Aces on Bridge — Daily Columns

The Aces on Bridge: Sunday, August 18th, 2019

Holding ♠ J-9,  A-Q-J,  A-10-4-3, ♣ A-7-6-4, I believe I have a straightforward opening of one no-trump. After my left-hand opponent overcalls two spades, how should my partnership play a double over and under the trumps — and what should I do if the auction comes back to me?

Crowded House, Pasadena, Calif.

It is sensible to play all doubles of a natural call (or of a two-suited call that names one of the two suits naturally) as take-out, if and only if it is the first call your partnership has made after the no-trump opener. So both sides play take-out doubles of two spades here. I’d make that call in this case; this shape is perfect for it, and my partner can bid his suit. If he has two places to play, he can bid two no-trump.

I understood that following an overcall after your partner opens, as responder you can always start with a take-out double, no matter what was bid to your right. In what cases would double be for penalty?

Red Flag, Cartersville, Ga.

If you play negative doubles in response to an opening bid, it means that all initial doubles of overcalls of four spades or lower are emphasized toward take-out. Doubles of three spades and higher may tend toward optional, though. Doubles of no-trump bids and of artificial calls that show two-suited hands, however, suggest a desire to defend. (When the opponents find a fit, all doubles by either player at their second turn tend to be take-out).

Should you wait until you have all suits properly controlled before launching into Blackwood? Or should you cue-bid instead?

Mumbo-Jumbo, Muncie, Ind.

Don’t use Blackwood if you are sure you won’t know what to do over the response. In other words, if your hand consists of the first-round controls but not second- and third-round controls, let your partner ask; cue-bid instead to let him do so. When your side has more than enough high-card points for slam, it is not terrible to use Blackwood with one suit that may be unguarded if no sensible alternative exists.

Please tell me how I can discreetly ask my opponents not to look at my partner’s cards — or find a way to help my partner hold his cards back!

Hiding in Plain Sight, Dodge City, Kan.

One thought is that you might ask an opponent to hold his cards back, and then extend the warning to your partner. Incidentally, one thing that always gets my goat is people who count their suits so their partner (but only their partner) might see, if they are looking. That should be firmly if politely discouraged, too.

What scheme of responses do you recommend to a two-club opener? Do you prefer complex over simple schemes, and what is your opinion of control-showing responses?

Tripe and Onions, Troy, N.Y.

I recommend a simple scheme of responses. I’m happy to bid two hearts with positive values and a reasonable suit, whereas a two-spade call needs two top honors in five or more cards, or a six-card suit and one top honor. I can see the logic of using all other calls as natural, but if you prefer something artificial, use two no-trump as clubs with limited values. Bids at the three-level would then be natural with very good suits (or transfers if you want to live a little).

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David WarheitSeptember 1st, 2019 at 9:40 am

I held AKQxx Ax AQ9 KQx. I opened 2C, opponents silent, partner bid 2D, 2N (23-24 HCP), he bid 3D (transfer to H), 3H, 5N (pick your slam), 6S (showing 5), 6N. Very quick opening lead was S10. Dummy: J Q10xxx J10x AJ10x. I was very suspicious of the lead, thinking he probably had 5S, so I won the J, crossed to CK & led low H, intending to play Q no matter what (unless opponent played the K, of course), reasoning that besides it being essentially 50-50, if lefthand opponent had Kxxx or KJ doubleton or Kxx or KJx, the hand would be over if he played the K & also if I cashed 2 more S I would be forced to pitch H, thereby eliminating some of the H threat The Q won (W actually had Kxxx & did very well by playing low quickly), so now the D finesse was just for an overtrick (it lost). And, yes, he did have 5S. Do you agree with my reasoning and my play?

Bobby WolffSeptember 1st, 2019 at 2:20 pm

Hi David,

Obviously the game was either (our real great one), either rubber bridge or IMPs since with matchpoints, the bastardized part vitally needs to be seriously considered because everyone will likely be in (at least during a 1st class event) a small slam with 6NT a standout for scoring well, a fairly routine above average result, if winning the duplicate, not guilding the lily, being the prime objective.

While the fast spade lead might connote 5 or more spades, I, against good competition, would be hesitant to put much stock in that, particularly against a pretty good player who would know that his lack of thought might be useful to the best declarer in the room. (speaking of lily guilding, flattery never hurts, but no doubt 100% true in this case).

Also, it is truly a telling factor that if your small heart lead found the king in front of the queen 10 fifth I would seriously doubt that he wouldn’t hop immediately (since the difference between making an overtrick is so critical in matchpoints).

From now on only IMPs (or rubber) will I consider., and by doing so I heartily agree with your line of play and, of course your reasoning for so doing.

Of course, the man’s contract is 7 clubs which only needs the diamond finesse and no worse than 4-2 breaks in the black suits. Although as far as grand slams, it is undeniably terrible, but does have its “gloating” advantage if playing against a not liked rival, plus of course, the above breaks, perhaps in the lower 30% for being successful.

One special rule to always be done in the aftermath of hands like the above is to allow the winner to explain, otherwise sorrowful pity, rather than preferred admiration, will be the order of the day.

Thanks for a truly worthwhile exercise in planning, which usually leads to an educational
result, especially from you.