Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, July 7th, 2013

Is a splinter raise a slam-try, or simply a promise of game-going values? For example, after opening one spade and hearing a four-club response, I did not know whether to sign off, cooperate, or drive to slam, holding ♠ K-Q-7-5-4,  A-Q-5-4,  10-2, ♣ A-4. What is your opinion?

Jack Reacher, New Smyrna Beach, Fla.

In my view, responder's splinter to an opening bid does not guarantee slam interest, just the values for game. Opener tends to cooperate only with working cards, where the splinter has improved his hand. Here you are clearly worth one effort of four hearts, intending to pass your partner's sign-off in four spades. Consider that a bare hand with the spade ace, heart king and diamond ace, plus the promised singleton club, makes slam very playable.

I think most can agree on what the Jacoby Transfer's purpose is. Most use this only for an indication of a five-card suit by the responder, but why wouldn't it be just as useful for responder to use transfers to show a four-card suit? I want to try this convention, but my partner won't go along with it. I admit that I surely must be overlooking something, or others would be using it!

Pathfinder , Riverside, Calif.

The simple answer is to use Stayman to find a 4-4 fit and use transfers to show five. There ARE transfer methods to show four or five, which have the merit of concealing declarer's shape, but you then get into considerable complexity, so I'd advise against them.

This link will show you what I mean.

Playing duplicate at favorable vulnerability, I held:♠ J-9-4,  10-9-3,  Q-J-9, ♣ A-Q-7-4. My LHO opened three diamonds, my partner doubled, and I had to choose between a call of four or five clubs, a pass, or the bid of three no-trump. My partner told me I should have passed, but I felt that was too much of a gamble. What do you think?

No Quitter, Kingston, Ontario

I agree with you. Bidding three no-trump certainly has a lot to recommend it. You have the diamonds stopped. If your RHO has only one diamond, the defense will not be able to get that suit going. Even if the defense can set up diamonds and be in position to run the suit, you may still take nine tricks before they can get five.

With ♠ A-J-4,  K-Q-8-7-4,  J-7-2, ♣ A-J, my partner opened one no-trump. I held a 3-4-1-5 seven-count, with the diamond ace and five clubs to the K-10-9. I transferred to clubs and played there, making five — for a bottom. Everybody else was in hearts. Should my partner have opened one heart? Should I have used Stayman in response? I didn't know what to do over a response of two spades.

Raise the Roof, Montreal, Canada

Your partner made the right call in Standard American. A 16-count would be stuck for a rebid after opening one heart. YOU were wrong, though. You could have used Stayman and followed up with two no-trump over a two-diamond response, but passing one no-trump looks normal. NEVER transfer into a minor facing a strong no-trump with a weak hand and only a five-carder. Switch partner's diamonds and hearts to see why bidding is so likely to be wrong.

How far would you go here, when your LHO has opened one heart and your partner overcalls one no-trump? My hand was ♠ Q-4,  9-4,  A-Q-9-7-5, ♣ 6-4-3-2, and I simply bid three no-trump. We went down on a spade lead when my partner had only three spades to the jack and 15 points, but he said I should have simply invited game.

Tipping Point, St Louis, Mo.

Your decision to drive to game facing a no-trump overcall seems the normal action to me. Remember, it is not mandatory to overcall one no-trump on all 15-counts. The range for the bid is closer to 16-18 in my book, particularly when vulnerable. With all your values in your long suit, you might make game facing quite limited values.

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ClarksburgJuly 21st, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Mr. Wolff,
Further to the question about Splinters…here’s a supplementary about finding great fits and backing off with known duplication…

If in JR’s hand we change the Club Ace to be the Diamond Ace does that make slam a very high probability if not a virtual certainty?
And, should we always avoid Splintering with a singleton Ace? (because that’s duplication; i.e. the Ace would be better “working” in another suit).

Bobby WolffJuly 21st, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Your comments and queries are right on, but not totally complete.

A splinter to 4 of a minor, by definition, is a slam try of at least some degree, otherwise since we are forced to game by its initial level, what then would be the difference between bidding 4 of a minor (or any 4 level splinter except those who play a 3 level splinter for only determining part score or game) and merely a jump to game which is definitely not a slam try, but only a preemptive jump to the 4 level in the trump suit, probably hoping to make it, but at the same time causing more difficulty to the opponents for merely entering the bidding.

The two closest to perfect holdings for your partner’s splinter jump would be Axxx, and xxxx together with an ample supply of trump (such as 6 in a major or at least 5 in a minor).

As you so rightly mention, either of the above holdings show a minimum of duplication with, in actuality a home for at least 3 of your losers with merely a flick of using your partner’s announced trump length to insure it.

In JR’s above example, whether partner’s jump was in clubs or diamonds, would, in effect only take care of 1 loser (unless void in diamonds), rather than 3.

Because of that, our suggestion is that we will cooperate on a slam effort, by cue bidding the ace of hearts, but will respect partner’s then return to 4 spades (the trump suit) as not having enough “meat” between the two partnership hands to proceed further.

Taking care of as many of what seemed to be losers is what “splinter” bidding is all about and after some experience with it, added to the power of total trumps between the two hands, is the important gauge in evaluating upwards.

Finally, remember when Mr. Goren (or in actuality Mr. Work) was creating his point count methods (perhaps 75+ years ago) he awarded points for singletons and more so for voids. When those are combined with “big” trump fits, instead of 33 points generally agreed on by being in the slam zone, as few as the middle 20’s, are sometimes enough.

Bidding splinters would probably be my choice as the greatest single bidding invention in the last 50+ years (together with negative doubles and other gimmicks which save bidding room) and, if utilized properly (with the proper experience of doing so), improve the judgment involved by bounds and leaps.

Much thanks for your always provocative questions and topics.

Bobby WolffJuly 21st, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Hi again Clarksburg,

Yes, a singleton ace, is nowhere near as valuable as a low singleton since the value of that ace, when it is in another suit can be used much more often to increase whatever values partner has in that suit (e.g. K or QJ or even J109 not to mention KQ together with length which may create many immediate tricks).

Sorry for neglecting your final important note.

Iain ClimieJuly 21st, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Hi Bobby,

One point about “Raise the Roof’s” query. He had a 3-4-1-5 7 count and partner opened a 15-17 1NT. He was concerned about a 2S reply – but he could always pass it. 4-3 fits with a combined 22-24 count are hardly the world’s worst. If partner bids 2D, you now have to bid 2N with only a 7 count or bid 3C (if it is NF) hoping partner doesn’t have only two.

If you want to avoid such problems, passing 1N is a possibility or not opening 1N with a 5 card major (or only a very poor one) – although this is more and more common nowadays. I was interested to see Andrew Robson in a recent article suggesting that 4-3 fits often pay a trick better than 1N and suggesting bidding 2C on a 4-4-3-2 moderate hand then 2H over 2D relying on partner to move it to 2S with 3-2-4-4 or 3-2-5-3 (although probably after a weak NT over here). This could result in playing in 2S rather than 2H with a 4-3 instead of 5-2 or even 6-2 spade fit, so I was a bit dubious about it, and not just because I do open 2-2-4-5 weak no trumps every so often. As I said apologetically to one partner last week, I was trying to keep them out of a major suit contract. As he played 2S instead , it didn’t quite work as planned. Any thoughts on Andrew’s idea, though?



Bobby WolffJuly 21st, 2013 at 8:12 pm

Hi Iain,

Of all the world’s great players, Andy Robson is one I greatly respect, not only for his bridge, but for his attitude and advice about a wide variety of subjects.

I agree with your approach on all your above handling of various distributions, more applicable to strong NT openings, but also OK opposite weak ones.

In the long run, I think many of what is on the table is close in what to do, but your answers are all, at the very least, on the right track.