What should I bid? (October 2015)

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What should I bid? (October 2015)

The best submission for October came from Lavy Libman. He wins a voucher of $30 funded by TBIB, toward any purchase made at the Bridge Shop or Paul Lavings Bridge Books.

The hand:

KQ
AJ85
AK94
983

Vulnerability is favourable (green against red), but please do discuss if your answer is different for other vulnerabilities.

Dealer is on your left, and it’s your bid after:
(1)-P-(3)-?

The opponents play a standardish system (5-card major/better minor openings so 1 is 3+ cards, and 3 is a normal inverted raise, 6-9ish with probably 5 or more clubs).

This hand came up during a practice session and generated a lot of discussion with partner. Would be glad to hear your expert opinion!

Do you take any action? If you pass, matters will rest there. If you double, what is your next step if partner responds 3?

For what it’s worth my preliminary thinking was this: Opponents have shown a minimum of 18 points or so between them (could be a little less if someone is shapely), and could have up to all the 23 you don’t see (if partner is completely broke).

In the latter case, their contract will probably make (you’ll take your 4 defensive tricks, there won’t be any ruffs without a partner entry).

On the other hand, partner is marked with a club shortage (so you’re likely to have a fit – make that, guaranteed to have a fit if the opponents have 9 clubs), and if he brings his 4-5 points you have very good chances of game. For example if his shape is 4441 or 5431, 4 is easy (against normal breaks) with as little as K+any red queen, or Q+QJ, or, say,A+T9xx; similarly 4 should be good with very little opposite if he is 6331 or 6241 (say, Jxxxxx xx Qxxx x is a virtually cold 4, and he wouldn’t bid with this over 1).

If you do double and partner bids 3, do you agree that your next bid is 3NT? Surely this can only mean a game-going hand with doubt about the strain (and not too happy about spades), so partner is expected to take it out to his other 4-card suit if he has one. This should get you to 4 opposite any 5-4 in the majors. Of course this can go pear-shaped very badly if partner’s hand is unsuitable.

So, in your opinion which is the greater risk – a pass or a double? And does the vulnerability matter to the answer? Would your answer be different if your heart suit was slightly better (AJ9x or AJTx)?

(Spoiler: on this occasion partner’s hand turned out to be Jxxx Qxx JTxx xx; the opener had a minimum 1 opening with 4333 shape, so doubling would get you in trouble while passing was the winning choice.)

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Hi Lavy,

You have a good problem. Before I read anything past the auction that you gave, my first instinct was to pass. Then I thought the vulnerability doesn’t affect my choice, but the form of game (IMPs vs. Pairs) may affect it, but probably not.

The first thing that you have to take into account is of course, knowing your partner’s style of overcalls, particularly at favourable vulnerability, because this may eliminate a lot of the potential hand types that partner can have for his pass of 1 as we can predict he will have a doubleton club at best.

Having said that, the main reason why I pass is that I think game is very very unlikely. Whilst it’s true that opposite some hands it can be cold, but I think the odds are heavily against it. Due to our doubleton spade (and our RHO not responding in spades), partner is sure to hold 4-5 spades. Thus, if we make a takeout double, we can expect a 3 bid by partner for near 100% certainty. Now of course, the question is, do I do anything over 3?

If the answer is no, that leads me to the next question – is it worth playing in 3, even if partner has a 5-card suit, when we could have taken a potential likely plus score on defence against 3?

If the answer is yes to “do I do anything over 3”, then I have no idea what to do.

In this type of situation, I usually prefer not to try and guesstimate the HCP around the table. The only hand I care about is partner’s, and knowing that partner did not make an overcall over 1, I would put him around <6HCP if he has 5 spades. Yes, he can have a bit more HCP if he has a 4-card spade suit, but that isn’t really going to help us at all (since he won’t have enough strength to do anything more than respond at the 3-level).

Whilst it’s true that our partnership can have up to 23hcp, I wouldn’t be so pessimistic about not defeating 3. For example, partner could have a doubleton diamond and get a ruff, or partner may have Q, or K, or Q, or K, etc. to contribute an additional trick.

I do understand and concede that if partner does have a singleton club and around 4-6 HCP, we might be missing out on something good (but not always, for example if partner is 4=4=4=1 or 5=4=3=1, we may end up playing in the wrong spot). However, don’t bank a lot of this thinking based on the opponents having 9-card club fit. Our LHO could easily have 3 clubs and East could have 5. In order for our side to miss something good, a lot of things need to be right.
(1) Opponents must have a 9-card club fit, and
(2) Partner is in the maximum range of 4-6 points, and
(3) those points must be perfect fitting points, and
(4) if (1)-(3) are satisfied, we then need to have a fit in hearts, and
(5) assuming we have a heart fit, we need to somehow have a safe landing at the right spot (i.e. we need to bid over partner’s 3).

This is a lot of conditions to satisfy, and if any of them are not satisfied, we’re very very likely headed for a minus score when we might’ve had a relative easy time beating 3.

(Whilst it’s true that partner can have a six-card spade suit, this wouldn’t enter my train of thoughts at all because I think partner having a six-card spade is just very unlikely. There are tons of hand shapes where partner has a 4 or a 5-card spade suit, and that’s what I should be focused on.
For example, it’s similar to a situation where in a general auction you are thinking of making a slam try and partner has shown 10-12 points, but you “need partner to have the perfect 12 points for slam to be good”. As you should almost never play partner for a “perfecta”, you should not think about it, and this is the type of situation I’m relating to, in that it is very unlikely for partner to have a six-card spade suit.)

You mentioned: “If you do double and partner bids 3, do you agree that your next bid is 3NT? Surely this can only mean a game-going hand with doubt about the strain (and not too happy about spades), so partner is expected to take it out to his other 4-card suit if he has one. This should get you to 4 opposite any 5-4 in the majors. Of course this can go pear-shaped very badly if partner’s hand is unsuitable.”

If I was forced to double, then over 3, I would definitely pass as I don’t want to get into more trouble and hope that partner has a 5-card suit! If partner were on the maximum side with some serious shape, he might’ve taken the aggressive approach and bid game (or possibly 4 as a choice of games). Since he didn’t, he is now a (very) heavy favourite to just have 4 or 5 spades with a weak hand.

If you bid 3NT over 3, whilst I agree with the definition that it is a game-going hand with doubt about strain, it should almost invariably (1) promise a club stopper, and (2) shows 3-card spade holding, happy for partner to convert 3NT to 4.
This is the type of sequence I would make if I had something like a 3=4=4=2 shape with 19-21 points and Kx or Ax of clubs. Actually, even I’m not convinced if I would actually move on over 3 with that shape as I would be nowhere near 9 tricks if partner only has four spades and passed 3NT, so maybe if I had a 3=3=5=2 shape with potentially running diamonds and a club stopper.

Sure, if partner has a 4-card heart suit, he is certainly invited to bid 4 over my 3NT rebid, but he is (should be) invited to correct to 4 with a 5-card spade suit as well (because if we had a doubleton spade along with a club stopper, I would have probably overcalled 3NT instead of doubling). This is similar to the auction where your RHO opens 3, you double, and convert partner’s 3M to 3NT, where you are showing a strong hand, a club stopper, and also just 3-card support for partner’s major and he is free to correct to 4M.

Anyway, in conclusion, I would pass as I believe doubling carries a very big risk. More often than not, this would just be a partscore hand, and as I’m optimistic about beating 3 by one trick, I prefer to take that plus score. The vulnerability does not affect my decision, nor does the quality of my heart suit (i.e. we may never find our hearts anyway).

Kind regards,
Andy

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