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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Robin,

    I think double is the standout call on Exhibit 1, for two reasons:

    1. Too much potential in non-notrump contracts. For example, this five point hand Axxx, xxx, xx, Jxxx yields a fine 4H contract. Or a hand with A-sixth of clubs and out yields a fine 5C contract. (This latter example is an illustration of why the hand is too good for a 1H overcall.)

    2. Too few fast tricks in a notrump contract, here only six top tricks or maybe seven if the diamond suit produces a second; whatever, the number is not as high as nine.

    You certainly might have been luckier on this hand, but I think that double is the right way to start, expecting to slightly underbid over a 1S response by choosing between minimum notrump and minimum hearts. I agree with your partner's original pass but over your hand's double, I would next choose to cue bid with your partner's hand. The cue bid should be a "two round force", meaning it is forcing until a suit has been raised.