Sunday, June 20, 2010

Jumping in the pass-out seat

There's fairly uniform agreement on what kind of a hand 2 or 2♠ shows after three passes: it's kind of an intermediate two-bid: a good six card suit and somewhere in the 9-13 hcp range.  In other words, either a maximum weak two or a minimum opener.  The logic is easy.  You have, say, 11 hcp which leaves 29 for the other players.  You already know that none of them has an opening bid.  Most probably they have 9 or 10 points each. Between them, they have 7 spades so that's 2 or 3 each on average. If partner has 9 with two pieces in support, you will typically be able to make 2♠ and the opponents, remember each of them has already passed, will be loathe to come in at the three level.  Preemption with a good expectation of making.  What could be better?

But what if LHO opens, say, 1♣ or 1 and there are two passes to you?  If there is a "standard" meaning for 2 or 2♠ here, it is a good hand with a good suit.  Something around 16 hcp and a good six-card suit.  What always surprises me is how many good players don't seem to know this.  Many think that it is an intermediate sort of bid (as after three passes).

This time the logic is less compelling.  LHO has at least opening strength and may have just less than he needs to open 2♣ or 2NT.  He doesn't have a balanced hand in his 1 notrump opening range, but that doesn't exclude very many hands.  On general principles, let's say he has 14 points or thereabouts.  We know RHO has less than about six points.  Let's say we have the hand with 11 hcp and six spades.  Again, partner should have about 10 hcp so 2♠ is likely make reasonably easily.

But there's a catch.  And it's especially likely to happen the longer is our holding in LHO's minor and the shorter we are in the other major.  The feared circumstance is when partner is in fact weak and LHO is strong.  He is likely to double our 2♠ and might even find a game (or slam) when we could have passed it out!

If we have length in LHO's minor, partner is, all things being equal, likely to have few cards and therefore, with any modicum of strength, might have been able to act.  And if we're both short in the other major, the opponents might have a good fit there.

Given that both treatments have some merit, it's good to decide ahead of time whether to use the jump balancing overcall as intermediate or strong.

At last week's tournament in Saratoga, my partner and I had not discussed it.  The bidding started on my left with 1, followed by two passes (none vulnerable).  My hand was something like ♠AQJxxx KQJ xx ♣Axx.  I bid 2♠ and LHO asked what that meant.  Partner informed her that we had no specific agreement (in fact, he thought it was intermediate).  LHO doubled, partner passed and RHO bid 2.  Yes, you read that right.  I decided to accept the 2 call and was obliged to borrow my LHO's 2♠ card in order to bid 2♠ again.  This time, partner felt that his hand was just good enough to raise to 3♠, although it's hard to know exactly what 2♠ means when it's bid again.  I raised that to 4♠ which I was able to make on the nose.  The opponents at the other table made the same tricks but did not bid the game, so we picked up a useful 6 IMPs.

It's always fun to be able to make the same bid twice!  I suppose I could have accepted and passed and allowed partner to bid 2♠ with support.  Perhaps that would have been better but I felt I had a little extra myself.

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