Thursday, June 23, 2022

Boxing and the Horizon Principle

 A hand came up recently which I thought was a good example of when (and how) to use the ideas of boxing and the horizon principle. Let's define them.

Whenever you make a limited bid, you have "boxed" your hand. In other words, you have to a greater or lesser degree reduced the number of possible hands that you can hold. No subsequent bid can get you out of the box. So, if an ace was hiding behind one of the other cards when you made your earlier bid, no amount of persuasion can convince your partner that you have that ace. You will have to make a unilateral bid if you feel that it is necessary. [I covered this topic in one of my first blogs: The No-undo principle]

Similarly, if both partners have boxed their hands, then certain contracts are no longer "on the horizon."

For example, you open 1♠️ and partner responds 2♠️.  If you are playing a strong club system, you have "boxed" your own hand to somewhere between 11 and 16 points. Partner's hand has between 5 and 10 points. The most you can have between you is 26 points, but this would only occur when both partners are balanced. Slam is not on the horizon. Both partners know this, so any bid that you make now is a game try and cannot be a slam try.

If you are playing a standard bidding system where you are limited to, say, 20 points, it's conceivable though unlikely that you still might have slam. So, a bid of a new suit (a game try of some sort) might turn out to be an advance control-showing bid in search of slam if partner accepts what he sees as a game try (following the related principle of "game before slam"). 

When partner is unlimited, certain contracts, such as a small slam, maybe on your horizon but, from partner's point of view--when you have boxed your hand--those same contracts may not be on his horizon.

Enough discussion. Let's look at the hand (matchpoints):

♠️K74 ♥️AK984 ♦️AQ82 ♣️8

A nice hand for sure. You deal and open 1♥️ (nobody is vulnerable). LHO gets in there with 1♠️. Partner, predictably, makes a negative double. RHO passes and it's up to you.

Partner is unlimited (he should have at least 7-8 points) and you have boxed your hand somewhat by your failure to open 2♣️ and the fact that you opened in first seat. So, 11 to 20 points or thereabouts and at least five hearts. You could easily have a slam here, although presumably not in hearts. What about diamonds? 

You are about to re-box your hand. If you bid 2♦️, you will have effectively boxed your hand to something like 11 to 16 points, with at least nine cards in the red suits. You may still have visions of slam, but what about partner? He will need substantially more than a minimum to entertain slam now. From his point of view, 2♦️ will likely take slam off the horizon.

What about 3♦️? You will be refining your box to something like 16 to 20 points with the same red suit cards. If partner has a fit for diamonds (as the double suggests he might) and something like 12 or more points of his own, slam may still be on the horizon for both partners.

You decide to rebid 2♦️ and partner cue-bids 2♠️. Partner's hand now has a new box: at least 11 points and, probably (but not definitely), fewer than three hearts, as he would likely have bid 2♠️ immediately with three hearts and 10-plus points.

It looks like we have a diamond fit (with four or five spades, partner may have opted to trap-pass so partner likely has eight minor suit cards). Possible contracts are 2NT, 3♦️, 3NT, 5♦️, 6♦️, 6NT. Partner's sequence is consistent with all of those contracts. At matchpoints, we would tend to favor 2NT over 3♦️ and 3NT over 5♦️.

Is partner's bid forcing? Obviously. But forcing to what? There are several opinions on this, but let's look at the hand from partner's point of view. With our hand boxed into 11-16 points, partner will need something like 16 points for slam to be on the horizon. What about game vs. part-score? If partner only has 11-12 points, he will want to know if we are at the low end or the high end of our box.

The two bids then that could legitimately be passed by partner are 2NT and 3♦️. We decide to bid 2NT and partner passes. We make twelve tricks in notrump for a somewhat embarrassing +240.

Here is the actual hand:

1 comment:

  1. I have to admit 2D wouldn't have been on my radar with 16 HCP and a singleton.