Monday, June 29, 2009

Response to Bidding Quiz

In my last blog I showed two hands that were forwarded to me for a bidding opinion. To stimulate some interest, I asked my readers to comment on their own technique for opening these hands. The two obvious opening calls on each hand were either one spade or a forcing 2 clubs. While the responses included all 4 possible answers, the preponderance of elevated thought opened both hands 1 spade.

Hand One: KQ432, Q, AQ32, AKT. Open it 1 spade. For those who auger for 2 clubs, I ask “Where’s the beef?” I don’t see a forcing bid on tricks or on hcps (a bad 20). There are 4 LTC hands that I would open 2 clubs, and I think the modern trend is in that direction, but this is not one of them. If partner can’t muster up some kind of supporting bid (2,3 or 4 spades) or 1NT forcing, where are we going on this hand. If responder has as much as 6 hcps and sits on his hands, I’m heading for the partnership desk. I am assuming that we play jump shifts as forcing so there are no rebid problems.

I also think there is a risk in placing too much emphasis on Losing Trick Count before anyone has put their hand on a bidding box. While Ron Klinger did not invent LTC (it has been around since at least the 1930”s), his book, The Modern Losing Trick Count (1987) is today considered the unchallenged authority on the subject. At page 13 he states:

“The LTC can be used after a trump fit has been established. It is not designed for no trump hands and is quite unsuitable for misfit hands. Thus, it is vital that you do not envisage the LTC as replacing point count. It is used as an adjunct to point count when a trump fit comes to light. After the trump fit is known, the LTC will give a more accurate guide to the potential of the partnership hands.”

There is also this about LTC that is often forgotten and that is that there is a disconnect between the concept of losing trick count and winning tricks. A hand that has 4 LTC often does not have 9 Winning Tricks. Try this test out on either hand.

Jeff Rubens in his classic book on hand valuation, The Secrets of Winning Bridge (1969) states one of the principles of hand valuation: “PRINCIPLES OF HONORS WITH LENGTH: Other things being equal, honors are more valuable in your long sits than in short suits. The longer the suit in which the honor is located the more valuable the honor.” In an example he shows a hand Axxxx, xxxxx, AK, K and notes that the single club King is unguarded and as such loses much of its value.

Other features that show hand weakness are only 4 ½ quick tricks and only 6 controls. This may be more significant when compared with hand two which is stronger and has 5 Quick Tricks and 7 controls. I am keeping a list of those who voted to open this monstrosity with 2 clubs so I can protect myself!

Hand Two: AQxxx, AKT2, AQJ, 2. A much tougher case. I know good players (and some other self styled experts) who would open this two clubs. 4 LTC, 5 Quick Tricks, 7 controls and good defensive values, but still it fails to meet time honored standards. I am going to show my traditional values and reputation for foot slogging stodginess and open this one spade. I can hear the rhetoric now that I am risking getting passed out. That may be true, but not passed out in a probable game. I prefer not to dilute opener’s standards and rather rely on responder not to be shy if he has anything that looks like a plausible response. My odds of getting a response out of partner go up considerably when I only hold 20 hcps as opposed to 24-26, so the traditional danger of opening at the one level is mitigated.

I also think the communication will be better if the hand is opened 1 spade. The bidding structure and responses of a forcing 2 club opener are not what you call eloquent. Two diamonds “Waiting” or 2 hearts negative always leave you wondering. Even if responder bids his “controls”, opener may be left guessing about the club suit. With a singleton club, if exploration is warranted, wouldn’t you rather get into a cue bidding sequence? I think doing that successfully is more likely if you open 1 spade.

I am not saying that every 2 club opener has to be a crushing brute, only that it should represent some considerable guaranteed trick taking assets. I think there are some instructive examples of these types of hands in Max Hardy’s Advanced Bidding for the 21st Century (2000) at page 175-176.

One final caveat. If you are looking for expert bridge opinion you at the wrong web site.

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