Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A difficult hand

At the club the other evening I held this hand ♠64 J983A82 ♣JT94 and heard the following auction, starting on my right (we were silent throughout): 1 - 2♣ - 2NT - 3♠ - 4♣ - 4NT - 5 - 6♣.  I was in the passout seat and considered briefly whether to double.  Clearly this contract was going down unless somehow declarer had a void in diamonds or could quickly pitch a losing diamond.  The Roman keycard blackwood sequence suggested no voids, however.  So it seemed prudent to pass and await developments.  There was another very good reason not to double and that was because double would ask for an unusual lead.  Since I could have doubled 5 for a heart lead, it wouldn't be clear what an unusual lead would get.  A heart lead could easily be disastrous if partner had say the K (he did).  Finally, there was the fact that I knew that they were in a bad contract and so I was happy.  Why tip them off?  Stay with happiness.

Somewhat surprisingly, partner led the K and we took the first two tricks.  I subsequently got my club trick and so we were +200.  Obviously we were getting a top.

But wait!  The hand proved to be difficult for our "team-mates" too and, believe it or not, +200 was a common result for our direction.  There was a 500, three 300s, and four other 200s.  So our score was only 15/21.  No other pair was in 6♣ (two were in 5♣ down 1) and the majority of the blood was shed in spade contracts.  Our side doubled only once: a 4 contract (that accounts for the 500).

So let's see how this should have been bid.  Let's put ourselves in the dealer's seat with: ♠K93 AQT62973 ♣K5.  After the initial 1 call and the game-forcing 2♣ response, what should the rebid be?  In my opinion, 2 is automatic.  2NT would be fine if we had some sort of honor in diamonds, but we have nothing.  Of course, we hate to bid 2 with only five pieces, but partner knows it's a possibility so should take that into account.

Partner will now bid 2♠, completing the picture of his hand as being at least 5-4 in the black suits.  Now what?  Again, I think the correct bid is automatic: 3.  This, the fourth suit, is artificial and says I have no obvious bid -- I can't support either of your suits and I can't bid notrump because I don't have anything in diamonds.  Partner will bid 3NT with a diamond stopper and all will hopefully be well.  If he happens to have 4045 shape, he can "raise" diamonds.

In this case, partner doesn't have a diamond stopper and will now bid 4♣, hopefully showing a sixth club.

At this point, I think pass stands out but I wouldn't call it automatic.  5♣ might be right.  Most partnerships don't consider a 2/1 game force to be forcing to a minor-suit game when there's no fit and we can't play notrump.  We do have quite a nice club holding, but there again, we have a bare minimum hand.  In this case, 4♣ is the last making contract.  My LHO's hand, by the way, was ♠AQ72 5T4 ♣AQ8732.

The key to bidding this hand, I believe, is our old friend the fourth suit.  It's amazing how often people fail to use it when it's the right bid.  I've even heard it said that since we're already in a game force, how can it be artificial?  That is nonsense of course.  Like "double", the fourth suit is an under-utilized bid that should be our friend.

1 comment:

  1. Lots of interesting issues to weigh:

    1. Opener's rebid. This is a matter of style, and is an important issue to address with partner even though it is not disclosed by the convention card. Some folks play a shape style of 2/1 and the 2NT bid is automatic to them; that is their rebid when 5-3-3-2. Others, which apparently include you (and me), play strength style of 2/1. For us, the default bid is to rebid our major and, without stoppers in each unbid suit, 2H would be our choice. (Another 2/1 style issue that demands partnership discussion is the meaning of reverses: does 2S rebid by opener show extra values or just shape? how about a 3D rebid in an auction such as 1S-2H-3D?)

    2. What means 2S rebid by responder? Does it show spade length or just a stopper? That might be dependent upon the meaning of opener's rebid of 2S. If 2S rebid by opener (a "low reverse") does not promise extra values, then I think this 2S rebid by responder is just showing a stopper and does not promise four spades. OTOH, if 2S rebid by opener does promise extra values, then obviously someone has to bid spades if the 4-4 fit is to be investigated.

    3. Assuming that the opponents' partnership agreements foist the first five calls, what means 4NT? I think it must be keycard for clubs and is thus an egregious overbid. 5C is plenty.

    4. Is 4C along the way passable? I think the better argument is that game forcing means game forcing. It is just too much stress on the auction to try to stop on a dime in 4m ... even though it might be correct to do so. Until you see the club break, even on this hand you do not want to be short of game.

    A couple of ancillary issues:

    1. Upon your request, the opponents should fully disclose their agreements about the 2NT and 3S bids.

    2. I am not so sure that double is Lightner. I bet the opponents provided lots of table action clues that they were uncertain about what is going on. And I don't see why you can't take advantage of that and increase the penalty.

    3. I admit that in my most sophisticated partnership, I would probably have ended in 3NT, losing at least the first five diamonds. When neither black suit splits, I have only seven top tricks. Declarer will not enjoy pitching on the diamond run and the long club hand would probably come down to three spades, one heart, and four clubs. Clubs do not split, but then opening leader is not enjoying his discards on the the extra two club winners. If one should play for the heart finesse at Trick 12, the contract can be held to down one. But that might not be clear. Down two in 3NT is a possible result, too, but since 5C is clearly down one on a diamond lead, perhaps the heart finesse is the right play to tie those folks.