Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Duplicate Bridge Player's Burden

You pull your cards out of the pocket, perhaps count them, sort them, and hold them, thirteen pictures and rags.  Do you guard those tender flowers (think Rigoletto) with loving care?  Do you accord them your highest level of custodianship?  In short, do you take responsibility for them while they're in your keeping?

You certainly should.  They are your wards, your charges.  You must do with them the very best that you can and you should certainly treat them with respect.  Perhaps they're all "tram tickets" and your role in the proceedings of the hand will be to follow suit, giving count as you go.  Or maybe your RHO opens the bidding with 3♠ and you hold the following collection (vulnerable versus not): ♠AQ2 AQ3 AQ4 ♣J652.  If you were a rubber bridge player, you could reason that there's only one person to whom you owe any (temporary) allegiance and that you simply don't like your 6-loser hand enough to bid at such a high level.

But at duplicate bridge, you have a responsibility.  If not to the cards themselves, then to your partner, and teammates.  In matchpoint bridge, your teammates are all the pairs sitting in the opposite direction to you, except of course for the ones at your table right now.  Teamship with any one particular pair, is fractional, but nonetheless real.  With the hand given, you are pretty much obliged to bid 3NT whether you fancy your chances or not.  Yes, it could be horribly wrong.  You could be doubled and go down five (1400) or even six on a really bad day.  A defensive squeeze might even do you out of one of your aces for -2000.  But does that scare you?  As no less a personage than the Hideous Hog has said "Just because I had a difficult hand to bid, I was not going to shirk my duty." Do you shrink from taking bold action?  Of course not.  You have responsibility for these cards and so, like the Hog, you call 3NT with confidence and await your fate.

Or, if your not a fan of the Hog, how about Bob Hamman?  It's hard to ignore advice with such pedigree: "When 3NT is one of the alternatives, choose it."

So, with all that background, what do you make of this ugly collection: ♠QJ83 97 KT ♣JT743?  Do such waifs and strays deserve your special attention just like all the other hands?  You bet!

You deal, vulnerable versus not, and pass.  LHO opens 1NT (good 11-14) and partner doubles, showing values.  RHO bids 2♣ (Stayman) and LHO bids 2.  Partner's in there again with the red card.  RHO now bids 2.  This gets passed around to partner who doubles again (this is getting repetitive).  RHO passes and its up to you.  What are you thinking?  Are you doing full justice to your wards?  Let's say you pass for now and LHO now pulls to 2♠ which is passed around to you (partner doesn't seem able to double this one).

Are you tempted to pass?  Heavens, no!  Are you tempted to double?  Are you sure you're giving your best?  Remember, you're red on white.  What about 3NT?  They probably have an eight-card fit, possibly even nine.  Clearly, the cards aren't sitting well for them but it's reasonable that there are 16 total tricks.  Let's further guess that they can make seven tricks in spades.  That means we can take nine in our best suit (clubs?).  But if we have something like 25 or 26 high-card-points as seems likely, maybe we can take nine tricks in notrump too!  We apparently have everything stopped.  3NT becomes the responsible call (which you should have made over 2X, by the way).  If we are right, we gain 500 (600 instead of 100).  It might happen that they can only take 6 tricks in spades and we can take 10 in notrump or clubs (630 versus 300).  As it happens, our side can take eleven tricks in clubs or notrump while they can only take 5 in spades (660 versus 500).

The scoring table is on our side.  Treat our friends the cards well.  Be a hog: bid 3NT.


  1. I know what you're saying but my experience says otherwise. I've bid 3NT in this situation several times and each time partners had something like:

    x AKxxx AJxxx Ax

    When the only suit that's breaking is the spades you get the same 7 tricks you had against 2S. It sounds right but it never works for me.

  2. Well, I'm not sure I like your partner's (putative) bidding in this situation although I do see that your example would be a difficult hand to describe over a weak NT opener (but I think I might start with a slight underbid of 2♥).
    In the case I described, the partner's hand was: ♠K ♥AQ42 ♦QJ76 ♣AK62. I was not personally involved.

  3. You asked what I am thinking. I am thinking about what are our partnership agreements? And how can I solve a problem without the information about what are our partnership agreements, specifically, what means partner's doubles of 2D and 2H?

    These are not my preferred agreements (my preferred agreements are that the double of 2D is for takeout [meaning at least three cards in each nondiamond suit] and that the double of 2H is penalty [meaning four cards in hearts], but the blog text suggests that all doubles are for penalty.

    Assuming that this partnership's agreements are that all the follow up doubles are for penalty, then I would absolutely double 2S. I am expecting partner to have a doubleton spade -- otherwise he should be bidding in front of me -- and so 2SX looks like a bonanza to me.

    What your comment lists for partner's actual hand does create a problem, but I would, if I had the agreements that all doubles are for penalty, probably bid as did partner, in effect treating the stiff SK as equivalent to a small doubleton.

    Btw, I am not seeing how the opponents can make anything. Perhaps responder is akin to 5=5=3=0, but a trump lead is indicated, and I am not seeing many tricks for the opponents in a major suit contract.

  4. Jeff,

    If I thought that this particular pair had any specific agreements, I would have mentioned that. I doubt if many pairs have such agreements, beyond the general notion that doubling a weak notrump opening shows a good hand and ensures that either we play the hand, or they play it doubled. In your system, can you make a penalty double and later make a takeout double? I would find that strange but would be interested to know if that's the case.

    On the hand in question, there were 16 total tricks -- E/W can take 11 in clubs or notrump and N/S can take 5 tricks in hearts or spades. Thus E/W can set 2SX by three tricks for 500. However, that doesn't make up for the 600 that they can score in clubs or the 660 they can score in notrump. Especially given that defense is so much harder and in this case, the E/W pair lost two tricks, ending with 100 for a big fat zero.

  5. Hi, Robin,

    To answer your question about my preferred system: no, a player cannot first make a penalty double and then later make a takeout double. If the opponents play in a particularly bad fit, say a 4-2 fit, it is possible that they escape being penalized when that suit splits 4-3. But, we will generally be able to punish them when they play in a suit that splits 4-2, since the hand with two card length will be able to have made a takeout double and the other hand to convert. Essentially, Robin, my approach to defending weak notrumps is similar to my approach when the opponents interfere over my side's weak notrump: it is an approach that uses "cooperative doubles".

    I note that in the hand in question, the doubler has extras (surely, he would have doubled the weak notrump with considerably less than the 19 HCP he happened to hold). With my seven count, I would not be counting on our side making game at all ... that we can make game seems directly attributable to partner's having so much extras. No doubt his extras all contribute to how many tricks 2SX is set. But if we can't make game setting 2SX even just two tricks seems like a great score.

    You say that notrump can make eleven tricks? Boy, when I place the two hands of the intervening pair opposite each other, that surely seems like a lot of tricks: are we really losing only the two pointed suit aces, and not losing a trick to CQ or even slow heart tricks while we try to set up our other tricks? There are, after all, only three tricks "on top", and so it seems as though declarer has a lot of work to do and luck to enjoy (luck that seems inconsistent with responder's expressed length in the majors) to make eleven tricks!

    One last point: I am not totally surprised that the pair has no agreements how to defend against the weak notrump beyond knowing what means the first call by their side. Shame on them; it does seem untoward, even for those of us who really like weak notrumps, to gain a good board just because the opponents haven't worked out their defensive agreements. I am sure I would take my good board under the circumstances, but I would much rather succeed because my system worked well than because my system was too unfamiliar to the opponents. Even in Flight A, sometimes the latter reason is cause for a good score, but quite often the latter reason is cause for a good score in a lower-flighted or bracketed event. View that as you please.

  6. Why is nonopening side likely to have 25 or 26 HCP when advancer has only 7 HCP? What is the basis for expecting the doubler to have 18-19 HCP?

  7. That's a good question, Jeff. I'm not sure that there would be sound basis for that expectation in an typical partnership. However, I do think that the key to the auction is the double of the Stayman response of 2D. Since 2D is not expected to be the final contract, a double of 2D should, in my opinion, show extras, and nothing about diamonds. Since the first double showed more or less 15+ (maybe 14+), the second double should probably show 18+. However, I would be the first to admit that this treatment would not be standard and I doubt if it had been discussed by this pair. Nevertheless, it is, at least to me, logical. But I thank you for questioning it - I hadn't previously given it as much thought as I should. Indeed, it seems to me that in the majority of auctions which begin with a penalty double of 1NT, the opportunity to show extras in this way is simply not available.