Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bergen, Jacoby, Hardy, Joe Sargent and Concealed Splinters

I played with a real bridge savvy guy yesterday. It cost me $6.50 to sit down, but as tuition goes it was surely cheap. I am sure if he started counting his master points after Board 24, he would still be running the total. My partner is named in the title to this blog, can you identify him? Hint: Oswald Jacoby and Max Hardy have both played their last card, and Marty Bergen is retired.

One hand that we defended reminded me of importance of partnership understandings in defining the hand characteristics of Bergen Limit Raises, Jacoby 2NT and Splinter responses to major suit openers. I think your bidding skills and partnership communication will vastly improve if you start with the proposition that each of these responses should be narrowly defined and distinguishable.

Start with the easy one, the Bergen Limit Raise. For most pairs today that response is 3 clubs. It shows 10 to a bad 12 points, 4 card support and no singleton or void. Since responder’s hand may have little or no ruffing value (4333 is really ugly) it is highly invitational , but not forcing. If you are opener, even with a bad hand do not pass 3 clubs. I already did that in the finals of a Regional knockout – nobody on our team was entertained. The bar tab was a killer!

Move forward to the Splinter bid. If differs from the Bergen Limit Raise in that the splinter must have a single or void. It should also show 10 to a bad 12 points, but because of the shortness it is a game forcing bid. If you have a void rather than a single upgrade your hand a little. The splinter is shown by making a triple jump in the short suit. If your short suit is a single honor, do not show the hand as a splinter, downgrade it to a Bergen Limit Raise. In order to make a good hand valuation opposite a splinter, opener must be able to assume that all of your points are “working points.” For more detail on splinter valuation, see my earlier blog on splinter bids in the archive.

Most often the splinter bid will be at the 4 level so we have eaten up a lot of bidding space. This is what makes it so important that the bid be narrowly defined. Opener is not handcuffed, but he must count on you being within the defined range in making the slam/no slam decision. If opener bids anything other than 4 of the major, he is showing slam interest. There is no science involved if responder has 10 points one time and 17+ points another.

The Jacoby 2NT response also shows 4 card support, and it will have game forcing strength. It may resemble an overgrown Bergen Raise or an overgrown Splinter. It will be a minimum of a good 12 hcps, but the bid is unlimited in strength. In both the Bergen Limit Raise and the Splinter bid, opener is in charge of the hand and makes the crucial decisions. With the Jacoby 2NT bid, responder takes over the hand and is the "Captain of the Ship". Opener describes his hand strength and distribution and responder puts all 26 cards together and makes the final contract decision. Since responder is the decision maker, it really doesn’t matter that he has a singleton or void, or 12 or 22 points, he simply takes that into account in his hand analysis.

One of the problems of the Splinter bid is that you are giving information about responder’s hand distribution and the defender’s can read your smoke signals. The defender’s are being told where they should not expect tricks. A lead of the splinter suit will most often give declarer a “tempo” which may be all the hand needs to make the contract. Both Bergen and Hardy discussed the use of “concealed splinters” in connection with the Bergen Raise complex. With a splinter hand, responder jumps to the 3 level in the opposite major. Thus, 1h/3s or 1s/3h shows a concealed splinter raise. If opener has a big hand and wants to investigate slam, he asks for the shortness by bidding one step up (3s over 3h and 3NT over 3s). Responder then shows the short suit.
If the bidding is: 1s/3h(splinter)/3s(where?)- then 3NT(short clubs) or 4c(short diamonds) or 4h(short hearts).
If the bidding is:: 1h/3s(splinter)/3NT(where)- then 4c(short clubs) or 4d(short diamonds) or 4h( short spades).

That obviously has achieved no advantage over the traditional method, but if opener has no slam aspirations, he can simply bid game in the major directly, and then the location of the splinter has not been disclosed to the defenders. This also opens up all the direct four level calls in the unbid sits for whatever use you wish to make of them. One idea might be to have them show a void as opposed to a singleton. Another choice may be to show a good secondary 5+ card suit along with 4 card support.

After our opponent’s Jacoby 2NT sequence yesterday, the dummy came down with AT76, Q6, AJ8652, x. Do you like that 2 NT bid? Partner held QJ9543, K7, K7, A92 and did a fast arrival of 4 spades. The King of spades was offside, but it shows the dangers of getting the wrong hand in control. Just when you think you have clarified everything, a hand like this comes along. I’ll take criticism on this, but I am splintering that hand. Preferably a concealed splinter! Maybe 6 spades down 1. I would have had company!

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