In the previous edition, ESRA Magazine #159, March-April 2011, we expolored bidding of contracts in the context of 8 or 9 card fits with partner in a given suit. Using approaches like the “Rule of 20” and “Losing Trick Count” (LTC) we found we were able to reach game and slam contracts with distributional hands having less than the traditional High Card Point partnership holdings of 26 and 33, respectively.
Irrespective of the logic behind direct raises of partner’s opening of one of a major, they are treated as limit bids in the Standard American and Israeli systems. They are not forcing, but for hands with fewer than, say, 11 points, there is generally little alternative to limit raises. For example, over a 1♥ opening, one simply does not have sufficient values to bid 2¨with a holding of ♠4, ♥10 8 7 6, ¨A K 9 8 7, § J 8 7 and a limit raise to 3♥ is correct.
While limit raises have the advantage of not giving away too much information to the opposition, they can hinder the partnership exploring game and slam possibilities by suppressing what may be other important features of one’s hand. For example, as an unpassed hand, I would not hesitate to make a bid of 2¨, forcing for one round, rather than 4♥, with a hand such as: ♠4, ♥ 10 8 7 6 , ¨A K 9 8 7, §K 8 7. The losing trick count of 7 indicates that the heart game is pretty certain but showing the diamond suit allows partner to assess the combined partnership assets more precicely. For example, your diamond bid allows partner to give full value to the ¨Q in a holding such as ♠4 2, ♥A K 9 5 3 2, ¨Q 6 5, §A 8 and investigate slam.
Flat hands with 12+ points and support for opener’s major are another problem area. What does one bid over 1♠ with: ♠ J 9 7, ♥J 8 7 9, ¨A K 9, § K J 8? The point count of 13 indicates game but is at odds with the losing trick count of 9. A direct raise in partner’s suit is not appropriate. Many people play a response of 2NT over 1M as forcing for one round for such hands. The bid promises 3 or more cards in partner’s suit but it also keeps 3NT open as an option. In the absence of such an agreement with partner, bidding 2 in a 3- or 4-card minor, while not ideal, will at least enable you to reach game.
In the recent ESRA charity bridge event I was dealer with ♠ A K Q 9 7, ♥ J 10 8 7 6, ¨A, §6 5 and opened 1♠. Partner responded with 2NT, forcing. I now bid 3♥, naturally intending to rebid 4♥ to show 5-5 in case parter had longer hearts than spades as in the hand in the previous paragraph. Being an untried partnership, we ended up in the spade game – partner had 4 spades and the singleton ♥A – but we embarrasingly missed the laydown grandslam because of bidding misunderstandings on both sides.
This brings me to two general guiding principles: Avoid using the 2NT response bid showing support with a hand containing a singleton and avoid using limit bids – limit raises or NT - when there are good alternatives.
With game values, support in partner’s suit and a 4-4-4-1 distribution, I suggest use a “splinter” bid, that is a triple jump in the suit with the singleton. So bid 3♠ over partner’s 1♥ opening bid with ♠4, ♥10 8 7 6, ¨A K 9 8, §A 9 8 6.
With an opening hand of your own, support in partner’s suit and a solid or semi-solid suit of your own, jump shift in the latter. Such a bid is forcing to game. Partner opens 1♠ and you are sitting with ♠ 10 8 7 6, ♥A, ¨9 8 7, §A K Q J 8. You should jump shift to 3§ showing a strong club suit. If partner bids 3¨or 3♥, continue with ♠3 to show your spade support. Partner cannot pass and you have space to explore for slam. If partner makes any other bid you need to take control and investigate slam. If partner has the two missing aces, slam is likely and if partner’s spades are as good as 5 cards headed by the AKQ or six with AK, a grand slam in spades is virtually a lay down.
In the real world of the ESRA event, partner held ♠ A K Q 9 7, ♥ J 10 8 7 6, ¨A, §6 5. Only West sitting with all four missing spades could have lead to the demise of the 28-point grand slam but the trump suit behaved well and 13 tricks were there for the taking.
When establishing a new partnership, you may find it useful to use some of the examples given in this article as a means of guaging one another’s bidding style and methods.
Here’s to good partnerships and great contracts.