Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, June 8th, 2014

My partner and I are trying to improve our communication by learning the most popular conventions. Do you have any comment on the right mixture of artificial and natural bidding in the sort of system we should be using?

Training Wheels, Hartford, Conn.

It is a very good idea to question the technical merit of learning conventions. Don't assume they are good unless you have identified a problem that you can be sure needs fixing. The key is frequency of use and the complexity of the gadget you take on board. Don't forget that losing a natural call may also be critical. My view: Any time you forget a gadget, you undo its usefulness for a whole year.

When your partner opens a major suit and the next hand doubles, the choice often comes down to making a simple raise or a jump raise. That seems a bit limited — can you suggest how to improve my impoverished vocabulary here?

Jack Robinson, San Luis Obispo, Calif.

You should play both the simple raise and the jump raise as rather weaker than in an uncontested auction. With a limit raise or better, jump to two no-trump –a bid known as "Jordan" or "Truscott." This call is not necessary for a natural bid, as one would redouble with that hand. One can also play a two-club response after the double as purely artificial, showing 7-9 points and three trumps, thus letting the simple raise be 4-6 points. But see the letter above this one!

We are considering playing one no-trump as weak rather than strong. I have always assumed that one would open any hand in the range 12-14 whether or not it included a five-card minor, but recently we have suffered some painful reverses from that approach. If I decide a 12-point hand is poorly put together, can I pass, or should I open the minor? I have noticed in the past that not all players open with 12 points, but I was taught that one should do so.

Meter Maid, Miami, Fla.

If you play weak no-trumps, I would certainly advise you to open all balanced hands in the range with that call, including hands with a five-card minor. Even if you have had one or two bad results from making such an opening, bridge is a game of percentages and odds, and you will inevitably get some bad results by using any method of bidding. Incidentally, if you do open one of a minor with a balanced hand, you may well find yourself with rebid problems at your second turn.

I read your column online and would like your help. Say you pick up ♠ J-3,  A-5-4-3-2,  Q-5-3, ♣ K-10-4. After responding one heart to one club, you hear one spade to your left and two spades to your right. Would you now pass, or raise clubs, or even rebid hearts?

Traditionalist, London, England

It always gives me a perverse pleasure to answer a multiple choice with "none of the above." Passing would be cowardly, while committing the hand to either clubs or hearts would be premature and unilateral. Best is to double, which is played as takeout when the opponents have bid and raised a suit. No response your partner could make will embarrass you.

This balanced strong no-trump caused me considerable problems. Holding ♠ Q-10-4  K-J-3, ♣ A-5-3-2, ♣ A-Q-4, I opened one no-trump and my partner transferred into clubs, then followed up with a call of three spades, natural and forcing. With something in both unbid suits, was I right to bid no-trump, or should I have raised one black suit or the other?

Self-Starter, Cartersville, Ga.

Can I first suggest that it is better to play that one should bid Stayman with long clubs and a four-card major, while reserving the actual sequence of transferring to clubs then bidding a new suit for shortage, not length? A transfer to a major followed by a new suit should be played as natural and forcing, of course. That said, on your actual auction I would bid four clubs. Trumps that good should not be kept under wraps.

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Patrick CheuJune 22nd, 2014 at 9:46 am

Hi Bobby,re Self-Starter,over 4C,4N by responder to play otherwise cue over 4C? Has a slam been missed or otherwise? Re Traditionist,double presumably shows 8-11? regards~Patrick.

Bobby WolffJune 22nd, 2014 at 12:49 pm

Hi Patrick,

Re Self Starter, and after his transfer to clubs and then spades, it depends on the meaning of 3 spades. If a two suiter then 4 clubs, setting the trump suit and then diamonds as a cue in deciding between a game or a slam in clubs, with, as you say a response of 4NT by you a sign-off (most of hand in the reds and secondary values rather than red controls). Only if partner merely raises 4 clubs to five would I consider a wimpy pass and even then with a fairly conservative partner would I not either cue bid diamonds or just bid a small slam. Remember, once I bid 5 diamonds, which I would, over a heart cue bid, a grand slam is even in the offing since partner’s hand is unlimited. Partner is missing a number of key cards, such as the queen of clubs, and of course the king of hearts and the queen of spades making my hand very slam prone over his efforts and particularly with his likely distribution.

However, if he is short in spades, I still have a good hand, but must then devalue the spade queen, but upgrade the heart jack.

Re: Traditionalist double, yes my double (between a bidder and a supporter) is now played universally (at least among experienced players) for takeout and probably from 9 to almost unlimited, but partner has to allow for our bid to just being competitive for the part score. We could have instead cue bid to show a GF and still being uncertain as to our eventual trump suit (or NT), but sometimes it keeps the bidding lower (with more options) to double first and then bid higher later, once trumps are established.

Slowly, but surely, this somewhat mysterious high-level bridge education starts to come together, but all of us need patience, time to devote to it, and overall logic to get to there from here.