Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, October 12th, 2014

If you pass in first seat, when should you double an opening bid to your right? If fourth hand opens a minor, should you strain to come back into the auction with a maximum pass?

Comeback Kid, Memphis, Tenn.

Beginners (and even some experienced players) frequently err here by entering the auction unnecessarily, doubling with off-shape hands to show their points. If your partner passes in third seat, especially when nonvulnerable, why would you come into an auction where you know you are outgunned? Only double with classical shape, not just the excuse of "11 points, partner!"

As West I held ♠ A-K-10-7-2,  —,  A-5, ♣ K-J-10-8-7-3. I opened one club with nobody vulnerable, intending to bid spades twice. My RHO over-called one heart, and my partner bid two clubs, natural and nonforcing. My RHO jumped to four hearts. What should my next bid be?

Much the Miller, East Brunswick, N.J.

I'd bid five spades over four hearts, and if they sacrifice in six hearts I would make a forcing pass. A call of four spades by me may never be passed out, but that doesn't get my slam-going values across. Freak deals don't help you judge all that much in real life, but here you should appreciate that this hand rates to offer excellent play for a black-suit slam facing as little as four clubs to the ace.

Should you use Stayman in response to a one-no-trump or two-no-trump opening whenever you have a four-card major and the values for game? Or should you reserve it for use only on unbalanced hands?

Question Mark, Portland, Ore.

It is true that when you are balanced with surplus values for game and a poor four-card major, you might consider playing in no-trump, not a suit. Similarly, with secondary honors in your short suits, there may be no value in taking a ruff, because your holding may solidify partner there. Otherwise, Stayman tends to be the percentage action.

I opened one spade in second seat with ♠ A-Q-8-7-3,  K-5,  Q-9-8-5, ♣ K-J, feeling that my 5-4 shape was unsuitable for opening one no-trump. After a two-club overcall to my left, my partner raised to two spades and RHO joined in with three clubs. How would you rate my options of passing, bidding three diamonds, or three spades?

Sail Away, Bellingham, Wash.

Three diamonds is a game-try for spades — your badly placed club honors make you just a little short of the values for that. Your slight extra distribution makes bidding three spades as a purely competitive maneuver logical enough, though. I think most experts would take the push here — and very few would open one no-trump. Try to avoid taking that action with most 5-4-2-2 patterns and decent suits, especially with a long major.

Given that it is traditional to play a response of four no-trump to an opening no-trump call as quantitative, what is the consensus on using Stayman, then bidding four no-trump over a major-suit response? If that is quantitative, how do you agree on partner's suit and ask for aces?

Reach for the Stars, Willoughby, Ohio

If you use four clubs as Gerber after finding a major opposite, a direct four-no-trump call remains quantitative. A call of three of the OTHER major by responder after Stayman can sensibly be subverted for use as a balanced artificial slam-try, agreeing partner's suit. That allows a subsequent call of four no-trump to be Keycard Blackwood. Direct new-suit jumps remain splinters agreeing partner's suit.

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ClarksburgOctober 26th, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Further to Sail Away’s question:
Your answer today matches advice you’ve given in some previous columns, i.e. hands with 5-4 suits will normally play better in a suit.
Suppose one holds a 6332 hand (six-card minor) , with enough for a 15-17 1NT, but not really enough to plan a jump rebid of the minor.
Is it OK (better?) to open it 1NT?

Bobby WolffOctober 26th, 2014 at 3:47 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

First, I think it worth responding that what you are discussing is ultra important in making a winner out of a good (natural) player, instead of that good player wondering why he (or she) doesn’t get better results.

Second, regarding Sail Away’s first query, assuming partner only has a 3 card spade raise (probably, but not necessarily, more likely than more), after opening 1NT the declarer will likely wind up playing in NT instead of spades, with the result not being as kind to him as he would like. At least to me, this specific example explains why, with 5-4 distribution, the hand, in the absence of very strong doubletons and a relatively weak 5 card major, percentage wise I think it calls for a major suit opening.

Second, and I think also important, when holding a random 6322 hand (six-card minor), do not ever do so with 17 HCPs or even 16 when the 6 card suit is as good as AQJxxx or better but rather restrict those hands to no more than 15 HCPs or better 14.

Obviously the reason being that the hand becomes too strong and opposite a balanced 8 count would, more often than many might think, and, if done, normally miss a good 3NT.

DO NOT (shouting) ever raise a 1NT opening to 2 (or, with game in mind, even normally use
Stayman) with only 8 HCP’s, especially in matchpoints, because playing 1NT (a 7 trick contract) instead of 2NT often becomes critical, especially against good defenders.

Our game, especially matchpoints, caters to buying part score contracts at the lowest possible level since the vagaries of winning and losing finesses or suit splits cries out for plus scores rather than futile game tries since in matchpoints there is really little premium in the amount of gain, but rather the frequency of going plus. In IMPs or rubber bridge (especially against mediocre to worse defenders) there should be a different strategy since the amount of gain becomes paramount, but still the above rules for NT bidding should still apply.

Yes, otherwise, it is always better percentage wise to open 1NT, when applicable, so partner will know your approximate value plus, of course, being balanced, one’s hand, not necessarily, one’s mind.

Iain ClimieOctober 26th, 2014 at 9:57 pm

Hi Bobby,

A stray thought on raising 1NT to 2NT (or not). Given a hand of xx xxx xx AKJxxx it strikes me that raising to 3N or settling for 3C might be sensible, but 2N is probably not, unless oppo can take 5 (and only 5) tricks quickly. If the clubs run, with lard holding CQ or xxx(x) your points are working overtime and 3N rolls in. If clubs don’t produce plenty of tricks, dummy may be dead and 7 tricks the limit.

Is this reasonably sound, or would you consider 2N on this sort of hand?



Bobby WolffOctober 26th, 2014 at 10:45 pm

Hi Iain,

I agree that raising 1NT to 2 is the only action I would never consider. In truth, like you, and almost all bridge players I know, would simply chirp 3NT and await developments. My estimate is that 3NT will make about 65% of the time, perhaps 45% legitimately and another 20% because of the wrong opening lead.

To go even further and, of course depending on both the vulnerability (especially the opponents) to give a NV LHO a chance to rain on your partnership parade and make a 3 level overcall, therein getting the killing lead for his side, would (should) bring even more shame to a 2NT raise.

If the above is not enough evidence for my choice, I would also bid 3NT over a weak NT (12-14) by partner. Bid em high and sometimes sleep in the streets, but if so, it might be preparatory to picking up the trophy or, often as good, stuffing one’s wallet.

slarOctober 27th, 2014 at 5:01 pm

Interesting, on Saturday night I got a good score when I opened 1NT with Jx/Qx/AKJ/AQTxxx. Partner had a Staymanish 7-count and there were a lot of 3NT-1s on the board. I surprised my opponents with my club length and they gave me +180 (though any plus score was well above average).

Bobby WolffOctober 27th, 2014 at 7:05 pm

Hi Slar,

Good show with your +180 while others are going down in a NT game. However, as I have said often (and recently) even 16 HCP’s, particularly so when the 6 card suit is sturdy (as I would regard this one), is too strong for a 1NT opening, and thus would rather open the minor with the intention of rebidding 2NT ( or sometimes preferring 3 of the same minor) e.g. s. Qx, h. KQx, d. Kx, c. AQJxxx over partner’s 1 heart response, but, of course 2NT over 1 spade or 1 diamond.

You scored well since the normal defense defeated 3NT, but what if it hadn’t? One swallow does not a summer make (or spring either). Granted, playing matchpoints makes for more NT contracts, part score or game, so it is more acceptable to me than IMPs where we want to be in as many games as all the other competitive pairs.