Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

Do you consider the following hand to be worth an opening bid? Would you consider pre-empting with it? With no one vulnerable, you are in first seat, holding ♠ K-7,  10-9-4,  Q-3, ♣ K-Q-10-5-4-2.

One Toe in the Water, White Plains, N.Y.

I do not feel strongly about whether to pass or to pre-empt to three clubs with this hand — your choice might depend on partnership style rather than anything else. Opening one club is a bit rich for me, but give me the diamond king instead of the queen, and you would tempt me to act.

My partner and I had a disagreement about an unopposed sequence starting one diamond – one spade – three hearts. What does the last call in that sequence mean?

Fit for Nothing, Union City, Tenn.

It was once customary to use this call to show 5-6 distribution. But nowadays a reverse to two hearts by opener is effectively played as forcing, so you do not need a jump in the same suit to show the same hand-type. The three-heart bid can therefore be reserved as a splinter bid, showing four-card spade support with short hearts. Some would define it as forcing only as far as three spades.

After an unopposed auction I was on lead against one no-trump, holding ♠ A-10-7-4,  Q-4-3,  K-J-3, ♣ 8-5-4. The bidding went one club – one heart – one spade – one no-trump. What would you lead and what is your general philosophy here?

Seeking Solace, Portland, Ore.

Before I led, I would ask about dummy's minimum club length. I wouldn't lead a spade — this is too likely to carve up a trick or two. Because a heart lead seems to offer more risk than reward, my choice would come down to a diamond (either the three or jack) or a passive club. Since the suits do not seem to be lying that well for declarer, I'd lead the club eight.

What is your view on transferring out of your partner's overcall of one no-trump with moderate values and a weak five-card suit? Recently I had a problem with ♠ Q-6-4-3-2,  Q-4-3,  Q-4, ♣ 10-9-2 when my partner had overcalled one heart with one no-trump. Is it better to transfer here with a poor, medium or near-invitational hand?

Walking Tall, Charleston, S.C.

Unlike an opening no-trump bid, the overcall can occasionally be based on a semibalanced hand, and if so, it tends to be short in the other major. This means that with moderate values and a weak five-card major, the transfer is less attractive. Your hand is a fine example of a transfer not being mandatory. With either a weaker or stronger hand, I would start with the transfer.

Is it wrong to support partner by raising a one-spade opening bid when you hold four spades to the queen, no other HCP, and a singleton heart?

Full of Beans, Sioux Falls, S.D.

It is not really recommended to raise with such a weak hand. When the opponents are silent, one tends to raise to the two-level with 6-9 points and to the three-level with 10-12. The danger of raising with a very weak hand is that partner will not know whether to bid on, or even to make a game-try. Bidding to the level of the trump fit (that is to say, competing to the three-level with nine trumps) most commonly occurs when the auction has become competitive.

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ClarksburgMarch 9th, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Mr. Wolff
The hand below came up in a club duplicate (dealt at the Table). It was selected as “hand of the week” for pre-game discussion at next week’s game. Computer analysis confirms NS can make 6 Spades, 6 diamonds and 6 Clubs, double dummy. The range of contracts and results were truly wild. Two pairs got to the 6 Diamonds, and two pairs stopped at five. Three pairs played in 3NT and with a favourable opening lead, dodged the five defensive Heart tricks and made seven! Three pairs ended up in four Spades.
The hand seems to present many possible paths for the auction, and raises some good questions, a few of which are:
Should North (16 HCP) open it 1NT, or is it actually a tad too good? 1 Diamond?
After 1 1NT start, does South really have enough to be seriously thinking about slam?
If the auction starts 1NT > 2C > 2D, what does South do now?
Is playing in Spades a plausible good decision, or a likely fluke?
Could you kindly give some comment on how the auction might go in an expert game, and how and where it would most likely end up.

West Dealer
N AJ9, 109, AQ108, AJ65

W 832, QJ864, 92, 832 E 1076, A7532, J5, Q94

S KQ54, K, K7643, K107

jim2March 9th, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Clarksburg –

I am not Our Host, but I agree that that is an interesting hand!

Obviously, all slams pretty much require declarer to find the QC, so they start at about 50%. The spade slam also require spades 3-3, so that makes it poor indeed.

On game contracts, yes it’s tough to find the AH lead from the East holding, but I doubt anyone would recommend that contract! With that said, I can certainly see it being bid.

Five diamonds and four spades are both excellent, but four spades seems best at MPs (declarer can decline to ruff the second heart unless really shooting for a top).

On opening the bidding, my personal choice with the North hand is to open one notrump. While one diamond would be my second choice, it is not even close.

On what to do after 1N – 2C – 2D, I doubt that auction would be very common among expert partnerships, even only among those playing non-artificial systems (the North hand would generally open one club in a strong club system). The reason is that most partnerships I have played with/against use two-way Stayman. Thus, South would respond two diamonds, rather than two clubs.

The difference is significant because this class of hand is one of the reasons why two-way Stayman was created. With two-way Stayman, South can now bid three diamonds to show a hand much like this. North would not bid three notrump w/o a heart stopper. In this layout, I suspect some experts might bid three spades to show three, while most would either bid diamonds or (with some understanding) bid four clubs.

jim2March 9th, 2014 at 3:21 pm

I meant:

“On game contracts, yes it’s tough to find the AH lead from the East holding AT THREE NOTRUMP, ….”

Bobby WolffMarch 9th, 2014 at 4:31 pm

Hi Clarksburg & Jim2,

First thanks Jim2 for your input and leaves me very little, at least specifically on this hand, to add except conceptual thoughts.

Cutting to the chase, IMO 2 way Stayman is not only more effective than Jacoby transfer, but has all kinds of advantages. Of course, JTB should be used over 2NT or the stronger 2NT after a 2C opening since the lead coming up to the much stronger hand is a more distinct advantage and simple 3 club Stayman will be a GF because so little is needed to make it so, although perhaps with 4-4-4-1 or 4-4-5-0 (in those suits and without more than 1 or maybe 2 jacks could conceivably pass partner’s response.

Obviously to preempt you when asking why, I will explain. A Stayman bid (2D) while immediately creating a GF will enable the bidding to proceed slowly with the minor suits coming more into play since both partners know that since game is forced, slam may be in the wind and no one is rushed through with both slam tries and slam denials often bid on the way to either. Finally once responder bids 2 clubs followed by either a jump or just a bid of 3 of a major when partner has not bid that suit is NF but rather invitational. It is easy to remember and play and guaranteed for at least 6 months with money back if not successful except for losing it while gambling.

First the strain needs to be determined and then controls shown if slam is possible with each partner having a hand in the final decision based on the information gleaned. As an extra benefit the bidding by just the bidders: !NT, 2D, 2H, 3H sets hearts, but if the NTer is 3-4-3-3 he might take an effort at 3NT which his partner having a like distribution or close might just pass. However if the 2 diamond bidder than bids again he is making a definite slam try by usually ticking off controls and, of course, with added strength simply because he did not sign off (in this case) at 4 hearts immediately.

Much more specifically it could be said, to explain different possible slam sequences including the use of 5NT both as a grand slam try or merely a way of hoping to play usually a small slam but sometimes a grand in a suit which can produce 5 tricks in the right suit, but only 4 at NT by, of course, being able to ruff a trick in both hands with the 4th card of the suit.

And now for a practical advantage not always known even by talented younger players, but certainly by grizzled veterans. That is when the frequent signoffs at either 2 spades or 2 hearts are made it is a much bigger advantage than considered to make it immediately so that the defensive hands will often have only 1 crack at balancing and thus calibrating strength instead of the two chances JTB always provides.

This above fact is real and allows the 1NT opening side to sometimes steal the hand from their opponents, because of the lack of bidding room afforded their opponents.

Finally, at least IMO, the playing of 2 level contracts from what is often the wrong side is an overrated disadvantage and at the most will average (again IMO) less than 1/6 of a trick per hand to the opponents on the average and even that keeps the unknown distribution of the weak hand from being disclosed as dummy as against the NTer himself who has already announced a balanced hand (usually no singletons) and a specific amount of points.

The sales event above is now over, but it is from the heart (or spade, diamond or club with the two minor suits being at the 3 level).

ClarksburgMarch 9th, 2014 at 5:41 pm

Many thanks to you both. Your help will feed into the pre-game seminar on this hand. (our Club has no players even close to expert, a few strong Club-game pairs, several pairs clearly interested in on-going learning, and of course many who just come to play). Your comments could definitely influence some to consider two-way Stayman.
I do have one question remaining about hand evaluation. After 1NT by North, does South have enough to be even tentatively thinking, at the outset, about possible slam?

Bobby WolffMarch 9th, 2014 at 7:30 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

Definitely, even if it is a qualified yes. I would rule out 6NT since the HCP’s will not be there but either spades or diamonds may qualify, particularly if the fitting diamond and club queens are held by partner, but keep in mind that if partner (who, of course must have at least 3 aces) has the heart ace providing a club discard from the responder’s hand.

Another hidden advantage for 2 way Stayman would be the ability over a 2D response to bid 3 clubs with a good 5 card suit (as you know, once in a while a very good player, or even not so, will open 1NT with a 6 card minor). Imagine a normal pair playing regular Stayman and JTB bidding 2 clubs and listening to his partner respond 2 diamonds. Yes, on this hand he might venture 3 diamonds, but how is the 1NTer going to show his long and strong clubs except by bidding 3NT which could mean many other holdings with nothing special in clubs among them. With s. Jx, h. Axx, d. Ax, c. AQxxxx, an easy 6 clubs which also because of the jack of spades will make 6NT, but wouldn’t we all like to bid these two hands to 6 clubs, a contract which is close to 90% to make (a 4-0 club break offside is about the only less than wild distribution which would sink it.