Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fit-showing jumps

A convention card that doesn't include fit-showing jumps is, to me, a little like a set of silverware without any steak knives.  Admittedly you don't need steak knives, or FSJs, at every meal, or session, but when you do need them, they are so much sharper than the alternatives.  And if we are to strive to be our best at the bridge table, we certainly need sharp tools, provided that they are easy to remember and don't stop us doing something else with them.  Although I've talked about fit-jumps before, I haven't taken the time to define them well, inasmuch as it's possible in a blog.  And, you won't be able to find very much useful in the literature or on the web.  So, with apologies for the inordinate length, here goes...

Let's start with why?  In their excellent book Partnership Bidding at Bridge The Contested Auction, Andrew Robson and Oliver Segal, explain that the need for fit-jumps comes about because of the rather pesky habit the opponents have of butting in to our auctions.  This is especially likely when we have a good fit – because they have a good fit too and, if they are worth their salt, will try to use their fit to disrupt our auction.  It is well known, however, that guessing is a tricky art and it's therefore better to try not to make the last guess.  What this really means is: try not to make the last uneducated guess.  In turn, that obliges us to impart as much information in the few bids we will be allowed so that partner becomes as educated as possible.

Let's take a look at an actual hand from the 1992 Olympiad.  Imagine that you are on the Brazilian team and you deal yourself this nice hand: ♠AQ9874 AT94 – ♣K83.  LHO bids 3 showing the red suits and partner responds 3 which shows a limit raise or better in spades.  RHO bids 3NT which I'm not exactly sure about, but perhaps is a sacrifice-control bid – inviting partner to sacrifice with the right hand.  Obviously, you're going to bid but what is best?  The actual player bid 4♠.  This could easily have been passed out (we are cold for 7♠).  Even though LHO didn't cooperate with a sacrifice, RHO now went to 5.  Our hand bid 5♠ which again was about to be passed out.  RHO bid 6!, a clear breach of discipline.  Would you believe that the same thing happened once more and 7 was passed around to partner.  He bid 7♠ and there it rested.  The Brazilians won 17 IMPs when their opponents stopped in 5♠.  How much better would it have been to know more about partner's hand!  Let's take another look at this hand further down.

There's a well-known bridge aphorism that states "the five-level belongs to the opponents." But we all know that this is a gross simplification.  High-level decisions can be the toughest and most profitable/expensive that you will typically face and a little science can help enormously.  Making the wrong decision regarding bidding a game might cost you 6 or 10 imps.  Making a bad high level decision can easily cost 15 imps or more.

Now, we get to the how?  Let's say that partner has opened 1 and RHO has overcalled 1♠.  We have several standard ways to raise partner.  Let's take a look at each of them:
  1. 2
  2. 3
  3. 4
  4. 2♠
  5. A splinter bid (3♠, or 4 of a minor)
  6. Delayed raise after passing, making a negative double or bidding 1NT or two of a minor (assuming we get another opportunity).
I think that we can immediately eliminate the last group of possibilities (delayed raises) from our discussion because very few of them will describe hands that will want to do something if the auction jumps to 3♠ or 4♠ by the time it gets back to us.  And if partner doubles a high-level contract, we won't feel compelled with one of these hands to take it out.

The first option shows an ordinary raise, probably on three pieces or four with a flat hand.  The second option shows a more preemptive raise with four pieces and the next option is preemptive with five pieces.  Again, we don't expect to be bidding again with any of these hands, although I suppose it's possible that we might bid again after jumping to 4 if we have an exceptionally distributional hand.

Obviously, a splinter bid of 3♠ will likely be great news to partner and he will be able to make an intelligent decision if the next player bids 4♠.  If we don't bid 3♠, it's very likely that LHO will want to bid some number of spades because they almost certainly have a good fit.  Partner will know that we have all of our values in "our" three suits. However, do you play that splinters in competition are unlimited?  Or do you limit them to, say, 10-12 hcp?  In that case there will be other hands that you cannot describe with a splinter.

What about the other splinter bids?  They will be descriptive but they will leave open some doubt as to whether we have (wasted) values in spades.  The shortness in clubs or diamonds is not likely to be such good news to partner.  Furthermore, such splinters are not nearly so compelling as the splinter in the overcalled suit.  Why?  Because at this point, there is no direct evidence that they have a fit in that suit.  So the auction is less likely to have gone into orbit by the time it gets back to us.

That brings us to the cuebid of 2♠.  The way most pairs play, a cuebid doesn't even promise a fit.  It could be a hand with game-going values that's looking for a spade stopper.  A cue-bid with support can represent just about any hand that is interested in a game or slam contract, and can be anywhere from a 4333 limit raise with three trumps all the way up to a moose. It might include some hands that you considered too strong for a splinter (if you play that way).

While we're thinking about all the different possible hands a cuebid can show, we might also note that we didn't assign any meaning to 3♣ or 3, the "jump-shifts in competition".  How useful are such bids as natural suggestions of a place to play?  Not very.  It's seldom that we want to suggest our own suit preemptively at the three level after partner has opened.  It's rarer still if we happen to be a passed hand.

And note also that we didn't assign a meaning to 2NT.  Normally, that will show an invitational balanced hand with stoppers in the enemy suit.  Again, we might ask "how useful is that?"  Bidding a natural 2NT in competition is rarely right.  If partner passes, we will wish that we had tried for a penalty.  If he bids on to 3NT, we will not be able to relax because opening leader on our left will likely know what is best to lead and, if it is RHO's suit, he will have the tempo advantage and the necessary entries right from trick one.

Enter the Fit-showing jump

The fit-showing jump is exactly what it sounds like: it's a jump in a new suit, opposite an opening bid or overcall, and after intervention on our right (bid or double), that guarantees a fit for partner and values in the suit bid.  It's forcing to the next higher contract in partner's suit.  If that suit is x, the fit-jump will be above 2x (forcing to 3x) and below 4x (forcing to 4x). Why is that useful?  Because fits and fitting values are what build tricks in bridge, especially in a suit contract.  The knowledge that we have a double fit, may be sufficient to warrant outbidding the opponents to the five level.  On the other hand, evidence of wastage or nothing fitting outside the trump suit suggests that we may want to double and defend.

So, how good should our hand be to make an FSJ?  A fit-jump which forces partner to the three-level suggests a hand where we're comfortable declaring a three-level contract.  That doesn't mean necessarily that we expect to take nine tricks.  The "law of total tricks" suggests that we should almost always be willing to play at the three level if we have four trumps and some shape.  But since the fit-jump will promise values in our side suit, and is primarily a constructive tool, we won't be making a fit jump with a fitting Yarborough.  After partner has opened 1♠ and RHO has overcalled 2♣, we should be willing to bid 3 with ♠T964 AQT5 4 ♣T653.  To put it another way, as long as our side has approximately half the points in the deck, especially when we have a fit, we should be willing to compete with any constructive action, including an FSJ.  We are talking about minimum strength here.  There really is no maximum.  Because the fit-showing jump is forcing, you will get at least one other chance to bid.  And, of course, partner can bid beyond the agreed contract if he has appropriate extras.

And how good should our suit be when we make an FSJ?  We're basically saying that all or at least most of our values, and especially our non-ace values are in "our" two suits – partner's suit (for which we have a fit) and our side suit (the one we are bidding).  If partner has three to an honor in our side suit, that will be a fitting value and we will have a double fit.  Even four small would be a good double fit.

And how good should our fit be?  This depends on overall strength and shape (including the quality of our suit), but three to the ace, king or queen should really be the absolute minimum.  Partner will expect us to have four card support.

And now we come to the question of how high should we bid?  The normal definition of a fit-showing jump requires a jump to the level below the contract with which we feel reasonably comfortable.  However, this brings up two very important questions: what does a jump to the four-level mean and what does it mean if RHO jumps and we don't?  These are questions that each partnership has to work out.

Robson and Segal recommend using fit-jumps instead of the new-suit splinters.  That's simply because they are more descriptive – pinpointing the values that are going to be useful. There's also the minor point that the next player will not be able to double our splinter to show values there, which might tip the opponents off to their double fit. They also recommend the "fit-non-jump" in the case where RHO has made a weak jump overcall and the new suit we bid ranks below partner's suit.  Again, the usefulness of introducing a new suit at a high level without support for partner is generally low.  This treatment is optional though and definitely requires partnership discussion.

R & S further recommend using 2NT as the four-piece balanced raise, rather like extending Jordan/Truscott to overcalls in addition to doubles.  The balanced invitational notrump hand can usually be shown by making a negative double first and then bidding 2NT.  Again, individual partnerships have to decide if this extra degree of complexity is worth it.

Barbara Seagram and David Bird have also treated fit-showing jumps in their book 25 More Bridge Conventions You Should Know.  Their recommendation on splinters versus fit-jumps is different and possibly a more playable scheme.  If both a jump and a double-jump are available, then the lower is the fit-jump and the higher is the splinter.  Since the fit-jump is essentially making a statement about shape/texture rather than strength, this makes sense (fit-jumper can always raise to game later with sufficient strength).  When only one level is available, they recommend partnership discussion (or perhaps flipping a coin).

One point to note that might not be immediately obvious.  When you make a fit-jump, only partner knows immediately whether we (and therefore they) have a double fit.  They might be able to infer looking at their own hand that we don't have a double fit, but they cannot know if we do.  That's why I tend to favor fit-jumps over splinters in the other two unbid suits -- in the event that we don't have a double fit, it makes it too easy for them to double and possibly find a fit they didn't know they had.

Some hands (partner opens and RHO overcalls):
  • 1 (1♠): ♠642 KT5 A64 ♣QJT5: 2♠ – three trumps, invitational or better (in this case, a marginal invitation).
  • 1 (1♠): ♠A6 KJ95 642 ♣Q975: 2♠ or, playing the full system, 2NT – to show four pieces.
  • 1♠ (2♣):  ♠KT64 AQJ5 64 ♣T53: 3 – kind of a limit raise and game try all rolled into one bid, so much more descriptive than 3♣!
  • 1 (2♠): ♠K6 KJ95 62 ♣AQ975: 4♣ – game forcing heart raise with a good club suit.  If LHO bid 4S now, partner will be very well placed to know what to do.
There is one other consideration which is especially important when RHO doubles.  It is now quite likely that LHO will end up as declarer if we don't outbid them.  Partner will be on lead.  That lead, especially at matchpoints, can make or break our defense.  The fit-showing jump will give partner a very good idea what to lead.  He will particularly appreciate our thoughtfulness when he holds the ace of our suit.

Fit jumps in action (or not).

First, let's go back to the hand we started with.  We have ♠AQ9874 AT94 – ♣K83 and the auction goes as before 1♠ 3*.  This time, partner bids 4♣ (a fit-non-jump showing a spade fit and a club suit and wanting to play 4♠ at least).  Look at our ♣K and void in diamonds, together with the A and quite likely no loser in spades.  Wouldn't we want to at least investigate slam?  Let's suppose we now bid 5 (if possible), exclusion key card Blackwood.  Partner will bid 5NT (two key-cards outside diamonds).  That means we have all the relevant keycards, including the trump Q.  Now, we bid 6 asking if partner has the K.  He does and bids 7♠.  Isn't that more elegant than relying on the opponents to bail us out three times?  If RHO bids 5 over partner's 4♣, we will still be well-placed to get to slam, knowing that he has good working values.  We might not reach the grand, but we will certainly get to a small slam.  Partner's hand, by the way, was ♠K632 K6 QT3 ♣AQJ4.  He does have a little potential wastage in the red suits, but still has a full 10 hcp in the black suits.

A hand from the 1973 Bermuda Bowl involved a tricky defensive problem.  Put yourself in the shoes of B. J. Becker playing for "North America" against Brazil, the home team and eventual bronze medal winner.  Vulnerable against not, you deal yourself ♠AQ743 8 AQT9 ♣JT5 and open 1♠.  P. Branco on your left doubles and Jeff Rubens, your partner, bids 4♣, a fit-showing jump showing willingness to play 4♠.  M. Branco on your right now bids 6 and all pass.  You lead the A and all follow.  Dummy is ♠KJ2 Q74 K6 ♣A8763. Based on partner's club bid, you know that declarer has at most one club so there are no losers there.  He can ruff any diamond losers so the only possible continuation is the ♠A for down one.

Unfortunately, for this hand at least, Becker and Rubens were not playing fit-jumps and Rubens' actual bid was 4♠.  Given that he didn't seem to have much in the way of high cards, Becker reasoned that he would have five spades and therefore no spade would be cashing.  If declarer had two clubs, it might be fatal to try to cash a spade, so he switched to a club.  Away went declarers spade loser on the  ♣A and the slam was made.

The Flip Side

What do we lose by playing fit-showing jumps?  We lose the ability to make most preemptive bids of our own suit in competition and, depending on our agreements, we lose the ability to splinter in one of the two side suits (we always retain the splinter in the overcalled suit).  We also lose the option of making a strong jump shift in competition, but nobody I know actually plays that method.  If we play 2NT as the four-piece raise for both overcalls and doubles, then we give up the immediate natural 2NT call, as described above and are obliged to start with a negative double and bid 2NT at our next turn if available.  If we play fit-non-jumps over weak jump overcalls, then we lose the natural meaning of the call (of a lower-ranking suit) as a forcing (or non-forcing) bid showing a good suit when we don't have a fit (if we have a fit then we can still make the same bid). 

What can go wrong?  The worst thing that can happen obviously is that partner forgets and passes the jump bid, thinking that it is preemptive but this seems unlikely to me.  New suit jumps are never really expected and will always ring a bell.  Most of the time the opponents will continue to bid their suit (they have a big fit too, remember).  Assuming that there are no unauthorized information issues from partner's failure to alert, you can still give a delayed raise later.  Even if the FSJ is passed out, it may not be a total disaster.

What about the times that you have a long strong suit of your own and want to preempt but can't because you would be showing a fit?  Partner opens 1♠ at favorable vulnerability and RHO overcalls 2.  Our hand is ♠6 95 6 ♣AQJT97532.  Darn, we just agreed to play fit-showing jumps and now this hand comes up.  All is not lost!  The first option is to pass and then bid our clubs later (that will not be a fit-showing jump since we didn't do it right away – that will show clubs and more clubs).  But suppose that we're willing to bid 5♣ if it's reached 4 by the time it gets back to us?  Why not bid 5♣ now?  Fit-jumps only apply when they are either just below four of partner's suit or in the level below that.  In this case, the only possible fit-jump calls are 4♣ and 4 (because RHO didn't jump and so 3♣ and 3 would just be normal club/diamond calls).


Fit-showing jumps describe a hand very accurately during a competitive auction and can not only help partner decide whether to bid on or defend when the next player uses up bidding room but also, if partner ends up on lead, will provide a very useful guide as to the best lead.  They are easy to remember and recognize and we don't give up much by playing them.  As with most conventions, there are a few things for partnerships to discuss before agreeing to play them.  Although fit-jumps are alertable because they are a treatment that the opponents have a right to know about, they are nevertheless essentially natural bids showing real values.  And they're fun too when they occur, although they don't come up very frequently.


  1. That was an excellent post Robin. Over the last few years, I have come to the same conclusion -- fit showing jumps are a far better agreement in competition than playing weak jump responses and advances. I think they occur more frequently, and are quite effective when they arise.

  2. Thanks, Steve. After a couple of years of trying to persuade Kim to play them, I finally succeeded in time for the weekend. One hand came up where a fit-jump put us in position to win our first round flight A KO match. We were able to safely push our opps to the five-level knowing that we had a double fit. Unfortunately, we had an "accident" in cashing out and squandered the advantage we'd created during the auction.