Bob Mackinnon

Life in the Uncertainty Lane

Youth is not the era of wisdom, let us therefore have due consideration

– Comte de Rivarol (1753 – 1801)

While watching youthful players from the USA and the Netherlands duke it out in the Bermuda Bowl Final, a mature expert was provoked into commenting, ‘this is not bridge as we know it.’ Perhaps he has a short memory, for we were all young and foolish once upon a time. But how foolish can one be if one has reached the Finals against sensible and experienced opposition? Rather than shake one’s head in disbelief, it is better to find the reasons why these young men were successful as cooler heads fell by the wayside.

The old way to bid a hand was designed around transmitting information so as to arrive at a sensible contract most of the time while avoiding large penalties. The new way is to get into the auction early and light in order to create a competitive auction in which the opposition may make an error they would be unlikely to make in an unopposed auction. This may create a problem if partner holds a good hand, but the problem is overcome by bidding any game that appears to have a decent chance of coming home. Not very subtle, is it?

It is the wrong strategy to try to extract penalties on the feeling that the opponents may have got too high. The large penalties come from deals where the defenders hold the balance of power and have sufficient communication to avoid endplays. In the 6th session of the Final, Kevin Bathurst tried unsuccessfully to swing IMPs on the suspicion that the Dutch were bidding beyond their depth.

Bathurst Zagorin B Z
♠ QT96 ♠ K873 1♣ (4) Dble (Pass)
A 4 4♠ (Dble) Pass (5)
986 742 Dble (Pass) Pass (Pass)
♣ AT842 ♣ KQJ65

Bathurst opened on what might be deemed an inadequate holding by traditional standards. What is the rush? Old Age may ask. Muller made a strong preemptive bid holding an 8-card suit with an outside ♠ A and K, keeping everyone in the dark while applying pressure all around. Zagorin doubled to show 4 spades, and the 8-card fit was uncovered. Muller doubled to show the nature of his preempt and Wijs calmly raised to 5 with JT9 and AQJT5, although 4♠ would have failed on an unlikely diamond lead. Based on the takeout double of 4, Bathurst doubled for penalty on the hope that partner could provide a diamond trick on defence, but it was not to be – the hidden distribution in the form of an undisclosed 10-card club fit defeated his purpose. Passing 5 would have split the board, as 11 tricks were normal and routine on the EW holding.

When following a strategy of opening light and overcalling disinformatively, one purposefully creates uncertainty. Large swings may occur randomly for both sides, but the enterprising player can tolerate losses because his strategy is to create swings. What is lost on one bad result can be made up easily on the immanent next swing. Doubling speculatively for penalty is not the way to go about it in an atmosphere of guessing all around. Later in the same session, this board came up.

Zagorin Bathurst Z B
♠ J4 ♠ K96 1♣ (2*) Pass (4)
J6 A3 Pass (Pass) Dble (Pass)
AQ54 KT632 Pass (Pass)
♣ QJT75 ♣ 862 *majors

Here we see a rather awkward holding for a standard 1♣ opening bid. What would be his rebid over a major suit response? My experience tells me this is a good hand for passing. Wijs has an easy entry into the auction on: ♠ AQT832 T9842 J ♣ K. Yes, things could go wrong if partner chooses hearts, but, then again, they could go right, and they did when Muller found he held a suitable raise on KQ75 and the ♣A. Bathurst has passed when he might have taken action earlier, so now he was more or less obliged to do something at this late stage. This time it was the excellent but undisclosed 9-card fit in diamonds that proved his undoing – too many values contained in one long suit.

The problems created by uncertainty may be alleviated by creating more bids in competition. Hence we see the use of transfer responses to create space that allow players to distinguish between competitive bids and constructive bids. Lebensohl methods can be applied to many situations. The difficulty for the average player is that methods must vary according to the circumstances. Even the Dutch world champions went for a penalty of 1400 on a misunderstanding about the meaning of their artificial competitive bids. Here is a case in point when the 2 USA teams met in the Bermuda Bowl Semi-Finals.

Dealer: West

Vul: NS




















Grue Fleisher Lall

1 2 2
4 5 Pass 6
All Pass

It would be all-too-easy to say that Fleisher would have avoided all the trouble if he had passed initially, but the world now agrees that Fleisher holds a hand that must be opened 1. Trouble, at least for the other guys, is what we seek. South will respond 1♠ , get raised to 2♠ , and will play happily in 4♠ making an overtrick. Next! But suppose, and we don’t even need to suppose, that East makes an ‘insane’ overcall of 2♣ with a 5-3-3-2 shape. No harm done, one might conclude, as 11 tricks are always available in a spade contract. Kamil shows his spade suit, and a partnership must decide how strong he need be for that action. Certainly 3NT beckons, so Kamil must have considered it was forcing. Grue now made a mysterious bid. We are not quite sure what it means even looking at all 4 hands. Perhaps it was a 2-way bid, showing a good competitive raise to 5♣, reading Lall for shortage in diamonds. He wasn’t prepared to defend a 4♠ contract.

At this point Fleisher has 6 possible bids starting with pass and going all the way up to 5♠ . If he passes he is assured of another set of 4 bids starting with a double of 5♣. So there is no shortage of possible calls, and perhaps no rush to choose one of them. The problem is that there is no agreement as to what information these bids would transmit. To a great extent NS are relying on what they think the opponents are telling them. If Grue had bid 5♣, I suppose that they would have some simple agreements. Perhaps North’s pass would be forcing, Kamil would double on his misfit in diamonds, and Fleischer would raise to 5♠ with no harm done. But after the unexpected cue bid by Grue, it might be uncertain as to what a pass would entail, even though the club fit was advertised. So another example where one may do best by not forcing the opponents into making an easy decision.

Not having discussed this particular auction Fleischer decided to show his shortage while he could with a cue bid of 5♣. Kamil thought partner was inviting slam, as he could already deduce the shortage from his own club holding. Well, if partner can invite slam missing the top honors in spades, there must be a pretty good play for it. So thought Kamil, until Grue led the A and the dummy appeared. Note that Grue did not double 6♠ for penalty. So, apart from Grue, who made the worst bid? I say, neither.

The problem was that NS had no firm agreements as to how to handle this particular situation – a weak opening bid, a weak overcall at the 2-level. Partnerships need guidelines as every possible auction cannot be discussed ahead of time. In the absence of an agreement I think I would bid a simple-minded 5♠ with the North hand. That tells the story – good diamonds with spade support, leaving it to partner to work out the club situation. Usually the active bidders can be trusted on their distribution. Here is a key point: partner can guess the club void, but the opponents can’t. They may double 5♠ .

It been known for years that a 2♣ overcall of 1 has preemptive power. Often the less power the overcaller has outside the suit the safer it is to make the bid. Here is a case in point, the final board in the Semi-Finals of the Venice Cup where Indonesia led England by a small margin. One rolled the dice while the other chose to go quietly. We know who won, but we ask why.

Dealer: South

Vul: NS





♣ AT7





♣ QJ4





♣ K3





♣ 98652

Dhondy Murniati Senior

Pass 1 2 Pass
Pass Dble All Pass

Nevena Senior overcalled Kristina Murniati’s a limited (Precision) 1 with a gappy 5-card diamond suit doing little damage to the opponents’ auction. Her hand was too good defensively. Suci Dewi knew her side had little hope of making game. Murniati made a balancing double largely on the merit of her singleton diamond, a double that Dewi courageously passed. We say courageously, but what other choices did she have? The 9, the curse of Scotland, might prove an effective card even against a Bulgarian living in England. In the end it was, promoted into a trick sitting behind the T8 with the lead of a heart from the West hand.

The close double paid off 200 in a part score deal, not a great return against the potential loss of 2 doubled and making. However, in the current atmosphere one has to balance dangerously with a double or face the possibility of being stolen blind. At the other table Sally Brock opened an unlimited 1, Nicola Smith responder a feeble and misshapen 1NT, creating a dangerous situation for those who might wish to intervene on a misfit. There was the aggressive Lusje Bojoh sitting in the balancing seat. Decision time. Well, she hadn’t come all the way from Jakarta to end up doubled and vulnerable in a part score deal, so she made the winning call – pass! Imagine that, and with full values for an opening bid! The defence suffered somewhat, and Smith ended up with 9 tricks.

(We note also that France beat Poland on this final board of the semi-finals the d’Orsi Seniors’ Bowl by doubling the indiscreet 2 overcall by the Polish East, while Polish North played in 3♣ off 1. The winning margin was 1 IMP.)


Ray HornbyNovember 6th, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Fleisher should have doubled Grue’s 4S splinter, now they’re in control of the auction & can take their +800 against 5C.

Bob MNovember 6th, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Yeh, well, it would feel good, but I think the general rule is that you bid on with a void in their suit. I say, bid 5 spades, what you hope you can make, and see what happens. You might get doubled.

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