A couple of weeks ago I was asked at the table “What’s the point of playing transfers over an opening bid of 1NT?”. We didn’t have time for a full discussion so I shall attempt a fuller explanation here.
I think that transfers were originally conceived as a method of placing the contract with the stronger hand. In those dark days any two level bid (except 2C Stayman) was considered to be a ‘bust’ – a complete bag of nails- which opener was expected to pass. This meant that the 1NT bidder became dummy and everyone at the table could see what wares were on offer. It was obviously best to conceal the opener’s riches and out of this were born red suit transfers. In other words a bid of 2D required opener to bid 2H and likewise a bid of 2H demanded that opener transfer to spades. Some people extended this further so that 2S became a transfer to clubs which responder might subsequently shift to diamonds.
This treatment was useful but it soon emerged that transfers had another major benefit in that they allowed a further layer of bidding. A major problem if not playing transfers arises in a sequence such as 1NT-3H. Is 3H a) a limit bid showing 11-12 points and heart support or b) is it forcing to game? If a) then how do you force to game and which game? If you just jump to 4H you might be playing in a 5-2 fit when 3NT might be better. If b) then how do you suggest to partner that stopping in 3H might be best?
Playing transfers there is no problem. Partner opens 1NT and you hold
a) S Kxx b) S Kxx c) S xxx
H AQ763 H AQ763 H AQ7632
D Qxx D KQx D xxx
C xx C xx C x
Hand a) has 11 points and a 5 card heart suit. Bid 2D (transfer) and rebid 2NT. If opener is minimum he passes with 2 hearts or bids 3H with 3 or more trumps. If opener is maximum he bids 3NT or 4H.
Hand b) has 14 points and 5 hearts. With 14 points opposite an opening bid responder wishes to be in game – but which game? Responder bids 2D (transfer) and rebids 3NT offering a choice of either that game or 4H.
Hand c) is of little value unless played in hearts so responder bids 2D (transfer) and passes the response of 2H.
So now we can differentiate between different hand types and can even show a 6 card invitational hand by transferring and then raising the suit as in:
H 10 95
C 10 74
S 832 S AQJ1095
H AQ43 H K
D K85 D 964
C AJ6 C KQ5
WEST NORTH EAST SOUTH
1NT PASS 2H PASS
2S PASS 4S PASS
Bidding: East has the choice of transferring to 4S or jumping to 4S. There is no clear cut benefit in having the East hand as declarer so East should transfer. This is of great benefit however to West as his DK is protected from the opening lead.
Lead: H10. North has no attractive lead but as the hearts contain a short sequence the heart lead is preferable to a club. It is normal to choose the stronger holding.
Recommended play: The HK wins trick 1. Declarer comes to hand with a club to the Jack and cashes the heart winners to discard two diamonds from dummy. Next comes the spade finesse, declarer running the 8. That works but North turns up with all the spades. After a second spade finesse come to hand with the C Ace and repeat the spade finesse. The Ace drops the King and declarer has 12 tricks +480.
(1) Not every transfer has a tangible benefit. On this hand however the transfer is worth two extra tricks. If South was on lead and led the obvious DQ the defenders would take the first three tricks for +420.
(2) 12 tricks are still there if North happened to lead a club Win with the C K, cash the HK, return to hand with a club to the Jack and pitch two diamonds on the hearts. Then as before.
(3) If the S K was with South then 4S by East would fail but by West would make 11 tricks because the D K is protected if North is on lead.
(4) DO NOT take the spade finesse before discarding dummy’s diamonds – if it failed you might go one down.