Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, January 1st, 2012

In a duplicate pairs a player opened two diamonds, Flannery, with long diamonds. His convention card said he was playing Flannery, and his partner jumped to four hearts, down two, but we could have made four spades. The Director said there were no grounds for adjustment — but I felt robbed.

Side-Swiped, Winston-Salem, N.C.

The Director presumably established that the pair WAS playing Flannery and your opponent simply misbid, rather than that his partner mis-explained the position. I agreethat you were robbed, but in a sense you were simply unlucky and not entitled to an adjustment. I'd like to change the rules to punish pairs for forgetting their complex methods. Currently they can do so with impunity.

We play Cappelletti against the opponents' no-trump, whereby two clubs shows a one-suiter, two diamonds shows the majors, and bids of the majors show that suit plus a minor. What should I have done after a no-trump opening on my right when I held ♠ A-7-3,  K-Q-9-4,  Q, ♣ A-J-9-5-4? Non-Cappelletti users simply bid two clubs, making three, as partner had five clubs to the king and out.

In the Hole, Charlottesville, Va.

Would it really upset you to bid two hearts, pretending you had hearts and clubs? (Yes, I know the hearts should be a five-carder, but that is a technicality.) I might do that with our side not vulnerable. Otherwise, pass and hope it is their hand, or that we go for 200 if we bid.

My regular foursome has been trying to learn the finer points of Standard American. Is an opening call of two clubs the only demand bid?

Newby, Vancouver, Wash.

If you use the term to mean that a demand bid cannot be passed, yes, a two-club opening is forcing and the only forcing opening bid. Equally, if you play strong twos, they are also forcing for one round. The negative response to a strong two is two no-trump, and if opener rebids his suit, that can be passed. Equally, if responder makes a negative and then gives preference to his partner at the three-level, this should also be nonforcing.

I held ♠ K-3,  K-10-9-4-3,  K-5, ♣ Q-10-4-2, and when my partner opened one spade, I did not think I had enough to force to game. I bid one no-trump (the forcing no-trump), and when my partner rebid two clubs, I felt stuck. Raising clubs might put us in a 4-3 fit, bidding hearts might suggest a weaker hand and better suit, while two no-trump looked ill-directed. What should I have done?

High Roller, Woodland Hills, Calif.

I'd guess to bid two no-trump now. But here are two thoughts: a slight overbid of two hearts at your first turn saves these problems — a small price to pay. Second, a convention called Bart, whereby in this action two diamonds is artificial, showing hearts or a good hand, would have helped. You can find out more here.

I've heard the adage "The five-level belongs to the opponents." Is that valid and useful? Also, "Always bid four spades over four hearts." Is this generally good advice?

Hartebeest, Clarksburg, Ontario

Both pieces of advice are well meaning…but not 100 percent reliable. Too often you find you've pushed the opponents once and that's enough, or you have no safety yourself at the five-level…but not always, alas! As to the second piece of advice, again it is a suggestion, not a command. When both sides have a pronounced fit, bidding on tends to make sense, but does not come with a guarantee.

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Jeff SJanuary 15th, 2012 at 3:44 pm

It is not often that I disagree with one of your answers and when I do, I usually figure I am probably wrong. But you made a comment in your first answer about punishing pairs for forgetting their methods. I think the trade-off would be to remove some of the creativity from the bidding process which would be a bad thing.

For example, in the next question, you suggest a 2-heart response even though it is not strictly in accordance with method. That gives us two extremes, one clearly a misbid, the second a slight stretching of method that clearly should be allowed. It seems to be that somewhere in-between, you would introduce to players the fear that a creative bid will be punished (not to mention asking TD’s to be mind-readers in some cases).

In the example in the first question, it ended up working out well for the misbidding team, but that would seem to be the rare exception. Most times a drastic misbid like the one given would lead to a catastrophe thus bringing its own punishment.

On the other hand, I remember a wonderful hand you presented in the not-too-distant past where Zia Mahmood threw in a completely meaningless club bid simply to mislead his opponents (he already knew it was their hand and they would not stop bidding). It worked out spectacularly as the opponents would up in NT rather than a cold contract and Zia was able to run spades at the very start of the hand. You described it a “serendipitous” bid, but whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t in accordance with partnership methods.

I think the game would lose a lot if such bids could be punished or there was even a fear they could be. I’ve always believed it is all right to break method to mislead your opponents – as long as you are also misleading your partner. And if the trade-off is that the occasional pure misbid ends up working out well for the offender, is that too big a price to pay?

As always, thank you for your time and for your always-stimulating and entertaining column.

JaneJanuary 15th, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Hi Bobby,

I find it frustrating when well established partnerships seem to “forget” their usual conventions. Yes, I know we are all human and memories fade, especially with some of the lessor used conventions. Even the best players (and the rest of us who are not the best) truly do forget once in awhile, but a few weeks ago, one member of an established partnership decided on a hand against us that she did not like one of the conventions she and her partner were playing. She bid a hand completely different that their agreed upon method. She admitted this after the hand had been played. Her partner did describe the bid as he thought they were playing it, and we did ask, but she misbid twice. Nothing he could do, I know.

We called the director, but since the hand was already played, he ruled her bid a psych. I thought it was interesting that she admitted her bidding intention freely, and I don’t think she even viewed it as a psych. The result stood, a zero for us. Was not the first zero I ever got, and sure won’t be the last, but we did not deserve this one.

If players choose to alter bids by a point or two, or the shape of a hand by a card to stay in an auction, these should be considered creative calls, and part of the game. We fill out convention cards for a reason however, so if you don’t like a system, take it off and play something different. In my humble opinion, gross distortions are not creative calls, they are psychs. As long as psychs are allowed by the ACBL, they will stay part of the game and can become a catch all for all kinds of situations. Maybe this is why psychs are allowed??

Thanks in advance.

Bobby WolffJanuary 16th, 2012 at 4:38 pm

Hi Jeff S,

You are discussing a subject which needs more work from our bridge administrators rather than just a bandaid applied and a hope that it goes away.

While I agree wholeheartedly with your example of Zia’s psychic bid (a bid made intentionally, without partner’s nor, of course, the opponents knowledge) with the specific intent of throwing up a smoke screen and hoping they bite for it and lose mightily in the process. All perfectly legal and above aboard and part of contract bridge history ever since its inception perhaps 80+ years ago.

Also, through the relatively recent years (the last half century) many conventions have been devised for better bidding, almost always by the pair who have the lions share of the high cards (and distribution) with the purpose of more constructive bidding which would allow for better contracts, and, if so, I also agree with you that in the event that they are successful or that, even if they forget and, for example, stay out of a normal slam because of the forget, but because of very bad breaks the slam goes set, that is all part of the game and the actual result should, of course, be honored. with their opponents only subject to bad luck and certainly not a valid appeal to have the score changed to reflect what they might think of as equity.

However, from the discussion of the above let us digress to what I call poison gas labs wherein, usually not vulnerable (but not always) certain pairs devise certain conventions, usually with very poor hands which show certain specific suits, but in actuality sometimes (more often than anyone could suspect) one or the other partner forget what suits they happen to be and because of the vulnerability and partly because of their opponents normal system, make it very difficult (impossible) for their opponents to overcome the forgotten miss explained convention.

Last Tuesday at the bridge club, my wife Judy opened 1 club, my RHO overcalled 1NT showing a balanced hand with only 10-12 HCPS. I, holding s. AJ, h. AJ10xxx, c. J10x, c.xx doubled for penalties, my LHO volunteered 2 hearts, alerted by RHO as showing hearts and spades. After Judy passed, RHO bid 2 spades showing a presumed preference. I then suspected that since lefty had at least 4 hearts that my better bid would be 2NT wherein it went all pass, since, of course, if I would have bid 3 hearts it would have been construed as a cue bid asking partner to bid something intelligent. based specifically on what her hand happened to be. (K10x, KQxx, Ax, xxxx)

LHO’s hand happened to be s. xxxxx, h. x, d. xxx, c. Axxx and he had forgotten his conventions. Their convention is of course, what is called a home brew, one which is specifically determined by them and played by very few others, if any. They are normally a very ethical pair and meant no harm, but what they did was throw tacks in the highway, making it impossible for their opponents to intelligently bid their hands causing what is known as convention disruption (CD), playing a convention which, if forgotten, usually, perhaps 80%+ of the time results in their stronger opponents (much better hands) will not be able to overcome their opponents forgotten convention (either in the bidding or the play, or both). When these poison gas labs start turning up more and more often, our great game will suffer, making the rascals causing it, ones which we can do without or at the very least, until they start learning what their own conventions mean.

Please understand that bridge, even though now much older, is still a relatively young game and needs a strong administrative division dedicated to looking out for what is best for the future and allowing intentional poison gas labs to profitably exist is, at least in my opinion, not in our game’s best interest.

Summing up, psychic bidding is very much a part of both bridge’s past and bridge’s future wherein at least some risk is taken by the perpetrators and it is done without benefit of previous discussion, but intentional forgets of a partnership convention causing CD needs to be penalized out of existence or else IMHO we, as supposedly looking out for our game’s best interests, are simply NOT doing our job.

Thanks for giving me a chance to discuss this sensitive subject.

Bobby WolffJanuary 16th, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Hi again Jeff S,

Apology time for failing to totally clarify what I think to be the future process to right this listing ship.

First, the victims of the unintended bridge crime noted above, would receive only an Average score on the ill fated board described (or possibly a contrived score of the percentage score of their overall game that session, no more than that, particularly so since Judy, my partner, could have doubled two hearts for penalty, but even if that would not have been possible, no more than what I suggested above. This NEEDS to be done to protect the field against windfalls to which the offended pair did nothing to deserve more than the above.

Second, and most important, the system forgetters should receive a zero, not to accuse them of intentionally wrongdoing (who knows, but in this case and with this partnership, just not the case) but to remind them of their responsibilities to the game and, while it is OK to construct private conventions, which can be easily explained, but it is not OK and totally disruptive to the game to not be able to explain correctly the convention itself, causing inappropriate havoc to rule and worse, for bridge, during this hand, to cease to being a playable game.

Bobby WolffJanuary 16th, 2012 at 6:10 pm

Hi Jane,

Thanks for your strictly on point discussion of an actual happening.

No, your opponents action should not be called a psychic bid since, by their admission, it should not be so called. It should be called convention disruption (CD as described above in my response to Jeff S.).

Thus your partnership should be protected by at least an average board (depending on the special circumstances) and their partnership should be punished to the tune of a zero on that board.

From a moral standpoint, sure bridge is a very competitive game, but none of us have the right to let our emotions destroy the enjoyment (not to mention the score) of our opponents and by so doing, discipline in the way of punishment should be used to try and lessen its occurrence.

Bridge education is the answer and while it has taken much time and effort on the part of governments to arrive at judicial decisions which promote equity and lessen transgressions, we, in the bridge world, are subject to the horrible lethargy of our governing authorities who are just not doing their jobs Let us and whoever has the time and fortitude to join this crusade try and accomplish this important way to make our ever developing, improving game better and better.

Thanks for letting us know what happened. Let’s hope that your experience will lead to increased scrutiny to right the wrongs which now exist.