Monday, May 5, 2008

1 NT Forcing to Hell and Back

This is my final post as I pack my cats and move to Rochester, New York for the summer. My posts will continue, but on a less frequent basis. Keep checking my blog or you can e-mail me at for instant contact. I will continue to monitor my Florida e-mail as well. Traditionally I have disclosed my own vulnerability to bridge regrets as a final post. Last year it was Murder on Sanchez Avenue. This post could have been entitled Murder at the Italian American Club, the scene of my downfall. I wish everybody a pleasant summer. See you'all in the fall.

I am a heavy user of 1NT forcing when partner opens a major. Sometimes I will actually have something to bid (definitely not support) and want to mark time until partner further describes his hand. On other occasions I often have something that you would gladly pass on in rubber bridge, or maybe even playing IMP’s, but at matchpoints I can't resist testing the will of the opponents to get into the auction.

The first hand that confronted me last Monday was x, xx, QJxxx, Txxxx. Partner opens 1 heart and my RHO passes. It flashes through my mind that opponents are about to freely enter into this auction if I pass. The alternative is to start a sequence with 1NT forcing and see if I can’t slow down the opposition. In my system I would raise with xxx or better, so partner can put aside any thoughts of a 5-3 fit.

I really don’t expect that partner will rebid a minor, but stranger deals have turned up in the newspapers. If partner rebids hearts, I will pass and if he doesn’t, I will simply rebid hearts and we will see if we can buy a major contract at the 2 level with 7 trump. In bridge parlance this later technique is called “taking a false preference” since you really don’t prefer hearts, but you are going to tolerate them and hope to hold our score to -100. This technique doesn’t always work since good opponents will balance over my final pass of 2 hearts, but you do find a few gifts and sometimes the opponents get one level too high. I also thought it was risk free.

Well, LHO passed my 1NT forcing, so that is one turnip out of the way (at least for a while). Now it’s all down hill, or is it? Partner goes into the tank and bids 2 spades, a reverse showing 4-5 and a very big hand (we take reverses seriously) . This is a one round force and I know from experience you don’t keep good partner’s by passing their forcing bids. I admit it, I was trying to “master mind” the hand and things just got out of control. Partner doesn’t want to hear that either, so I just rolled my eyes and bid 3 hearts. Partner apparently forgot we only have a 7 card heart suit, and the next thing I see is the 4 heart card coming out of his bidding box. It is like being on the “Last Train to Clarksville” and this Monkey can’t get off. With over half the deck (partner had 19 hcps) we go down 2 for a low board and opponents can’t make anything. Partner was very charitable; he calmly said to me “When I respond 1NT, I have 6 hcps!” Old school, but I thought better to change your ways than to disrupt a perfectly good partnership.

A few hand later I was dealt xxxx, Kx, x, QJxxxx. Again I hear partner open one heart. OK he said 6 hcps, same idea but better since I have a control in his suit – 1NT forcing. Again my LHO passed and partner goes into the tank again. Now I don’t hear a reverse, I hear three diamonds, a jump shift which is forcing to game. Any thought about bailing out with my club suit is gone; I am not bidding 4 clubs with this hand. Again, I simply sound as discouraging as possible and bid 3 hearts, but my destiny is written in the sand, 4 hearts. As I put down dummy I reassured partner that I had followed his instructions to the letter and had not only my 6 points, but an honor in his trump suit and a single. Well, partner did as well as he could (he did have 20 hcps) but 4 hearts went down. A bunch of part scores made our way, someone made 3NT and someone else made 5 clubs. It turns out that partner’s had included AKx in clubs among other his other jewels.

What is the point to these sad stories? Here it is: When points seem to be missing at the table, consider that the next bid you hear from partner may confirm their location in his hand and that your safe ploy to bail out with a false preference at the 2 level may go right out the window. As much success as I have had with that strategy, I got “snake bit” twice on the same afternoon. The only thing that saved our partnership was my “by the book” hand the second time around. Bad luck? Bad judgment? Maybe some of both, but I am a hard dog “to keep under the porch!” 1NT forcing is tattooed in the palm of my right hand!!

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