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.