Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, June 21st, 2015

My partner held the following hand: ♠ A-9-8-3, Q-10-9-2, K-10-9-3, ♣ 5 when he heard me open one heart. Was he worth a limit raise, or a jump to game? His choice of inviting game with a simple raise saw me pass with a flat 12-count, but I made five.

Spirit-level, Willoughby, Ohio

The hand is definitely worth a raise to game — you might not always make it, but you’d want to be there facing any normal opening bid. The question is whether instead to make a splinter-raise to four clubs; I might not do that, but a lot depends on how much you play a splinter-bid promises here. Having a way to show a limited splinter-bid, or a constructive raise from one to four is very useful (though by no means essential).

When my opponents lead from the wrong hand at the first trick what are my options?

Straight Arrow, Harrisburg, Pa.

The first thing to do is to call the director if playing at a club. Having said that, the options are to allow the lead to be made and continue play to trick one, with dummy going down and playing fourth to the trick. Or you can either prevent the suit from being played until the true leader has lost the lead, insist on the suit being led, or even ask that the exposed card be played at its first legal opportunity, while allowing the real leader do what he or she likes.

I’m somewhat hazy on the true meaning of the term “Responsive double”. Could you clarify for me whether such doubles are primarily for take-out or penalties or true optional doubles?

Pirate Jack, Bellingham, Wash.

The simplest version of a responsive double comes when your LHO opens the bidding. If your partner doubles, and RHO raises the suit, a double by you would be takeout. Note that should RHO bid a new suit, then double by you would be penalty not take-out. The responsive take-out double of a raised minor normally suggests both majors, while the double of hearts normally denies spades, since you would bid them if you could. In my view a responsive double of spades neither promises nor denies hearts.

I’m not clear about how to act after intervention to my partner’s two club opening. My hand was: ♠ J-10-3-2, Q-6, J-10-8-6-4, ♣ K-9 and I heard my partner open two clubs and the next player bid three clubs. Is it right to bid three diamonds, and if not, what action would you recommend?

Unsuitable, Dodge City, Kan.

I’d recommend a simple style here where double is any weak hand, with a pass showing something like 5-8 points. In your example I’d pass here; but give me the diamond king instead of the club king and I’d bid three diamonds, because I’d feel this might be my last chance to introduce the suit economically.

In a recent column you discussed the suit lengths required for preemptive bidding. Couldn’t you also mention what HIGH CARDS are essential in that suit? Bidding at the two-level at adverse vulnerability surely cannot be considered without suit quality. Even at favorable vulnerability I’d like to hold two top honors — but where do you stand?

Cockney Sparrow, Coppell, Texas

When vulnerable, two of the top three honors is the normal minimum. And yet I would never pass a decent hand with a holding such as six cards to the acejack-ten. Non-vulnerable I like to have two top honors in second seat but in first and third seat I go with what my gut tells me. Bottom line: I don’t like to open suits without two top honors unless they have decent intermediates or some other compensating value.

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ClarksburgJuly 5th, 2015 at 9:55 am

You are in a Matchpoints Pairs game, not VUL against VUL. RHO opens a 15-17 1NT. In second seat you hold:
S J1054 H KQ964 D Q2 C 62.
Your “intervene-over-their-1NT” agreements provide for showing either the Heart suit, or both Majors.
Does your hand have enough playing strength to justify acting?
Is so, would you favour showing just the 5-card Heart suit, or showing both Majors?

Bobby WolffJuly 5th, 2015 at 1:55 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Yes, since, especially at matchpoints, different strategies suggest action rather than acquiescence.

When and especially if, the opponents are somewhat better than average, whatever happens after they are fortunate enough to be dealt a 1NT opening bid against your pair, they will probably average (in spite of your competence) about 70% on that board, since their partnership will usually be in control of bidding to the right contract (usually a slam dunk) and, of course, then playing it to likely best advantage.

Hence, bridge control to the rescue, that being a distortion in the form of a VERY aggressive defensive action, (major suit takeout) and making a percentage stab to glean more than 30% on this board (of course, assuming I am, at least, close to correct). The elephant in the room here is that we only are gambling 30% down and 70% up.

While this hand is pitifully weak there are two offsets present. 1. potential bidder has at least 9 cards in the majors, and 2. hearts, not spades are the long suit. The second plus is important just in case partner is 3-3 in the two suits and, if so, should always favor hearts, regardless of the strength held in those two mentioned suits, (also for opening lead purposes for partner, in case that becomes relevant against a suit contract).

If my major suits were reversed, I would likely pass, but if bidding (ugh!) would choose to only name spades, but unless I felt totally desperate would surely go quietly.

Yes, I am aware that the above should be “X” rated and not suggested when children are present, but, after all, duplicate is a game unto itself, and thus we should be committed to playing it the best we can and merely sitting there for only an average of 30% or so of the matchpoints should not be recommended.

Others may disagree and to that I say, perhaps you are right and I respect your opinion, but I prefer going out with guns blazing, instead of choosing to be wimpy.

Always remember that all forms of bridge, even my revered IMPs, are far from perfect sciences and believe it or not, even on this hand, Dame Fortune (who deals the cards) may yes, be a temptress, but just this once may be favoring us and partner may also be long in a major (hopefully spades) and by our chirping early save the board for our side by either conjuring up a good sacrifice or driving them out of NT which would thrive against a heart lead.

Iain ClimieJuly 5th, 2015 at 10:33 pm

Hi Bobby, Clarksburg,

On this side of the pond weak NTs are widely used over which dbl is penalties from about 15-16 plus balanced. Is there much mileage in doubling a strong NT, though? One alternative approach would be to use 2C as Landy (or maybe 2D if 2C shows a single suited hand) but use Dbl to show a major or minor two suiter. A distiction could be drawn between the relative stengths e.g. Dbl could be used with 14 or more pts and a conventional bid with 9-13 or whatever seems sensible. This avoids partners not knowing what to do if pard could be anywhere from 8 to 16 points.

Any thoughts on this? Feel free to shoot holes in it, of course.



Bobby WolffJuly 5th, 2015 at 11:57 pm

Hi Iain,

A theoretical problem which becomes reality is that if either against strong or weak NT (or both) all bids are conventional, making doubles not for penalty, but for, as you describe, something else, then the opener may feel free to distort his NT opening (especially 3rd chair after, of course, two passes) without fear of immediately being smashed.

Of course, nothing is totally clear but nevertheless the opener has the advantage of knowing that his partner doesn’t have an opening bid and obviously some strictures will be devised (such as never to jump to 3NT, but to, for example, always go through 2 clubs).

I do believe that a double behind all popular NT ranges should basically be for penalties, either a solid suit or matching values and, of course, positional advantage behind the lion’s share of the high cards.

However, having said the above and having had much experience, I do agree with you that two suited intervention should be the order of the day as combining the most effective method of finding a trump suit against a good balanced hand.

Also, FWIW I do not approve of defensive conventions specifically designed to intimidate novice type partnerships while defending against their NT.

No doubt true that doing exactly that will work very well, but at the end of the day, all we have accomplished is giving newbies a reason for distaste without anything resembling bridge being involved nor, of course, played.

Others will violently disagree, referring to winning by legal means, and structuring one’s system to take advantage of everything possible, but instead we all could be much better off to show much respect and TLC to those just learning the game, instead of going to extremes to set death traps for players who start out with a disadvantage of no experience and sooner rather than later will begin to understand that bridge itself is not a game played by ladies and gentlemen, but rather by ruthless
enemies who enjoy lording it over anyone they feel they can squash.

Please excuse the above rant, and certainly ignore the above if it doesn’t begin to apply, which it won’t, in a large majority of cases.

Regarding your suggestions, I certainly have no real objections to your opinions and agree that too wide a strength range (8-16) will cause chaos, resulting in less accuracy with frequent overbidding and underbidding.