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44 - December 2023

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BIDDING OPPOSITE A STRONG HAND [PART 3]

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Over the past couple of months, we have been discussing the importance of evaluating apparently weak hands when partner has bid strongly. What often happens is that partners compensated for each other – by overbidding on strong hands because partner underbid weak ones. Essentially, this style of bidding is guesswork which we’d rather avoid. Try this bidding problem…

♠AKJ6
85
A
♣AKQJ32
WNES
YOULHOPARTNERRHO
2♣Pass2Pass
3♣Pass3♠Pass
?

What would you bid now? In a large field, I would expect some players to now roll out Blackwood. Perhaps others would try something ‘clever’ such as 4, hoping that partner took it as a cue-bid agreeing Spades. (It isn’t – 4 is natural and partner should either raise or give preference to Clubs). The more sophisticated still might jump to 5, which is certainly a cue-bid but has the disadvantage of carrying you to the 5-level. For sure, a 5 cue-bid will get you to slam when it is right to be there, but it may also see you going one down in 5 Spades when partner’s hand is something like ♠109752 972 9762 ♣4. What? Partner shouldn’t bid 3♠ on such a hand?
Really? Should he bid 3NT which such good stoppers in the three unbid suits or perhaps raise Clubs on his singleton? You have forced to game, and since he must bid something, 3♠ is clearly right. The right bid on the strong hand, is a simple raise to 4♠.
You have already forced to game by opening 2♣. You’ve shown this much strength (or more). The only thing you have not yet shown is your Spade fit, and you can do that with a raise.
Because they occur relatively infrequently, little is written about how to develop the auction after a 2♣ opening. And yet, when such auctions go wrong the result is often disastrous, particularly at IMPs. Inexperienced players often get poor results when they hold very strong hands because they are inclined to bid them twice. One obvious reason why they do this is because their partner tends to underbid his weak hands.

Let’s move around the table and look at a couple of the possible hands you might hold opposite the strong one above…

♠Q108532
K943
75
♣6
WNES
YOULHOPARTNERRHO
2♣Pass
2Pass3♣Pass
3♠Pass4♠Pass
?

Are you going to bid again? Having reached this point in this series, I hope your immediate reaction is not, ‘What? Bid again on only 5 points?’ If it is, then I suggest you compare this hand with the hand with no points and a 5-card Spade suit headed by the 10. By doing so, you get some idea of just how good a hand like this one with 5 HCP really is. Not only do you have a 6-card suit, and one that includes two honours, but you also have an outside King. Partner has forced to game all on his own, facing a possible Yarborough. Partner’s raise of your Spade suit significantly improves your hand too since he will have at least 3-card (and often 4-card) support. Indeed, it is hard to construct a 2♣ opening with Spade support that you can put opposite this where the 5-level is not safe. Just as I have seen many players pass 4♠ with this type of hand, so I have also seen some launch into Blackwood. That is equally wrong. In fact, it is worse because when the opener shows four key cards (i.e. one key card only is missing), you do not know what to do. You will probably guess to bid a slam but some of the time that you do so, the opponents will respond by cashing two top Diamonds against you. No doubt this West player will tell his partner that he shouldn’t open 2♣ with two top losers in a suit. The sad thing is that East will probably believe that the bad result was his fault.

A better approach is to cue-bid your control over 4♠. Do not worry that your partnership style is only to bid first-round controls with your first cue-bid. If that is your agreement, then you simply have to change it – there are too many deals on which such a rigid agreement is impractical. When one of the hands is known to be particularly weak, you simply will often not have a first-round control. Knowing which suit you do control is crucial, though. Suppose these were the two hands…

WNES
2♣Pass2Pass
3♣Pass3♠Pass
4♠Pass5Pass
5♠

You can still stop safely in 5 Spades

We have seen the importance of being able to show any control (first or second round) with the first cue-bid. Of course, you must then be able to differentiate between the two. By cue-bidding 6, West gives his partner room to clarify – with only a second round Heart control, East signs off in 6♠ but, with the Ace, he repeats the cue-bid and then West can underwrite the grand slam. (Indeed, East might even jump to 7♠ himself over 6.)

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Marc Smith

Marc Smith was in the Great Britain team that won the European Junior Teams Championship in 1985. His 25 Bridge Conventions You Should Know (co-authored with Barbara Seagram) has sold more than 300,000 copies.

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