Friday, February 8, 2008

Frank Stewart-- Do you Sometimes Wonder?

Within the last week I have been scratching my head as I ponder Frank Stewart’s bridge columns. I respect his playing record, but I find that his columns often seem like he assigned them to an assistant.

One of his favorite subjects is iron clad overcalls and the perils of new bridge, where at the one level, very little will often suffice for the risk takers in today’s game. To put a point on a recent column, he had West overcall a minor suit opening with a heart holding that most player’s would overcall on today. He then put all the cards in the wrong place to create a dangerous work place for West. I can accept that, writer’s privilege, but I thought he went a little far when he had north, holding 4 spades and 4 hearts, double the heart overcall and then had South convert the double for penalties holding a single heart and 4 spades. It would seem clearly that North’s double should have been understood to be negative and show 4 spades, and not a desire to defend.

Would any sane South leave the double in with a single heart and an 8 card spade fit? Did Frank even discuss north’s double or South’s pass of that double? Did he ever mention that North-South had a cold spade game? No, no and no!! It would seem if he wanted to teach a “I told you so” lesson about overcalls, he could have constructed a more appropriate hand and bidding sequence. There were probably a lot of novices and intermediates out there wondering “What the hell is going on?” and thinking perhaps they fell asleep during the lesson on negative doubles. That kind of mischief doesn’t help anybody.

In today’s column South starts off with a normal 1NT opener, a pass, a 2 heart transfer to spades, but instead of bidding 3 spades to “super-accept,” South bids three diamonds showing a super accept with diamond strength. North transferred again by bidding with 3 hearts, South now bid 3 spades accepting the transfer and North bids 4 spades. South held AKxx, A65,AQ9,876. North held Q98xxx,Qxxx,1052,void. It went down, but Frank shows how it could make on a difficult end play in the diamond suit and lauds the sophisticated bidding that encouraged North to bid 4 spades. Do you like this bidding sequence? Not me. It fails to pass one of my prime tests: it gives more critical information to the opponents than to partner.

Granted, the hand might have been passed out in 3 hearts with a normal super acceptance, but that probably would have been an average plus board since most of the “folks” are not up to intricate end plays and would likely be down 1 in 4 spades. The part that I really don’t like is that opener has now advertised his strength in diamonds, virtually assuring that opponents will not oblige him with a lead up to his AQx in diamonds. With a diamond lead, even I could make the hand. I hope his readers didn’t take too much from this column. It would have been a good time to have spilled the coffee.

Even worse, he didn’t even discuss West’s silence after the 1NT bid. West held JT, T8, KJ76, AJTxx. Nine minor suit cards and only four major suit cards. Does it take a bridge savant to see where this hand is headed. If West were my partner and passed this hand, I would go to the partnership desk. How about a little DONT bid of 2 clubs showing clubs and one higher suit (in this case diamonds). As it turns out, East has a big club fit with West, plus values in hearts and would raise to at least 4 clubs after North's 2 heart transfer bid. Now let’s see them get to game? Four spades is only a guess. You have both West and East bidding and opener doesn’t know if North really had values or if he was intending to transfer and pass. What would you do on this bidding? There is a good play for 4 clubs as the cards sit. Again, I say, interfere over opening 1 NT bids! Occupy some bidding space – it belongs to everybody at the table.

If there is any real value to Frank’s column and the hands he showed, it is the two lessons I mentioned, and not how to make swishy end plays that become necessary only when you over inform the opponents about your hand. My suggestion is to take what you can from the hands and not listen too closely to the columnist. The reason I do not write a column is that I can’t stand bloggers getting on my butt all the time. Oh, also, I am not an expert, so consider that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In Frank Stewart's column, Santa Rosa, CA Press Democrat on Oct 13, South held S-AKQ97, H-6, D-AQ, C-A8742, and the final contract was 6 Spades. The line of play suggested by Frank CANNOT WIN!!! If East discards 2 Clubs on the Diamond run and retains all his trump until the endplay, South cannot possibly avoid losing a trick to the Jack of Clubs.

If you need the entire layout, send me an email to and I will send it to you. If you need the whole column,

Please pass this comment on to Frank Stewart.