Bob Mackinnon

Adventures in the Minor Suits

Statisticians realize that random events occur in bunches, but to most others coincidences smack of the supernatural. In a previous blog I expounded on the failure of an expert male pair to reach 6 on a 2/1 auction that began 1 – 2; 3, the last bid being a splinter in support of diamonds. Soon after in the recent USWBC USA1 Final a pair of ladies showed us all how to do it even if you are in a hurry.

Robertson Sprung
KQT62 A7 1 2
J Q73 3* 4 (RKCB)
AJ84 KQT52 4NT (2 KC) 6
A76 K98 Pass

It is considered dangerous to cuebid in partner’s spade suit, as he (or she) will only be encouraged to play the contract on spades, even though the splinter ostensibly agrees to diamonds as trumps. In fact, a bid of 3 doesn’t even promise a control in the suit. So responder must take charge, and as the partnership can never stop in 4, one might as well utilize that bid as RKCB. Of course, if opener has splintered with the A, as happened in the USBC Open Trials, confusion will reign. If responder goes slowly and bids 3 on the prior agreement that this is a cuebid showing the A or K, then the auction can proceed informatively: 4 – 4; 4 – 5; 5 – 6.

It is always gratifying when a partner trusts you implicitly, and I was touched last week when my partner bid a slam on trust, although he was not happy after the fact.

Bob Partner
AK 832 1NT (15-17) 2 –> clubs
JT8 AK9 2NT* 6
J87632 Pass
KQ AJ98632 * likes clubs

As we know, current standard practice is to allow considerable scope for individual tastes in the choice of bids. I considered what might happen if I opened a stogy 1 and someone introduced a major into the auction. I couldn’t see rebidding diamonds, even though there were 6 of them, with my points concentrated in the black suits. So, to avoid future problems, like an up-to-date expert, I upgraded to 1NT, adding a point for the long minor in which tricks might be developed. I was quite pleased when partner transferred to clubs, and I showed that I liked clubs by bidding 2NT. Partner liked clubs even more that I did, so we quickly and efficiently reached the optimum matchpoint contract. A spade was led and 6 sailed home. For different reasons neither of us was happy with the result which scored 11 out of 12 matchpoints.

Pard: What went on there?

Bob: You made 6.

Pard: But you opened 1NT on 13 HCPs.

Bob: Well, 14 actually. Did you count the J?

My ungrateful partner was displeased because I departed from ‘standard’ practice, and I was unhappy because he could have finessed the Q and tied for top. Some people can’t stand success and I suppose he would have preferred me to have something like: AQ3 T84 KJ87 KQ8, with slam failing on passive defence. The fact that we scored so well points to the inadequacy of standard bidding on minor suit auctions – 2 pairs played in a minor partial, which in part justified my fears about opening 1. Several were in 3NT, some unduly rewarded for making 6 when the opponents failed to take their 3 diamond tricks off the top. I was headed there myself.

Be that as it may, we can see that the acceptance bid of 2NT established the good fit in clubs, and the point had reached where exploration could have moved the basis of decision from general expectation to specific exploration. In general terms responder can count 6 losers and may expect 5 cover cards, so normally he should expect to make 12 tricks in clubs. However, this should be confirmed with specifics, as the K may not provide cover in this case. With nothing wasted in diamonds, he might even opt for a grand slam. It is too early to rush to judgement, but the problem is how to proceed. Some might use 4NT as RKCB, but I think 4NT after a NT bid should be used as a safe resting place that enables slam exploration above 3NT. The simplest solution is to bid 3 and see where that takes one. Having agreed to clubs, opener can see this is now a slam auction.

Here is more table talk that should tell you something about our club.

Nice Old Lady: Here comes Bob – we actually had a sort of conversation on the way to the club.

Bob: Well, we had a conversation of sorts – I complimented you on your sunglasses, and you told me about your great-grandchildren’s pre-school experiences.

NOL: Oh, dear, I guess I hadn’t turned on my hearing aid.

We all had a good laugh and then she took us to the cleaners in 3NT. Her bidding is as disjoint as her conversations: she bid Stayman with 9 HCP and 0=3=5=5 shape. Innocently against 3NT I led a diamond from JTxx setting up 5 tricks in the suit. By the time I left her table she had vaulted temporarily into first place.

Back to higher things at the USWBC Finals where a grand slam was missed at one table, bid at the other. It was another of those minor suit hands that give so much trouble.

Migry z. C. JoAnna S.
9 A86 1 2 (F)
AT82 2* (strong) 2NT (relay)
AK52 QT98 3 (splinter) 4NT (RKCB)
KQT5 A97632 5 (3 KC) 5 (king?)
6 7

Here we see a combination of a splinter bid and a key card asking bid, together with an expression of slam interest (the 2 bid). Opener showed her strength and the weaker hand took charge. They gained 13 IMPs when at the other table the final contract was 6. Nevertheless, the optimum contract is 7. The key to the hand is that there is nothing wasteful in hearts opposite the undisclosed void. With the T looming large I prefer opening 1 on the actual hand, being prepared to bid clubs, diamonds and hearts up the line, because partner will more readily to try for slam with the A than with the QJxx. On the above combination the bidding is easy after 1 – 2. However, Campanile-Stansby play the latest bit of razzle-dazzle, 1 – 1 as showing hearts and 0+ HCP, so a 1 opening bid is systematically preferable, to say the very least.

Precision Big Club Auction

Bob1 Bob2
9 A86 1 (strong) 2 (GF, clubs)
AT82 2 (shape?) 2NT (x)
AK52 QT98 3 (honor?) 3 (Q)
KQT5 A97632 4 (controls?) 5 ( 4 controls)
5 ( control?) 6 ( void)
7 Pass

In Precision after an artificial 1 it is the opener who is in charge of the auction, and he needn’t describe his awkward shape. That makes the bidding easy. After the start 1 – 2 it is pretty much a matter of whether to bid 6 or 7. The first 2 steps have been taken: 1) finding the fit, and 2) establishing trump suit solidarity The rest is straightforward when the opener has a simple asking bid structure at hand. First he establishes the fact there is no 4-4 heart fit, but there is a double fit in the minors. (If a 4-4 heart fit existed, the final contract might still be 6, but hearts would need to be very well stocked to prevent a loser in the suit.) He asks in diamonds rather than clubs so as to uncover the critical Q. He finds 4 controls that may be A, K and K, but the void in hearts discloses that the 2 black aces are held. He bids 7 because the clubs will be longer than the diamonds on this sequence and a losing diamond might be discarded on the A if necessary. He has determined the total controls, and 4) the exact placement of the controls, in shape and high cards. Responder has passed information passively.

A well-bid slam sequence contains the aforementioned 4 elements, which may occur in differing orders. Some players don’t like opening 2 with 2-suiters, but if one uses control responses the task becomes much easier. Last week I opened 2 on A A7 AKQ65 KQ853 and partner responded 2, showing 3 controls, obviously the A and a major suit king. I bid 3, he bid 3, I jumped confidently to 7. What is remarkable is that this scored 10 out of 12 matchpoints. No need to worry unduly about missing 7NT.

Let’s look at another USWBC slam that was misbid by a pair of champions. Responder lazily neglected finding the 4-4 club fit.

Player1 Player2
J5 AK98 1 1
QJ5 AT76 2 2 (asking bid)
AJ54 K 3NT (flat, 3) 6NT
AJT4 KQ75 Pass

It might be said by way of apology that 6NT was unlucky to go down on a spade lead, ducked to the Q, but apologies don’t carry much weight when a cold 6 and was bid at the other table. The major-suit orientated bidding system failed to satisfy the primary requirements of finding a 4-4 fit and determining the solidarity of the suit.

The hand on the left whispers ‘No Trump’ in my ear, but I resist temptation, in part because of the minor suit aces. I would open 1 on the reasonable hope that partner will declare in 4 or 3NT with spades protected, but once in a blue moon there will be a situation in which the T plays an important role. The hand on the right screams ‘Slam!’ and in practice there was available an asking bid, but the answer didn’t provide the information that was needed to find the excellent club slam. The auction stands as an example of pseudo-science at work. It is inappropriate to extend this attitude of ‘majors or no trump’ into the slam zone. The greatest irony is that despite all the emphasis placed on the heart fit, the pair didn’t declare in 6 which makes even with the K offside.

Of course, it is all too easy to criticize on the basis of one 13 IMP loss. That’s fast food for hungry bloggers. To look at a different configuration, let’s see what happens when the opener bids 1 and responder is short in clubs. With slam in mind she responds with 1.

Player1 Player2
J5 AK98 1 1
QJ5 AT76 2 2
AJ54 KQ73 3 6
AJT4 K Pass

The bidding is entirely natural, hence co-operative. When the opening bidder can’t bid 2NT to show a spade stopper, and can’t bid 3 to show a heart control, responder jumps to what she thinks she can make. The auction is efficient because the 1 response takes up so little room. If current systems are so much geared towards major suit games and 3NT, it is of little consequence if one opens 1 or 1 when holding 4-4 in the minors. If 3NT is the final destination, the length in diamonds may have had little bearing on the decision. In fact, keeping the relative lengths hidden could be beneficial to declarer.

In the slam zone the relative lengths in the minors can be critical and the nebulous Precision 1 structure may give cause for complaint. Standard bidders should have the edge, so why not make use of it and distinguish the suits on the basis of strength as well as length? The saving in space represented by opening a natural 1 is worthwhile when bidding towards slam without interference. Diamonds needn’t get lost. As always, playing for the normal expectation is neither good nor bad; it is, by definition, mediocre.

Leave a comment

Your comment