Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, September 10th, 2017

I was in fourth seat with: ♠ K-4-3,  8-2,  10-7-4, ♣ K-Q-6-3-2. I heard a weak two hearts on my left, doubled by my partner. I saw no reason to bid more than three clubs, and played there, missing a decent, and making, game in no-trump when my partner had 16 points with all four aces. What should I have done?

An Unsuitable Boy, Provo, Utah

If two no-trump was available as natural, I might have risked that call. The modern expert solution to this problem is to give up a natural two no-trump call, and to use it as a transfer to three clubs (to show a weak hand in clubs or diamonds) while a direct call of three of a minor promises values – a call you would only just be worth. This is an extension of a popular convention called Lebensohl.

I thought I had a difficult call in a team game holding ♠ J-2,  Q-J-9-4,  A-K, ♣ K-10-6-3-2, after hearing a one diamond opening bid to my right. I could not sensibly overcall in either of my suits, could I? And bidding one no-trump seemed out of range and flawed for many other reasons.

Frozen Solid, Portland, Ore.

I agree that the one no-trump call seems wrong, but I suppose you could persuade me otherwise were the spade jack the queen. Then, if doubled, I would probably run to two clubs. As it is, I will pass and hope to get the chance to double spades for take-out at my second turn. If forced to bid, maybe an overcall of one heart might not be the worst bid in the world.

If using fourth suit forcing, do you recommend any differences in the specific case of fourth-suit forcing at the one level after one club – one diamond – one heart? Might this be treated as other than forcing to game? In that case two spades would be game forcing but not necessarily spades.

Seeking Symbiosis, Texarkana, Texas

This is the way that I have been playing fourth suit forcing for many years. The only suggestion I would offer is that in this sequence the one spade call is only forcing for one round, and when followed by minimum action is invitational; but jumps create a game force. Equally responder’s direct jump to two spades specifically denies as many as four spades.

I am dipping my toe into the waters of playing 2/1 game forcing. Where do you stand on playing responder’s bid of one no-trump facing a major-suit opener: forcing, semiforcing or non-forcing?

Baby Steps, Bristol, Va.

I prefer that responder never bids one no-trump with more than a dead minimum opener — say a balanced 13 HCP and no five-card suit. That allows opener to pass with a balanced and dead minimum hand. With as much as 14 HCP, he should introduce a three-card minor. If you play Flannery (so opener never has the problem of what to do with a minimum hand with 4-5 in the majors) you get the best of almost every world.

You said you would elaborate on showing minors in response to a two no-trump opener. I’m holding your feet to the fire, if I may for your idea of the best methods out there.

The Waiting Game, Worcester, Mass.

One possibility is to play three spades as Minor-suit Stayman (now over three no-trump, denying a minor, opener shows a five-card minor with the majors being shortness and 5-5 pattern). This requires you to use Stayman with a one-suiter in a minor. An alternative is to use three spades as a puppet to three no-trump, after which one-suited minors bid the other minor. Calls of four hearts and four spades show the 5-4 minor hands, four no-trump show five-five minors.

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Iain ClimieSeptember 24th, 2017 at 8:35 pm

Hi Bobby,

I think an Unsuitable Boy was ubnlucky. Give partner (say) Axxx Axx Axx Axx and where is the 9th trick coming from? 3-3 spades are surely odds against and the wrong player might win the 3rd one anyway. Clubs might also be 4-1. With Axx A109x Axx Axx, shouldn’t partner bid 2NT over a weak 2H anyway?



bobby wolffSeptember 24th, 2017 at 9:28 pm

Hi Iain,

Most everything regarding that particular hand has already been said. However, I do agree with 2NT holding the four aces and the ten of hearts (and the nine as well, only sweetening that position),

However, I am not a big fan of the modern day expert fondness for the version of Lebensohl mentioned, since it eliminates perhaps the most common natural response to partner’s double of a weak two bid. a simple non-forcing 2NT with perhaps 8-11+ hcps and a stopper.

Of course, two good lessons should be gleaned from the above letter:

1. The value of opening any type of preempt, often forcing worthy opponents to make risky decisions, a certain percentage of which, will undoubtedly, and no matter how proficient they are, be unfavorable to them.

2. The undervaluation of aces, one of its advantages, as here, being a sure trick when they are vitally needed as well as sure entries from the beginning when they also serve that oft-time necessity.

slarSeptember 25th, 2017 at 2:22 am

It is unclear to me why Unsuitable Boy’s partner didn’t overcall 2NT. They still might not find game, but I don’t see how doubling is the answer with that hand.

Bobby WolffSeptember 25th, 2017 at 1:39 pm

Hi Slar,

While I definitely do not disagree with your overall view, there are plenty of hands where a suit contract succeeds and by several more tricks when the stronger defensive hand opts to double rather than choose 2NT.

When looking at only Axx or worse Ax in the weak two bidder’s suit it oft times works considerably better to: 1. double first, a more favorable way to arrive at a trump contract and 2. when partner has the queen of the weak two bidder suit (or even J10x), it is usually a full trick better and often allows a game to be made instead of coming up short, when partner become declarer.

Like my answer above which goes deeper into it, playing consistent bridge involves itself with sometimes choosing wrong even though a decent bid is made (revolving around bidding immediate NT or instead, merely doubling for takeout).

Aces are, of course, quite valuable in both NT and I would guess, even more valuable, when an alternate good suit game contract becomes available (especially when partner of the ace is relatively short in the opponent’s suit).

The lesson to be learned is to be aggressive when given the chance to preempt opponents, and, by experience, understand the pros and cons of choosing between bidding NT oneself or instead, deciding to venture a take out double.