Saturday, April 30, 2011

How many bids is your hand worth?

The question of how many bids your hand is worth is an aspect of bidding which I find is hardly mentioned even in books on competitive bidding, which themselves are rare.

Let's take a really simple, everyday example: ♠K52 JT839 ♣A8643 with the opponents vulnerable.  Partner opens 1 as dealer and RHO doubles.  We expect our side to have at least half the high-card points but the auction is already competitive so probably we won't have things all our own way unless partner has significantly more than a minimum.  Assume for the moment that fit-showing jumps are not in our arsenal.  Our choices are between 2 and 3, although I suppose we might get some fringe votes for 4.  We expect to compete to 3 anyway so how about bidding 3 immediately?  But wouldn't we do that with ♠952 JT839 ♣K8643?  In this latter case, our hand is worth one bid only in support of hearts so we plan to go as quickly as possible to our "lawful" level and partner will know what to expect: four trumps and too few points to bid 2 and compete later to 3.  The first hand is worth two bids when partner opens 1, so that bidding 2 immediately and then competing to 3 if necessary will show four trumps and sufficient points to bid twice.  With a different hand: ♠K52 JT398 ♣A8643, we have enough for one bid in support of hearts: 2.  After that call we shall for ever hold our peace unless partner forces us to bid again.

So far, we're in pretty standard territory, right?  Any dissenters?

Now we come to the latest Partnership Bridge column (Bridge Bulletin, May 2011) by the always-interesting Granovetters.  So far, their column is unavailable on the web but the situation was similar yet a little more complicated perhaps.  You hold ♠95 9JT83 ♣A86432 and as before (opponents red), partner deals and opens but this time it is 1.  As before, RHO doubles.  How many bids is our hand worth in support of diamonds?  I think the answer, as before, is one.  The extra complication here is that our suit is diamonds – partner might not have five of them this time, indeed he might not even have four!  Should we immediately jump to 3?  We might look a little silly if partner has one of those rare 4432 hands.  But partner would know right away that we have a fit for diamonds and little in the way of defensive strength.  Let's say that we decide to bid 2 and the auction continues: 2 – 3 – 4.  Partner has confirmed diamonds – presumably he has either five diamonds or a good hand (he won't have three diamonds for sure).  Should we now sacrifice in 5?

Absolutely not!  We already told partner that our side has at least half the high cards (or very close to that) and that we have some defensive values.  Apart from having a long club suit headed by the ace, there is nothing about our hand in this auction that remotely suggests taking another free bid.  If partner has a suitable hand (and assuming that you're playing cooperative doubles) he can double to ask your opinion.  Or he can sacrifice.  Even if partner's double would be for penalties (as most people would play), you have no reason to pull it and definitely no reason to forestall a double by saving.

Note that the situation would be entirely different if partner had bid 3♣ over 2 (instead of 3).  Now, you have a monster double fit and you most certainly would bid 5♣ (or 5) in the direct seat.  Indeed, at these colors you might even jump straight to the six level!

In the hand that the Granovetters discuss, it turned out that our hand did bid 5 (doubled of course) which was down only one trick (good news).  The bad news was that 4 would have been down two!  There were 18 total tricks (a rather common number) but whereas the save would have been good if the tricks had been distributed 10-8 in favor of the opponents, the sacrifice was a phantom with 10-8 in our favor (or 9-9).

I think the Granovetters both missed the point that North made a horrible unilateral decision on his hand-worth-only-one-bid.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Confessions of a heart suit repressionist

I've recently been reading the Naked Bridge Player and Other Stories by David Silver.  It's a zany collection of stories, although they are entertaining and cleverly constructed.  A recurrent theme in this and earlier "Professor Silver" books, which I have yet to read, is the concept of The supremacy of the heart suit.  I fear that I don't quite get it, as this blog will demonstrate.

As evidence of my lack of understanding I submit the following three hands from an otherwise decent game at the sectional on Friday evening.  All three hands occurred in the same round and my RHO repeatedly asked if I would be blogging about the result.  Gloria, you got your wish!

Exhibit 1.  ♠94 AKQJ5AJ3 ♣KQ6.  When I picked up this hand (in third seat, nobody vulnerable), I was pleased to note that we play a version of Stayman after a 2NT opening that would allow me to show my five hearts if partner was interested. I never got the chance, however, as said RHO opened with 1.  Now what?  I don't know how many people faced this exact problem – RHO's hand could have opened any number of diamonds from 1 to 3 (♠A 42KQ96542 ♣J82).  Clearly my hand was a bit good for a simple overcall of 1, although perhaps that is the most disciplined bid.  I could double and then bid NT showing 19-20 but that doesn't really do justice to the hand (not to mention the lack of a spade stopper).  I could double and rebid the hearts, but the hand is both too good and not good enough for that bid.  It's too good perhaps in terms of points, but not good enough in terms of the hearts (although such a spread might be the equivalent of a good six-card suit).  Then I hit on the obvious, practical bid: 3NT. Yeah for Hamman's rule! My hearts would likely play for five tricks regardless and most likely I would get a diamond lead.  Partner, as you recall, had already passed so it was very unlikely that slam would be there (partner would have to have spades controlled and sufficient hearts and shape to add to the probable 9 tricks in my hand).  Furthermore, our non-exchange of information would not help LHO to decide what to lead.

Well, partner did have spades controlled, and five hearts, and a void in diamonds: ♠KQ63 T9876–  ♣AT97, so making twelve tricks in hearts was lay-down.  Unfortunately, I wasn't in hearts.  Couldn't partner have had a more ordinary 9-count like ♠KQ63 T98K2 ♣JT97, giving me a likely top with 460?  I note, BTW, that partner had an opening bid on the Zar points scale.  I'm a Zar points fan myself but my partners generally aren't.  Watch this space for a discussion of Zar point.

Eschewing the diamond suit, LHO led the SJ.  I covered (first mistake, as RHO's A was a stiff).  Not knowing much about the layout, I also lost a club unnecessarily.  In the end I made 430 and a goose egg (0/23).  Had I played the clubs correctly, I would have got 1 whole matchpoint!  Had I ducked the opening lead, I would have found out about the distribution and consequently the clubs, making 490 for 16 matchpoints. 

Exhibit 2: still somewhat in shock over the iniquity of the first hand, I picked up a modest opening hand: ♠53 K963KJ52 ♣AK5.  There are quite a few similarities between these two hands, but surely lightning couldn't strike twice!  The bidding began as follows: – 1 – 1♠ – 1NT – 2 (game-forcing and artificial).  The obvious bid is 2 but, given the main thrust of this article, I obviously didn't do the obvious.  Hearts are for wimps.  Or something like that. It had been a long day.  Anyway, I temporized with 2NT and 3NT became the final contract.  I got a helpful heart lead (see how good things can happen when you don't yield too much information) and partner produced: ♠KJ872 AJT2A  ♣QT2.  Oh, dear, it looks like lightning might be striking twice.  I gave up two spades, making 660, thus beating all the declarers who didn't guess the hearts, and 17/23 matchpoints.  I lost out obviously to the six heart game declarers who also played trumps for no loss, regardless of whether they bid the lucky slam (none did).  But at least I scored better than I probably would have in the proper 4 contract.

Exhibit 3: by the time the third hand came along, I was thoroughly heart-sick.  Heart-suit-supremacists be damned!  Maybe for this reason, I didn't actually notice that I had five hearts, temporarily seconding, Rabbit style, one of the hearts to the diamonds.  We ended up in a reasonable 24-hcp 3NT contract by partner after an invitation, although possibly we might have stopped in 2NT if I hadn't by then discovered my nice heart suit.  Unfortunately, 7 tricks is the limit of the hand in notrump.  The most common score was -50 (presumably for 2NT) but we managed only 6.5 for -100.  Partner's hand was ♠KQ2 96987 ♣KQJ43. On another day, the hand might have been more favorably laid out and 3NT would have made.  Not this time.

The moral of this story?  While it's always comforting to hold spades, the "boss" suit, remember to stay heart-healthy.  Maybe the suit isn't actually supreme but perhaps it shouldn't be actively repressed!  After all, home is where the hearts are.  Or something like that.

Friday, April 8, 2011

When to bid NT slams

This blog is an extension of my earlier entry Somehow we Landed in 6NT, inspired by David Bird's excellent book of that name.  That article reflected on the decision to bid a notrump slam rather than a suit slam.  I've now distilled my thinking into a set of simple rules:
  • if it's IMP scoring, play in your best suit;
  • if you're bidding a grand slam, play in your best suit;
  • if your best suit is a minor, play in it;
  • if you know you have a 4-4 fit, play in your suit;
  • if you have fewer than, say, 30 hcp, play in your best suit.
If you're still with us, bid notrump, assuming of course that you have stopper(s) in their suit which will be protected from the opening lead.  There, it couldn't get much simpler than that!

Of course, there are always exceptions, such as you can count 13 top tricks, or you have a long running suit, but generally I think these are good guidelines.  See the previous article for more explanation of why these rules are suggested.  But the general idea is that, at matchpoints, you want to earn that extra 10 points provided that you expect to take the same total number of tricks and you expect most of the other pairs to be in the same contract.

Happy slamming!