Bridge @ Box
 
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Using conventions
Hand of the week 23 May 2018

Pick a major

Sitting North, what do you say over East's opening 1? You'd like to try a takeout double, but if your partner responds with clubs, you're in trouble. Add to that the fact that you're vulnerable and haven't quite got an opening hand and you'll conclude, rightly, that you should pass. 

When opener's partner also passes, it's down to South to keep the auction going. South hasn't got a suitable overcalling suit, but with opening points and 4-card support for all three of the other suits, she's got the ideal hand for a takeout double. West passes and you must now choose your response. What's best?

Well, if South really has got opening points, you've got invitational strength and 4-card support for both majors. Which to choose? You could just pick one at random, but will partner also have four of the suit you choose? She's certainly going to have one of the majors, but may only have 3 of the other ... Hmm.

Enter our old friend the cue-bid. Bid 2. What can it mean? Can't be natural, can it, with South having announced a shortage with her takeout double? So it can only mean ... you've guessed it: pick a major. You're passing the buck back to partner: 'I've got both the majors – please pick the one you prefer.' It also shows invitational strength; you wouldn't do this with only a few points. 

So what does South do? She'll probably go for hearts, but how high should she bid? Well, she's already announced opening points with her original takeout double, so she should pull in her horns and settle for just 2 – a jump would show more like 15+ points. With her 8-loser 11-point holding, North may now invite with 3, but South would do well to resist the temptation and settle for the part-score.

Have a look at the whole deal and you'll see that NS lose 4 tricks in either hearts or spades: two club tricks, the ♠K and the Q. Making 3 a great contract.

So two things to take from this deal: if the opposition open 1 of a suit ...

  • If you have opening points and can support all three of the unbid suits, the takeout double is ideal.
  • After partner doubles 1♣ or 1, cue-bidding the opponents' suit shows decent points and promises support for whichever major partner prefers.

In Box and Bath

In Box, everyone found hearts, but they all went too high: all were in 4 going off, in some cases doubled. Ouch!

In Bath, remarkably, only one pair ended up in hearts (or spades, for that matter): a perfectly reasonable 2 contract, making 9 tricks. Lots of Wests were in diamonds (anything from 1 to 4!) and no fewer than 4 pairs (mainly Wests) ended up in 1NT, 2NT and even 3NT, all going horribly off with just 5 tricks.

Hand of the week 09 May 2018

Gambling 3NT (2)

This topic last came up as a HOTW in December 2012, so it's high time we gave it another airing.

Sitting North on this hand, your first instinct is to open 1 - unless you and your partner have agreed to play the 'gambling 3NT'. It's perfectly designed for hands like this: a long, solid MINOR suit and no more than a Queen in any other suit.

Your partner will know immediately if 3NT is where you want to stay: she'll need stops in all three other suits and at least one card in your suit (to get over to all those lovely winners). Failing that, she'll take you out into 4♣, which you'll pass or correct to 4 if that happens to be your suit. (There are other possibilities, too: if South has something like ♣ Q 5 3   9 4 2   A K Q 4  ♠ A K 4 she'll probably decide that 3NT is too risky but put you into 5 instead - maybe even 6!

What happens here? Have a look at South's hand. She can see immediately that your suit is diamonds (your 'solid suit' can't be clubs!) and that she has stops in all three suits, so she passes: 3NT it is. And it makes comfortably.

What about a slam?

With a slightly stronger hand, an alert South might respond with a gamble of her own and try 6: with any spade lead coming round to her K J, it might just make. But I reckon you need to add a king to make it a worthwhile punt (North has no more than a queen outside diamonds, remember). Yeah, I know it can make on this deal, but only because the clubs are well placed: it's not a good slam to be in. 

In Box and Bath

In Box, half the room was in 3NT making an overtrick (you simply let the opening heart lead run round to your Q for 10 tricks). The others were in 5, not all making (and even if it makes it scores less than 3NT + 1).

The Bath results were a surprise: only 3 of the 11 tables found 3NT. The rest were nearly all in diamonds, mostly for a poor score. One EW pair ended up in 3♠X for just one down and a penalty of 200, a great result that points up a further advantage of the gambling 3NT opening: it stops the opposition from poking their noses in!

PS The previous Gambling 3NT article was for 5th December 2012. You can find it by scrolling down the Using Conventions page. Might be worth a look.

Hand of the week 28 March 2018

Minor choice

There's no shortage of conventions that allow you to show a 2-suited hand over an opponent's opening 1NT. Landy, Multi-Landy, Astro, Asptro - they all offer ways of showing both majors, 'hearts and a minor', 'spades and another', etc, etc ... but what do you do if you have both minors as here? 

Easy. Whatever convention you use, the answer's the same: you simply overcall 2NT. It's called the 'unusual no trump' and it shows a hand with at least 5-5 in the minors. Perfect for this hand.

East passes and your partner bids 3♣. What now? Well, ordinarily you'd be quite happy to pass, having 'pinched the contract' from EW, but you have a seriously strong 17-point, 4-loser hand, and if partner has just a few points you could be in game. So you need to issue an invitation: bid 4♣, showing an interest in game. With nothing, partner will pass, of course, but here she's holding a nice 8-count including an ace, a void and FOUR clubs, so you're going to end up in 5♣.

The play

Have a look at the whole deal. West will probably lead the K, You want the lead in your hand, so don't put up the A - ruff instead. Then a small trump to the ♣K, back to your hand with another diamond ruff, and a second trump, won by West's ♣A.

And that's it. The Q now drops on the A, leaving you with two more diamond tricks, 3 spade tricks, a heart trick and a few trumps to boot. You've just made a little slam in clubs.

Shouldn't I have doubled 1NT with my 17-count?

Well, on this hand I don't think so. You're vulnerable, so you're going to get 600+ for being in game. They're not vulnerable, on the other hand, so you're going to have to get them FOUR off in 1NT doubled to score more than 600 as defenders, and they'll probably manage to wriggle into one of the majors and get off lightly. Better to try for game yourself. 

​​In Box & Bath

In Box, half the room found 5♣, all making. 

In Bath, two pairs stopped rather lamely in 3♣, two went off in 4 (surely the known 9-card minor fit is better?), one North successfully punted 3NT, 5 pairs were in 5♣ and one somehow found the difficult-to-bid 6♣, which was doubled and nonetheless made for a glorious outright top. 

What about the play? In Box, only one declarer made 12 tricks, whereas in Bath 6 of the 8 declarers in clubs managed 12. It's all a question of dropping that Q.

Hand of the week 13 September 2017

Splinters

You're sitting East and your partner responds 4♣ to your opening 1. What do you make of that?

It's actually a conventional bid called a splinter. You may not have come across splinters, but I recommend you to add them to your system as they can be very useful indeed. 

A splinter is a double jump in another suit after your opening 1 bid and it contains a veritable mine of information – specifically:

  • we have a good fit in your suit
  • we have enough strength for game and I'm interested in exploring for a slam
  • I have a singleton or void in the suit I've just bid.

So here your partner's telling you 'We have at least game in hearts and we have at most one club loser. Do you fancy looking for a slam?'

And with a shapely 17-count, you fancy it a lot. (If you didn't, you'd just sign off in 4.)

So what happens next? Very often, players start 'cue-bidding' to show Aces and voids, but here there's little point in all that because you have a pretty clear picture of your joint strength. What do you know and what do you need to know? Have a think before reading on.

What do you know? You may have one loser in hearts; you may have one loser in diamonds (just one because you have a singleton) and you may have one loser in clubs (just one because your partner has at most a singleton club). 10 pretty certain tricks, then, plus one for every Ace your partner holds.

What do you need to know? Easy - you need to know how many Aces your partner has. And the way to do that is Blackwood (whichever version you play). So you bid 4NT. And then:

  • if partner shows up with just one Ace, you sign off in 5 
  • if she has two Aces, you bid the small slam, 6 
  • and if she has all three, you go for the grand – 7!

And as it happens, West shows up with two Aces, so you bid 6 and make 12 tricks. As you can see if you look at the whole deal, they can only make their ♣A. You have 5 hearts tricks, 4 spade tricks, a diamond, a club and a club ruff in dummy for your 12th trick. Marvellous. And the splinter made it oh-so-easy to bid.

​​In Box & Bath

In Box, two pairs bid the slam and two stopped in game, but no one had any trouble making 12 tricks.

In Bath, 10 out of 12 pairs bid the slam, the other two stopping in 4. Again, all made 12 tricks.

Hand of the week 23 August 2017

No escape

What do you bid, sitting East, with a near Yarborough and zero points? Normally you'd pass in your sleep and hope for a better hand on the next deal. But this ain't normal. Your partner has (say) 13 points and her 1NT has just been doubled. That's not a takeout double (as it would be over 1 or 1♠) but a penalty double. And with 27 points between them, they're going to slaughter you, aren't they? Even if you make 4 tricks, it'll cost you 800, and it's likely to be even worse than that – 1100, or even 1400. Yikes! What to do?

Passing would be fatal. You have to try to 'wriggle' out of NT into a suit. Diamonds is your only choice. It ain't pretty, but you have two rays of hope: (1) that 2 will go off less badly than 1NT (likely) and (2) that NS, with their mighty 27 points, will not be able to resist bidding something and will come in and rescue you from your plight (also likely).

How do you do that? Well, partnerships have various kinds of wriggle (as described in various HOTWs in the Using conventions section). Some just bid a suit (here 2), while others, preferring the stronger hand to play the contract, use a 'transfer wriggle' (here, 2♣ asking West to bid 2). But whatever you do, don't pass.

Now let's be South for a moment. East has bid 2♣ or 2, showing a weak hand that can't stand 1NTX. So you should be thinking 'Partner has a strong hand – at least 16 points – and I have 7 and three honours in their suit. Whatever they do they're going to get hammered. I need to tell partner that, just in case she's tempted to bid something and rescue them from their plight.' So now it's your turn to double. And whatever they do now, just keep doubling till the auction's over and wait for the points to come rolling in. As long as you keep doubling, there's no escape for EW.

Have a look at the whole deal. North has a magnificent 20 points, including a long, strong heart suit. If South doesn't double, North will surely not be able to resist bidding 4, which makes with an overtrick for a measly 650, compared with 1400 for either 1NTX -5 or 2♦X.

A few points

  • Every partnership needs a wriggle for situations like this, either natural or conventional. Take some time to read the HOTWs mentioned above and agree a method with your partner.
  • Use the inferences available to you to help you choose your bid. East knows 1NTX is doomed, so knows to wriggle. South knows that NS probably have enough for game, but also knows that EW will go screaming off in any contract for a much better score, so doubles for penalties to warn North off bidding. But if North does bid ...
  • ... she shouldn't make some flaccid effort like 2. East's wriggle tells her that she's weak enough to be scared of 1NTX so South must therefore have some values: North must bid game herself or it'll be missed.
  • Use inferences in the play, too. If North's in 4, she knows that every single significant card (including the K) must be with West, because she opened 1NT. So getting 11 tricks is simple: cross to dummy with a diamond, finesse a heart, go back with another diamond and do it again, drop the K ... and you have 6 trump tricks, three diamonds and two clubs. 

​​In Box & Bath

In Box, I encouraged Easts to wriggle and the Norths understandably came in with hearts, though not every North bid game. Not sure how a couple of declarers only made 9 tricks (see above).

In Bath, most NS pairs ended up in hearts (though 3 were in the flaccid 2) or 3NT. Just one EW pair failed to wriggle and went for -1400 in 1NTX. And no-one was in 2♦X , so maybe 'No escape' isn't the right title ...

Hand of the week 22 February 2017

smiley or sad ?

A double of 1NT is for penalties and requires 16+ points (or a good 15, preferably with a longish suit). As opener's partner, how do you react?

The answer depends on which side has more points – the 'richer' side is likely to make more tricks in NT than the 'poorer' side, so your first job is simply to add your partner's (say) 13 points to your own and see what it comes to. If it's 20 or more, you're happy smiley – you have an excellent chance of making 1NTX, which will net you a handsome 180 points (40 x 2 = 80, plus 50 part score bonus plus 50 for the 'insult') and lots more if you make overtricks. But if it comes to fewer than 20, you're in trouble sad and need to try to 'wriggle' into a suit (see below).

Sitting North on this hand, I reckon you're happy. You have at least half the points between you as well as a long suit that might bring in extra tricks. So you pass. Meaning: Fine. I'm happy to play in 1NTX.

Your happiness, of course, equals unhappiness for doubler's partner. If you're happy to play in 1NTX, East probably isn't. Have a look at the whole deal. With a flat 3-point holding, East isn't optimistic about taking 1NT off, and would like to wriggle out of it – but where to go? She hasn't got a suit to speak of, so all she can do is pass and hope for the best.

What happens?

West will probably lead a club: if so, one way or another you're going to come to an eventual club trick. All you need to do, then, is attack hearts IMMEDIATELY (while you still have cover in the other suits) and once you've forced out West's A, you're worth 3 heart tricks,1 club, the ♠AK and the A – home and dry with 7 tricks and 180 points. Thanks very much.

In Box & Bath

There were all sorts of results, but I'm surprised by how many Norths 'wriggled' into 2. Sure, it makes (for just 90) but it's not nearly as good as 180 for leaving the double in. One East's valiant attempt to get out of trouble by bidding 2 (!) led to an even worse result: two off for -200. 

Postscript: a successful wriggle

There's a HOTW in the Using conventions section of the Improvers' Page that describes a simple 'transfer wriggle', allowing you to escape into a 5-card suit, but there are also other wriggling conventions that you can use if you have 2 4-card suits as well. I won't go into details, but it works a treat on another hand we played in the same session:

   

Here, South doubles East's opening 1NT and West rightly decides that she's unhappy – with just 16-18 points between them, they're going to go off. She bids 2♣, which means 'Partner, I have 4 clubs and 4 of another, higher-ranking suit.' North passes and East, who has only 3 clubs, bids 2, just in case partner's other 4-card suit is diamonds. And South, with her lovely 18-count, only two diamonds and a chunky 5-card suit, can't resist the temptation to bid 2. And that's it. EW have successfully wriggled out of 1NTX.

What were the possible outcomes here? Well, NS make 2 and score 110. If they leave 2 in, it goes one off for 50 (or 100 if doubled). But 1NTX by East goes two off for a horrendous penalty of 300 – much worse than anything else. So the wriggle was well worth the effort.

If you'd like details of the wriggle involved here, I'd be happy to provide them.

Hand of the week 11 January 2017

14 tricks?

Wow! It isn't often that partner opens 2NT (20-22 points) and you're sitting there with a 14-count. That means the opposition have just 4-6 points between them, which means that 6NT is likely to be stone cold. But suppose you can make 7NT – the grand slam?

First, a word of warning. In most bridge clubs, just bidding and making a small slam will get you a great score. And nothing could be worse than going 1 off in a grand slam when the small slam is a doddle. So care is needed. Indeed, there are those that say you shouldn't bid the grand unless you can count 14 tricks.

Let's do some counting. For the grand slam to be on, your partner will obviously need to have the other three Aces. Plus she'd need to have the K – you wouldn't want a grand slam to depend upon a finesse working. So adding those up that's 2 tricks in hearts, 2 in spades, 7 in diamonds and 1 in clubs. Twelve. So we'd need partner to have the ♣K as well for the 13th trick. Just to be absolutely sure. That would require 18 points, and partner has at least 20. 

Right. How to find out?

Well, for suit contracts, we all use various forms of Blackwood. But following a NT opening, I prefer an ancient and largely obsolete convention called Gerber. It's pretty simple. Over an opening 1NT or 2NT, you bid 4♣, which asks partner how many Aces she holds. The responses are 'stepped':

4 0 or 4    4 1    4♠ 2   4NT 3

You can then, should you wish, bid 5♣, which does the same for Kings.

Gerber doesn't come up very often, but here it works a treat. Over your 4♣, partner responds 4NT, showing three aces. So far so good. (If she'd only had 2 aces, you'd sign off in 6NT). So you now bid 5♣, asking about Kings. And partner, bless her, replies 5♠, showing 2 Kings.

That's 2 tricks each in hearts, spades and clubs and the other 7 tricks in diamonds. Thirteen tricks. (And since partner is known to have 2-4 OTHER points, there's likely to be a Queen there too, giving you your 14th trick!). So you reach to the very end of your bidding box and end the auction with 7NT.

Which, as you'll see if you click on 'Show all hands', is as stone cold a contract as you'll ever hold, with 14 top tricks!

In Box & Bath

In Box, I steered everyone towards the small slam, which, as we said above, will always get you a pretty good score.

In Bath, just one of the 12 EW pairs reached 7NT – very well done to them. Nine pairs ended up in 6NT, one in the inferior 6 (those diamond tricks are worth more in a NT contract!) and one pair inexplicably stopped in 4NT.

So if you bid and made 6NT +1 in Box, you're getting over 50% in Bath. But just imagine the satisfaction of bidding and making the big one. As we said at the start – wow!

Hand of the week 24 August 2016

Showing a 2-suiter with Ghestem

Supposing an opponent opens 1 of a suit and you have not one but TWO 5-card suits. Wouldn't it be great if you could tell partner about them BOTH in just one bid? Well, you can. It's a convention called Ghestem.

Once a suit has been bid, there are just three others left. Ghestem uses the suits' RANK to distinguish between them. So you might have the two LOWEST unbid suits. Or the two HIGHEST unbid suits. Or if not, that leaves the LOWEST and the HIGHEST. And the convention provides three bids that tell your partner which suits you hold. Let's use this hand as an example (East has opened 1). Here are the three bids:

  • a CUEBID of the opponents' suit shows the HIGHEST and LOWEST (or the EXTREME) unbid suits. So here, an overcall of 2 would show Clubs (LOWEST) and Spades (HIGHEST).
  • 2 NO TRUMPS shows the two LOWEST unbid suits: in this case that would be Clubs and Hearts.
  • and 3 CLUBS (it's always 3♣, whatever the opening bid was) shows the two HIGHEST unbid suits: in this case Hearts and Spades.

And that's it. Let's see what happens:

  • South's 3♣ bid tells partner she has at least 5 cards in each major.
  • West is weak, but has plenty of diamond support, so competes with 3 ...
  • ... which suits North very well. West's bid frees him from the obligation of bidding at all, so the fact that he goes on to bid 3♠ anyway shows a bit of extra strength ...
  • ... and with a DIAMOND VOID and a 5-loser hand, South is happy to go on to game: 4♠.

It's not an easy game to make, but if North plays carefully he can set up dummy's hearts and make 10 tricks. (Dummy's ♣J fortunately restricts EW to just 2 club tricks.)

Difficulties with Ghestem

The main difficulty is that until you're used to it it's easy to forget! Well, the cue bid and the 2NT bid aren't a problem, but the 3♣ bid looks for all the world like a jump overcall. Every partnership that starts Ghestem has one incident with Player A bidding 3♣ thinking he's making a club overcall and another with Player B mistaking a Ghestem 3♣ as an overcall, but the result is so ghastly that it never happens again! (Most people remember the 3 bids in ascending order with the initials ELH, standing for Extreme, Low, High.)

It's also tricky to know how high to go (here, for example, it would have been easy to miss game without West's interference). For this reason some pairs restrict Ghestem to just intermediate strength or just weak. On the whole, though, I find it works well at any strength – it certainly gets in the opponents' way nicely!

In Bath & Box

Everyone bid 4♠ in Box and most did in Bath (two pairs stopped in 3♠). Those who used Ghestem had North as declarer, and tended to make the contract. Those who didn't ended up in 4♠ played by South, and they weren't so lucky: most went one off. But that was just the luck of the draw. 

Hand of the week 13th April 2016

The UCB (again)

Two scenarios:

  • WEAK  Your partner opens 1♠ and you have a flattish hand, 5-card spade support and just 5 points. You're worth a raise to 2♠.
  • CHUNKY  Your partner opens 1♠ and you have spade support and a chunky 10 points. You're worth a raise to 3♠.

Simple enough. On this board, though, the situation's complicated by the fact that North has overcalled 2. You're WEAK (as above), and normally the best thing to do is raise one level higher than you otherwise would have done – you want to get in the way. So respond 3♠ instead of 2♠.

Problem is, West happens to have a nice hand, and she needs to know whether your 3♠ is a load of rubbish (as here), in which case she'll pass, or of the CHUNKY variety, in which case she'll go on to bid game.

Enter the (horrendously called) Unassuming Cue Bid, which solves the problem nicely. In a nutshell:

Your partner opens 1♠ and the next bidder overcalls (say) 2. You have spade support and you're ...

  • WEAK  Bid a level higher than you otherwise would have. Bid 3♠.
  • CHUNKY  Bid the opponent's suit: 3. This shows a 'sound raise to 3♠'. 

You've managed to turn a disadvantage into an advantage, making use of their suit to give partner more precise information. Not only that, the UCB also stops the next bidder from raising her partner to 3 – neat!

So what happens here? You bid 3♠ (instead of 3) and so your partner knows you are WEAK rather than CHUNKY. So she'll know to pass rather than go on to game.

If you look at the complete deal, you'll see that NS can actually make 4 (on a mere 18 points between them) as the spades are a ghastly 4-0 split. For the same reason, West is unlikely to make 9 tricks, but -50 is a better result than 4♠X-2 for -300.

In Box and Bath

Box was a mixture of EW in 3♠-1 and NS in 3+1, the EW pairs doing far better as declarers than defenders.

In Bath, the auctions were a bit more competitive. A few EW pairs got away with 3♠-1, but some of those more experienced players sitting South reckoned that their spade void, coupled with 3 of partner's suit to ruff with, was worth a trick or two and went to 4. Which meant that EW had to play in 4♠X for a larger penalty. One unfortunate West instead decided to double 4, then found her ♠A getting trumped at trick 1. Ouch!

Hand of the week 27 January 2016

Two kinds of raise

Partner's opened 1♠ and you've got an 11-count with 4 of partner's suit. An 8-loser hand. If East passes, you'll raise partner to 3♠, inviting her to game.

But East hasn't passed. He's come in with 2 – shoved his oar in, got in the way. Inconvenient though this is in some ways, it also gives you an opportunity to describe your hand more precisely. How come?

You'll be familiar with pre-emptive bids, which are made on weak hands to try to shut out the opposition. Well, supposing you had a weaker hand with 4 spades. The same holding as here but without the A, say:

♠ J 10 5 4   10 2   Q J 10 3  ♣ Q J 2

Normally you'd raise partner to just 2♠. But with East's interference you're worried that EW might have a good contract of their own, so you'll want to go as high as possible to try to keep them out – in other words, you want to make a pre-emptive raise. Go one higher than you normally would. Bid 3.

Fine. But you see the problem? If you bid 3♠ with a weak holding, what are you do with with your present holding, with a chunky 11 points? You can't bid 3♠, because partner will think you're weak and you may miss game.

Answer: bid the opponents' suit. In this case, 3: this says 'Partner, I have a sound, pointy raise to 3♠ and you may be interested in game.' This bid has a complicated name – it's called an unassuming cue bid – but its purpose is simple enough and easy to understand:

If partner opens a suit and the opposition overcall in another suit:

  • making a direct raise in your partner's suit is weak and preemptive.
  • bidding the opponent's suit shows a sound raise in partner's suit.

Good, innit? A couple more points to note:

  1. Another advantage of bidding 3 here is that it stops West from raising his partner. He can't bid 3 if you've already bid it! (Not that he'll want to on this hand, as you'll see if you have a look at the whole deal.)
  2. It isn't just a direct 3♠ that's preemptive. 2♠ would show a hand that you might otherwise have passed on – 4-5 points or even less. And going straight to 4♠ would likewise be pre-emptive. Some care is needed, of course, when making preemptive responses: vulnerable against non-vulnerable, you'd have to pull your horns in a bit, but non-vulnerable against vulnerable, if you think they might have game, go for it!

All in all, this is a great tool to add to your system – as long as you both remember that you're playing it ...:-)

In Box and Bath

On this hand, North, with just 6 losers, will accept South's game invitation and go to game. 11 tricks are there for the taking – pretty good for a combined holding of 23 points. Everyone in Box found 4♠, though 3 went off and only one made 11 tricks. In Bath all 11 NS pairs were in game as well, but only 7 made it, of whom only one got 11 tricks.

Hand of the week 20th March 2013

Extended Stayman

 

We all know about finding a major fit after partner opens 1NT. If you have one or more 4-card majors, you use Stayman. And with a 5-card major, you start off by transferring partner into your major and take it from there.

 

What if you have 5 cards in one major and 4 in the other? Again, easy: first you transfer partner to the 5-card major and then you bid the other one. Then partner knows that you have 5 in the first major and 4 in the second.

 

Here, however, you have 5 cards in both majors. Which means you're bound to have a major fit in one or the other (because partner won't open 1NT with two doubletons). How to tell partner about it?

 

Enter a neat little gadget called Extended Stayman: 
 

 

  • You bid 2♣, as normal Stayman, and if partner makes a positive response you've found your major fit and with this holding (12 points and only 6 losers) I'd bid straight to game.
  • More likely, though, partner will respond a negative 2, and this is where the 'extended' bit comes in: you now bid 3, which means 'Partner, I have 5 cards in both majors, so please pick the major you prefer.'
  • Partner will now bid a 3-card major (or choose whichever she prefers if she has both) and then you can pass or (as in this case) raise to game.

 

 

Works a treat, and it's dead easy to remember, too ... BUT you must, of course, both be aware that you're playing it. Otherwise, partner might think your 3 is natural and pass – disaster!

 

How does it pan out on this hand? If you click on 'Show all hands', you'll see that whether hearts or spades are trumps, you're losing just one heart, one diamond and one club trick. Game bid and made.

 

Postscript: If you're weak ...

 

You'll have noticed that Extended Stayman takes you to the 3-level, so before you embark on it, make sure you're strong enough! With the same distribution and a weaker hand, say:
 

 10 8 6 5 3    A 5 4 3 2     K 3    6

 

I'd try Stayman, just in case partner has 4 of a major (passing a positive response for either hearts or spades), but over a negative 2 response I'd sign off in 2.

Hand of the week 5th December 2012
Gambling 3NT
 
It doesn't come up very often, but when it does it's really handy. No-one with a 'proper' strong hand would ever open 3NT (you'd use 2 or 2 instead, wouldn't you?), so an opening 3NT can be used for something a bit oddball, viz:
 
A solid minor suit (that is, at least AKQxxxx, preferably with the J as well)
and next to nothing in any other suit – maybe a Queen, but no more).

Why? Well, for one thing it's preemptive: if you have a great big long minor suit, chances are that one of your opponents has a great big long major suit, and this helps to stop him bidding it.

And
for another, it could be just the contract you're looking for.

Let's look at it from partner's point of view. You're sitting South, and your partner opens 3NT, showing a solid (at least 7-card) minor, and precious little else. Can you stand it? Well, you certainly have stops in each of the three other suits – you're likely to be worth at least 2 tricks in addition to partner's 7 – and (crucially) you have a diamond, so there's an entry to partner's hand. So 3NT suits you perfectly – pass!

But what if you'd been weaker (say, without a club stop)? Then you'd rather have partner's suit as trumps. So simply bid 4
, and partner will either pass or correct to 4, depending on what her suit is.

As you can see if you look at all the hands, 3NT works out very nicely. East will probably lead the Q: your King takes the trick, you pop over to hand and cash 7 diamond tricks, and the A makes trick 9: 3NT bid and made.

So that's the gambling 3NT. It doesn't come up that often, but when it does it can be worth its weight in gold. Easy to remember, too.


In Bath

About half the pairs in Bath ended up in (and made) 3NT for 600+. Two pairs, who evidently didn't know this convention, ended up in 3
+1 (making a miserable 130) and 5-1 (for an even more miserable -100) and at all the other tables EW sacrificed in hearts or spades (yes, they had a fit of sorts in both majors) for something in between.
Hand of the week 19 September 2012
4th suit to the rescue
 
Here's a common enough situation. Sitting South, what do you bid next?

Difficult, isn't it? You're probably in game, but which game? Depends what partner has. At the moment, all you know is that she's at least 5-4 in spades and hearts.
 
  • If she has a club stop, 3NT would be nice.
  • If she has five hearts, then you have a heart fit: 4.
  • Or maybe she's got 3 diamonds: well, a part-score in diamonds is better than nothing - and 5 could be on.
  • Or maybe you'll have to end up in spades. You have a fit of sorts, and perhaps partner's got six of them ...
In other words, you simply don't have enough information to make a decision: you need to know more about partner's hand.

Which is where the very handy 'fourth suit forcing' convention comes in. It's dead simple. It says that in an auction like this (with silent opposition) where three suits have been bid without finding a fit, bidding the fourth suit is not a natural bid. Instead it means:

 
I need to know more about your hand, partner. Please tell me something I don't yet know.

Which is exactly what's needed here. You bid 3, the unbid 'fourth suit'. Nothing to do with clubs. It just means 'tell me more'.

And more often than not, that extra nugget of information is enough. On this hand, your partner will respond 3
: 'I haven't just got four hearts, partner, I've got FIVE.' And you can now confidently raise her to 4.
 

If you click on 'Show all hands', you'll see that this is a great contract - and you'll be delighted you didn't just punt 3NT because you have no protection in clubs at all.

So the moral is this: if you find yourself going round the houses and on the verge of 'punting' a contract that may or may not work, stop for a moment and consider whether or not bidding the 4th suit might help. It often does!

Postscript

Hang on a minute. What's he on about? 3NT does make here, with overtricks, and more to the point, so does 6. So why aren't we in it?

Sure, on the actual layout you do have a club stop, but that's only because of EW's freaky club distribution: it's not a contract you want to be in, because 90% of the time it'll go off.

Similarly ... Sure, 6 makes, but only because East holds the K and you can finesse it. And generally speaking, you don't want to be in a slam that only has a 50% chance of making.

Here you should be content simply to bid the contract you know is going to make. No punting required!

Hand of the week 4th April 2012
Cue to the rescue
 
When you know where you want to go in an auction but are at a loss about how to get there, a cue bid (that is, a bid in an opponent's suit) can often help. In today's hand it provides an easy way to get to an otherwise difficult-to-find game contract. But only if you think of it!

East passes, so do you and West opens a weak 2
. Your partner overcalls 3 and East passes again. Sitting South, what do you bid?

Who's got what here? Your partner has come in at the 3-level after you've passed. Got to have a decent opening hand and a decent club suit, surely? Wonder if she's got 4 spades to go with mine ... Don't think so. Why? Because with an opening hand and 4 spades, she surely would have doubled for take-out. No spade fit, then ...

... So what about East? She isn't competing, so probably hasn't got much ...

... We could have game on here, then, as I've got 10 points myself. Maybe 5 clubs is on? Whoa – HANG ON A MINUTE!

At this point a vast penny is about to drop. You have a balanced hand, no major suit fit and probably
game-going points, Does that make you think of something? 3NT perhaps?

So we now have the situation we started with: we know where we would like to be, but we're not sure how to get there. I can't bid 3NT myself because I haven't a stop in their suit, hearts.
What to do?

If a second penny drops at this point, you're home and dry. What if you bid 3
? What could that possibly mean? Not that you want to play in hearts, that's for sure! Surely your partner must conclude that you're asking if she has a heart stop because you would like to play in 3NT.

With
Kxx your partner has the required heart stop and duly bids 3NT, which makes comfortably. If you look at the hands, you'll see that you make one heart trick, 2 spades, 5 clubs and 2 diamonds: 10 tricks in all.

And if partner doesn't have a heart stop? Well, she'll bid 4
, won't she, and you're more than happy with that: in fact, you may then choose to punt 5.

But even if 5
makes, you'd rather be in 3NT: it's fewer tricks to make and it scores more.


In Box and Bath

Well, this hand only got played 3 times in Box, and each time it ended up a a part-score in clubs, but the astonishing thing is that, with the exception of one ill-fated 3 contract, every NS pair at Bath ended up in clubs too! No-one, evidently, thought of trying the cue-bid, so no-one found 3NT.

The moral? If you find yourself stuck in a competitive auction – you want to go on but you can't think how – make a point of asking yourself whether cue-bidding the opponents' suit might be the answer.

And the corollary is: if your partner suddenly starts bidding the opponents' suit, don't panic. Ask yourself what it might mean and why she's done it.

Could lead you to some spot-on contracts.
Hand of the week 18 January 2012
Landing game with Landy
 
What do you do when your right-hand opponent opens 1NT and you have a two-suited hand? There are lots of options to choose from, most with names like Astro, Asptro and (yes, really) Asptrox, but they're as complicated as their names and are easy to get wrong.

My favourite is an old-fashioned one called Landy. You bid 2
♣. This simply promises at least 5-4 in the major suits and a minimum of around 8 points. Partner will bid the major she prefers, and may jump if strong. If she wants to know which is your 5-card suit, she'll bid 2 and you can tell her.

Landy's just the thing for this hand. South has two 5-card majors, but neither is good enough for an overcall. So what better than to see which partner prefers? South bids 2
.

West sticks his oar in with 2
, but this doesn't deter North, who is pretty strong for a passed hand, and has fits for both spades and hearts. With both opponents bidding, a freely bid 2 is enough for now. Opener raises partner's diamonds, so what does South do now?

Well, you have only 9 points but two aces and great distribution (giving you a 7-loser hand), so you compete with 3
.

West passes, and North takes stock. With a fit in hearts, 9 points and a singleton, this is an 8-loser hand, so North takes a punt at game, and the auction's over.

The play


After West's intervention, East probably leads a diamond, down goes dummy, and North can count 10 tricks (assuming a kind trump break). Can you?

Well, if the trumps are 2-2 (which they are), you have 5 trump tricks and you can ruff a diamond in the short trump hand, making 6. If you give up 2 spade tricks, you will eventually come to 3 spade tricks and the Ace of clubs, making 10 in all.

Lovely. Game made on a combined 18 points. You can't bid it without a 'gadget', though, as neither of South's suits are biddable at the 2 level. And, for this hand at least, Landy is just the job.

PS A couple of tables got to 4
in Box, courtesy of an on-the-spot Landy lesson, but in Bath most NS pairs were content to let EW play in 3NT (1 off) or 4 (mostly 1 off as well). Only two pairs bid 4, both making, though one pair went off in 5X and one other pair bid and made 4 (well, why not - it's an 8-card fit!)
 
Featured hand, Wed 8 Dec: Board 14
Ogust in action
 

This is a deal where the Ogust convention comes in handy. Here's a reminder: partner opens a weak 2 (e.g. 2♠) and you've got a strong hand - such that you may want to be in game, if partner has the right holding. Ogust is ideal: you bid 2NT (alertable) and partner tells you more about his hand, as follows:
 

  • 3♣    Low points, poor suit
  • 3     Low points, good suit               (both of these lower bids: low points)
  • 3     High points, poor suit
  • 3♠     High points, good suit               (both of these higher bids: high points)
  • 3NT  AKQxxx in the suit bid

         KEY: 'low points' = 6-8; 'high points' = 9-10; 'good suit' = 2 of 3 top honours; 'poor suit' = less  

So what about this hand? West has 17 points. If East has a maximum, game is on. If not, well, with a bit of luck you can probably make 3. Let's try it. 2NT from West. Which means 'I need to know more about (a) your suit and (b) your point-count, partner.'


What is East's response? Make your choice, then triple-click here:    3  

This is good news. If East had had a good suit but low points, you'd have trouble getting over to his hand except in spades - which with the singleton A is impossible! - so you wouldn't be able to risk calling No Trumps. But with East showing rubbish spades and maximum points, you know he can help with at least one of your suits, and that he'll have entries to make the play easier.

Your best contract, then, is 3NT. Partner has points in suits other than spades, you have enough points for game, and you don't have an 8-card major fit (you have 7 spades between you, and partner shouldn't be opening a weak 2 if he has 4 of the other major).

At my table on Wednesday, EW did the Ogust bit, then bid on to 4
: fine if defenders' spades are divided 3-3, but as things were, North doubled and they went two off - click on show all hands to see why! 3NT is clearly safer - and doesn't need you to make as many tricks as 4♠ either.

  Postscript   

I agree with you that in 3NT it isn't obvious where the 9th trick is coming from, but in Bath it seemed to materialise somehow. Only two pairs found 3NT, and they made 9 and 10 tricks. Seven other pairs went for the 4 (four of them doubled), and two of them actually made it - but then again, five didn't.

 

For my money, that's the beauty of Ogust: it gives you two lots of information in one bid, and the reply here - rubbish suit but good points - surely guides West towards no trumps as the best contract.

Wriggle!
 

If your right hand opponent (RHO) opens a weak no trump (12-14 points) and you have 16+ points, you should double for penalties. Why? Because if (say) you have 17 and opener has 13, the other two players will on average have 5 each. That leaves you with 22 points to their 18, so you should be getting 1NT off.

And that'll happen, more often than not.


But not always. On today's board 3, for example, (NOT the board displayed here - check it out on the results page) East (16 points) doubles North's opening 1NT and South, with a chunky 10 points, is perfectly happy to leave it in, secure in the knowledge that NS have 22-24 points and need only 7 tricks. Poor West, sitting there with two Jacks, knows they're in trouble, but with a 4-3-3-3 distribution has nowhere to run to. And 1NT makes, doubled, with an overtrick.

In Board 6 (shown here), the boot's on the other foot.
East opens a minimum 12-point 1NT and South, with a magnificent 19 points, doubles for penalties. Over to West, who has a paltry 3 points, and realises that his side could have as few as 15 points between them. That's a possible 3 off, and to make it worse, they're vulnerable - vulnerable to a likely 800 penalty.

At this point, West begins to see why people keep talking about wriggles - which are, as the name suggests, ways of escaping from nasty situations like this. The simplest wriggle is called the 'Transfer wriggle', and it's easy-peasy. In this case, it enables EW to wriggle out of 1NTX into 2C (West's 5-card suit). It works like this:

 

  • bid the suit below the one you want to wriggle to
  • your partner bids the next suit up (i.e. your suit)
  • you pass

Hang on, I hear you object. How can West bid the suit below 2♣? There isn't one! True, but there is a legal bid (other than pass) available between 1NT - X - ? - 2♣ ... and that's XX (redouble).

So West redoubles (alerted by East, as it has a non-natural meaning: it's a transfer bid), North passes and East bids 2♣ as instructed.

So what does South do now? He's got a lovely hand, but only two little clubs, so he's not going to risk doubling 2. Probably he'll start bidding his own suit (spades) and they may end up in game.

And as soon as South bids 2
♠ (or whatever), East and West breathe a collective sigh of relief at being off the hook and keep the Pass cards coming until the end of the auction.

So that's an example of a working wriggle. There are all sorts of wriggles, including some where you can offer partner a choice of your two 4-card suits. But the Transfer wriggle is simple, and you should consider adding it to your armoury of conventions.

  Postscript  

It's worth checking out how the different contracts will pan out. Against 1NT doubled, South will lead his fourth highest spade - the ♠4. North will win with the Queen and return a spade, and NS have the first nine tricks. EW are three off doubled vulnerable for -800. Yuk.

What about 2♣ doubled? A quick count suggests this will only go 1 off, for -200, so South was right to discard that option and bid his own suit ... or was he?

Do NS reach 4♠ and score +420? Well, at Bath BC only one table got there! The rest stopped in 2♠ or 3♠, for a miserable 140 or 170.

That's an effect that a successful wriggle often has: it leaves the strong pair not entirely sure how strong they are, and they not only miss getting a good penalty from you - they can also miss their own game contract. Wriggling gets you off the hook and muddies the water for them.

The message is clear: wriggle!
 

Play & Learn Wed 9 September
Right on cue
 

Everyone realised that the best contract for EW on this hand is 3NT, but it isn't immediately obvious how you can arrive there.

East has a balanced 15 points and opens 1, intending to rebid no trumps.

South overcalls 1
and

with 11 points and a 7-card suit, it's a no-brainer for West to bid 2
. When North again passes,

East is in some difficulty. He knows game is on (his partner has made a free response at the 2 level), and would like to bid 2NT, but hearts are a worry. At one table, East bid 2NT regardless, was raised to 3NT and (as luck had it) made a comfortable game.

But I think it's probably right to be concerned about the hearts. So what to do?

The solution, as is often the case when there simply doesn't seem to be an appropriate bid, is to make a cue bid of the opponents' suit: 2
.

Put yourself in West's position: what can this bid possibly mean? Well, partner is clearly not insisting on his clubs, nor is he supporting your diamonds. With a spade suit, partner would surely just bid spades. And it can hardly be his intention to play in hearts, as South has shown a 5+-card heart suit.

So what's left? No trumps. OK, if that's what East wants, why didn't he just bid them himself ... Ah, South's bid hearts and East doesn't have a heart stop. So he's asking me if I can help in hearts.

Sure I can. 3NT. (I think East is showing the values for 2NT by his cue bid, so West can go straight to game, particularly with that lovely diamond suit. But if West only goes to 2NT, East can raise to game himself.)

The beauty of West's
AJx is that it actually provides two stops in hearts. If North leads a heart, South will play his Q to West's A, and the remaining Jx provides a further stop against South's Kxxx.

And this is probably what happens. North leads his singleton
8, and the trick continues as above. Then a cunning West will go over to dummy's A and lead a second heart towards his Jx, thus creating a second heart trick, and ends up with a magnificent 12 tricks: two heart tricks, one spade, two clubs and seven diamonds.

As it happens, a spade lead from North is a better option, and limits EW to just 11 tricks.


  Postscript  

Bidding an opponent's suit is difficult for an inexperienced player: it goes against the grain, feels rather unnatural, plus there's always that primal fear of being left in it doubled ... But it's surprising how often a cue bid of this kind can pay dividends. To clarify:
 

  • Partner must realise that it isn't a natural bid, so won't leave you in it.
  • It's now up to partner to work out what you mean. He has to realise that you wouldn't make this bid if you had a better alternative natural bid, and as in this case a little thought gets you to the right interpretation.
  • A side benefit is that the opposition now can't bid 2 themselves.


And what if West hadn't had a heart stop? Well, in this case he'd have rebid his diamonds, and the partnership might have reached an alternative game in 5.

So, as always, what happened in Bath? 8 of the 13 EWs were in the best contract: 3NT. Whether via a cue bid or just a punt isn't clear. Of the remaining 5, one got to 5 and 4 ended up in 3, almost certainly because East was worried about hearts and instead of cue bidding chickened out and simply bid 3D, in spite of the fact that the partnership is known to have game-going points. "But what could I do, partner? I didn't know you had a heart stop!" But that's because they didn't ask!
 

Play & Learn Wed 14 April 2010
Stayman to the rescue
 

It's a familiar situation. Partner opens 1NT and you have a four-card major. If partner also has four of that major, you would rather be in that than no trumps. How to find out? Stayman, of course. You bid 2♣, your partner announces 'Stayman' and then responds 2 or 2♠ (if he has four in either of those suits) or 2 (if he doesn't).

The only caveat is that, if you fail to find a fit, you don't want to find yourself stuck in too ambitious a contract. Here are two examples of how it can go wrong:
 

  • Say you have just 8 points and 4 hearts. If you use Stayman and partner responds 2♠, where can you go? The only place is 2NT. That's bad enough, but if your partner has a maximum, he's now going to raise to 3NT - even worse!
  • Or say you have 9 points and 4 hearts and 4 spades. Fine if partner makes a positive response - but supposing he responds 2? You don't want to risk finding yourself in a 4-2 major misfit, so again, the only place to run is 2NT. Same problem as above.

For this reason, the conventional wisdom is that you need 11+ points to use Stayman. In other words, as you may end up in 2NT you have to be strong enough to be there.

Good advice. But keep it in context: it only applies to situations where there is a danger of ending up too high. There are other situations where you can be as weak as you like and Stayman can rescue you from disaster.

The most common of these is where you have a weak hand with a 5-4 (or even 6-4) major holding. Such as:

♠J974   109763   8   ♣Q42

Ouch! One place you certainly don't want to be is 1NT. An obvious place to run to is 2 - but as you also have 4 spades, why not use Stayman, just in case partner has 4 spades with you? If partner responds 2 or 2♠, you pass. And if he says 2, you can sign off in 2: 'I'm weak, partner, and I have 4 spades and at least 5 hearts. Pass, please!'

You see the idea. There's no danger whatever of the auction getting too high: one way or another you're always going to stop in 2 of a major, so there's no need to have 11+ points.

The other classic situation where Stayman can be used with a weak hand is illustrated nicely by Wednesday's Board 7, shown above. West opens 1NT and North decides not to overcall 2. With just 6 points, East would rather play in a suit and with 4 cards in both majors would like to use Stayman to try to find a fit. Normally, you couldn't risk Stayman with only 6 points, but in this case you also have a 5-card diamond suit. Which means you are in no danger. If West responds 2 or 2♠, you will pass. The only other possibile bid from West, denying a 4-card major, is 2 - and you will pass this as well! (Think about it: if West doesn't have a 4-card major, the odds are pretty good that she'll have at least 3 diamonds - and could well have more.)

In this particular case, West does happen to have 4 spades, and 2♠ is an excellent spot to be in, but 2 would have been a good alternative.

  Conclusion  

To sum up, you will normally have to be strong enough to withstand 2NT before you can use Stayman. But there are two particular circumstances when you can use it with as weak a holding as you can think of to rescue you from an unmakeable 1NT.
 

  1. When you are at least 5-4 in the majors. You pass a positive response, and if partner bids 2 you make a weak takeout into your longer major.
     
  2. When (as in board 7) you are 4-4 in the majors and have 5 diamonds. You pass whatever response partner makes. (I'd do the same if I had 4-4-4-1 with a singleton club, but I'm just rash.)


It doesn't come up that often, but when it does it can be a life-saver.
 

Play & Learn Wed 25 November 09: Board 6
Using Stayman as a weak takeout
 
(Don't look at the deal yet: let's put it in context first.)


We all know what Stayman's used for over partner's opening 1NT: to find out if she has a 4-card major. It's also well known that to use Stayman, you normally need to hold 11+ points. Why? Well, let's say your hand is something like this:

 

 

 ♠J8  KJ93  J3  ♣Q8653

You may well make 1NT, but if partner has 4 hearts you'd rather play in 2. So let's use Stayman to find out. What are partner's possible replies to your 2♣ bid?

 

 

 

 

  • 2:  Fine. You have a heart fit. You pass.
  • 2♠:  Oops. What do you do now? You can't leave partner in spades, so you have to bid 2NT.
  • 2:  Oops again. Ditto. (It's pointless 'rescuing' into 2, as (a) that shows 5 hearts and (b) partner could have as few as 2.)


You see the problem. If you don't find the fit you want, you're committed to playing in 2NT, and if partner has a minimum 12 points you only have 20 points between you - not enough. Hence the rule: make sure you have 11+ points (and can therefore stand to be in 2NT) in case you don't have the major fit you're looking for.

So far, so good. Now what about this hand? Partner has again opened 1NT.

 

 

 

 

 ♠K76  A10742  Q5  ♣742


Again, with 9 points you'll probably make 1NT, but you'd rather be in hearts. This time, you have five, so you don't need Stayman. You simply bid 2, partner completes the transfer into 2 and you pass. Excellent.

Now let's tweak that last hand a bit, taking away a diamond and adding a spade, giving us the hand we met on Wednesday:

 

 

 

 

 ♠K765  A10742  Q  ♣742


We could just transfer into hearts again, but the extra spade gives us an extra possibility: a 4-4 fit in spades. And if partner's got 4 spades and only 2 hearts, we would much rather end up in 2♠ than 2. How to find out? Well, Stayman springs to mind ... but we can't use that because we only have 9 points ...

Hang on a minute. Let's reserve judgment and see what can actually happen. Partner's possible replies are the same as always:

 

 

 

 

  • 2:  Fine. You have a heart fit. You pass.
  • 2♠:  Fine. You have a spade fit. You pass.
  • 2:  Fine. You simply revert to plan A and sign off in 2.

Not a single 'Oops' in sight. There was never any possibility of ending up in 2NT, so there was never any need to have 11+ points. Indeed, if you only had 3 points you'd bid in exactly the same way. So we need to amend our rule.

 

 

 

 

Don't use Stayman with fewer than 11 points if there is a danger that the contract may get as high as 2NT.


But if you have a guaranteed alternative weak take-out, go ahead! To finish with, here are two further telling examples:

 

 

 

 

 ♠Q984  J862  108653  ♣-


This is the classic shape for Stayman as a weak take-out. You really don't want to be in 1NT, so you bid 2♣ and pass whatever partner bids! (If partner doesn't have 4 hearts or 4 spades, all the more chance that she'll have 3 - or more - diamonds.)

And a hand that could tempt you onto the rocks:

 

 

 

 

 ♠K765  A1074  Q2  ♣742


This is our featured hand but with only four hearts. Difficult to resist the lure of Stayman here, as either major will put you in clover. But resist you must, because if partner bids 2, you're stuck up at 2NT again, without enough points. This time you do need 11+ points. Grit your teeth and pass.

Postscript

Time to look at the featured deal (click on Show all hands, at the top). You'll be gratified to know that when this hand was played at Bath BC, everyone ended up in hearts or spades, but (bizarrely) around 40% of pairs reached game. They went off, of course, as you'd expect with a combined 21 points and 15 losers. Which just goes to show that there are some sound basic principles that more experienced players very often lose sight of!