Saturday, November 24, 2012

Responsive Doubles (Part 1)

Well, Thanksgiving has come and gone and without a doubt I have a lot to be thankful for, mostly surviving a number of these holidays. Actually I am tied with Willie Nelson, but I am worried his “Grass” consumption will give him an edge in the end. Anyway, it was not the big event of the week, I am really celebrating my reinstatement as a Notary Public as decreed by the Legislature, Governor and Secretary of State of the Great State of Florida.

This is good news for all my unmarried readers or the great pretenders. If you are contemplating marriage, or maybe just a rehearsal, you can come to Florida for my winter special. My big extravaganza is poolside ceremonies, but also offer palm tree or golf course venues. All Florida requires is a license ($93.50 on your Visa) and my only requirement is a certification of competency from your psychiatrist. If you are ambivalent, I also do “no license marriages”, since the Holiday Inn down the road has a “Don’t ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Same Don Ho Music, Champagne toast and Ice Carving.

Like many of my blog post, this one is directed to the “duplicate wars.” You can teach uncontested bidding in a week, but it takes a lifetime to understand how to effectively interfere in competitive auctions. Many of the competing opportunities come up in auctions where “Opponents Bid And Raise” the same suit. Marty Bergen uses the acronym OBAR to generically describe these auctions. Most often it is 1major/2major, but can also be in the minors. In this discussion your partner has competed over the opening bid with a Take Out Double. Thus you are sitting behind RHO who has raised to the two level. It’s now or never and you need to take never out of your vocabulary. Not to be lost in this discussion is that partner having made a take out double has a real opening hand.

In my last blog post, we looked at the 1h/2h OBAR sequence where partner had passed in-between the bids. With xxx, x, AQxxx, KJxx (non-vul, 10 hcps and 2 quick tricks) I advocated the call of 2NT to be Unusual No Trump showing minors and a desire to compete. Yes, I am forcing partner to the 3 level but with decent shape and hand strength it is the right call. We are favorites to have at least half the points and maybe more.

Today, we are going to stay with OBAR sequences, but change the facts so that partner makes a Take Out Double over the opening bid. Assume first that the OBAR sequence is in either minor, say 1c/x/2c, and as advancer you hold xxxx, Jxxx, AKx, xx. It looks like you have a major fit somewhere, but how can you explore it with only 8 hcps. Partner by his double has announced shortness in clubs, so presumably he has at least one 4 card major. You really don’t care which major and with this minimal hand you do not want to take two bids, so you need a bid that says “pick a major partner.” Actually we do have a bidding card for that, it is red with an X, and in this sequence is called a Responsive Double. The quality of my majors is lousy, but my hand is plenty strong for this action. In discussing Responsive Doubles, Karen Walker (a Bulletin Columnist) says you need only 6-7 points since in this auction partner is still able to bid at the 2 level. Responsive doubles have a lot in common with Negative Doubles, just in a different seat and several commentators recommend that you play them through the same level as you play negative doubles to make it easy to remember.

The other OBAR auction is 1major/2major. Again partner makes an intervening Take Out Double. Let's say it is 1h/x/2h/. Partner, for his take out double, hopefully has a heart shortage, likely 4 spades and tolerable support for the other 2 suits. Let’s assumes you hold Qxx, xx, AKxx. JTxx. A Responsive Double on this hand runs the risk that partner will respond in spades with his 4 card suit. You want to restrict his choice to minors so we don’t end up declaring with a 7 card spade suit. The best practice is that if you have 4 spades, you bid 2 spades to show them. If you fail to bid 2 spades and instead make a Responsive Double, the take out doubler assumes you have minors. So with the above hand you make a Responsive Double asking partner to bid his 4+ card minor. In this case you are forcing partner to bid at the 3 level with the Responsive Double, so you need more stuff to enter the auction, but 8 or 10 working points are sufficient. We want to challenge the commitment of opponents with a 3 level minor suit bid. In this case the Responsive Double asks “pick a minor partner.”

If the major suit auction is 1s/x/2s, bidding 3 hearts to show a 4+ card heart suit is not as easy, since to do so at the 3 level requires at least a good limit raise. In spite of the fact that partner’s take out double of spades strongly suggests 4 hearts, if you have fewer than 10-12 working points you will be misleading partner and be in 4 hearts before you can catch your breath. Max Hardy, a fallen hero of mine, suggests that the way to slow down this auction is to make a Responsive Double asking partner to pick a minor. When he picks a minor you now rebid 3 hearts to show him you have hearts, but not enough in values to make a 3 heart call over 2 spades.

Responsive Doubles are vastly under used in today’s competitive auctions. If everybody who has them checked on their convention card knew how to use them, we would hear of them more often. Her are some simple guidelines:

Responsive Double after Minor suit OBAR

1. A minor suit OBAR auction by opponents with an intervening take out double by partner.

2. To make a responsive double, you need 6-7 points and 4 cards in both majors.

3. Take out doubler picks a major and all hands rest (hopefully).

4. If the Responsive Doubler takes a second call after the Responsive Double it is definitely game invitational.

Responsive Double after Major Suit OBAR

1. A Major Suit OBAR by opponents with an intervening take out double by partner.

2. If you make a Responsive Double it will ask partner to pick a minor.

3. Alternatively if you bid hearts at the 3 level as suggested by the take out double, it show a good invitational hand with 4+ hearts.

4. If you have 4+ hearts but less than limit raise values, make a Responsive Double first asking partner to pick a minor. When he bids a minor you now bid 3 hearts to show a minimal hand with 4 hearts that could not bid hearts directly over 2 spades. This warns partner of your more limited values and should slow the auction way down.

Look for opportunities to make a Responsive Double when you hear 1y/x/2y. You are telling partner to pick a suit and you save a level of bidding. Remember the risk is always in not acting after an OBAR sequence. Pass is for “newbies”, not for bridge warriors and winners.

The next post will continue to deal with OBAR sequences, but instead of making a take out double, partner makes an overcall. The responsive double will continue to serve us in this bidding sequence, but some of the meanings change. Comments and Questions directly to .

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Bidding Unusual 2 No Trump with a "Spanx" Crises

Knowing that I am an unrelenting “fashionista”, I overheard my friend, Dick Ragatz mention that the latest rage in the Men’s department is “Spanx.” If you don’t know what they are then you must have a perfect body. Think about cut off panty hose. Strolling through Dillard’s men’s department, I spotted a rack full of them. I think you can guess the rest. Knowing that this was new territory (at least that is my story), I consulted my wife Alla on how to keep them from riding down like cheap panty hose. She said tuck your shirt tails under the Spanx.

Full of renewed confidence I decided the perfect place for a practice run was the Friday Bridge game in Hernando. To add a little courage, I decided having a beer on the way to the game would be a good idea on the theory that nothing can hurt my bridge game. It can’t be much more than the third set of boards when my aging bladder started to send signals. I rushed to the men’s room to find that the only way to get through three layers was “drop trou” and sit down. Now I am a stand up guy and relentlessly adaptable to new solutions, so I grabbed some scissors from my infamous “black bag” and cut a nice 6 inch arc out of the front of the hem of my golf shirt. The good news is that the problem was solved. The bad news is that I have a curious hole in the front of my $125 golf shirt. So if you see me wearing a red shirt, you will know that it is a Spanx day. If you see me tugging at my waist, please don’t pull the alert card.

One problem solved, will the rest of the day be flawless? Oh hell no. I am on some of my best behavior closely adhering to bidding standards as set forth in our 40 page bidding agreement:  Bang, I am in 4th seat non-vul vs. vul and dealt something like xxx, x, AQxxx, KJxx. The bidding goes 1h/p/2h/2NT. I think this bid cannot be misunderstood, but admit it has not been recently (possibly never) discussed. My partner is an unrelenting purist and anything that is not discussed in the past 20 minutes has the meaning ascribed to it by Charles Goren in 1948. I, on the other hand, am more of an innovator in the style of Marty Bergen. As someone is sure to say, “Sir, you are no Marty Bergen.” Fortunately, we are still smiling and partners after the opponents ran the first 9 tricks in the majors. Nothing like an undiscussed bid to punch a hole in your game.

OK, who is right? Well, both of us. My partner because he is entitled to be consumed iny his time warp, and your blogger since modern bridge long ago changed the default of the 2 No Trump in this sequence to Unusual No Trump for minors. My hero, Larry Cohen, in a recent free news letter discusses the many facets of Unusual No Trump. Here are some of his guidelines:

1. In the direct seat most often it is a weakish preemptive hand showing the two lowest unbid suits with decent suit quality and 5+/5+ length. If vulnerable, the suit quality should move from decent to good. If preemptive, the bidder intends to pass any preference shown by his partner. If the hand is a really good hand (17+), the intention would be to a make a second bid showing these values. If the hand falls in between preemptive and really good (the so-called in-between hand) you need an agreement with partner whether to use Unusual No Trump or, alternatively to try bid both suits. There are adherents to both styles.

2. In the direct seat 2 NT is Unusual if opponent opened 1c, 1d, 1h, 1s, 1NT or 2c. The last two opening bids may surprise you since they occur so rarely

3. If partner is a passed hand, his bid of 2NT after his initial pass call is still Unusual 2NT. e.g. p/p/1c/p/2c/2NT (diamonds and hearts).

4. If opponents bid and raise any suit, e.g. 1h/p/2h/2NT, that is unusual no trump. If the bid and raised suit is a minor, the unusual 2NT guarantees at least 4 cards in each major.

5. Conversely, if the 2NT bidder is in the “reopening seat” 1d/p/p/2NT, that is the traditional 2NT reopening abid and shows a balanced hand with a stopper and 18-20 hcps.

6. How about the sequence ? 1x/p/1y/2NT. Unless you have some contrary bidding agreement (as we do) it should be treated as Unusual.

7. What if your LHO doubles your Unusual No Trump bid. 1h/2NT/x or 1h/p/2h/2NT/x. A pass should show equal length and substantially equivalent quality in both unusual suits and bidding either suit over the double should show a preference. A redouble can have any value you assign to it. Perhaps a hand with stoppers and some support fot the indicated suits, looking for No Trump. Your call.

The final issue is how long the two suits need to be. In the direct seat I prefer staying with the traditional 5+/5+. This reflects my general preference for disciplined bids so as to increase the quality of the information passed to partner. My fundamental belief is that the more discrete you make your bids and responses, the better the exchange of information and hence result. If your partnership permits 5-4 or 6-4 hands, it’s a choice of style, obviously not mine.

In the OBAR sequence (opponents bid and raise) with a 4th seat 2NT bid, it doesn’t bother me that the Unusual No Trump bidder has 5-4. If you look at the probabilities, opponents have an 8+ card suit and the odds are 93% that we also have an 8+ card suit. If we do nothing, they are well protected by the Law of Total Tricks and we will never find our competing suit. If they take another bid, good, they are one level higher. If they don’t take another bid we very likely will find an 8 or 9 card suit to compete in.
Was it an “unusual” day in the trenches? Definitely unusual for me, but then most are!!! Comments to .