Sunday, November 18, 2012

Suit quality in slam bidding (part 2)

This is the second part of the topic: Suit quality in slam bidding (see part 1). We will go into a little more detail about the issues raised there. Our first example illustrates the danger of taking the strong route to a contract versus the weaker route. As always we must recognize that the more (forcing) bids you take to get to a bid that you could have reached via a shorter route, the stronger your hand. When two sequences are equal in their numbers of steps, the one which more precisely describes your hand is the weaker sequence because it limits the possible hands the bidder can hold.

You pick up this hand and hear partner open 1: ♠A75 KJ5 T9852 ♣A5. You already know what contract you are going to play in, unless partner has significant extras (and they will have to be quite significant). That pre-ordained contract is 4. What's the quickest (and most limiting) way to get there in 2/1? It's to start with a forcing 1NT (essentially just a relay bid to keep the auction alive) and then jump to 4 over partner's rebid. He will now know you have game-forcing values with three hearts and no slam aspirations of your own. Isn't that exactly what you have?

What will happen if you bid 2? Nothing bad will happen if partner rebids 3♣, 2, 2♠ or 2NT. Over all of those continuations, you will now jump to 4 (fast arrival). No damage done!

But what if partner actually likes diamonds. There are several ways the auction might continue and most of them are awkward. The simplest thing is partner bids 3 and you bid 4. You will probably get away with this because it's generally understood that a raise of your minor is overruled by a delayed major suit raise. It's a jump so it can't really be a control-showing bid. Additionally, we don't bid splinters in partner's suit so it can't be a splinter for diamonds.

What if partner gets excited and bids 4♣ or 3♠ (splinters in support of diamonds)? How will you recover from that? A bid of 4 now will be ambiguous at best. Is it a control-showing-bid in search of a diamond slam? Is it an attempt to sign off in 4 (in which case how is your hand different from the one above where you went through 1NT?).

Even worse is when 4 happens to be your key-card asking bid for a diamond slam. Now, it can get really ugly. Maybe the best thing here is to simply bid 5 (at teams) in the hopes of arriving quickly in the diamond game.

This sequence actually occurred at a regional earlier this year. Kim and I were playing a very pleasant match against the eventual winners of the KOs. At our table were Pamela and Matthew Granovetter. We knew we were somewhat behind (actually we were a lot behind but we didn't realize that at the time). I opened 1 with ♠QT8 AT972 AJ76 ♣8. After Kim bid 2 with the hand shown above, I took a very optimistic view of my hand. In retrospect, I was clearly trying for a "swing." So much so that I bid 4♣. Now, Kim continued with 4. Hmm! Was that "keycard" for diamonds (we play "kickback")? Or was it a sign-off in 4? Well, if it was the latter, at least we had a double fit. And, although we had never specifically discussed the principle described in this blog, Kim's hand should be better than a minimum game force and have a good suit. Maybe slam wouldn't be such a bad prospect. In these ambiguous circumstances, our rule is generally to keep bidding if we think the bid might be forcing. It's usually more fun to play a tough slam in a good fit rather than play game in a suit where there's no fit at all. The predictable result was down 2 in 6.

So, here is the relevant principle: avoid bidding a suit in a 2/1 auction that you would be unhappy to see as the trump suit, unless you have no choice. You have some safety if the suit you really like out-ranks the one you are bidding. But, as we've seen, even that has its possible snags. Another example situation might be when you hold the following hand: ♠AKQ92 – AQJ6 ♣8642. You open 1♠ and partner responds 2, game-forcing. You have sufficient strength to bid a minor at the three-level, but do you really want to suggest clubs as trumps? Here, you do have an alternative rebid: 3. You might miss a good 6♣ slam. But you might also stay out of a bad 6♣ slam when partner's support is only ♣KJ92 or something similar – a holding that partner will consider to be magnificent support.

I have also observed that many players will bid a bad four-card minor suit rather than a forcing 1NT. At least Kim's suit had five cards in it! While 1NT typically denies the ability to bid game in a different strain, it certainly does not deny a hand which can raise to game in opener's suit. But, since it is forcing, it could also be used for those rare hands that already know where they plan to play, five-of-a-minor for example.

I'm happy to be the "goat" in the story because I obviously overbid. But it got me thinking about this topic and I think I now understand the concept behind "Picture Bids". A picture bid is the 2/1 version of the principle of fast arrival. See for example a good discussion of this topic by Eric Rodwell. Although Eric doesn't put it this way, it seems logical to me – based on everything we've discussed here – that since responder could, with a minimum balanced hand, bid 1NT followed by a jump to game in partner's suit then a 2/1 followed by a game bid shows a different type of minimum. What type? Well, since responder doesn't have much enthusiasm for game, it suggests that he doesn't have much in the way of values, certainly not controls, in the other suits. He's basically saying that I don't think we have slam unless a) you have significant extras of your own or b) we have a good double fit and you, opener, have control of the other suits.

Here's an amusing – for my partner and me – result from a recent club appreciation game. My hand was  ♠AKT8762 A3 84 ♣KT and I opened 1♠ in second position at unfavorable vulnerability. Partner bid 2♦ with ♠QJ K75 Q9763 ♣AQ3 and I jump-rebid my spades. I don't recall for sure what happened next but I think partner raised to 4♠. We ended up in 6♠. I was not concerned about needing a control in diamonds because my partner had bid this suit as a 2/1 bid and then supported my spades. This time, however, we got lucky. The DA was singleton and the slam is cold.

Admittedly, this is a tricky hand. With 14 hcp, the hand does seem a bit too good to make a forcing 1NT followed by 3NT. But if I had to come down on one side or the other, I would take the low road, starting with 1NT, simply because of the quality of the diamond suit.


  1. There is a hand type that is worth a 1NT response to partner's 1H opening and then a 4H rebid ... but it is not (even close to) the hand you show. The hand type is something like QJx, Kxx, KJxxx, QJ, lots of filler cards, some heart support, but short on slammish (control) cards.

    The hand you show, by contrast, has not only opening bid values, but nice quick tricks plus trump support ... exactly the type of hand where you need to exchange information with partner and not mastermind the auction with 1NT, then 4H.

    Having said that, figuring out the follow up auctions on responder's hand is very tricky. After all, the best minimum hands for slams opposite responder's is a hand with diamond shortness (say Kx, AQTxxx, x, Kxxx as one example), and opener will hardly be able to discern that easily if responder's first call is 2D!

    A lesser slam suitable minimum opposite responder's hand is a red two-suiter, such as x, AQxxx, AKxxx, xx.

    Whatever, the point I am trying to make is that the shown responder hand has too much slam potential to take over the auction and assume that 4H is where the hands are destined. I agree with Kim's chosen auction (and with your 4C splinter), but I would respect Kim's chosen 4H second round call and pass with your hand. Kim (accurately) disliked the quality of her diamond suit and the almost-matching shortness in clubs. You have no extras, and so should be content to have described your hand well to Kim.

    On to a separate subject you mention, I think the working definition of a picture bid jump is a minimum game force with no controls (no ace or king, no singleton or void) in the suits not bid by the jumper. Thus, by process of elimination, really good cards in the suits that were bid by the jumper. This allows opener, with a minimum that might include, say, an ace in one of the uncontrolled suits and a singleton in the other uncontrolled suits to identify a slam suitable hand, while rejecting even a high HCP hand that is also lacking a control holding in one of partner's announced uncontrolled suits.

    If your partnership in the club appreciation game was playing picture bids, then responder misbid his hand terribly. Responder should rebid 3S (if you had bid 2S ... although, to be honest, I think your hand is worth a 3S rebid.) Then you would make slam noise and responder should reject your overtures. Sadly, the final contract reflects what happens when one partner is playing fast arrival and the other partner is playing picture bids.

  2. Hi Jeff. So, I've failed to convince you in my follow-up. I'm not entirely surprised, but I'm not sure that the first part of your comment is all that different from your comment to part 1. Nobody is doing any masterminding here. I'm merely suggesting an accurate way of describing a hand. If we belong in a good slam, I believe we will still get there. Clearly, I would have passed 4H if I'd been sure that it was "to play" and not kickback for diamonds.

    I think your definition of picture bids agrees with mine, does it not? Although, your final comment suggests that I haven't entirely explained my viewpoint sufficiently well to convince you that a picture bid is one variant of fast arrival (the other being the 1NT route).

    And yes, in theory, my partnership does play picture bids (we share a common partner here). And yes, I do believe that I rebid 3S. I will fix that in the content.

  3. I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree. The source of my concern is your belief that the hand held by responder who started with 1NT and then rebid 4H was accurately described as a game forcing values with three hearts and no slam aspiration. When I am dealt a hand with KJx of partner's opening major and two aces on the side, I absolutely have slam aspirations. Whether partner's hand is such that the aspirations are realized is something I can only tell from an exchange of further information. Masking my strength by bidding 1NT and then not unmasking it until I rebid 4H is, by virtue of using none of the bids between partner's rebid and 4H, in my opinion, by definition, masterminding.

    With respect to the club appreciation game, if you rebid 3S (a much better choice than 2S) I suspect that you ran afoul of the absence of another useful partnership agreement. That agreement is that opener's jump rebid in his opened major in a 2/1 auction firmly establishes the trump suit. Had you and partner shared that agreement, then, it seems to me, responder has your partnership's 3NT/control bid machinery available. If that machinery is that 3NT is serious, then responder should bid 4C over 3S to show a minimum with A or K of clubs, opener will bid 4H to both show the A or K of H and deny the A or K of diamonds, and responder will bid 4S. With no shortness control in diamonds, opener will bid no further. I am betting that responder thought that the only ways he could show spade support were by raising to 4S or by bidding 4NT.

  4. Robin,

    Did you give any consideration to responding 2NT, despite the lack of a fourth heart? Given Hamman's prohibition on hoping for the perfect hand, was hoping for strong diamond support opposite any worse/better than maybe finding a singleton? A stiff diamond, reducing the deck to 28-30 HCP might very well point towards a slam in hearts. Not saying I would have bid 2NT (Some of MY partners would have had serious violent tendancies, but a couple would have been understanding), but I would thought about it. After all, Bridge is very, very, very often about telling the least biggest lie.

    1. Gary, I like that idea quite a lot. I was the opener, so I didn't have that hand. But it is a creative way to find out if opener is short in diamonds in which case slam might well be on. Of course, you might have some "splainin" to do if the lack of a 9th trump dooms what would otherwise be a good slam :)