Source: BBO By BBOer Shengabus (Yuan Shen)

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Yuan Shen
Yuan Shen

This series will focus on competitive auctions. I have an ambitious list of topics I aim to cover, although little is “new”. My target audience will be intermediate-advanced, although I am happy to hear feedback. I hope this will be an informative look, perhaps from a weird angle at times, on what I consider the most important part of bidding. The content may be not as exciting as card-play articles, but competitive auctions come up, well, almost every hand.

My main sources are from reading Kit Woolsey and Andrew Gumperz’ articles, ideas “borrowed” from Robson-Segal, and of course my own experience.

My goal throughout will be to zoom in on a couple of examples, and allow the reader to do their own exploration of the general case. The types of example I will use will be very dull in a sense: common-place hands, in common-place situations where the books tend to leave you on your own.

In this first article, your lucky opponents have a Major to bid-and-raise.

I’ll discuss now how to bid if their major is Hearts. My next article will discuss similar sequences when they have Spades (which is a lot more bothersome for us!).

A. They bid-and-raise Hearts. Partner makes a T/O DBL

Scenario 1. You are 4th seat (any colors).

Hand A Hand B Hand C

With the opponents’ light style these days, there’s something to be said for a natural voluntary 2NT in competition.

However, those hands tend to be rare (in fact I can’t remember ever wanting to bid a natural 2NT here, but my memory – like me – is biased).

So let’s assume that we have a Bad-2NT available; to explain: bidding a voluntary 2NT here shows competitive values only. Therefore, Hand A bids 2NT (as a relay to 3), hoping to then bid diamonds, whereas Hand B bids a direct shape-and-values-showing 3.

The “clarity-bid” of a direct 3 caters to our good hands (e.g. where partner might ask us for a Heart stop, so we get back the natural NT-type auctions), at the expense of some of our bad hands.

There is some debate as to the merits of Bad-2NT versus the opposite treatment (known as “Good-2NT”), beyond the scope of this article. Most of you probably already play Lebensohl, and Bad-2NT is of the same flavor. Throughout, I will rarely offer an “optimal” solution, merely what I consider to be a better-practice than groping-in-the-dark. You don’t get something for nothing. But you can get quite-a-lot for not-very-much effort.

As for Hand C, my suggestion is to make a jump to 4m: showing a fitted minor + our-Major (spades). This also takes pressure off a direct 4 bid, which should be based on spades. Partner will be very well placed. Using BBO’s excellent teaching table feature, I will offer a few sample hands.

Quiz 1: What would you bid as South? 4th seat. All red.

Quiz 2: What would you bid as South? 4th seat. All white.

Scenario 2. You are 2nd seat (any colors)

This is the same, right? Absolutely not. Here, we are forced-to-bid (sure you can convert for penalty, but that would be an “active” pass, of the blood-extraction type). Therefore a voluntary Bad-2NT cannot be in place. 2 is essential as a minimum hand with spades. So what is 2NT Here’s a likely hand:

Experts will differ as to whether 2NT here is “Lebensohl” (i.e. relay to 3, to be pass/corrected) or “Scramble” (pick-a-minor, Help!) but either way, it shows
a bad hand. One of the aims of this series will be to introduce some essential expert treatments in the “right” context. Most people are introduced to Lebensohl as a gadget over 1NT-interference (“Fast denies” and all that junk). Instead, the basic principle is so much simpler. When partner forces you to bid at the 2 level, and your hand flat-out sucks, express that with 2NT.

In this scenario, I suggest playing Scramble-2NT, since it’s better to offer partner a choice.
But if you know the strain, say:

just bid 3. Contrast this “forced-to-bid” scenario 2 with the “voluntary” scenario 1. The direct 3 simply can’t promise as much.

Quiz 3: What would you bid as North? 2nd seat. Unfavorable.

Quiz 4: What would you bid as North?.2nd seat. Favorable

Summary:
2NT = bad hand, in the context of the bidding.

  • If your 2NT is voluntary (you didn’t have to bid), you show competitive values; and a direct bid is forward going.
  • If you have a gun to your head, then 2NT is scramble, and a direct bid is a strain-preference.

Remark:
Lebensohl-2NT is usually used after a weak-2 doubled, rather than scramble. There are various reasons, but mainly there’s simply more room for your side to have HCP (the doubler can be quite strong and is allowed to break the 3 weak-relay). As in so many competitive auctions, understanding relative expected-strength between our sides is very important, and contextualizes the preferable treatment.

Possible “answers” to the Quizes (there are often no correct answers in competitive bidding, otherwise this game would be easy!):

Quiz 1:

This is a “non-example” hand. Remember there are still “normal” bids out there! In this example, the real issue is you have a singleton heart and partner made a takeout double: the opponents likely have a 9/10 card heart fit. A responsive double seems clear this round – you do not have a single-suited hand, but rather a flexible hand without spades, and after:

Your real judgement comes into play. Do you take the push to 4? Now the form of scoring, the vulnerability, the chance they might make 4, all matter. There’s a lot more to say!

Quiz 2:

Another non-example. You don’t have to bid! Bidding here is sick. After your pass, partner at favorable may double again. Do you have agreements as to the strength of this second double? There is lots and lots to say about competitive doubles. The opponents will likely block with 3 and play it there.

Quiz 3:

Clear scramble-2NT. Sometimes you won’t even be 4=4 in the minors. This hand escapes for -200 with reasonable declarer play. Are you sure without a scramble bid that you won’t be getting way too high? South has a pretty good hand…

Quiz 4:

Not clear. But I suggest scramble-2NT. Yes you do have a 5-card club suit, but remember, the weaker you are, the more likely Middle-Hand-Opponent is to hang you! In the bidding-room auction, the opponents saved us. 3 doubled is down at least 2, and you don’t even want to think about 3NT doubled.

Bidding is fun, creative, and subtle, with no hard-and-fast rules.