought to be correct procedure by the current authorities, we should consider changing the accepted procedures. Of course, it is not just one’s own experiences that need to be taken into consideration, as very often our lasting impression are filtered selectively. Here are a few observations of my own gathered during the 2011 NEC Cup as shown on BBO.

There are bids that seem to work more often than custom would lead us to believe. Can they be said to be wrong in theory, but right in practice? I believe Edgar Kaplan thought that nonforcing bids in competition fit into this category, and such was the case when Taiwanese faced Bulgarians with these cards in play:

Dealer: West

Vul: None


7 5

9 6

A K Q 10 9 6

J 8 7


J 9 8 6 3

A 4

J 5 3

A K 2



K J 10 7 3

4 2

Q 9 6 5 4


A K Q 10 4

Q 8 5 2

8 7

10 3


Iliev Chung Hristov Liu
1 2 2 2 NT
Pass 3 NT All Pass Down 3 for -150


Yang Isporski Huang Kovachev
1 2 Pass 2 NT
Pass 3 NT All Pass Making 5 for 460


Consider the East hand. What is the correct action? Some might opt for a negative double, ‘showing the other 2 suits in a limited hand.’ However, it is correct in theory to pass as the high card content isn’t up to the required 9+ HCP. What if the opener is forced to bid 3 on a misfit? Patrick Huang took this view and lost 12 IMPs when his partner, Yang, led a low spade against 3NT with disastrous results. Do we then blame Yang?

At the other table Hristov took the theoretically incorrect action of bidding a nonforcing 2 . The evidence shows that this gained 12 IMPs, as his partner led the A and switched to the top clubs, so EW took 7 tricks off the top. So, on the evidence one should bid a good suit if one has been dealt one. This is better than doubling with a 2-suiter, which gives the wrong impression. The lead of a club may not be productive. Here a negative double may have alerted partner, but it might have also alerted the opponents. Doubles are best reserved for balanced hands – well, that’s my theory.

Currently there is a trend to preempt with garage suits, as the effect on the opposition may be to set them along the wrong path. This turns a preemptor into a ‘One Trick Johnny’, either it works or it doesn’t, and many feel that the evidence supports this action. I am one of those who don’t believe undisciplined preempts are correct, as partner can also be mislead. Of course, partners have been warned. Here is a deal where Hristov, the hero of the deal above, gets active with suits that have little to recommend them in any constructive or informative sense.


Dealer: East

Vul: None


J 9 8 5 2



A K 8 5 2



J 9 7 4 2

10 9 3

10 9 6 3


Q 7 6 4 3

K J 8 6 4

Q 7 4


K 10

K 10 8 6 5 3

Q 7 5 2



Yang Isporski Huang Kovachev
Pass 2
Pass 4 All Pass Down 2 for -100


Iliev Chang Hristov Liu
2 * Pass
3 ** Pass 3 Pass
Pass Dbl Pass 4
Dbl All Pass Making for +590
* spades and a minor ** pass or correct


Some rotten bids are so well established that they have now become a part of systems. After a sensible pass by Huang, Kovachev preempted with a hand that contains defensive values, 3 HCP in his mediocre suit and 6 HCP outside it. One BBO commentator defended this action, saying that one doesn’t come to Japan to pass with this hand. Why does one go to Japan, then? For the same reason some go to Las Vegas, to have some fun and to gamble foolishly against the odds? 4 was a sacrifice against nothing much.

At the other table, Hristov followed the correct procedure within the definition of his system by preempting 2 to show spades and a minor. Liu sensibly passed, but when the EW side stopped in 3 , Chung showed some life with a balancing double, converted by Liu to 4 , so the same contract reached. Ah, but doubled, my friends.

One wonders what was in Iliev’s confused mind after his opening lead of the A held the first trick. His diamond continuation was bad, so do we lay the blame on the misinformed partner? After all, North, the doubler, had produced only a doubleton heart, so South could be in trouble. No, Liu was able to crossruff in the minors and endplay West in the end to give up 2 more heart tricks. At the other table the defenders had passed throughout, so there was no information available to steer declarer away from danger. So there you have it: I praise Hristov’s light action on KJT73, but condemn it with a garbage suit, Q7643. I am happy to state that the patient Taiwanese came out the winners in this match. Here is an example of their largely natural Precision slam bidding style.


Huang Yang Huang Yang
82 AQJ76 1 (1 ) 2 game force
A42 7 2 NT 3
AKQ2 753 3 3
KQ103 AJ76 4 4
4 NT 5
5 NT 6


Kovachev made a futile overcall of the Big Club, as custom dictates, and Yang made an old-fashioned jump to 2 to establish a game force. There was still enough room left to explore slam fully, Huang even having the audacity to try for a grand slam. As so many commentators would argue, that demonstrated a very bad attitude, as the opponents at the other table stopped in 3NT with hardly a thought given to a club contract. 6 made easily.

Most would agree that 2NT is the proper opening bid with a 4-4-3-2 hand containing 21 HCP. To some it is blindingly obvious. I disagree, and the evidence supports my view that with 8 controls one must start with a different bid. Here is another example.


Oz Two My Precision
A1096 K8 Pass 2 NT Pass 1
QJ9 AK72 3 3 1 NT ( ) 2 asks suit
QJ754 A1098 3 NT Pass 2 ( xxxx) 3 controls?
J AK9 3 (0-2) 3 hearts?
5 (short ) 6


The Australian auction fell far short, and the BBO commentators blamed responder, but I feel it was the opener who was at fault. True, if the opening bid is limited, the onus is upon responder, but he can work only with what he knows. Opener must open 2 to show his full potential and responder may be able to co-operate by going beyond 3NT.

With Precision 1 the burden rests on the broad shoulders of the opener where it should be. He can ask questions and receive answers. One may see disparaging comments from time to time about the use of asking bids, but these should be ignored. Information is good and knowledge is better. I give a demonstration of how a crude system of asking bids can lead to the excellent slam that is as obvious as they get double dummy. I am a believer in letting the responder take the initiative if he has distributional information that will otherwise get lost, especially when he has limited his values. In the above case, responder has shown at most 2 controls, one honor in his diamond suit, and he has passed in first seat. When opener expresses his interest in slam by asking about the heart holding, responder takes the initiative by jumping to 5 to show the shortage there. This implies a maximum based on the information so far transmitted. The J is a great card. The bidding is crude by advanced expert standards, but enough information is conveyed to reach 6 in a routine manner. Of course, 6NT is even better and will win in a bidding contest. If the opening call were 1 , not pass, the problem would be one of avoiding 7NT.

BBO commentators serve a purpose when they tell the viewers how one might approach the bidding of a hand using SAYC methods. I would like to see more advice on how to bid the hands using a Big Club system. One can see why the ACBL Bulletin pushes standard methods by ignoring the fact that the current world champion teams play Precision, the US men’s team (Diamond) having 2 Precision pairs, the Chinese Ladies having 3, but the independent commentator should be able to educate the viewer in a wider sense. Continual ignorance and frustration will not make bridge popular with the masses. Here is yet another NEC Cup example where a grand slam was missed, because the necessary information was not made available in a straightforward manner.


Xu Zhang Reversal
A J74 1 1 1 1
1073 AK64 2 4 NT 2 2
Q3 AK75 5 6 3 4
AQJ10654 K7 Pass 4 5 NT (GSF)
7 Pass


A BBO commentator noted that the Chinese auction with its reliance on RKCB might be commonly encountered at the local club, the problem being that after the 2 rebid responder has no convenient forcing bid. We have here a system flaw with no apparent fix. However, responder has 7 controls in a 6-loser hand, so the possibility of a slam should be part of his considerations. 7 controls are equivalent to 23 HCP. As in so many sequences, the saving of space is a key factor in obtaining information, so it does no harm and may do some good if responder begins with 1 , rather than 1 (Walsh style). The hearts will not get lost as he plans to reverse into 2 if the opener cannot introduce hearts himself and they are unlikely to get stuck in diamonds. Now over 2 , responder has a forcing bid at his disposal. Once the opener, who has bypassed 2NT, bids 4 to show the A, responder should have enough confidence to launch the grand slam force. He can count 12 tricks and there may be squeeze possibilities if opener doesn’t hold a red queen.


James McLarenFebruary 18th, 2011 at 3:31 am

“The Australian auction fell far short, and the BBO commentators blamed responder, but I feel it was the opener who was at fault. … Opener must open 2 clubs to show his full potential … “.

It looks to me as though opener did show his full potential by showing 20-21 hcp and protecting his spade king. The extra potential lies in the hand with the singleton and the 5-card minor and the 4-card spade suit. Responder knows they are likely not off 3 quick tricks so they can get stopped at the 5-level.

I am accustomed to puppet Stayman. After opener bids 3nt, responder knows that his red suits are a source of tricks and transportation. When he makes a slam try by going past game with a 4 diamond bid, opener knows that he is short in clubs or hearts. Things are set up well for control bidding. When opener hears about the ace of spades he can get excited. He knows responder must have tricks in one of the side suits. He might even feel like asking about kings!

I am not sure if this is a solid approach or if it just works well in this layout.

Q. Where does one read about the thinking on bidding controls?

(It’s a cold night here in Gull Lake. Every few minutes the stucco gives a loud thunk as it contracts.) (And thanks for the very cute Samurai Bridge.)

Bob MFebruary 20th, 2011 at 2:42 am

Hi James:

Thanks. The best reference I have read on the application of control points is Ron Klinger’s Modern Losing Trick Count which gives a pretty through exploration of the importance of controls when one holds a distributional hand. One gets the idea that AK has more value more than 7 HCPs. The so-called ‘equivalent points’ add up to 10.

One thing to look for on BBO are hands with 8 control points that are opened 2NT. It is amazing how often slam gets missed after this start.

As for bidding controls, Klinger has again provided a reference worth reading – Cue Bidding to Slams.Lots of examples. I prefer the chicken rule that the first cue bid always promises an ace.

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