Sunday, January 10, 2010

No bad no-trump hands

The catch-phrase of the inimitable Barbara Woodhouse was "no bad dogs".  I've recently come to apply that to the evaluation of no-trump hands.

First, let me observe that I am an inveterate up- or down-grader of hands for the purposes of playing in a suit contract.  I believe in Aces, good intermediates, combined honors and all of the other motherhood-and-apple-pie rules of hand evaluation.  And of course, I've always looked at notrump-oriented hands the same way.  Are the honors in the long suits? etc. etc.

But I've noticed that good players don't bother with this.  If they have the right number of points, they invite or raise as appropriate.  Let's say that your partner opens 1NT or 2NT using whatever range you favor.  Is, say,  ♠A2 KQJ T987 ♣6543 a better or worse hand than ♠Q72 94 AJ86 ♣KT53?  The latter hand would certainly be more suitable if partner opened 2NT and you were entertaining thoughts of a minor suit slam.  But if partner opened 1NT showing 14-16 (the range I like to play when vulnerable or in third/fourth seat), which would be the better hand for purposes of inviting or raising to 3NT?  I used to think that the latter hand would be the better hand.  Now, I'm less sure of it.  Because who knows what exactly is in partner's hand?  Presumably he has a sprinkling of honors in most if not all suits.  If he has xx or xxx or even Axxx, he's going to be reasonably happy with those heart honors if the opponents start leading hearts (or not), however stubby they look in our hand.

Yesterday, in a side game at the Newton regional, I held this hand: ♠KJ6 K42 KJ ♣KJ853.  Nobody was vulnerable and my RHO dealt and opened 1C.  Did I shrink from my duty and pass on account of this aceless hand being too awful?  Of course I didn't.  For no-trump purposes, this was every bit as good as any other 15 point hand.  Admittedly, I didn't know at that point if my partner would have a sufficiently balanced hand to make it work, but here's what happened.  LHO bid 2S and partner bid 3, which since we play Lebensohl in this situation was game forcing.  I briefly entertained the notion of bidding 3NT to have the lead come up to me.  But given that my RHO had an opening bid and likely a couple of the aces that I didn't hold, that didn't seem like a sure thing.

When dummy came down, the GLM on my left said, in the nicest possible way, something like "That's the ugliest 1NT bid I ever saw".  But as we all know, there's the good, the bad and the ugly.  This one was, in a sense, all three because my partner did a great job making 4, for 9/12 matchpoints, even though we are really only supposed to make 3.

I, therefore, had the last laugh.

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