Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, March 18th, 2018

My partner and I play Bergen raises. Would you still use Bergen facing a third- or fourth-hand opener, or would you prefer to play Drury?

SuperMac, Doylestown, Pa.

My natural dislike of Bergen is as nothing to my hatred of the idea of playing it by a passed hand. Drury is fine, though not in competition, please, and I prefer to use fit-jumps by passed hands whether in competition or not. A jump raise by a passed hand should therefore be mixed values — four trumps and a singleton or five trumps with weaker values than a Drury hand.

Playing pairs with both sides vulnerable, I held in fourth seat: ♠ Q-9-4-2,  K-7-6,  9-7, ♣ A-10-6-4. I heard three clubs opened on my left and a double from partner. Would you pass, bid three no-trump or bid some number of spades?

So Many Choices, Eau Claire, Wis.

I do not have a sensible answer for you here! I suspect game our way has no better than a 50 percent chance, and that we will defeat three clubs more often than not. Given the vulnerability, I would pass and cross my fingers. Give me the club eight instead of the four, and I’m a little happier with that call. If I were to bid game, I’d have a sneaking admiration for a call of three no-trump.

I am having trouble distinguishing between responsive and penalty doubles facing a take-out double from my partner and a call on my right. What is the definition of a responsive double? How does it work if the opponents open one of a suit (doubled by my partner), and my RHO bids a new suit?

Whacked Out, Princeton, N.J.

No matter what level the opponents open at, a responsive double — which is for take-out, suggesting a relatively balanced hand — only applies to the double of an agreed suit. A responsive double suggests a balanced hand with both unbid majors if they bid and raise a minor — though you may have just spades and a good hand. A double of a bid and raised heart suit tends to deny spades — you would bid them if you had them. Double of a new suit by RHO is penalty.

Is there a defined rule about how to penalize slow play at the club? If a director takes away a board, what is the fair way to handle such deals when only one side wants to play that board at the end of the game?

Patient Grizelda, Fredericksburg, Va.

Most clubs hate to assign penalties to players for any reason. I’d expect an average for both sides for an unplayed deal, unless one side was blameless for the delay and is willing to play the deal, while the other side is not. In that case, the non-offenders might get average-plus. Continued slow play should be punished by an average minus on an unplayed deal; but I wouldn’t hold my breath for that to happen.

I have read your recent strictures on overcalling with weak five-card suits at the two-level. A related question is whether to come in when a passed hand or between bidding opponents. How much should this be about bidding for the lead? Would you come in with two clubs after hearing one diamond to your right and one spade to your left with ♠ J-8-2,  3-2,  Q-5-3, ♣ A-Q-10-9-4?

Extenuating Circumstances, Palm Springs, Calif.

You are right that I’m strongly opposed to bidding at the two-level with a poor suit. So it may appear illogical that I would act when non-vulnerable as a passed hand, and maybe even when vulnerable with the hand you quote. Getting “Center Hand Opponent” off to the correct lead and coming in cheaply seem like reasonable ideas, especially when your partner is unlikely to take you too seriously.

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ClarksburgApril 1st, 2018 at 9:54 am

Further to Patient Grizelda’s question and your answer, I have some difficulty grasping the underlying principles, and the full options available to the Director.
Is “average for both sides” in effect the same, scorewise, as simply “not played” ?
When a non-offender is awarded “average plus”, does that mean the offender automatically receives ” average minus”? If so, couldn’t that sometime be better than deserved?
Are there any situations where, rather than arbitrary awarded Scores on a Board, it would be fairer to the “field” to just make a reduction in Matchpoint total for an offending Pair?

Bruce karlsonApril 1st, 2018 at 12:58 pm

Holding 7, KQ98xxx, 86, K54 all vul facing a strong pair in a club game, my RHO opened 1NT. I suspect I made my first mistake by making a “trap” pass. All passed and I led low looking for my P to hold any H honor. Wishful thinking as it worked out. Did I do anything correctly? LOL

Bobby WolffApril 1st, 2018 at 4:04 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

You, possibly either considering yourself a purist (at least in bridge, which, if so, I believe), are sadly leaving out the social, financial, political and business factors in this day and age, so ever present with most encountered endeavors.

No question that doubtful behavior (unnecessary slowness) often causes discomfort and interferes with the enjoyment of our game for the opponents (and, for that matter sometimes even dummy). However in adjudicating how to stop (or at the very least to lessen it) please consider the following factors:

1. whether on this hand, simply warranted eg. unnecessary or perhaps a very tough hand thus agreed, for our beautiful game’s sake, allowed?

2. If penalty enforced, whether consistent with past rulings, without which, it often could be considered biased.

3. How it would effect the field, taking into consideration whether any boards lost because of it, would not be made up. IOW, the best result possible, not the best possible result.

4. How to some participants the inconvenience of making up later the playing of the lost board is just not worth staying late to do. Of course the corollary damage to other innocent players may and often will, affect the overall finish.

5. Will the bridge club or bridge organization suffer damage (dues, political damage within the community, general upheaval between the combatants)?

6. When should first penalties for this bridge crime begin, after the first time, second or…..?

7. What are the specific time designations deemed to go over the line or should that just be left up to subjectivity?

8. What about possible extraneous circumstances which might cause it, medications, old age, new partnership or plenty of time left in the round, so why am I being rushed?

9. What about an additional charge of being done deliberately between enemies or to just revenge for what happened last time?

10. Obviously, at least in theory, everyone would like to be totally fair in assessing judgment to all of the above, but in real life how can that ever be always done, or even sometimes not even close to achieving what everyone should want, stop it from continually happening and live happily ever after.

Finally and never forget, any change of score at any table, whether between only those two pairs, or much more likely affecting the final results of two disinterested and not involved pairs, is the norm rather than the exception.

Aren’t you glad you asked? I am, since IMO most of the decision makers in these disputes do not consider anywhere close to all the factors necessary to make fair and consistent competitive decisions inherent in most competitive endeavors.

Will that ever change, one may ask? Maybe so eventually, but likely not in the next few hundred years.

Bobby WolffApril 1st, 2018 at 4:52 pm

Hi Bruce,

Yes, first and foremost, you did do something right (or I should say, only what I think is the right percentage answer) show up to play, since by so doing you will continue to get better and soon reach levels you perhaps never would dream of reaching.

Going further, learning higher level bridge, can only IMO be achieved by having problems arrive at the table, then seek answers from experienced players who are quite interested in showing their love for the game by helping others rise up the ladder, to success.

Now, to the chase: Do not let the conditions materially effect your result so while both being vulnerable, hearing an opening strong NT (15-17 or higher) to your right by a strong player, do not hesitate for 10 seconds before bidding 2 hearts. My definition of “trapping” would only apply to AKQxx(xx) wherein if they stay in NT, I will be on lead and they likely will be sorry they didn’t wind up in their best suit. Instead, KQ98xxx , especially without a sure re-entry is just not worth being overly optimistic.

Also, from the seven card suit that you held, I think it significantly more likely to lead the King rather than small, since
the heart division may well be 7-2-2-2 and my experience tells me that the opponents specific jack in either the declarer’s hand or the dummy is likely more than 2-1 to be held by the enemy rather than by partner.

Why, you may ask? Perhaps a percentage table may say so (I think it would) but experience says more. However, it is a slam dunk to me to bid 2 hearts and not be even slightly worried that someone will double you. Instead, even if they do, I would expect to take enough tricks to make them wrong by doing so (although, and of course, I may be mistaken). Finally, if you let their stature change an aggressive style (which I hope you develop, if not already) they basically win the battle, even before it occurs, since being intimidated is not the right emotion to approach playing against better players. Rather, a sometimes exaggerated confidence by you often turns around the expected and normal too much respect you and everyone else feels when playing against a known good pair, or even just one well known excellent player.

Try the above and let me know how it works. Remember the internet is a great communication network and it also doesn’t allow you to be seen on crutches with bandages over your entire body so you have little to lose by being bold, at least for public viewing.


ClarksburgApril 1st, 2018 at 6:41 pm

Thanks Bobby.
Actually the intent of my question was just the practical matter…IF a penalty IS to be assessed, how best to do it, to be fair to a non-offending Pair, and both sides of the field.

But yes, I am glad I asked!
I will avoid assessing slow-play penalties like the plague. And if and when I am ever penalized, I will not expect the remedy to be fair to all.

Bobby WolffApril 1st, 2018 at 8:37 pm

Hi Clarksburg,

No doubt I used my response to serve as a “bully pulpit” to suggest irresponsible and bias handling of a common problem.

The enigma of what you seek, how to best right the wrong of chronic slowness, to perhaps penalize it out of existence, often becomes unfair to both sides. to the offending side, since some very slowly declarer played hands and/or extremely hesitant defense, do represent what high-level bridge is all about, sorting out especially difficult hands, so that they become column worthy for serious bridge periodicals. Not enough time spent, best ways to play our beautiful game, not realized.

However not all slow play (perhaps only a miniscule part),
is the result of the above, but rather caused by all the reasons already posted above, but since slowness does not come already labeled, someone, preferably a very wise and experienced good bridge player, otherwise aka a tournament director, can shed the light of innocent or guilty on any one hand which becomes the subject.

As to a direct answer, there can be no penalty given which may not materially effect the scores, only one which reeks from artificiality, therefore the result. in any given game.

Perhaps arguably, allowing the non-offending side to chalk up a result which mirrors their percentage score for that session is closest to fair, but if thrown in, the option to accept the eventual attained score on the completed subject hand, it may become too much for whomever finished second, to stomach.

Again from that ‘bully pulpit”, I do not subscribe to the view that anyone who might have been transgressed against should be in any kind of favored position, in spite of those who think they should, particularly if THOSE happen to be that transgressed pair themselves.

FWIW I have no opinion on how much a judged guilty pair should pay, but in a bridge perfect world I agree with Gilbert & Sullivan, “Let the Punishment fit the Crime”. Do I hear Hallelujah from more than a few?

Finally, once determined, we (or rather in North America, the ACBL) should set up a precedent book, easily accessible throughout the various bridge networks, to which it covers.

I do not actually agree with your confessed proposed plan of action regarding your handling. I think you should take it upon yourself to set the first precedent…..logical, non-political, thoughtful, worthwhile!