April 2010 ACBL BRIDGE BULLETIN  

When you open the bidding with 1NT, you usually feel confident that your side is going to be in control of the auction. It is true that the opponents have learned to interfere with many pesky conventions designed to screw you up. One of the countermeasures to these nuisance bids is the lebensohl convention, which allows your side to figure out whether you have their anchor suit stopped.

One situation lebensohl does not cover, however, is when the opponents double Stayman, a lead-director for clubs. Chances are that if you are in any number of casual partnerships, this dilemma is one that you tend to shrug off as bad luck when it comes up. Although you may have agreed to play lebensohl over notrump openers with little or no follow-up discussion, you probably have had no discussion whatsoever as to what you might do if they double Stayman. How do you continue? Is there any way to take advantage of this development? Do you have clubs stopped? What if responder has a positional club stopper and opener does not? How do you get a major-suit fit played from responder’s side so the club doubler is on lead?

Yes, we can turn the tables on the opponents and take advantage of this information! We do not have to sit here and take this! First things first. If opener has a club stopper, they simply respond normally and go from there. Every bid means exactly what it did before and responder should Alert the fact that the bid also shows a club stopper. So, 1NT-(Pass)-2-(Double); 2 shows four hearts and a club stopper. Not bad. Chances are good that opener will end up playing this deal, but with the knowledge that the enemy will not run the club suit right off the bat.

If the opener has four really good clubs or five decent clubs, he is free to redouble, suggesting 2 redoubled as the final contract. Another counter to their interference is to send it back!

Lastly, if opener does not have a club stopper, opener passes, which responder Alerts. This pass simply states that the opener does not have a club stopper. Nothing more. The pass does not deny a major. Assuming the next opponent passes, responder has a number of bids at his disposal to garner the information desired. No longer are we at the mercy of these brutal opponents. We are going to take back control! Here’s how we proceed.

If responder has a weak hand (“garbage Stayman”), he follows through with either 2 , showing a 3=4=5=1 shape (or thereabouts) and opener is in a pass-or-correct situation. If responder has a weak hand with both majors, he balances with 2, which is also a pass-or-correct situation for opener. If he balances with 2, that should show the shapely 7-8 HCP hand with five spades and a singleton somewhere, mildly invitational.

Responder could even jump to three of a major, which should be treated as “reverse Smolen” (showing five of that major and four of the other)! If responder wants to continue the auction in some other way, he redoubles, which opener Alerts as a reinitiation of Stayman, but with tactical responses to come. Here is how opener responds over the redouble. 2 shows four hearts. 2 shows four spades. 2 shows no major. 2NT shows both majors and a minimum. 3 shows both majors and a maximum. Now responder, who may have a club stopper, can play the major fit from his side and turn the tables on the enemy!

It goes without saying that if responder finds out that we have no combined club stopper, we are not going to play in notrump! If responder has a positional club stopper, like K-x or A-Q-x, he will go out of his way to right-side the final contract. As there are other variations of this concept, do not take for granted that your partner will be on the same wavelength without a discussion. What used to be a situation that rated to inflict a bad result on us is now a situation that can create an unexpectedly good result. The look of surprise on the opponents faces when you spring this one on them is worth something in and of itself. I always hope I am in a partnership that employs these methods, and can only wonder what might happened if I am not.