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 email@example.com