Thursday, January 14, 2010

Coping with delayed competition

One of the interesting aspects of club bridge, even local tournament bridge, is that people do unexpected things late in the auction.  There are well-thought-out systems for coping with direct overcalls, including the negative double, forcing (and also non-forcing) new suits, fit-showing jumps, cue-bids, etc.  You're not likely to do well in tournament play without having a good understanding of these methods.

Then there's the somewhat less frequent interference after opener and responder have both bid.  Intervention here needs to be more circumspect, but it happens frequently enough that we have methods to cope with it: support doubles, etc.

Once we've got through the first round of bidding and the opponents have passed, we might reasonably expect a clear field to ourselves, apart from  the occasional lead-directing double, etc.  But there are some players who, either didn't sort their hand properly the first time, or they have a death wish, or some other obscure reason to decide that now, after the opponents have exchanged copious information, would be a great time to introduce that suit that they didn't think could be bid in an earlier round.

Occasionally, this will be a good player who has decided to "await developments" with a hand that is hard to bid initially, maybe a two-suited hand with around 9 high-card points, or perhaps something like: ♠65 5 AQ62 ♣AT9754, as described by George Rosenkranz in his wonderful book Tips for Tops.  In this case, holding these cards fourth-in-hand at favorable vulnerability, he sat back and listened to the following auction: 21 – 2NT2 – 33 – 34 – 45 passed around to George.  1Flannery, 2game Forcing shape enquiry, 34513, 4any extras? 5no.  George now bid his clubs, was doubled and played the hand for down two, thus saving 320 points.

George knew what he was doing, but most of the people who come into the auction late do not have the right hand for it at all. Here's a case in point: my hand (vulnerable vs. not): ♠AJ84 T A8742 ♣J52.  My partner dealt and opened 1, which didn't thrill me.  RHO passed and I bid 1♠, obviously.  LHO passed and partner rebid 1NT.  At this point, RHO decides to come into the auction.  Let's see, her partner obviously has nothing much, the opponents have no fit and we don't even know if my hand is going to try for game.  But she bid 2♣, notwithstanding all the good reasons not to.  So what am I to do?

What would I have done over a pass?   Most probably, I would have passed.  I don't have five spades and 2 would be game-forcing check-back the way we play.  I could make a uni-lateral decision and bid 2♣, forcing 2 and then pass it, but that's pushing the envelope a little for a normal match-point situation.  Aha, thought I, this interference has allowed me to bid a perfectly natural 2 which presumably won't be considered forcing, since it is in competition.  My partner thought it was forcing, however, and bid 2NT, despite having KJx of diamonds, which went an inglorious one down (3 would also have been down 1 while 2NT should have been down 2).

This led me to start thinking: should it be forcing? and if so why?  I posed the question to a good player friend and he said that he thought it would not be forcing without discussion.

Let's think it through.  If I want to force, presumably because I have five spades and invitational or better values, I could cuebid 3♣.  If partner has a minimum, and three spades, he will bid 3♠, otherwise he will bid 3NT or 4♠ with a maximum.  What if he doesn't have three spades or a maximum, though?  He could bid 3 with tolerance for diamonds.  But that's a bit risky.  So, 3♣ is just a too pushy for a forcing bid.  Therefore, I there's a good case that 2 should be forcing (not to game, but for one round).  It fits with the general principle that responder's new suits are always forcing.

Far more flexible however (see the previous blogs on doubles), is the simple double.  Since we have an unbid fourth suit available, we could consider it to be an "action", "BOP" or two-way double.  But, according to my doubles rules, double must be penalty since 1NT was "to play".  Also, a BOP double tends to be made by the player sitting under the bidder.

I didn't really feel that J52 was good enough to make a penalty double.  But given that we couldn't play in 2, for reasons described above, it was going to give us our best possible result of +100.  As it was, we were -100 for 2NT down 1 (actually we should have been down 2).

So, what's the moral of this story?  Dealing with crazy people at the bridge table can be tricky.  But here's a suggestion:  the only forcing bid in this sequence is 3♣ and it is forcing to game.  2 should not be forcing.  The sequence simply doesn't admit an invitational hand, though if partner does have three spades and takes a preference to spades (he might do it with two though), and we could then invite with 3♠.

What sort of hand do you think my RHO held for her late entry into the auction? ♠T95 AK752 Q ♣KQ76!

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