Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The 5 Bagger -- Rebid it or Pass?

The game is matchpoints. You hold 42, AJ973, JT83, Q3. Partner opens and the auction is 1c/1h/1NT/?  As responder what rebid options are open to you and what action should you take. The Bridge God’s will forgive you if you think there is no option other than pass. Bidding summaries on the Internet and elsewhere are quick to generalize and conclude that responder cannot rebid an unsupported suit at the 2 level with a minimum hand (6-9 hcps) unless he holds 6 cards in the suit. If that rule had no exceptions, you would have no option other than to pass this hand. While that may be the rule for most 1/1/1 auctions, there is an exception for hands where opener rebids 1 NT since in this auction opener guaranteed 2 or 3 hearts and the hand may well play better in 2 hearts than 1NT. Figuring out where this hand will play the best is probably a 90 vs. 110 score difference, not worth much consideration in IMP’s, but a big deal in match points.

          As a numbers guy, my first inquiry is always what are the chances of finding 3 card support in opener’s hand? To determine that we need to know the likely distributions of opener’s hand when he rebids 1NT. Absent some strange agreements, opener’s hand should be either 4333 (26.5%), 4432 (55.5%), 323(5) and 32(5)3 (19%). So how likely is it that you will catch partner with 3 card support for your 5 card major? If you weigh all that out, I think you will find that opener has 3 card support about 75% of the time and 2 card support 25% of the time, so the odds favor 3 card support by 3 to 1. Given that the hands are likely to produce an 8 card suit, how likely is it that this will translate into an extra trick when played in the suit contract?

          This depends on too many variables for my calculating skills. I think it is fair to say that when opener’s hand is 4333, the hand will likely make the same number of tricks in no trump as in a suit contract due to the lack of ruffing opportunities in opener’s hand, but if opener has 3 trump and any of the other distribution, a suit contract is favored to score better. Here are some other considerations:

1. When responder’s hand is in the 6-8 hcp range, you often find there are problems getting to the dummy in no trump contracts. If declarer has to get 7 tricks playing it out of his hand, it is almost always a disaster. Playing the hand in a suit contract will ease this problem.

2. It is easier to control a hand when there is a trump suit. Having a trump suit enables you to neutralize opponent’s potential long suit tricks.

3. It may be easier to set up a side suit trick of your own if you can ruff a round, particularly when it is 5-2.

4. Partner’s rebid of 1NT is not always ideal, and sometimes a least worst choice. He will often hold a worthless doubleton or a suit with only a half stopper. In the introductory hand and auction, opener did not rebid spades over the 1 heart response and responder herself has only a small doubleton spade. This spade weakness is likely to make the 1NT contract inferior.

5. If partner had opened 1NT, everybody with the responder hand would have transferred and passed, playing it in 2 hearts. Rebidding the 5 card major suit is not different and is supported by the same logic.

6. If you do not bid the 5 card suit you have lost the only opportunity to find the 5-3 fit due to the higher hcp requirements of NMF and CBS.

7. Rebidding the 5 card suit will make it more difficult for opponents to balance. If the bidding goes 1d/1s/1NT/2s, now the opponents have to balance at the 3 level as you have taken away a level of bidding.

8. Most players are better at playing suit contracts than no trump contracts. If you think you are better at declaring than your partner, bidding the suit gives you an opportunity to play the contract.

9. Most responder’s will likely take the path of least resistance and pass 1NT rather than explain to partner why they did not. This means that most of the field will be playing 1NT. If you reason this out and remove the contract to 2 hearts and it is the correct decision, in match points you are likely to get a near top.

          It is not that any one of these reasons are decisive taken alone, but taken together, I think they support doing an analysis before you pass 1NT. In final analysis, if it is a close case I tend to bid. In terms of responder’s suit I prefer one that is chunky, but unlikely to run in No Trump. Maybe QJT97 rather than KQJxx.

          When you hear responder rebid his suit, don’t necessarily assume that he has 6 pieces. The better the player, the more likely that he has 5. In these bidding sequences, it is likely that the points are evenly divided between the two partnerships. If the hcps are equal, if declarer is to make his contract, it usually means that he is going to have to steal a ruff in the short trump hand. I would tend to follow normal lead principles if there is an attractive lead, but in default of a better lead, I would lead trump. Since dummy is likely to have 2 or 3 trump in order to avoid cheap ruffing tricks, a good defense is to start declarer off with a “draw” strategy whether  he likes it or not.

          Perhaps this concept is too basic for most of my readers, but I got into exploring it at the request of two good players who asked for my comments. This lead me to believe that issue is not as well understood as I thought it would be. As is often the case, I may be the biggest beneficiary of the research and writing. Happy Bridging. Comments and Critique to tommy@rochester.rr.com

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Funks and Slumps

     The lead article in Larry Cohen’s August Newsletter caught my eye. I have suggested many times that my readers subscribe to the newsletter but I am sure that many of you have not followed through. Did I tell you it is free! And did I tell you that you can subscribe by visiting his website at www.larryco.com. Most of the newsletter is at the intermediate level, balanced with both bidding and play and you have access to his library of articles that he has written over recent years.

     The article deals with how to fix funks and slumps in your bridge career, times when nothing seems to right for you, you get all the fixes, your partner makes mistakes, you catch the wrong pair at the wrong time, your partner leads out of turn and then later revokes, two more boards down the chute. You got this cloud hanging over your head, fully expecting to get ticketed for speeding on the way home. Partner in her cheery tone says “bad luck partner, we’ll do better next time” and it’s only a game!!! The hell it is only a game, this is bridge! We have got to fix something.
     The process repeats itself for the next two weeks, but it is getting progressively harder to hang these 41% games around partner’s neck. Is it just possible that I am contributing to this disaster? We change from North South to an East West seating where we hope it will be easier pickings, but now all the East-West teams are ganging up on us and we are fast becoming the kick around team that everybody fattens their average on. Most slumps will not last longer than 4 weeks, and if they don’t turn around in that time you need to consider Larry’s fast fixes for the Funky Slump.

     If you have the Funky Slump, then it is almost assuredly caused by losing control of the bridge basics that were once written in blood. It time to go to your Funky Slump Checklist and do a line item check off. What, you don’t have a list? How convenient that Larry created one for you and I helped him out. Hereeeeee’s Larr-rry and Tom-me-ey.

1. Make Sure You Are Planning at Trick One. Are you playing too quickly at trick 1. The success of your contract often depends what you do at trick one. This is the main problem for almost everybody, including your blogger. Here is Larry’s formulaic thinking for No Trump and Suit Play and you must do it every time the dummy comes down.

(a) No Trump Contacts. Analyze the opening lead. Is it 4th best and if so what does that mean for your contract. Count your winning tricks that you can take without giving up the lead. Do not count finesses or other “maybes” or tricks you can take if the suit unexpectedly breaks in your favor. Can you afford to give up the lead and what will happen if you do? Can you identify a dangerous opponent who you do not want on lead and arrange the sequencing of your play to keep the lead where you want it. Check your entries and don’t leave a length suit on the board that you can’t get at. If you don’t have adequate entries, consider a safety play.

(b) Suit Contracts. Count your losers from the hand with the trump length. If you are in 4 spades and have 4 losers, you got to figure out a plan to avoid 1 loser. There are basically 5 ways to avoid a loser. (i) a successful finesse (ii) ruffing losing trick from the hand in the dummy (iii) discard loser’s from declarers hand on dummy’s length suits (iv) discarding losers on losers. (v) if counting loser’s doesn’t work, count winners. If you have a wealth of trump in the dummy and some distribution, you may be able to set up a cross ruff and cash most of the combined trump one at a time. If eliminating losers relies on trumping in the dummy you may have to defer drawing trump.

2. As Defender . You want to be declarer’s best friend? Here is the road map: Lead your unprotected Aces and when you run out of Aces start breaking new suits for declarer. “That'll do her.”

3. Bidding. If partner open the bidding and you have opening count, don’t let the bidding stop until game is reached. The only way to do this is to keep making forcing bids that opener can’t pass. Make sure you have complete understanding with partner so you know which bids are forcing for one round and which are game forcing and which bids can be passed. If partner passes a forcing bid, you can put down this checklist and go directly to the partnership desk.

4. Doubles. Review the basics of take-out doubles and negative doubles and the responses to those actions. Do not worry about responsive doubles and support doubles unless you are really clear on the bread and butter doubles. I can’t think of a bid that is more ignored than the support double.

5. Be ready and in shape to compete. Here is one that you seldom hear mentioned, but maybe it should be at the top of the list. Come to the table with a clear head, no big meals, drugs or alcohol before playing. Be aware that if you are sleeping poorly or are over medicated or hung over or all three, you can’t expect to play at your best level or maybe at any recognizable level. You are an athlete, so don’t break training.

6. Cut Down on Conventions. Filling your head with uncomfortable clutter and memory makes it hard to take tricks and remember what the contract is. Missing a convention is depressing and it is bound to interfere with subsequent play. When I wrote about Easely Blackwood,  I said that the number 1 convention in Larry’s book was Blackwood. He quickly wrote that it was number 2. That’s bad news and good news. I don’t like to misquote him but at least I know that he reads the blog. Larry thinks you can get along very nicely with 6 conventions:

(i) Negative Doubles (ii) Blackwood (iii) Stayman (iv)Jacoby Transfers (v)4th suit forcing (vi)DON’T over 1NT openers. If you must have 8 he would add (vii) Weak jump shifts in competition and (viii) 2NT Feature Ask over Weak 2’s. Notice thank God, no Lebensohl. That I would nominate as the first to take off. Heresy, I Know.

     I would finish with “The road to Hell is paved with Good Conventions.” I once wrote a blog by that title and later had a discussion with Larry about who used it first. He strongly argued that his use came before mine. I see from his recent article he seems to be weaking and now introduces the phrase with “Someone once said.” And just when I was ready to concede. Put it in Google and see the result. Comments and Insults to tommy@rochester.rr.com.



Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Hesitation Waltz

Is there anything more entertaining in Bridge than watching a good old fashioned “Break in Tempo” infraction being processed? It starts with that blood curdling scream for the Director, the arrival of the director at the table with great pomp and circumstance, the allegations and accusations of high crimes that flow seem to rise to the level of sexual assault or worse. This is followed by fervent denials that no break in tempo occurred since partner always takes 30 seconds to fidget and pass, and finally that these miscreant opponents would not know a Tempo Break if they saw one. Well it’s entertaining unless you are involved. Let’s look at a few issues that create misunderstanding:

(i) Is a Break in Tempo clearly defined under the Laws of Bridge: No. Whether a break in tempo occurred is not a matter of law but rather, a question of fact, there is no bright line test. If you read some of the appeals you will see that this is a “facts and circumstances” test that takes into consideration many factors, including the skill of the players. In club games I believe in restraint if the players possess less skill and have less experience. The novice you beat up on today will be the missing half table next week.

(ii) How about ethics? Unless it is done with the intention of passing unauthorized information, players have every right to take the time they need to make a decision. I think it is safe to say that less than 1% of the Tempo Breaks are intentional. Bridge is a difficult game that requires difficult decisions that are not always susceptible to “in tempo” responses.

(iii) So What is the big deal? You can break tempo, but in doing you will be deemed to have passed unauthorized information to your partner. Partner is not barred from the auction, but you will have put serious handcuffs on his continuing action in the auction. Partner must now choose from among the “logical alternatives” available to him the action that is least suggested by the break in tempo. Mostly those alternatives are pass or bid, but they can also include whether to pull partner’s double or leave it in or make a sacrifice at a higher level. This is the decision the director will make, but if you are aware of your obligations you can you can make a selection that will minimize your risk of using the unauthorized information and the resulting damage. And by the way, passing is not always safe if that alternative was suggested by partner’s hesitation.

(iv) Are we destined to be Penalized on this Board? Not at all. In most cases the director will wait until the completion of the board or later to make a decision. An adjusted score will only be awarded if the director concludes that your fellow competitors suffered some damage as a result of the unauthorized information. In most cases the directors conclude that no damage has occurred and the board will be scored as played. As a practical matter, most infractions result in a “no damage” conclusion, especially ones that occur early in the auction.

(v) What’s new? In bridge if it happened within 10 years it is new. In the 2008 update of the Laws a procedural change was made providing an alternative way to deal with tempo breaks. If you decide that a break in tempo has occurred by your opponents, all you need to do is ask them in a civil tone if they agree that there has been a break in tempo. If they concur, then the auction and play can continue to the end of the hand and there is no immediate need to call the director. At least in club games, if your opponents think a break in tempo occurred, it probably did. As you can imagine, this often breaks down into a "he-says she-says" disagreement to be settled by a director who was on the other side of the room eating a brownie or replenishing the coffee. If you are waiting for the director to say that there was not a hesitation, don’t hold your breath.

At the end of the play if the offended parties believe that there has been actual damage resulting from the unauthorized information, then director can then be called to settle the issue. If it is agreed that no damage has occurred, you have avoided a director call with all the resulting trimmings.

 Still, this procedure is elective and if you want to get the director to the table that is your right. My experience with the alternative procedure is that it works well, saves time, avoids lack of continuity in the play, circumvents potential acrimony and avoids disruption.

In writing this post I am not attempting to discourage tempo calls. At clubs, I think players for the most part are indulgent in an effort not to intimidate their fellow competitors with what are nothing more than tactical calls. At Sectionals, Regionals and Nationals, don’t expect this courtesy. Knowing your rights is being prepared.

(vi) And now the disclaimer. I am not the first person to write on this subject, there is ample material on the internet, and I have benefitted from the writing of others, especially my sometimes partner, Jim Thomas, who directs for the ACBL I am not a director and do not profess to be an expert on the Bridge Laws. If I have made mistakes, let’s hope they are small ones and are counterbalanced by the value of my main message.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Was Blackwood a One Trick Pony?

Easley Blackwood was a contemporary of Eli Culbertson, but not so well known or so rich. As an aside, in  the 1930’s contract bridge was such a social rage that Culbertson was able  to develop a commercial empire around it, and in the late 30’s was making $1,000,000 a year off of his bridge related enterprises. The name Blackwood conjures up the Ace Asking convention which bears his name. He developed that in the year in which I was born, but no need to go into that! Today his simple little convention has spawned all sorts of Ace and Key Card asking systems.
The most significant tribute I have heard about the Blackwood Convention was from expert and author Larry Cohen. In his top 10 bridge conventions of all time, he listed the Blackwood Convention as the one he would want if he could have only one. Blackwood was the executive director of the ACBL for a few years and also the author of several books on bridge, including my favorite, The Complete Book of Opening Leads (1983). Students of the game are still reading that today.

Wait, that’s not all! I was reading an e-mail recently that referenced a Bulletin from the Bedfordshire Bridge Association discussing “Blackwood’s Theory of Distribution.” Blackwood posited KJT32 opposite A874, the holding that made “8 ever, 9 never” famous in Bridge jargon, meaning that with 9 cards play for the drop of the Queen and with 8 cards finesse.
If you look at standard card distribution tables you will see that with 9 cards the 3-1  break is 50% and the 2-2 break is 40%, so that makes the 2-2 break appear to be an underdog. South starts out by playing the Ace and both East and West both play small cards. A small card is then led toward the King Jack and West produces another small card. What has happened is to change the odds is that two small cards have been played by West and one by East. Now the 4-0 and 0-4 probabilities have been eliminated and West has one less card in his hand than East. Thus East is marginally more likely to hold the Queen than West. The combination of these two factors makes East a 52% favorite to hold the Queen, so the drop is indicated. 

Confusing you say? Sure that’s why the someone invented the saying, probably back in the days when the English Lords were losing fortunes playing Whist. Even if you mix up the saying, it’s only a 2% difference so no big deal unless the finesse loses. 

A couple of things you may want to notice. First the saying is so well known that in any field 99% of the declarer’s are going to play for the drop. So for a 2% risk, you can make up for a bunch of match points that you let slip through your hands by earlier errant play. Of course that cuts both ways, if you are having  a good game, stick with the field to participate in an average board. The other thing to notice is you should take a page from the no “hold em” poker players. It is ethical to take into consideration any “tells” that may be inadvertently displayed by either opponent. If you see one gazing around the room, that guy probably has the Queen. Note however, that you act at your own risk. I know some players from whom I would draw just opposite conclusion. 

Now back to Easley. He realized that imperfect shuffles produced hands that do not lead to perfect mathematical solutions. Taking a page from Culbertson’s Law of Symmetry, he proposed what he called Blackwood’s Theory of Distribution and applied it to the 9 card holding. Blackwood’s Theory (at  least he had the grace not to call it a law) proposed that the location of the missing queen could be determined by declarer looking  at the length of his shortest suit (combining the hand and dummy).If the shortest holding is five or more cards or 4 cards breaking 2-2, then play for the drop. If the shortest holding is 4 cards not spitting 2-2 or fewer than four cards, take the finesse. While no mathematical proof was offered, the theory was tested over a large number of hands and produced excellent results. 

Will it fare as well against computer dealt cards? Probably not since the underpinnings were based on imperfect deals, but there are still several events that start with dealt cards. With computer deals I always imagine what combination of cards will serve to ruin my day and let that be my guide.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Is Your Drawer Full of Dull Knives

I thought I was through posting to my blog. First, I had a heart attack recently. What surprise, as a lawyer I went through life thinking my job was to give heart attacks, not get them. Second, after 10 years I thought maybe I had already said everything I had to say on the subject of winning bridge. Then two events occurred this week that piqued my interest, and my urge to communicate with my readers reappeared. The first thing I did was to start to re-read “How the Experts Win at Bridge” written by Burt and Lynn Rose Hall in 1996. The authors are not glitzy super stars, but their organization of material and writing style quickly convinces you that they not only have something to say, but can say it in a way the you can understand. Ask any teacher or student of the game and I think, you will get the same enthusiastic response. Amazon currently offers the book at $12.95, clearly a bargain. The book contains a glowing foreword by none other than Larry Cohen, the only endorsement that I have seen him make.

The second thing that occurred was that I opened up Larry Cohen’s most recent Free Newsletter. Go to www.larryco.com and you can sign up for it in the upper right hand corner. The main feature of the current newsletter was a 20 question test to determine how aggressive your bidding style actually is in practice. It is worth taking and better yet have your partners take it as well top see how you match up. Don’t get on all your war paint for the test. Be honest and call the hands the same way you would in a club game today. Don’t fall into the trap of “this is the way I would like to bid them if I only had the courage.” Once you have taken the test, read Chapter 2 in the Hall’s book and then go back and take the test again and bid them the way the experts would. If you are like me, you may find that you have a drawer of dull knives that have not been recently sharpened to consistently maintain the real aggressive bidding style that is required by today’s standards.

When and what you bid is determined as much today by vulnerability as it is by the cards you hold. If you are non-vulnerable, you will be excused from all but the most egregious bids, and maybe some of those as well. If you non-vulnerable, and particularly if it appears to be the opponents’ hand, desperate measures are called for. Any action other than “pass”, if it seems a bit too aggressive for you, may be just the action that you need to take. This includes the following:

Aggressive Preempts: Don’t wait around for the perfect disciplined preempts. Unless the vulnerability is unfavorable, get your bid out on the table and don’t worry about any special rules for 1st and 2nd seat  or how many cards you hold in a major. The Halls show these hands as examples of non-vulnerable preempts:
(i)           KQJ96 72 T542 87 (open 2 spades). Here you may be able to compete for part score in spades, take up opponents’ space, give partner lead direction or possible set up a save.
(ii)         42 65 T86 QJT963. (Open 3 clubs). Mostly for the same reasons, but here the absence of majors makes doing something mandatory and that word ain’t PASS.
(iii)       64 J862 QJT94 62. (Open 2 diamonds.) Don’t worry about your 4 hearts, if they got spades you need to do something to create some disruption and give partner some direction.

I know, I took these bids right out of your mouth. Good for you, but you are not excused yet.

Let’s turn to opening bids. Here are 3 more examples from Hall’s book. Let me give you a clue, high cards are not as important as having good shape and having whatever points you do have in long suits. Which of these do you open?
(i)        AQ64 72 54 KQ875 (11 points). Open 1 club in all seats. This is easy, only 6 LTC and 4 nice spades.
(ii)       KQ8642 A9872, 8 4 (9 points). Only 5 LTC, both majors and a nice rebid. Gotta be willing to kill for this shape.
(ii)       6 AJT953 KQ8 542 (10 points). Open 1 heart. It is too good for a weak 2 bid. If partner is a passed hand, 2 hearts is worth consideration, maybe even three. Shortage in spades always excuses irrational behavior.

How are you on Take Out Doubles? Still waiting for that 13 point 4441 hand? Did you notice that train has not been in the station lately? How do these suit your comfort level after a 1 club opening?
(i)           A752 K976 Q432 7 (9 points). Double. Great shape and 3 controls carry the day.
(ii)         A873 K95 AT65 85 (11 points). Double even though you may end up in a 7-card heart fit. Note the prime honors with 5 controls.
(iii)       KQ97 J85 JT84 A6 (11 points). Not as clear as the first two hands, but double anyway. Always add something for a 4 card spade suit. Here it tilts the decision.

Just to get you started here are the first two hands on Larry’s test. Softballs you might say, but keep on going. You are dealer, nobody vulnerable, would you open the bidding with:
1) KQ854 AJ987 54 4     2) KJ43 QT7 QJ3 K87.

There are 18 more and you get 5 points for each “yes.” When you finish check the Analysis of the Results. If you can hit the I-95 speed limit, you don’t need that knife sharpener.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bidding Continuations After 1NT Forcing

Many of my readers, like myself, are still stuck in the depths of “Intermediatesville” trying to get better as we learn from our mistakes. Some wag once wrote that in order for something to become a habit, you have to do it 19 times. It is hard to find anything in bridge that you can do correctly 19 times other than pass, and even pass has its own problems. So it doesn’t hurt for us to reinforce basics one in a while. Here is a thought about responding to 1NT forcing bids.

          Most duplicate players today play the 1NT response to one of a major as forcing for one round unless by an unpassed hand. That means that opener has to come up with one more bid. On a good day you will be delighted to come up with another bid reflecting your 6 card suit or extra values, on a bad day you will have some less appealing choices to make. How about a little quick review? Music maestro!!

1. If you rebid your major suit, it shows a suit that is 6 cards in length and no significant extras. A jump in the major suit shows 6 good cards in the bid major and 16+, but is non-forcing.

2. If the hand is 5433 you rebid your lower ranking 3 card minor.

3. If you opened 1 heart, a 2 spade rebid is still a reverse and shows    16+ hcps. Why is it a reverse? Because partner must now go to the 3 level to take a preference for your original suit. Don’t confuse this with 2/1 sequences where most players do not play reverses as   showing extra values, just hand shape.

4. If you make a jump shift, it promises a hand of about 19 hcps or   shape with equivalent playing strength. Definitely forcing!

5. A raise to 2NT shows a balanced hand of about18-19 hcps and almost forcing; pass it at your peril. Have a back up partner. If your partner is your spouse, it is forcing!

          Those were supposed to be easy choices, but reading this blog post counts as one of the 19 repetitions. With the basics behind you, take shot at these: You open 1 heart, your partner responds 1NT: “Your bid Syd!” Remember that Max Hardy is looking over your shoulder from that big bridge table in the sky.

(i) KJxx, AQxxx, Jx, Qx

(ii) K4, AQJT9x, 5, QJ43

(iii) K4, QJ7643, 5, AQJ3

(iv) K4, AKQJ63, Q7, J95

          On hand (i) you have 4 spades but to bid them would be a reverse – not with 13 hcps! In 2/1 game force, it is not systemically correct to rebid your 5 card heart suit, so you “suck it up” and bid 2 clubs. The rule says you bid your best 2 card minor and hope for the best. Somehow this often works out.

          On hand (ii) you have a 6 card heart suit which is rebiddable, but also a 4 card club suit you could show Note that hand (iii) has the same feature. How do you decide whether to show the club suit or just rebid your hearts? There is another rule for this. Here is the standard: Opener will only show the 4 card suit when the 6 card suit is not solid enough to play against a singleton. Opener bids 2 hearts with hand (ii) and 2 clubs with hand (iii). If you are responder and have a singleton in openers major (which happens with alarming frequency), it is important to understand the implication of opener rebidding a second suit. Opener is telling you that he does not have a 6 card major, or if he does it is not good enough to play against a single in your hand. If you have a single in opener’s major, you have 12 cards in the other suits. Remember opener’s bid of a new suit at the 2 level does not show extra values nor is it forcing, so you can pass, and with 4144 that may be the best thing to do. These situations come under the “catch all” that “sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.”

          Hand (iv) is even more twisted. I would guess many readers would bid 3 hearts over 1NT forcing. You are not going to like that matchpoint choice if the hand makes 10 tricks in both NT and spades. Opener should bid 3NT showing 16-18 hcps, solid hearts, and no single or void. This asks responder to pass if his hand is balanced and otherwise correct to 4 hearts.

          The wind up is what to do when responder has a good heart hand and the auction goes 1s/1NT/2c. Below are 4 rebid hands for responder, what is your rebid?

(i) 7 KQJ876 54 42

(ii) 76 KQT975 AJ5 43

(iii) 87 KQ98 AQ87 432 

(iv) T6 KQJ87 543 765

          With hand (i), bid 2 hearts to play. It tells partner to please pass. With hand (ii) you have 6 hearts and 10 hcps. It is too good for 2 hearts, so invite with 3 hearts. With hand (iii) bid 2NT since you have stoppers in the unbid suits and 10-12. How about hand (iv)? Good hearts but a single in partner’s bid suit and only 6 hcps. Partner’s 1 spade opening did not guarantee anything about his hearts and the rebid of 2 clubs may well be 4 clubs which tends to reduce the chance of holding hearts. This is a judgment hand and only the quality of the hearts makes them a consideration. Still, my experience in matchpoints tells me to ignore the hearts and take a false preference to 2 spades where you are guaranteed a 7 card trump suit. After all, responder has a 6 hcp, 9 LTC minimum hand. Disaster could be impending.

          If you don’t like my analysis, the specimen hands or the responses send an e-mail to maxhardy@bridgeinheaven.com. Be patient, he may not respond immediately. It may be more productive to write to me at tommy@rochester.rr.com or tsolberg@tampabay.rr.com. If you are on my blog notice list, do not use the “reply” button unless you want the entire list to read your comments. That could be ugly.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Competing After 1NT Overcalls by Opponents


          In an earlier post last month, I commented on wielding the axe when partner opens the bidding and LHO overcalls 1NT. The first thought that enters my head is can we beat this 1NT contract? This is a simple calculation if partner displays some discipline in opening hands. I think this points up the importance of counting quick tricks when making the decision to open. If your agreement with partner is that you open all 7 LTC hands regardless of quick tricks and values, then hang to your pass card as you will need it. Despite all the hoopla (some of it from me) LTC only works if you and partner find a fit, and is not an indicator of success in defending 1NT doubled.

          Even with a reliable partner, there are many times when you may have a hand that has playing values but is not suited to doubling the 1NT overcall. Such hands have distributional features, good suits or support for partner’s bid suit. To get into the bidding you need an agreement which means you have to tell partner in advance what is going on! Novel idea! Think about turning over a new leaf.

          If you have a biddable suit, you could just make an overcall, but since your hand is not as good as your partner’s, that would mean that if we declare, opponent’s lead would be coming up to the weaker hand. Your chance of winning an extra trick on the opening lead has already diminished. If you don’t have to, you never want to put the big hand on the table. Hmm … does this issue sound familiar? Well it should, since you face it every time partner opens 1NT. It starts with a “T” and it’s not “trouble” – how about “Transfer?”

          Suppose you hold Kx KT9876 Kxx, xx. Partner opens 1 spade so he has some values (hopefully) and most likely a 5-332 distribution. What else do we know? Overcaller has 15-18, likely a balanced hand with a stopper in all suits. The term stopper has been watered down lately. I have seen expert players make the overcall with no stopper or half a stopper (Qx or JTx) in an unbid suit, and the requirement for a double stop in the bid suit is almost extinct. This trend represents the frustration of overcaller having the most points at the table and not being able to find a suitable call with a 4333 or 4432 hand. Certainly he does not have a 5 card major or he would have bid it.

          Enough digression, back to responder and his heart suit. From the analysis above we can see that one partnership treatment would be to simply play would “systems on” just as you would have if partner had opened 1NT, Stayman and Transfers (four suit if you like). This system is designed to get the hand played by opener and at the same time we destroy opponents by taking away their use of “systems.” So if Transfers are “on” responder would bid 2 diamonds.

          The probabilities are that opener has 2+ hearts, but twice as likely that he may have 3. I think the understanding should be that opener may optionally refuse the transfer if he has a single or void in the suit. In that case he may rebid his original suit or bid another suit or pass if his suit is diamonds. Note that responder’s hand has a tolerance for partner if he must rebid his suit, even if it is only 5 carder. He might be 5-1-4-3 and have no choice other than to bail out on the transfer.

          Unlike the situation where partner opens 1NT, there is no assurance of a minimum 2 card fit, so I prefer to impose a quality requirement on transfers. To transfer, responder must have a 5 card suit with 2 of the top 3 or a 6 card suit with 2 of the top 5 honors or a fit to raise partner’s suit. What do you do if you have a fit? All bids by responder are transfers, so you can’t bid his suit, you must transfer him a back to his suit to show support.

          A different problem arises if partner opens a minor. If my hand is KT9x, KJxx, Kxx, xx, now I want to find that delicious 4-4 major fit but Stayman has its risks. Unlike when partner opens 1NT, opening a minor does not say partner has a balanced hand, he could have minor(s) and even if he is 4333 or 4432, there are many of those hands that don’t  ave even 1 four card major. The odds of a major shorten when the opponent right in front of you shows a balanced powerhouse. What does responder bid after opener rebids 2 diamonds (no major)? Well, there is nothing left but 2NT, but now you have contracted to take 8 tricks in the same contract in which the opponents have already suggested they can take 7. It’s better to face this problem in this blog post than at the table. I think with responder's hand I would choose to defend (perhaps doubled), look at the Kings sitting behind the overcaller.

          I think there is a reason to stay away from Stayman and perhaps a better systemic answer would be to make every 2 level bid a transfer. This can be very simple and effective, but you want to retain your suit quality requirements that I mentioned above. You have to decide what treatment is to be given to a 2 spade response. Is it clubs, minors and if minors, what distribution. Also remember that to show support for partner, you have to transfer.

          A system that I like is called “SANTA”. Originally developed as a defense against 1 no trump openers, it can be equally effective against a 1NT overcall. Here are the SANTA responses (a) 2 clubs = 9 major suit cards 55 or 5-4 (with quality) (b) 2 diamonds, 2 hearts, 2 spades and 3 clubs are transfers to hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds respectively and (c) 2NT+ 5-5 in the minors. The transfer bids as I play it shows the same suit quality as previously mentioned. With a major minor 2 suiter, transfer to your major and t hen bid your minor. Opener can pass or correct.

          There is merit to having one system for hands that partner opens with a major and another when partner opens with a minor. This is complicated for sure and no surprise that Andrew Gumpertz has blogged about it. If this discussion interests you, contact me at tommy@rochester.rr.com and I will send you a link.

          The critical thought in this post is that standard bridge will not serve you well in these auctions, and you need to discuss them with partner and develop some conventional approach. Pick your own poison.