Larry Miles was one of my early bridge blog readers. He often sent me comments and I could tell Larry was not your average bridge player. I eventually asked him where he was from, and said L.A. I replied I have a brother in Los Angeles, and he said that he meant Lower Alabama, Mobile to be precise. It turned out that his summer home was in Newark, New York, about 45 minutes from mine. We arranged a few summer games, but his favorite partner was his wife Julie, so our opportunities were limited.
Larry was everything I ever wanted in a bridge partner. He was kind, modest, self-effacing, polite, caring, and always the southern gentleman that his momma brought him up to be. As I found out later, his bridge skills and analytical abilities matched all of his excellent personal traits. He was one of the best that I have ever seen at solving play of the hand problems and was well versed in classic bridge literature.
Larry developed serious health problems and died about a month ago. So he and I never got to complete our games planned for this summer. I just wished I had a final game and a chance to tell him how much his friendship meant to me and the inspiration he provided to me.
Larry had his own thoughts on how to bid certain hands and hated both Blackwood and Gerber over 1NT openers. He found often they resulted in confusion and thought them deficient in reaching light suit slams when partner opened 1NT (15-17). If the partnership had 31 or 32 hcps, had all 4 aces and could find a 4-4 fit, he wanted to be in slam.
In no trump auctions he wanted to get rid of both Gerber and Blackwood, and he developed the perfect foil to accomplish this, SPADEWOOD.
When partner opened 1NT, he used both Stayman and Major Suit Transfers and 2NT to show a hand that wanted to play minors. This left open the 2 spade bid which was “Spadewood.”
Spadewood initially starts out as a range ask (not uncommon among some expert players) and opener bids 2NT with 15-16 hcps. This rebid can be passed if responder only wished to play at game against maximum no trump hand. So that takes care of invitational hands.
If opener has 17 hcps, he shows the number of Aces starting with 3 clubs = 0, 3 diamonds = 1 etc. If responder is interested in slam he then starts by bidding his 4 card suits up the line in an effort to find a 4-4 fit. This also confirms to opener that all four Aces are held. If no fit is found they play the lowest game level no trump available. If responder wishes to sign off after finding that not all aces are held, he likewise bids the lowest game level of no trump. These no trump bids, which are to play, most often come at levels lower than the competition due to the efficiency attained with Spadewood. Larry claimed that he would often be playing 3NT when opponents were trying to remember how to stop in 5NT.
The final contingency: Opener rebids 2NT but responder wants to make a slam try anyway. Responder now asks for Aces by bidding 3 clubs which is like Gerber, but at one level lower. It is well to remember that “Spadewood” supplements Stayman and Transfers and is simply another way for responder to get information when responder has a balanced hand.
Initially I thought this might be some strange home brew, but played it with Larry to accommodate his strong feelings about it. I find that it is very sound and works just the way it was advertised. You get the information you need, most often at one level lower than opponents, and you find more light slams that can be played in suit contracts with 4-4 fits. Like all conventional bids, you have to give up something in exchange. In this case it is 4 suit transfers meaning you will play some minor suit part scores with the no trump hand on the table.
Larry’s favorite bridge topic was “Spadewood”. He only once wrote a definitive comment about the convention and that may be lost to posterity. Out of respect to my friend Larry, I wanted Spadewood to live on and not expire with him. I think Larry would be pleased.
Larry was important to me as a friend. As a collateral benefit, he always made my bridge game look better than reality. Larry always read my bridge blog posts with a critical eye. I hope he is reading this one. I will be looking for your comment Larry.