Sunday, April 7, 2013

No wonder it takes so long to learn this game!

Kim and I went over to England for Easter for some family time. The weather was unusually cold and dreary but we had a lot of fun. On our last couple of days, we went up to London to see Les Miserables on the stage (fabulous) and then, on the way to the airport, so to speak, we played bridge at the Andrew Robson Bridge Club close to where I grew up in Fulham. For various reasons, we've wanted to play at that club for quite a long time now. It was a relatively small game (seven tables) and we received sufficient gifts along the way to win our direction. Our own game wasn't exactly error free though. We doubled a part-score and then mis-defended allowing them to make it.

Then this hand came up (rotated) with nobody vulnerable:

I opened 1 in fourth seat; Kim responded 1♠ and I rebid 3♣. So far, so good. We are in a "game force" but still need to determine the right strain. At this point, West decided to throw a monkey wrench into the proceedings with 3. I thought we had pretty good understandings of how to deal with interference – but I was wrong.

Here are the options that I thought Kim had:
  • pass (forcing) to await developments [if I double and she then pulls it, that shows extra strength and an interest in slam];
  • double (penalty because I jumped at my second turn – see my rules for doubles);
  • 3 (forcing) which I would take as delayed support with xxx (and about 9+ hcp since she didn't simply raise initially) or Hx (probably 10+ hcp);
  • 3♠ (forcing) extra length in spades, nothing about strength;
  • 3NT ("to play");
  • 4♣ (non-forcing, competitive);
  • 4 (forcing) though with no pre-discussed meaning;
  • 5♣ (fast arrival);
  • 4 (fast arrival) likely based on Hx and a minimum (6-9) response.
Unfortunately, Kim felt that an immediate 4♣ was forward-going and 100% forcing. I passed, given that my hand lost quite a bit of its lustre as the auction unfolded. I was able to wrap up twelve tricks without breathing hard.

How can two decent players, who have discussed these situations so often, be on such completely different wavelengths?

I decided to put the question to BridgeWinners. However, because I wanted to understand general principles, I created two polls to try and separate what I thought were the two different issues. Here are the links:
In the first, I tried to get an answer in general terms of direct seat options when an intervening bid was made below a specific "committed" contract. There are of course several different ways to "commit" our partnership to, say, 3 of a major. Another common sequence might be: 1♠ (2) 3. If the next player doubles or bids 3, opener will have choices, including a forcing pass. My understanding of standard "expert" bridge was that 3♠ is the only non-forcing call (other than double/redouble which could be left in if appropriate).

But, so far, the votes (and especially the comments) on BridgeWinners have not been unanimous, although at this point, my scheme is the majority opinion (23/33 votes). How can something so fundamental (and quotidian) have such divergent opinions?

In the second poll, I tried to ascertain what exactly was meant by being in a "game force," especially as it relates to the minor suits. My own understanding was that a jump shift by opener (as in this case) was only forcing to four of the minor. If the responder had bid with a bare minimum and 3NT is missing a stopper, then the partnership can play in four of the minor.

Again, I was somewhat surprised by the votes and comments on the poll. The majority opinion was that this is something that must be agreed in advance by the partnership (although of the others most thought that game meant just that – game).

So, I would be very interested in your comments. But, at the risk of being repetitive, I will reiterate that it amazes me that these are not the subject of clear-cut rules. No wonder it takes so long to learn this game!


  1. It may be good to have a 'pass and pull' option as described, but human nature being what it is makes it hard to pass over 3D with such a nice hand for clubs. To me that is one of the real hard parts of the game, to stick to the discipline of your agreed system when instinct sways you to another action.

    I am also not a fan of the principal of 'fast arrival' until both sides know what trump is before the fast arrival bid. I have seen more underbid disasters in the name of 'fast arrival' than good stops. It chews up so much bidding space. The good hand can always cue bid or do something else (e.g., 3N as 'serious slam try' or a cue-bid). Interesting hand for discussion - thanks for publishing it.

    1. Your point about human nature is an excellent one. But I think it underscores the issue - these things are not universally taught (or understood) and so in practice players who do not play with their partners on a regular and frequent basis will want to bid 4C "just in case."
      As for "fast arrival" I don't want to push the analogy too far here (competition changes things quite a lot, in my opinion) or to debate the general merits here (off topic). Suffice it to say, I basically agree with you, Mrturk.

  2. Sorry, but I don't think I would ever jump shift, get raised and then say that's high enough. Not happening.

    1. Dave, I know that I'm in a minority of one here - and I really do respect your opinion as a great player. But what I'm striving for here is the theoretical best treatment - to be used by two good players who have plenty time for discussion and play. So, I'm not quite ready to give up on it yet :)

      One of the toughest aspects of bridge is knowing how to deal with minor suit fits and particularly whether 4C in an auction such as 1H - 1S - 3C - 4C (and including other, perhaps more fuzzy, situations) should be slam-invitational or simply supporting clubs at the lowest level [i.e. is 5C "fast arrival"]. I would never argue that this 4C was non-forcing of course.

      But competition gives us a new vocabulary that we didn't have before. In particular, it gives us two ways to bid 4C - one which is the same as without the competition (as above) and one which says "I really think 4C might be our last positive score unless you have more than a minimum jump shift." In other words, a direct and an indirect raise.

      Shouldn't we try to take advantage of the new vocabulary?

      Or do you think that stopping on the 4C "dime" is a waste of brain power and therefore some other meaning for the second 4C sequence makes sense?