Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sandwich No Trump

Experts tell us that 80% of duplicate bridge is effective bidding. I would agree with that and go one step further – 80% of effective bidding is competitive bidding in part score auctions. If it were not for competitive bidding, we would all be sleeping at the bridge table. What challenges are there in the 1s/3s/4s auction or 1NT/3NT auctions. Sure you can spice them up with Bergen Raises and Stayman and Transfer, but this is not exactly this sort of stuff that gets the blood rolling down your opponents personal score card. We need some real battle, a chance to be a hero or alternatively be carried out on our shield in utter disgrace. Enter Competitive Bidding.

Early this Spring I had the chance to teach a few classes to novices and intermediates. I had my choice of material and I chose competitive bidding. I saw my audience week after week at club games letting me and others play part score contracts resulting in +90 or worse +110. As I have said before, that is the “death zone” so you need to do whatever you need to do to get opponents out of that comfort zone.

Oscar Wilde said “Nothing Worth Learning Can be Taught.” I actually discovered that effective competitive bidding is teachable, and that it is not that hard to do. Mostly, you need faith and to quit sitting on your fingers. Some got all the nuances, but others just discovered that never letting opponents play a hand is an effective strategy onto itself. In these competitive auctions we learned to move opponents out of their comfort zone and to fall in love with -100, the great equalizer.

After just 3 weeks, life in the old game was not the same. I had created a bunch of “Bridge Terrorists” who routinely aggravated the better players. When I heard comments like “How can she make that bid” or “He didn’t have the cards he was supposed to have” or “It was a colossal fix”, I knew my terrorists were at it again. What a joy!

I have already covered most of the important competitive bidding tactics in other blog posts. Among them are preemptive bidding, balancing in the pass out seat, balancing in the direct set (OBAR BIDS), Unusual No Trump, Michaels, D.O.N.T. over opponents 1NT opening and following the Law of Total Tricks.

In this post we will discuss the Sandwich No Trump bid. This conventional bid is much like Unusual 2NT and in fact Marty Bergen and Larry Cohen called it the “Unusual 1NT.” The bid is made in the 4th seat when opponents have opened, partner has passed and they have made bids in different suits at the one level. The music sounds something like this: 1c/p/1h/1NT. No, the 1NT bidder doesn’t have a standard 1NT overcall (we are giving that up), the bid shows the other two suits (diamonds and spades), less than an opening hand and lack of defensive values. The bid has traditionally shown 5-5 in the other 2 suits, but if the vulnerability is equal or favorable, I would not hesitate to do it with 5-4-3-1 or even 5-4-2-2 if I am sufficiently aggravated. How about 4-4? I love the question, you’ve got the right attitude!

The objective here is to turn what appears to be the start of a constructive auction (letting opponents bid unmolested) into a competitive auction (an Irish bar fight). It is also preemptive. Opener probably wants to rebid 1NT to show a balanced minimum, but you just stole his bid. By bidding 1NT you have screwed opener up to the 2 level, but often will pass in frustration.

I am hoping that I find partner with 3, and preferably 4 card support for one of my suits, that he can add 5+4=9, hoist us to 3 level immediately and potentially suggest a save if opponents recover and drive to game. On a good day my sandwich no trump hand may look like KJxxx, x, QJxxx, xx. Suppose I catch partner with Axxx, xx, Kxxx, xxx. Partner and I have 14 points combined, so opponents with 26 are favorites to make 4 hearts. Neither of my suits are suitable for an overcall and the hand is not strong enough for a traditional take out double, so without the Sandwich 1NT overcall, opponents will surely rack up rack up a game if we let them alone. In this case if they bid 4 hearts over 3 spades by partner, I am going to take a save at 4 spades as my 5-5 hand may not take any tricks at 4 hearts. In this case, we catch moonbeams in a jar, as our 4 spade contract only goes down 1 or 2 at most.

Many very good players will suggest that giving up the natural 4th seat overcall of 1NT is not a good trade. I ask you, when is the last time you had a 4th seat bid with a balanced 15-17 hcps and where are you really going with it if both opponents are bidding and you tell them that your hand is balanced and that you have all the missing points right in front of opener. If Sandwich No Trump is heresy, then let it be so. Little is gained from arguing with so called “World Class” players. They not only want to bid their cards, but your cards as well. If you happen to catch a real big balanced hand (16-19), just double first and then bid 2NT at your next bid. Not a complete answer, but a compromise for that “once in a lifetime” hand.

Assume you hold KQxxx, Ax, KQxx. xx. This hand has 14 hcps and is way too good for a Sandwich No Trump. With this hand you make a take out double to show the values and also mildly suggesting the unbid suits and shortness in one or both of opponents 2 suits. If you are 5-5 and huge, you can always bid 2NT. What can that mean other than the unbids with muscle?

When partner makes a Sandwich no trump bid, if opener passes it is your duty to bid one of his two suits unless you lack 3 card support in either suit. Be guided by the Law of Total Tricks and bid to the max. If you don’t have 3 card support for either suit, just pass. Don’t worry, partner is not going to play 1NT doubled. Opponents will bail you out.

If you are losing trick count person (see my posts on LTC) a minimum Sandwich hand should have about 8 LTC non-vulnerable and 7 LTC vulnerable. (a) Vul. Qxxxx, xx, QJxxx, x. 7 LTC, bid 1NT after 1c/p/1h/.
(b) Non-Vul. xx, xxxxx, QJxxx, x. 8 LTC bid 1NT. I can’t say that I have always followed that advice, having last Monday bid 1NT with T83, Jxxxx, JTxxx, void, after 1c/p/1s. Opponents got to their 3NT makeable game, but went down one when they miss guessed the distribution of spade suit. Confusion itself has some value!

Review of Requirements: (a) less than an opening hand (b) no defensive strength, (c) good shape in the unbids and (d) opponents have bid 2 suits at the one level with partner passing in between. Note, that since the bid of 1NT shows lack of strength, it can be used even though you are a passed hand originally. How can it be clearer than that?

Post Graduate Stuff: What do you do to show partner you are 6-5 or 6-6. My Florida partner, Howard Christ, moved to Florida from the Albany-Schenectady area. He brought with him a bidding structure for these hands which we call BHQ Bids, named after Central New York area experts Carl Berger and Paul Harrington. With 6-5, we cue bid the lower ranking of opponent’s suits to show that our lower ranking suit is 6 long and cue bid the higher ranking to show that our higher ranking suit is 6 long. What do we do with 6-6? 2NT, what else? My advice, just grab the basics of the bid and doll it up after you have a few successes. Even if you overcall 1NT, partner will not be disappointed to see 6-5-1-1.

Alerts: You need an understanding with partner that the 1NT bid is Sandwich. He must also alert the call. Monday, my partner, Mike Spitulnik, alerted it even though we had not specifically discussed it. He actually had 9 hcps, opener had minimally 13, responder had a minimum of 6. so what as left for me? Mike was hoping it was more than 2 hcps, but that is life in the fast lane.

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