Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, July 13th, 2014

What value should I put on 10s when determining whether to invite or drive to game in no-trump after my partner has opened one no-trump?

Combination Lock, Jackson, Tenn.

The Milton Work count (A=4, K=3, Q=2, J=1) is universally the most popular method, and is pretty good at providing a guide for balanced hands. But it gives no value to 10s, which are often valuable in no-trump contracts when allied with higher honors. When you respond to one no-trump, the presence of a 10 with one top honor in a five-card suit is worth at least half a point. When it comes to a close decision, the presence of a couple of 10s, and indeed 9s, might sway you toward optimism.

Recently I picked up ♠ 9-6-5-4-3,  A-J-7-5,  9-5, ♣ Q-J, and heard my partner open one no-trump. I used Stayman and passed the response of two hearts. Nine tricks were the limit on the hand, but my partner felt I had undercooked it. Was he right?

Culinary Institute, Texarkana, Texas

I agree with your partner. My plan after Stayman would be to bid two no-trump over a two-diamond response, to raise two hearts to three hearts, and to raise a two-spade response to game! So you would have done better than I on this hand.

I have recently learned the forcing no-trump in response to an opening bid of one of a major. My partner wants to play it in response to an opening in third and fourth seats too. Would you recommend this treatment?

The Force Be With You, Anchorage, Alaska

I would not recommend going that way. The forcing no-trump allows you to show strong balanced invitations in no-trump or partner's major, which are impossible hand-types for a passed hand. With trump support you bid two clubs (Drury); with a balanced hand you bid one no-trump, then two no-trump (if you get another turn). The upside of playing one no-trump nonforcing is to be able to stop there with two balanced hands facing each another.

I opened one club with ♠ Q-10-3,  J-5-2,  A-9, ♣ A-J-4-3-2. My LHO made a one-heart overcall, and now my partner produced a negative double. How would you compare the merits of rebidding clubs, introducing spades, and rebidding one no-trump?

Weight and See, Santa Fe, N.M.

A one-no-trump rebid would suggest 12-14, without guaranteeing a great heart stop. You'd prefer to have more in hearts, but beggars cannot be choosers. This is especially so since a two-club call strongly suggests a six-card suit, while bidding a three-card spade suit — except in dire emergency — is not an action I would advocate. Make the heart jack the diamond jack, and you might do so.

I was in second seat at matchpoint pairs with ♠ K-J-3,  A-Q-7-4,  7-6-4, ♣ A-Q-10. What is the correct bid with this hand after a one-diamond opening to your right? Could you comment on the merits of pass, double, or an overcall of one heart or even one no-trump?

Thin White Duke, Newark, Calif.

You must act, but normally overcalling one no-trump without a stopper is a bad idea. Still, I prefer that action to overcalling one heart with low offense, but defensive tricks galore. I would double and not worry about the flat shape — partner can provide that, on a good or even an average day.

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Bill DanielJuly 27th, 2014 at 5:39 pm

Being 83 and with a wife with COPD I play mostly in duplicate pair club games and play nearly every day but Sunday. About 15 times a month at a nearby club. As a result I play with many partners of varying ability. On the question of the Forcing 1NT bid by a passed hand I have found I do not in anyway care for the Semi-Forcing 1NT as some do.

I think with a passed hand you either still play it forcing or play it as a ordinary 1 NT. Nothing semi-forcing. The term semi forcing seems to put the partner to a guess. Many of the players with whom I play including me, including even some of good ones make the semi-forcing 1NT into a guessing game and guess wrong.

Though I prefer it totally NF regular, I will play it either way they want, forcing or ordinary 1NT, but not semi-forcing.

Like you often say, bridge is a game of percentages and I find that in real life playing with players of varying skills you need to keep any opportunity to guess out of the game to get the best percentage.

I am not sure you remember this far back but around 1955. Diz Desmukes and I played against you and Oswald Sr in a tournament in San Antonio at the old hotel with a German name which I have forgot. I remember it because of whom I was paying against.

I gathered at the time you and I did not have a lot of experience play bridge.

On the first hand my partner opened 3C, you passed and I passed and Oswald bid 3NT, may partner and you passed and I thought I had a stopper in the other 3 suits plus 3 clubs with the Q, so I doubled to make sure of a club lead. Oswald redoubled and we played for down 1600.

On the next hand, you opened a spade and I passed with Qxx in hearts and no other face cards Oswald bid 1NT, my partner doubled and you passed and I bid 2 clubs with xxxx and 4-3-3-3. Oswald doubled and it played, down 1700. I remember you sitting there contemplating, and you said that is the 2 biggest swings I have ever seen for a flat round.

In the discussion afterward, both you and Oswald, advised me very graciously I might add, that I should have bid 2 hearts after the double as the double of 1 spade promised hearts. If I recall correctly I believe 2 hearts would have been set 1 and might not have been doubled.

I remember it well because Oswald Sr was one of my early bridge heroes and it was fantastic I had the opportunity to play against him.

bobby wolffJuly 28th, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Hi Bill,

It is very nice to hear from you and travel down memory lane together.

As in most everything in bridge, particularly with discussion about relatively modern conventions and their sometimes nuances (perhaps not so modern), there is more than one side to be considered.

Forcing 1NT responses to a one of a major opening certainly belongs in that category. When a partnership decides to play semi-forcing (SFNT), not responses, not absolutely, they are trying to adapt that treatment to what they think better fits their bridge personalities. What they give up is responding 1NT to a major with a full opening bid or better, reserving that response for a game forcing (GF) response of 2 of another suit at the two level. What that gains are the following:

1. With 12 and 13 point opening bids and with a 5-3-3-2 pattern (an evaluation which often changes as the bidding progresses, but not so when partner announces a balanced hand), it allows a partnership to keep it low at 1NT, certainly a desired final contract particularly while playing matchpoints and with a balanced hand opposite a balanced hand. One of Charley Goren’s most popular early quotes was, “1NT is the most desired contract to be playing when the partnership holds both balanced hands and 21-24 high card points (HCP)”.

2. It also keeps one’s partnership from allowing their worthy opponents (particularly the player immediately over the SFNT), from sandbagging and passing while awaiting developments, knowing he is going to get another opportunity when forcing is in effect.

3. It allows lighter major suit openings in the 3rd position (and sometimes 4th) sometimes designed for lead direction such as KQJ10, Ax, Jxxx, xxx to be able to open 1 spade, instead of 1 diamond or a wimpy pass, but, of course, able to pass 1NT.

4. It also allows a lighter opening in all four positions. K10xxx, Kxx, KJx, Qx which in the long run and in the modern age, is deemed to be a “percentage action as opposed to pass”
by most high-level players.

With the SFNT in effect the following caveats need to be followed:

1. When holding three of partner’s major suit and not being 4-3-3-3 the responder needs to make a limit raise of partner’s major suit while holding approximately 10-12 points instead of responding a simple 1NT.

2. Of course, give up the tedious attempt to respond 1NT with a 13+ balanced hand with the hope of weaving the partnership to the best contract slowly through the minefields always present, since partner will start out being on a different wavelength. I suspect that is what you are referring to when you describe it as guessing their way, but failing.

Some like chocolate some like vanilla or even strawberry, but everyone likes winning and I heartily suggest a SFNT. Perhaps you may re-evaluate your position, but even if you do not, at least you may be better prepared to discuss it.

Yes, Oswald Jacoby was a magnificent character and the only true mathematical genius I have ever known. May he RIP. Also I remember Mr Desmuke and his charming wife, Delores? (I think from Freer, Texas, no less) who played together often and were always tough opponents.

Thanks for writing and I hope to meet you in person one fine day in the next 20 or so years.