Source: ACBL Bulletin December 2016

Bridge maxims you thought were true but aren’t By Mel Colchamiro

The game of bridge is filled with rules and guidelines. Expert Mel Colchamiro debunks some popular “rules” and replaces them with some sage advice. 1 – You shouldn’t open 1NT with I a five-card major. This one is laughably false. Here’s an example of why: Spade SuitQ 6 Heart SuitA J 7 6 4 Diamond SuitK J 8 club suit K Q 7 With 16 high-card points and lots of stoppers, this hand is perfect for 1NT except for that five-card heart suit. But if you open 1Heart Suit, and partner responds 1Spade Suit – a very common occurrence -your rebid is problematic. Rebidding 1NT shows 12-14 HCP. Jump rebidding 2NT shows 18-19. Two of a minor shows a four-card suit (unlike after a forcing 1NT response, if you play that way, where two of a minor could be based on a three-card suit). We open 1NT to avoid this thorny rebid problem. It is true that sometimes the heart suit gets lost in the shuffle and that occasionally leads to a poor result, but most experts will tell you that opening 1NT with a five-card heart suit works out better many more times than not. And the ever-widening acceptance of “puppet Stayman”(asking opener for a five-card major) tips the scale even more. With a five-card spade suit, things are different because the potentially problem-causing sequence of 1Heart Suit -1Spade Suit can’t happen. So opening 1Spade Suit as opposed to 1Heart Suit can be more appealing. However, the frequent auction 1Spade Suit – 1NT makes the weak hand the declarer too often. As we know, hiding the high cards usually is a benefit to the declaring team, as is having the opening lead ride around to the strong hand. Therefore, opening 1NT is fine with five spades and a balanced hand. 2 – You shouldn’t open 1NT with two doubletons. Not at all true. First, hands with two doubletons and 15-17 points are often difficult to bid because they could lead to “reverse” auctions, which are among the most difficult ones to navigate, even for experts. Just about all experts agree that when you have 15-17 points with four hearts and a five-card minor, i.e., a 2=4=5=2 or 2=4=2=5 pattern, it is often best to open 1NT. If you open 1club suit or 1Diamond Suit and partner responds 1Spade Suit your next bid is going to have to be in your four-card major (known as a reverse). Do yourself a big favor – avoid reverses like the plague whenever you can! Just open 1NT with these kinds of hands. Partner will know your strength and can use Stayman and Jacoby transfers. Simple. If you have 15-17 HCP with four cards in spades and a five-card minor, you could open the minor and rebid 1Spade Suit . That’s fine as far as it goes, but after you’ve bid 1Spade Suit, your partner still doesn’t know your strength even after you’ve made two bids. The same is true when you have doubletons in both majors with 5-4 or 4-5 in the minors and you’ve bid one minor and then the other without describing your values. And a final point in favor of opening 1NT with two doubletons: Opening 1NT acts as a mild preempt against the player on your left. If you open 1NT, they may think twice before coming in at the two level. You may ask if there are hands where opening the minor would work better? Sure. But for every one of those, there’ll be many more that you’ll be glad you opened 1NT. 3 – The 2NT response to a weak two-bid asks for a feature Obviously, opening bids at the two, three or four level are different than opening bids at the one level, and the responses are different, too. We all know that after an opening weak two-bid – let’s say 2Spade Suit – a raise to 3Spade Suit is not encouraging opener to go to 4Spade Suit. It’s just adding to the preempt, based on the Law of Total Tricks, making it even harder for the opponents to come in. But what happens when the respond-er has a good hand and is interested in getting to game? Responder needs a mechanism to investigate. We “all” use 2NT as such a mechanism. In response to a weak two-bid, we all “know” that 2NT “asks for a feature.” But it doesn’t! 2NT really asks: “Are you on the top of your preempt range (usually 6-10 HCP) or on the bottom?” For example, in the auction: opener’s 3club suit rebid does indeed show an ace or a king, but more important, it shows a maximum. Consider these two hands: A: Spade SuitKQJ543 Heart Suit82 Diamond Suit76 club suitK43 … B: Spade SuitQJ10543 Heart Suit82 Diamond Suit76 club suitK43 With hand A, opener should rebid 3club suit saying, “I am at or near the top of my range, and I have a high honor card in clubs.” But with hand B, opener should answer 3Spade Suitsaying, “I am at the bottom of my preempt range.” That’s what partner is asking: High (show a feature) or low (repeat your suit). 4 – You shouldn’t open a weak two-12 bid with a void in a side suit. This one’s a half truth. Declining to open a weak two-bid on a hand that contains a void may be wise. But you should understand that the void has nothing to do with it. If you have a weak hand with, say, six hearts and it also has a void, that means that you have seven cards left, usually divided 4-3. If you open 2Heart Suit with: Spade SuitJ63 Heart SuitKQ9852 Diamond SuitQ1072 club suit—, it will often be difficult to reach a playable spot in either spades or diamonds if they are the best strain. Often, we get locked into the original preempt suit. So the warning about opening a weak two-bid with a void is really because we have three places to play: six cards here, four cards there and three cards in the corner. On the other hand, if you don’t preempt, you lose the obstructive power of the preempt when your side has a big fit. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Most of the time I come out on the side of I do – but at least I know the dangers. 5 – A new suit by responder is always forcing. That is a general principle, because new-suit bids frequently have no upper limit on points. However, there are several major exceptions you should be aware of. A The first exception starts with understanding the meaning of a double of a 1NT overcall, such as: This is a penalty double. The corollary to this is that a new suit bid in this situation is limited in high cards and is intended as non-forcing. For example: This indicates a long heart suit, but limited in points. Why limited? Be-cause if you had101-ICP (some say 9) or more, you would have doubled 1NT instead of bidding your suit. This new suit by responder is not forcing. B In the modern bidding world, it is a rare partnership that does not play new minor forcing (NMF) or one of its many variations. NMF is a way for the responder to locate a 5-3 major-suit fit (or sometimes a 4-4 heart) after the opener rebids 1NT. For example: 2club suit is NMF, asking opener for three-card spade support or for a four-card heart suit. It usually shows invitational or better values. So if you play NMF, this sequence is non-forcing: This shows 5-4 or 5-5 in the majors, but weak in points. It is not forcing even though 2V is a new suit by the responder. Why? Because with a stronger hand, responder would have used NMF. Responder might have a very weak hand such as: Spade SuitK9853 Heart SuitQJ83 Diamond Suit102 club suit96. Accordingly, if the opener has: Spade SuitQ4 Heart SuitK765 Diamond SuitA865 club suitKJ4, passing 2Heart Suitis the clear choice. C A third example of when a new suit by responder is not forcing occurs after responder has previously responded 1NT (showing 6 to 10 points in standard or 6 to 12 playing 2/1) and then bids a new suit. I call this “a new suit out of the blue.” Here are some examples: Responder holds: Spade Suit7 Heart SuitQJ9762 Diamond Suit84 club suit K963. Or: Spade Suit987 Heart Suit5 Diamond SuitQ32 club suit KQJ864. D A fourth example is when the responder bids a new suit at the two level after a takeout double by the op-ponents. For example: shows a long suit, but limited points. Why? Because with 10-plus HCP, responder is supposed to redouble first if he can’t bid a major at the one level.