Bob Mackinnon

The Least Lie

During my first year of duplicate I opened 1 on a hand containing AQ doubleton and xxx. When the hand was over I was castigated by my LHO for not opening 1. It appeared he had given up an overtrick on a pseudo-squeeze. I have always felt that one should prefer to bid where the points are, and had no deceptive agenda in mind, in fact, I thought I was being informative. If I had deception in mind I would have opened 1 on the worthless suit hoping to discourage a diamond attack. Certainly there was no intention of playing in a diamond contract and it would be wrong to suggest there was. I was surprised that the rules required such an action rather than discourage it. This simple example shows the value placed on suit length without regard to suit strength.

Preempts these days hardly conform to any rules. During the 2014 Reisinger Final against Levin-Weinstein, Andrew Gromov tied the record for the worst 6-card suit opened at the 3-level in first seat. He opened 3 on: 765432 7 54 984. Not to be outdone in the record-tying department, his partner, Aleksander Dubinin, raised on AKQJ matching the previous best 4-card raise to game. In the subsequent confusion the Russians defeated their opponents’ 5 contract by 3 tricks. It would be remiss of me not to mention that Gromov-Dubinin would have won the board even if they had passed throughout.  Here is the full deal with the auction at the other table.

All Pass

Meckstroth unimaginatively passed initially. Rodwell eventually doubled 4 by Grzegorz Narkiewicz and gave up 590 to the opposition. The loss was only 1 board at BAM scoring. Meckstroth does what Meckstroth does, but how should we approach a similar situation? Larry Cohen’s guidelines regarding total tricks suggest a player in doubt should bid 4 over 4. With respect to total trumps East might expect 18 in the form of 10 spades and 8 hearts. The Law requires a reasonable balance of HCPs, which we do have here, 17 versus 23, but the East hand is pretty much useless on defence. It is reasonable for a strong hand to double expecting partner not be without an entry, otherwise one will not be doubling enough. Rodwell’s double should not mean, ‘leave it in, I’ve got them down in my own hand.’ So Meckstroth’s pass indicates he was trusting his partner more than his opponents, hard to do but always the right approach. With no sign of an entry in the East hand Rodwell has to develop tricks entirely from his own hand. Even with BAM scoring passing the double is rather too strong a position to take when your partner isn’t of the caliber of Eric Rodwell, and even then …..

Let’s turn our attention to Meckstroth’s 2 bid. When I emulate the experts and bid on nothing, it usually comes back to haunt me. Partner is more likely to be fooled than are the opponents. After all, partners are supposed to trust one another whereas the opponents are rightfully suspicious. Beyond that, the opponents can guess more easily that you have nothing, and may be encouraged to bid on to their best contract, and play it correctly to boot given the information you have given them free of charge. If partner forces you to bid, that’s different. So I think over 1 Meckstroth should either have passed, giving up the hand early, or bid 4 on the assumed 10-card fit. It is of interest to note that 5 should make double dummy (Deep Finesse) so the fact that Levin was defeated by 3 tricks points to the fact that the insane overbid is often more effective than the reasonable wait-and-see approach. It is always hard to gauge the depth of insanity.

Bidding Topless Suits
Those who preempt or overcall on topless suits do leave clues, which relate primarily to the length of the suit bid. The deception in the clue lies in the lower than average high-card content within the suit. Usually length and strength go together, so disjointedness may steer the opponents in the wrong direction, the deception being greatest when the missing honours are split between defenders. It doesn’t work so well if one opponent is well stocked, so can see through the deception.

Last month at my club South, nonvul vs vul, opened 2 on JT9875 84 954 K9. My partner, West, bravely passed on AK843 J72 3 AQ32, and when I made a balancing double on 0=4=5=4 shape with 9 HCP, he had 2 chances for a good score: pass for penalty (500) or bid 3NT (600). John greedily chose to play the hand in 3NT. North led the Q from Q2. Declarer held up on the first lead and won the second. After a lead to the dummy’s KJT87, winning the J, he was able to count the hand and manufacture an endplay against North to yield the 9th trick. With no major fit, most EW pairs played undisturbed in a club partial.

The preemptor had deception in mind with no redeeming feature in hand. One can hardly expect to shut out the others at the table with such flimsy values. A good preempt presents the opposition with a losing option, but here there wasn’t one.

Opening Very Light
The ACBL allows very light opening bids in a suit provided a prior announcement is made. This warning is ineffective as most opening bids will be normal. It’s like the boy crying, ‘Wolf’. Let’s just assume that everyone opens light upon occasion.

Trouble arises if one assumes the HCP content is directly related to the playing potential of the hand. The HCP descriptor takes on the role of an evaluator. This is a common assumption foisted on beginners, some of whom never learn better. If the official 2/1 rule is simply that an opening bid of 1 promises at least 5 hearts and at least 10 HCP, as the newer player is led to believe, then the opening bid on less is a ‘lie’, but it is not outside the law and it makes bridge sense. So the ‘lie’ is not even a fib: it is a systemic flaw.

There are many ways to evaluate a hand that go beyond the simple point count. Taking into account the shape of the hand, a player is allowed to add points because of distribution, so a sound 1 bid may contain less than 10 HCP. In The Joy of Bridge by Audrey Grant and Eric Rodwell, the authors suggest adding 5 points for an 8-card suit, so the opening bid of 1 may legitimately contain a mere 8 HCP yielding the required 13 ‘points’. Only the bidder knows how much he owes to shape and how much to high-card strength.

Let’s consider a hand that appeared in the Ask Jerry column of the August 2014 ACBL Bulletin. Presumably Helms’ answers to questions from ‘newer players’ meet with ACBL approval. The hand was AJ 98765432 5 A7, and the question was, ‘what would you bid as dealer?’ Helms recommended opening 1 as ‘the least lie’. Certainly a 6-loser has playing potential. With regard to defensive values, Helms believes that the presence of two aces is sufficient defence for an opening bid at the one level. It is a sad situation indeed when a new player is told it is in his best interest to ‘lie’.

The offense to defence ratio is not the main consideration here: it’s the effect on an opponents’ thinking. For ‘newer players’ the least lie with the above hand is 3. This hand wouldn’t be much of a surprise to an inexperienced opponent when it is eventually revealed. The poor quality of the suit argues for treating it as a 7-carder. Bidding and play can follow normal procedures, and decisions will have a reasinable basis to work from. Of course, 3 is not the most effective bid for the opening side, because 1 gives a better chance of getting to slam. On the other hand, if partner has a poor hand, the opponents may be confused during both the bidding and the play. The opponents will not be able to come to a well-reasoned solution based on probabilities, luck will be the determining factor, and it is most likely to benefit the opening bidder. One concludes that by ‘the least lie’, 2/1 teachers actually mean, ‘the most effective lie’ within the context of the system as it has been taught to beginners. So why not start by teaching truthfully from the start?

The Effect of Mysterious Bidding
Consider the classic ending of an Agatha Christie mystery. Hercule Poirot has gathered the suspects in the library and is about to reveal the identity of the killer of the nasty millionaire with a shady past. ‘I am baffled; it appears none of you did it,’ he reveals, ‘It may have been a mysterious contract killer who mistakenly came to the wrong address.’ Agatha would get howls of protest from her fans; the out-of-the-blue ending has made a mockery of the reader’s attempt to sift the truth out of the evidence and overcome the false clues provided. Well, the same applies to playing a hand of bridge. There has to be a chance of getting it right by thinking it through, otherwise the whole exercise becomes a farce. If the ending comes by chance after one has been misled all along the way, the work of the little grey cells has been wasted entirely. ‘No, no, no, mes amis, it was suicide made to look like murder.’ Bridge players are prepared to believe that for they have seen it often enough with their own eyes.

Better Than 50%
A slam on a finesse is condemned by senior experts, especially in a matchpoint game, but some finesses are better than 50%.  As Terrance Reese has noted, there is usually a clue.

All Pass

John Miller opened a potent 1 (5 losers, 4 controls) and I had an old-fashioned 4-card raise, 12+ – 15 HCP. John asked for controls in the minors, and I showed my 5. He did not hesitate to bid the slam. It is always a temptation to bid a slam merely to celebrate having a convention others haven’t got, but that wasn’t the reason here. Over 3NT South passed quickly before John remembered that 3NT was a conventional raise.  It had never arisen before. Belatedly he alerted, and South noted she could take back her pass. John agreed, and she thought some time before passing again. So who would you think holds the A? It was unlucky I didn’t have another queen lurking in the background, but the doubleton spade was a hidden chance that worked as well.

Another factor that enters the calculation is that playing in 4 making 12 tricks was a below average score, because 2 players were doubled in that contract. So you don’t need a full 50% chance to bid slam. What you need is a method that convinces an opponent that you are over your head in 4. Maybe some opened a putrid 3 and were raised to 4 – that could do it.


LarryMarch 4th, 2015 at 1:38 pm

Who has the Q of diamonds?

bob mMarch 4th, 2015 at 10:43 pm

Sorry, the queen is in the South instead of the ace.

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