Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bidding Continuations After 1NT Forcing

Many of my readers, like myself, are still stuck in the depths of “Intermediatesville” trying to get better as we learn from our mistakes. Some wag once wrote that in order for something to become a habit, you have to do it 19 times. It is hard to find anything in bridge that you can do correctly 19 times other than pass, and even pass has its own problems. So it doesn’t hurt for us to reinforce basics one in a while. Here is a thought about responding to 1NT forcing bids.

          Most duplicate players today play the 1NT response to one of a major as forcing for one round unless by an unpassed hand. That means that opener has to come up with one more bid. On a good day you will be delighted to come up with another bid reflecting your 6 card suit or extra values, on a bad day you will have some less appealing choices to make. How about a little quick review? Music maestro!!

1. If you rebid your major suit, it shows a suit that is 6 cards in length and no significant extras. A jump in the major suit shows 6 good cards in the bid major and 16+, but is non-forcing.

2. If the hand is 5433 you rebid your lower ranking 3 card minor.

3. If you opened 1 heart, a 2 spade rebid is still a reverse and shows    16+ hcps. Why is it a reverse? Because partner must now go to the 3 level to take a preference for your original suit. Don’t confuse this with 2/1 sequences where most players do not play reverses as   showing extra values, just hand shape.

4. If you make a jump shift, it promises a hand of about 19 hcps or   shape with equivalent playing strength. Definitely forcing!

5. A raise to 2NT shows a balanced hand of about18-19 hcps and almost forcing; pass it at your peril. Have a back up partner. If your partner is your spouse, it is forcing!

          Those were supposed to be easy choices, but reading this blog post counts as one of the 19 repetitions. With the basics behind you, take shot at these: You open 1 heart, your partner responds 1NT: “Your bid Syd!” Remember that Max Hardy is looking over your shoulder from that big bridge table in the sky.

(i) KJxx, AQxxx, Jx, Qx

(ii) K4, AQJT9x, 5, QJ43

(iii) K4, QJ7643, 5, AQJ3

(iv) K4, AKQJ63, Q7, J95

          On hand (i) you have 4 spades but to bid them would be a reverse – not with 13 hcps! In 2/1 game force, it is not systemically correct to rebid your 5 card heart suit, so you “suck it up” and bid 2 clubs. The rule says you bid your best 2 card minor and hope for the best. Somehow this often works out.

          On hand (ii) you have a 6 card heart suit which is rebiddable, but also a 4 card club suit you could show Note that hand (iii) has the same feature. How do you decide whether to show the club suit or just rebid your hearts? There is another rule for this. Here is the standard: Opener will only show the 4 card suit when the 6 card suit is not solid enough to play against a singleton. Opener bids 2 hearts with hand (ii) and 2 clubs with hand (iii). If you are responder and have a singleton in openers major (which happens with alarming frequency), it is important to understand the implication of opener rebidding a second suit. Opener is telling you that he does not have a 6 card major, or if he does it is not good enough to play against a single in your hand. If you have a single in opener’s major, you have 12 cards in the other suits. Remember opener’s bid of a new suit at the 2 level does not show extra values nor is it forcing, so you can pass, and with 4144 that may be the best thing to do. These situations come under the “catch all” that “sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.”

          Hand (iv) is even more twisted. I would guess many readers would bid 3 hearts over 1NT forcing. You are not going to like that matchpoint choice if the hand makes 10 tricks in both NT and spades. Opener should bid 3NT showing 16-18 hcps, solid hearts, and no single or void. This asks responder to pass if his hand is balanced and otherwise correct to 4 hearts.

          The wind up is what to do when responder has a good heart hand and the auction goes 1s/1NT/2c. Below are 4 rebid hands for responder, what is your rebid?

(i) 7 KQJ876 54 42

(ii) 76 KQT975 AJ5 43

(iii) 87 KQ98 AQ87 432 

(iv) T6 KQJ87 543 765

          With hand (i), bid 2 hearts to play. It tells partner to please pass. With hand (ii) you have 6 hearts and 10 hcps. It is too good for 2 hearts, so invite with 3 hearts. With hand (iii) bid 2NT since you have stoppers in the unbid suits and 10-12. How about hand (iv)? Good hearts but a single in partner’s bid suit and only 6 hcps. Partner’s 1 spade opening did not guarantee anything about his hearts and the rebid of 2 clubs may well be 4 clubs which tends to reduce the chance of holding hearts. This is a judgment hand and only the quality of the hearts makes them a consideration. Still, my experience in matchpoints tells me to ignore the hearts and take a false preference to 2 spades where you are guaranteed a 7 card trump suit. After all, responder has a 6 hcp, 9 LTC minimum hand. Disaster could be impending.

          If you don’t like my analysis, the specimen hands or the responses send an e-mail to Be patient, he may not respond immediately. It may be more productive to write to me at or If you are on my blog notice list, do not use the “reply” button unless you want the entire list to read your comments. That could be ugly.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Competing After 1NT Overcalls by Opponents


          In an earlier post last month, I commented on wielding the axe when partner opens the bidding and LHO overcalls 1NT. The first thought that enters my head is can we beat this 1NT contract? This is a simple calculation if partner displays some discipline in opening hands. I think this points up the importance of counting quick tricks when making the decision to open. If your agreement with partner is that you open all 7 LTC hands regardless of quick tricks and values, then hang to your pass card as you will need it. Despite all the hoopla (some of it from me) LTC only works if you and partner find a fit, and is not an indicator of success in defending 1NT doubled.

          Even with a reliable partner, there are many times when you may have a hand that has playing values but is not suited to doubling the 1NT overcall. Such hands have distributional features, good suits or support for partner’s bid suit. To get into the bidding you need an agreement which means you have to tell partner in advance what is going on! Novel idea! Think about turning over a new leaf.

          If you have a biddable suit, you could just make an overcall, but since your hand is not as good as your partner’s, that would mean that if we declare, opponent’s lead would be coming up to the weaker hand. Your chance of winning an extra trick on the opening lead has already diminished. If you don’t have to, you never want to put the big hand on the table. Hmm … does this issue sound familiar? Well it should, since you face it every time partner opens 1NT. It starts with a “T” and it’s not “trouble” – how about “Transfer?”

          Suppose you hold Kx KT9876 Kxx, xx. Partner opens 1 spade so he has some values (hopefully) and most likely a 5-332 distribution. What else do we know? Overcaller has 15-18, likely a balanced hand with a stopper in all suits. The term stopper has been watered down lately. I have seen expert players make the overcall with no stopper or half a stopper (Qx or JTx) in an unbid suit, and the requirement for a double stop in the bid suit is almost extinct. This trend represents the frustration of overcaller having the most points at the table and not being able to find a suitable call with a 4333 or 4432 hand. Certainly he does not have a 5 card major or he would have bid it.

          Enough digression, back to responder and his heart suit. From the analysis above we can see that one partnership treatment would be to simply play would “systems on” just as you would have if partner had opened 1NT, Stayman and Transfers (four suit if you like). This system is designed to get the hand played by opener and at the same time we destroy opponents by taking away their use of “systems.” So if Transfers are “on” responder would bid 2 diamonds.

          The probabilities are that opener has 2+ hearts, but twice as likely that he may have 3. I think the understanding should be that opener may optionally refuse the transfer if he has a single or void in the suit. In that case he may rebid his original suit or bid another suit or pass if his suit is diamonds. Note that responder’s hand has a tolerance for partner if he must rebid his suit, even if it is only 5 carder. He might be 5-1-4-3 and have no choice other than to bail out on the transfer.

          Unlike the situation where partner opens 1NT, there is no assurance of a minimum 2 card fit, so I prefer to impose a quality requirement on transfers. To transfer, responder must have a 5 card suit with 2 of the top 3 or a 6 card suit with 2 of the top 5 honors or a fit to raise partner’s suit. What do you do if you have a fit? All bids by responder are transfers, so you can’t bid his suit, you must transfer him a back to his suit to show support.

          A different problem arises if partner opens a minor. If my hand is KT9x, KJxx, Kxx, xx, now I want to find that delicious 4-4 major fit but Stayman has its risks. Unlike when partner opens 1NT, opening a minor does not say partner has a balanced hand, he could have minor(s) and even if he is 4333 or 4432, there are many of those hands that don’t  ave even 1 four card major. The odds of a major shorten when the opponent right in front of you shows a balanced powerhouse. What does responder bid after opener rebids 2 diamonds (no major)? Well, there is nothing left but 2NT, but now you have contracted to take 8 tricks in the same contract in which the opponents have already suggested they can take 7. It’s better to face this problem in this blog post than at the table. I think with responder's hand I would choose to defend (perhaps doubled), look at the Kings sitting behind the overcaller.

          I think there is a reason to stay away from Stayman and perhaps a better systemic answer would be to make every 2 level bid a transfer. This can be very simple and effective, but you want to retain your suit quality requirements that I mentioned above. You have to decide what treatment is to be given to a 2 spade response. Is it clubs, minors and if minors, what distribution. Also remember that to show support for partner, you have to transfer.

          A system that I like is called “SANTA”. Originally developed as a defense against 1 no trump openers, it can be equally effective against a 1NT overcall. Here are the SANTA responses (a) 2 clubs = 9 major suit cards 55 or 5-4 (with quality) (b) 2 diamonds, 2 hearts, 2 spades and 3 clubs are transfers to hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds respectively and (c) 2NT+ 5-5 in the minors. The transfer bids as I play it shows the same suit quality as previously mentioned. With a major minor 2 suiter, transfer to your major and t hen bid your minor. Opener can pass or correct.

          There is merit to having one system for hands that partner opens with a major and another when partner opens with a minor. This is complicated for sure and no surprise that Andrew Gumpertz has blogged about it. If this discussion interests you, contact me at and I will send you a link.

          The critical thought in this post is that standard bridge will not serve you well in these auctions, and you need to discuss them with partner and develop some conventional approach. Pick your own poison.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Dropping the Quuen

Dropping the Queen


          I am taking a respite from my 1NT overcall series to make a comment on a bridge issue that has come to mind twice this week. Your worst fear will be realized, when I return and tell you how to get into the action after a 1NT overcall when you have playing tricks but not defensive values.

          Earlier this week I was playing in a club game in Rochester, New York, with a relatively new partner and as often happens much is left undiscussed,  even though it seems like you have spent hours weeding out one convention after another. What often does not get discussed are special defensive carding plays that have become reasonably standard over time, but which occur so rarely that they are often forgotten. They are often so rare that players can become life masters without ever encountering them. That happened to me with “Dropping the Queen.”

          Back to the workshop. A few years ago in Rochester I am playing with my close friend and partner Jim Bailey. Now Jim is about as good a bridge player as a man of my limited ability is likely to attract. Jim is on lead one day against a part score contract and leads an Ace of an unbid suit. Now this is not a man who is going to lead an unsupported Ace against a part score so I assume he has the King of the suit. I am unfortunate to be holding the Q2, and think how excellent, I need to show him my doubleton in the suit so I can get a 3rd round ruff. I promptly play the Queen under his Ace and the next thing that pops out of his hand is not the King!! – Guess what he leads, and you can quit reading this blog post. Times up, it is the 3 of the suit, dummy plays the 4, and I with great disgust play my 2 and declarer takes the trick with a 5.

          Now if you are into bridge arcana, you know that this is a “first cousin” to a Wish Trick, and certainly close enough for wish trick expert Nick Nickell. I ended up wishing all right, wishing I wasn’t there. Now when Jim wants to make point for which he will brook no argument or explanation two of the first three words in the sentence are “Standard Bridge.” It’s “Standard Bridge” that …. (Point to follow). It doesn’t make any difference if there is another viewpoint; “Standard Bridge” means I don’t want to hear about it. On this day I learned that in “Standard Bridge” when you hold Qx you cannot play the Queen under the Ace unless you hold the Jack or a singleton Queen, since the Queen asks partner to underlead the King to put you on lead.

          So what do you do with the Q2 doubleton? You play the 2 and hope that partner will not impute too much to it and follow with his King. If he does and sees your Queen fall under his King, he will figure it out. This is why carding is better regarded as a suggestion and not as a command. At least this view gives partner a chance to use his judgment and figure it out. If he does, you will get your ruff anyway and if he doesn’t it is the price you pay for the common understanding about dropping the Queen.

          Although not a frequent occurrence in day to day play, I have had this issue come up twice this year, once when I was on lead and the other when I was third hand. In the case where I was on lead I had overcalled clubs with AQxxx in clubs and held the AKx in a side suit.  I led the Ace, partner played the Queen, and because the rule was tattooed in my head I managed to underlead the King and hope. Since my partner was an expert, there was not much risk. Sure enough he came up with the Jack and promptly led clubs trapping declarer’s Kx.

          Last Tuesday my partner overcalled diamonds on AQxxx and had AKx of hearts. I held QJx of hearts. I also had the KJx of diamonds. Partner and I had a mix up about leads and signals so we did not execute it properly. It should go A of hearts (drop the Queen), small heart to the Jack and diamond through declarer. As it turned out declarer pitched his two diamonds and we got a Dunkin’ Donut on the board. I could send my partner to the Jim Bailey survival school or, better yet, just discuss carding with him in more detail. But this does illustrate the important point. You need to discuss not just systems and conventions with your partner, but defensive issues as well.

          Remember that it is important to talk about not only when to drop the Queen, but those times when you have Q doubleton and cannot drop the Queen. Did I even check on old Bailey to see if he anyone else agreed with him? Of course, but I had to go no further than Eddie Kantar’s book on Defense.

          This all came to mind when I read Frank Stewart’s Bridge Column of August 10. He was discussing Edgar Kaplan’s brilliance as a defensive genius. Kaplan’s partner led the Ace of a suit in which Kaplan held the QT doubleton. Partner continued with the King and Kaplan then made the winning play. Frank never told us what Kaplan played under the Ace on trick one, but I will bet my wrist watch it wasn’t the Queen. Notice how convenient it is to have the ten and not the deuce for your second card. Well now I have made my point. I hope old Jim is still my friend and partner as he was when I stated this post.





Wednesday, July 31, 2013

1NT Overcalls-- Wielding the Axe

As a prelude to this post, let me welcome a new reader, Gary Cotter who resides in Oregon. Gary has found a new regular partner and he has the bridge bit in his mouth. We wish Gary and his partner much success.

          It is alarming to me that so few partnerships have bidding agreements after opponents have made a one no trump overcall of partner’s opening bid. The silence is deafening. Yet in a comparable situation, when acting on opponent’s opening bid of 1NT, everybody uses some system to interfere and compete.

          Let’s set the stage. Partner has opened 1c, so let’s arbitrarily assign him 12 hcps. Opponent has overcalled 1NT with 15-18, so let’s give him 16 hcps. Now we have located 28 points and you hold KJx Kxx Qxx xxxx. What are you going to do? Well, we could probably make one no trump, but that bid is already taken. There is the always reliable “pass and see what develops” strategy.

          On the other hand you can add them up, 12+16+9=37. So overcaller’s partner can have at most 3 hcps on a good day. The stark reality is that opener may never get to the dummy. Give another point to either opener or overcaller and it is a dead certainty. Think about this, every time overcaller wins a trick, he will have to lead away from that 16 hcps balanced hand loaded with tenaces. Most of us have played 1NT without a board entry and would rather forget it than remember it. If opponents are vulnerable spitting out the word “double” is like hunting on a game farm. Even non-vulnerable your double will produce an excellent matchpoint result since you beat all those pairs who don’t read this blog post.

          What are the risks? That we will miss a part score? Well, even if we find a minor suit to play in it may not be easy as overcaller’s points are sitting right behind partner. Even success is failure, since even if you can make 2 of a minor, that is a losing proposition if you can beat 1NT by even one trick. Is there a chance that overcaller will make 1NT? Not likely at all. He has a balanced hand and it is almost guaranteed that he does not have running long suit. If overcaller bid 1NT over 1 diamond it is likely that he is 4333 or 4432. If he had a 5 card major he would have bid it rather than 1NT. You have been faced with an opportunity to gain almost a guaranteed top if you will only double.

          The important thing is that you and partner be on the same wavelength. We don’t want him guessing or running out with that 12 point hand that he opened, so we have the start of an agreement. Imagine that, “double actually means double”, maybe too simple. To cement it in his brain, mark the box in the upper left hand corner of your convention card that says “penalty” and pencil in 1NT O.C.

          I do not want to leave this topic without saying something about the danger of the 1NT overcall. Is it more risky than opening 1NT? You bet it is. When you open 1NT, the most likely division of the remaining points is 8-8-8. When you overcall 1NT the most likely probability of the two remaining hands is 6-6. Those nice round numbers happen only 18% of the time, but suppose you hit on a totally average day, is it harder to play with a 6 point dummy than with an 8 point dummy? Clearly yes! One thing you may have noticed about playing no trump contracts, the more the two facing hands are balanced in hcps, the easier it is to make the contract. The difference is improved communication between the two hands.

          One of the things that has always bothered me about direct no trump overcalls is the hcp range. In view of the overcalls increased risk, why should the bottom range start at 15 hcp. Yes, you are sitting behind an opening hand, but if you can’t get to the board, the advantage disappears. In fact it reverses, since you will be leading to opener’s tenaces. My decided preference is to play 1NT overcalls 16-18. You gain safety and accuracy since the range is narrowed and you are not overcalling with marginal values. Larry Cohen said that 15 really means a bad 16 so I am counting him on my side. I don’t expect to change the world by this comment, but if you are going down with those 15 hcp 1NT overcalls remember where you heard it first.

          Now that we have started an agreement we need to round it out since even good hands that need attention are not always suitable for “double.” In the next blog I will flush out that thought and then turn to what action, if any, overcaller’s partner should take to avert a disaster in process.
As always feel free to comment, directly if you wish to: tommy@rochester., or

Friday, April 19, 2013

Key Points to Think About When Declaring

Here are some helpful guidelines to enable you to better find the location of cards when declaring the hand. This is part of my Novice to Intermediate Series. If you feel that you don't need it, ignore it.

1. If any opponent advertises length in any suit during the auction, he is the candidate to be most likely to be short in trump. Play accordingly.

2. Did anybody open the bidding? If so give him 12 hcps and total the three hands. How much can the other opponent have?

3. If an opponent has failed to open the bidding, then his hand is limited to 11 hcps. If he shows 10 or 11 hcps early in the play, then his partner probably has the rest.

4. If an opponent has failed to respond to an opening bid by partner, his hand is severely limited.

5. If one opponent overcalls and his partner fails to raise to the 2 level, assume he does not have 3 card support. Now count the cards in that suit.

6. If one opponent makes a take out double, your partner makes a response e and the other opponent does not respond to the double, assume that opponent has less than 6 hcps. In other words, opponents hcps are least divided 2:1 favoring the take out doubler. If you are looking for any key card put it in take out doubler’s hand.

Analyzing the Opening Lead Suit Contracts

1. Small card lead. This should show that the lead is either from some honor in the suit or it will be a lead from 3 or more small cards. Strong players are more likely to lead small from an honor. You can ask what they lead from 3 or 4 small cards, since they are required to mark the opening lead portion of the convention card if they lead top of nothing.
2. Medium sized card. If you can see several of the honors in the suit, it probably is a doubleton. If he has a doubleton, play him to be long in any other suit in which you have an interest. It is also a signal to get the trump out if there is nothing else you need to do first. It could also be a singleton. If the bidding has both sides competitively involved at high levels that is evidence of highly distributional hands all around the table. Watch out for short suit leads.
3. Lead of Ace. Check the convention card to see if they lead Ace from Ace King. It must be marked on the "leads" portion of the card. If they lead King from Ace King, then the lead of the King guarantees either the Ace or Queen of that suit.
4. The lead of a Q, J or 10, shows the honor directly below it. If it is a J or 10, it could be an interior sequence (e.g. Q109x, KJ10x). In a suit contract only good players will make an aggressive lead from a tenace in a suit not bid by partner. No trump leads are different.
5. Good players rarely lead an unsupported Ace in a game level contract. If it is a part score contract they very likely have the King, even if they don’t play it. If they don’t have the King, decorum dictates that you not say “Thank You.”
6. Good players do not underlead an Ace against suit contracts. Put the Ace in the other hand.
7. If the lead is a small card and you have KJx(x) on the board, put in the Jack, since the lead is likely from the Queen. (See above re under leading Aces). Likewise, if you have Q10, put in the 10, a good player is more likely to lead from a King that a Jack.
8. If an opponent makes a 2 suited bid and then is on lead, assume the card that he leads is a single if not one of the known suits.
9. If an opponents bid and raise a suit and then the original bidder lead a suit other than the one bid, assume it is a short suit lead.

No Trump Leads

1. In no trump, the standard is to lead from the top of 3+ small cards. A higher non-honor card (like the 9) usually means that he has nothing and is trying to find partner’s suit or that he doesn’t want to lead from his long suit (maybe our side already bid it). If Stayman has been used and opener has shown no major, many opponents will lead a major suit even if it is not 4 deep. Often they are hoping to catch partner with something in the major.
2. If the lead looks like 4th best, apply the rule of 11 to see how many higher cards the other opponent has in the suit. If he is marked with 3+ higher cards, he may have more in the suit than the opening leader, but cards may also be evenly distributed in numbers (4-4).
3. If you have a stopper and need to hold up in the suit to cut communication, subtract the total number of cards in your hand and dummy from 7 and hold up that number of times. So if we have 5 cards, they hold 8. We hold up twice and take the third lead of the suit. We have either severed communications in the suit (the cards were 5-3) or the cards were 4-4 and at most they can get three tricks in the suit.
4. If a low card is lead and you can see all of the other lower cards in the suit, then it is surely 4th best and you know he doesn’t have 5 cards in the suit. It is always reassuring to see a 2 on the opening lead.
5. If we open 1 no trump and an opponent makes an overcall and, on lead, does not lead his bid or indicated suit, it usually means that he has a suit headed by AQ or KJ and wants the lead in the suit to come from his partner through the no trump opener.

These are just some of the ways that you can play detective while you are declaring. There are no rules, just good guidelines to help you make better choices. If all this is too much to remember, just take a few key points that you can use and apply them. When you have that down, grab another guideline.

Feel free to send this to friends and partners and if they want to be on my mailing list, send me an e-mail address. If you print from my blog, be sure to select by dragging the cursor over the blog and print using the selection choice. Otherwise you will print multiple blogs. tommy