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 my first lecture, They-bid-and-raised-Hearts, I introduced “Bad-2NT” and “Scramble-2NT” when the opponents bid-and-raised Hearts. These of course have much wider usage. We know that often when they have hearts, then in fact we have spades and are reasonably well placed. So although (1Heart Suit) – (2Heart Suit) is annoying, (1Spade Suit ) – (2Spade Suit ) is their most effective auction. In Robson-Segal terms, this is an “express fit” auction: they know they have a fit, opener knows their approximate combined power; if we get it wrong, we’re screwed.

Still, all the reason to compete effectively. Remember our working agenda: we want to keep it relatively simple, but neither do we want to be guessing all the time.

We again focus our attention on Advancer. Intervener has well defined bids by-and-large in standard bidding.

B. They bid-and-raise Spades.

Scenario 1. Partner shows some life. You are 4th seat (any colors).

This is just a quick recapitulation of the Heart-scenario in my previous article.

X = responsive, with both minors.

2NT = single-suited, competitive, the Bad-2NT (see Lecture 1).

3club suit/3Heart Suit/3Heart Suit  = natural, forward going

3NT/4Heart Suit = to play

Last time, I suggested that 4m made sense to show our-Major + the minor. A sort of Leaping Michaels treatment: sometimes we can be stolen from. Indeed many expert pairs will play that 2Spade Suit here shows a blocking-bid, namely a bad raise to 2Spade Suit . They will have other methods to describe a good raise to 2Spade Suit (perhaps I will talk about that in a later article). So it’s not immediately clear that we don’t have to “protect” our heart suit, when we have a good hand.

My suggestions are:

4m = Heart Suit + m.

3Spade Suit = ostensible stopper ask, may be clarified as a strong Heart Suit raise. But it’s our hand.

4Spade SuitHeart Suit + club suit, equal/longer clubs

4NT = Heart Suit + club suit, longer Heart Suit

These are only suggestions: I emphasize again that you shouldn’t ever play a convention becomes someone tells you “it’s a good idea”, or you see others play it (the exception being if all experts do play it, but you don’t). It’s much more important to understand that there “may be a problem to solve” rather than to impose a random solution.

Quiz 1: What would you bid as South?

4th seat. All white.

Quiz 2: What would you bid as South?

    1. 4th seat. All red.

Scenario 2. Partner shows no life.

What do DBL and 2NT here mean? Is there any difference to the Heart-version? Yes, a big one! Over (1Heart Suit) P (2Heart Suit), advancer was free to bid spades at the 2-level. Therefore over hearts, 2NT expressly showed both minors. This is not the case over spades. Instead, DBL is take-out, and 2NT is any-two-suited take-out. Over a double, partner has Lebensohl-2NT available, as before.

Scenario 3. Neither partner has shown life. Yet. 

You are 2nd seat, Favorable.

Hand A Hand B Hand C Hand D

You already wanted to compete earlier, but the hand was not quite good enough, even at these colors. But we can’t let the opponents buy the auction in 2Spade Suit : partner is marked with stuff and is depending on us! In any balancing or take-out situation, the onus is on the hand with shortness in the enemies’ suit. Learning from Kit Woolsey, you can play:

DBL = regular take-out or Heart Suitclub suit (hand type A or B).
2NT = two-suited take-out with diamonds as an anchor (hand type C or D).

Note it’s possible that partner wants to penalize 2Spade Suit, but in competitive auctions, our primary goal is to get to a better spot than defending their Major suit-fit at the 2-level.

Why the mysterious Heart Suitclub suit option for the DBL? Partner does not need to show strength (he passed already!). Therefore over this two-way DBL, with a diamond preference, partner has an Asking-2NT available to check whether I have a regular take-out double (I bid 3Heart Suit, or if I really had Heart Suitclub suit (I bid 3club suit). Partner will place the contract accordingly.

This baroque two-way DBL is not so rare. What’s another frequent auction where we would love to compete over spades, but may have imperfect strength and/or shape? As with any new convention or treatment you pick up: ask if it might have broader implications or uses. If you find that actually, the memory strain isn’t so bad (or even that after a while, the new treatment becomes in your mind the logical treatment), then perhaps you’ve added something to your permanent arsenal.

How about:

Quiz 3: What would you bid as South?
2nd seat. All white.

*The two=way double in another balancing situation over spades.

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

Quiz 1:

3Heart Suitis clear. Forward going (prime hand, no spade wastage, the 5th trump and a stiff).

This was just a recapitulation of my previous article. Although repetitive, for me, I find that if I make the effort of learning a complicated-new-treatment (and every new treatment is “complicated”), I want there to be payoffs. Lots of them. We learned about Bad-2NT over hearts. It applies over spades.

When we bid better, the proof is that suddenly, partner’s judgement suddenly seems to get so much better. They can confidently bid the game. We’re not saying that without the forward-going-inference of 3Heart Suitthat partner wouldn’t get it right: merely that they might get it wrong.

Quiz 2:

So we have close-to-a-natural-2NT bid. These hands do occur. Since 2NT would be BAD-2NT, we are forced to pass – the hand is hardly good enough to bid 3NT, and a natural 3club suit is too-rich on a 4-card suit opposite a take-out double. If partner can’t reopen, it’s unlikely we’re missing anything. And if partner can re-open, well maybe there’s blood-on-the-wall.

On this hand, intervenor has a tough choice whether to re-open or not. At IMPs it seems clear to pass (too big a chance that 2Spade Suit X is making, or our side has nowhere to go). But at MPs, +200 (or possibly much more) is a big temptation. Despite the naysayers, it pays to be greedy at MPs, if you’re looking to win.

Quiz 3:

2NT – asking about diamonds.
So maybe partner should have doubled 2Heart Suit for the lead, but we don’t bid every hand perfectly. At least partner decided not to sell out. We bid 2NT to show diamonds, and partner corrects to 3club suit, which we finally correct to 3Heart Suit. Wait, the opponents take the push.

Mission accomplished: well done partner! Every time the opponents play in 3M, when they might have been in 2M, our expected payout goes up. Furthermore, partner’s intrepid balancing action (which he would not have dared make if there was a chance we would hang him with diamonds) means that I have the inference that a club lead (one of partner’s suits) is likely going to reward me with a ruff. It’s best to be in no doubt, but bridge is not an exact science: it’s merely better to be in less doubt, especially on lead. Declarer will always make three spades, but without a club lead, he makes four. MPs are won-and-lost on -140 versus -170.

We have started to ponder a little on vulnerability. The quizzes this week have not-so-coincidentally revolved upon our non-vulnerable actions. We can-and-should get frisky when the opportunity arises. The role of vulnerability is perhaps one of the most fundamental aspects of bridge, and is especially important when we judge whether it is right or not to compete.