Thursday, September 8, 2011

Raising Partner's Forced Response to a Take Out Double

Despite rumors to the contrary, I have not been dispatched to a nursing home, but I feel ready! My 4 month absence from bridge and blogging resulted from something almost as bad, working. I made enough to pay my weekly entry fees at Citrus Bridge Center for the winter and discovered something that I should have known – I am a better lawyer than Bridge player. Some might say that is not saying much!

Occasionally late at night I would sneak in and watch a few hands on BBO. It is amazing how clever you can be when you can see all four hands. In August I was watching one of my favorites, Pat Peterson (patpete2) who was mentoring one of her better club players. Pat is a true expert (as opposed to a BBO expert) and recently earned the title of Master Bridge Teacher awarded by the American Bridge Teachers Association and was nominated as Teacher of the Year.

The game was IMPs with both vulnerable. I didn’t write fast enough to scribble down the North-South hands but North opened with a bid of one club with a good suit and solid hand. Pat sitting East made a take out double and the action starts there. Here are the East-West hands:

East: AQJ85, A952, A53, K

West: T9632, QT43, KT94, void

South had Q empty 6th of clubs and nothing else and decided to pass. They may not have been playing inverted minors or maybe it didn’t meet South’s standard. I don’t think I could have been so restrained.

The first test comes with the West hand. What would you respond with West’s hand following South’s pass. Only 5 hcps, but a strong playing hand with only 7 Losing Trick Count. Pard did not double without majors and West has mega support and great distribution.. But remember, you can’t see East’s hand and it might be KJxx, Kxxx, AJx, xx. Also if you respond 2 spades, in standard, you are showing a hand that presumes 9++ points and suggests some defensive values. I can visualize advocates for 1, 3 or even 4 spades. If I don’t pull the trigger and bid 4 spades, my choice would be to show a little patience here and respond one spade which is what West did. If South had made a preemptive raise of 3 clubs, I think a responsive double would have been in order telling partner to take a pick.

North, holding strong clubs and a desire to compete, now bids 2 clubs. Here is the next examination. What do you now bid with the East hand. Even if you downgrade the King of clubs, it is still a very nice hand. If North had not rebid the clubs, you would have bid two spades showing the fit and 17+ points. Hearing that action, it would be pretty easy for West to bid the spade game.

But what is the effect of the intervening rebid by North? If East bids 2 spades over the 2 club rebid, is East still showing a big constructive hand and inviting West to bid again or is East simply competing with a hand that doesn’t want to sell out to 2 clubs when there is a known 8 card spade fit? If East held something like KJxx, Kxxx, AJx, xx you would want to bid 2 spades simply to follow the Law of Total Tricks. You didn’t want them to play 2 clubs did you?

Frankly, this dilemma has always bothered me a bit. I really didn’t know the meaning of a raise to 2 spades by doubler after an intervening rebid by opener. I found that in Standard bidding the raise to 2 spades, with or without an intervening rebid, clearly shows extras and is forward going, and is not simply competitive. Other choices might be 3 spades or even 4 spades, but in Standard those bids would really show block buster hands as partner has been forced to respond and may have “Squat”. So what does partner do with the hand where he merely wants to compete and not sell out to 2 spades?

I “Googled” the issue and came up with only one relevant hit. I found a 2009 discussion of this issue in Robin’s Bridge Blog. Recognizing the problem with Standard agreements, the author (who did not claim to be an expert) suggested an optional agreement that in competition a bid of 2 spades could show a hand with 4+ spades and 14-16 hpcs and a jump to 3 spades showing a better 17+ hand. This special agreement (alert!!!) would provide differentiation and probably works, but ignores those minimal take out hands where you simply want to make a Law of Total Tricks bid.

Who do you call when you have a “Law” problem? The Sheriff, of course, many time National Champion Larry Cohen and the author of “To bid or Not to Bid - The Law of Total Tricks.” Larry claims to have withdrawn from competitive bridge to play golf, tour the United States giving seminars and to host some wonderful bridge cruises. If you have read his Bridge Bulletin articles or books, you know that he speaks Bridge in a language that we can all understand. When I posed this question to him he acknowledged that “in or out of competition 2 spades would show extras in standard bidding.” He went on to say “By Agreement (alert!!!), ever since my (Marty) Bergen days I play that double and raise is just a Law of Total Tricks bid - a 4 trump raise. With a better hand (like 17+) the doubler has to cue bid." He says that this arrangement applies even if opener has not taken a rebid. So if the auction went 1c/x/p/1s/p/2s, the two spade bid does not show extras and is simply showing 4 card support.

What if doubler holds something like AQJx, Kxx, Kxx, xxx? Yes you have 4 trump, but the Law of Total Tricks is clear that when you have 4333, it is not have a “Law hand.” You have no ruffing values. Partner is still a forced response.

OK, what does Larry rebid with the East hand. Well, he chose to make a cue bid of 3 clubs. Even if we end up at 3 spades, we are have competed to the correct level with 9 trump and with the West hand a bid of 4 spades would have been indicated. He notes that if you have this agreement/understanding that it is alterable since it is not Standard bridge

The finale: Would I be writing about this if E-W reached a makeable game (actually it makes 5). The breakdown I think came as a result of West not remembering that a simple raise in Standard by East shows a good hand with extras. In the real auction, over 2 spades by East, South, bolstered by the fact that North had a real club suit, now bids 3 clubs. West bid 3 spades and it got passed out at that level. The failure to bid game was a combination of misunderstanding and suspect valuation on West’s part. Time to smile and move on! We have all been there.

If you are one of those LOTT non-believers who wander around looking for that hand where the Law of Total Tricks does not work, then just play Standard. If you want to play better bridge and be more competitive, follow Larry’s suggestion. Don’t forget to discuss it with your partner and also to “alert” the “double and raise” bid as simply showing 4 trump and not extras.

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