Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, February 7th, 2016

My partner and I debated long and hard as to the best plan to develop my powerhouse, which consisted of ♠ A-K-7-2, 8, A-K-Q-J, ♣ A-K-Q-4. At the table I opened two clubs and bid two spades over his negative response. After a tangled auction we ended in a 4-2 spade fit, with the notrump game having nine top tricks. Should I open a minor suit — with 26 HCPs that seems like a very bad idea? Or should I have rebid three no-trump over two diamonds, and taken a chance on the hearts?

Powerhouse Pete, Cartersville, Ga.

I think you have to open two clubs, and rebid two spades, hoping to get out alive one way or another. With even a queen less I might risk one diamond, but since slam might make facing the spade queen and five small in a minor, a non-forcing call is too much (or too little) for me. Make the singleton an honor and treating your hand as balanced starts to make more sense.

How much do you need to keep the auction open after your partner preempts in first seat, and should a new suit be forcing? My hand was ♠ K-10-2, 7-3, A-Q-10-6-4-3, ♣ A-9 in response to a preempt of two hearts, and I thought we might make a game in a red suit or at no-trump.

Robert the Bruce, Torrance, Calif.

I think a three diamond call here would be misguided. You have already found a decent fit, so do not need to look for another one. A three diamond call would be forcing; so give yourself better diamonds, or perhaps the club king or queen in addition, and a bid might make sense, as you might make game. Here, you should simply pass two hearts.

Recently after an uncontested auction beginning one diamond – one spade, you described the jump to four hearts as a splinter bid. Since a call of two hearts would be a forcing reverse (promising another bid) could three hearts be used as the splinter bid? This seems to leaves more room for slam exploration; what do you say?

Born in the USA, Twin Falls, Idaho

A jump to three hearts might indeed be played as a splinter, though many use it as a mini-splinter, that is to say, short hearts with a raise to three spades. Some play it as either a raise to three or five spades, so that the splinter to four hearts would suggest 16-18. Yet another style is that the jump to four hearts might be a void. I prefer all of these approaches to reserving three hearts for a 5-6 shape.

You discussed the auction where you responded one heart to one diamond and then heard a two spade preempt to your left, passed back to you. If a double of two spades is for takeout, does it suggest points only, or does it indicate shape and might partner expect you to hold all the unbid suits? And what would a call of three diamonds mean instead? Would that show less than invitational values?

Douglas Fir, Detroit, Mich.

The double shows values — suggesting 9+HCP; but it is unlimited. You rate to have at least diamond tolerance (but may be more fitted with better than a limit raise). Incidentally, opener’s double would simply be extra values, and there is never any form of support double at this level by responder. A balancing call of three diamonds by you would be real support, non-forcing, so 7-11 HCP, probably.

Holding: ♠ 10-2, A-K-Q-6-4-3-2, Q-10, ♣ J-4 how many hearts would you bid over an opening bid of one diamond on your right? Your side only is vulnerable.

Hi-Lo Country, Durham, N.C.

As I grow older I get more disciplined, so this constitutes a three heart preempt for me at unfavorable vulnerability (or a two heart intermediate jump if you play this style). I’m not keen on jumping to four hearts when vulnerable with such flat sidesuit shape and with those secondary honors, which may be worth a trick. It seems like an invitation to go for 500, or more. And I have no idea what to do if I push them to bid five diamonds. So why should my partner know?

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Jane AFebruary 21st, 2016 at 1:56 pm

Hi Bobby,

Regarding the question Hi Lo Country asked, since this is a hand I would open with one heart, I would do the same thing here and only bid one heart. Game could be possible, or three hearts could be a disaster. The hand is strong enough to rebid the heart suit again, and the opps could have just a minor suit partial and you could be down two doubled for a less than stellar score. It would depend on the playing skills of your opponents also, right? I don’t think I would preempt three hearts with this hand vul against Bobby Wolff. He might punish me!

bobbywolffFebruary 21st, 2016 at 5:42 pm

Hi Jane A,

I do agree with you that one heart is likely to be right since it gives flexibility to bid again or not depending on the level reached when next it is your turn.

However, only vulnerable a so-called Intermediate jump overcall seems to fit the bill almost perfectly, an opening bid type with a very good suit and a desire to compete offensively instead of defensively.

In practice (and especially when able to do it in a solid, or close to, minor suit) it may likely produce a NT game which is the economy route (9 tricks instead of 11).

Trash the thought of me ever trying to punish you. Yes, I love to reach maximum contracts against all of my opponents, friend or foe, but that is only for both of us to admire, not feel abused. PS- True, it doesn’t always seem to work out that way.

slarFebruary 22nd, 2016 at 1:26 am

I like the 3H bid on that one. It gives the opponents multiple ways to go wrong and it tells partner where you live. What more can you ask for?

I got stuck in a trickier situation yesterday. With AKQTxxx/xx/xx/xx all red, I was dealer. Everything felt wrong (3S by partnership agreement showed a much weaker suit) so I just quietly bid 4S. Partner only provided two top tricks so we were down 1 off the top. A surprising number of my peers managed to make 4S. Oh well. Earlier that day I had almost the exact same hand after a pass by partner and a diamond opening on my right. This was an easy decision to bid 4S and this time partner showed up with the required three tricks.

bobbywolffFebruary 22nd, 2016 at 2:04 am

Hi Slar,

Your experiences only prove how difficult bridge judgment becomes when, of course, mostly flying blind with preempts.

Through the years I have been careful about zooming past 3NT after opening the bidding with a long solid suit (hopefully a minor, but sometimes a major). In both games, IMPs and matchpoints, there is a huge premium sometimes in contracting for only nine tricks instead of ten (or especially eleven in a minor suit).

Also, as a bonus, my luck hasn’t been good for taking maximum numbers of tricks when holding a 7 triple 2 hand. Terence Reese used to call a 7-4-1-1 hand a giraffe and claimed to make a lot of money in rubber bridge when he held that distribution. Just tidbits to pass on, but you, yourself will have to see first hand if you think him to be right, but you may have to play bridge for many years to get a wide enough sample.

slarFebruary 22nd, 2016 at 4:32 am

What do you suggest then for a single-suited solid major, particularly 7-2-2-2? Is opening 1 or 2 the lesser evil? In either case should I rebid 3NT to show that exact hand?

I do understand the wisdom of not zooming past 3NT, although my experience is that my peers are way too eager to bid 3NT over preempts and end up getting stuck in their hands most of the time. I have a rule to never bid 3NT when partner shows 6 cards unless I have exactly 3 myself and the hand is otherwise amenable to NT. (I recently had the perfect hand for this: QJx/AQx/AKxx/QJx and the bidding went 1D/2H(weak);3NT.) I love the stories of bidding Blackwood with a void in partner’s (solid) suit but if I have had that situation myself, I didn’t see it.

bobbywolffFebruary 22nd, 2016 at 4:58 pm

Hi Slar,

Yes, while holding 7-2-2-2 I do recommend opening 1 of the long major when holding in value the equivalent of an opening bid. In no way does that preclude eventually playing the nine trick game (3NT). It only announces an opening 1 bid and leaves flexible the final contract.

All other distributions except the above may or may not open with a game bid in the long major, depending on the vulnerability (when, being careful to not materially overbid, for example 6 smaller cards, all losers, outside, e.g three side doubletons are by far the worst), caliber of the opposition (aggressive or timid), type of bridge, matchpoints or IMPs, considering leaving it open to 3NT more often at matchpoints, seat held in, more flexible opposite a passed partner, when slam is unlikely to be present or to be precise, biddable.

There are certain not thought about advantages in not opening a preempt such as wily opponents (who reach their own game or higher contract in spite of your preempt), not playing the hand so perfectly against players who have only opened a one bid instead of higher. Never underestimate the advantage which accrues to players who are tough opponents giving as little information as possible during the bidding and, for that matter, tells with hitches during the bidding, which are illegal (unethical) for partner to act upon, but certainly all part of the game for the “bad guys” to take every advantage they can while observing.

All of the above and much more go into the development of a newbie with talent, taking many months of following this but discarding that and learning for oneself what works and when against various types of good players.

The common denominator is always playing against the highest caliber opponents one can find without which and upon, in spite of not, still improving, then making the transition to playing against the best around and starting out having your head handed to them, before the light starts shining through.