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There is a new Top Tip on Cue Bidding - I wish I'd read it before I played today!

Agony Corner
Still figuring it out.....

Dear Mr Agony

I am aware that bidding is based on figures; both points and distribution/shape, whereby ♠T85432/Q874/K6/♣3 has 5 HCPs.

With an 8+card fit. responder can add extra points for short suits i.e. 5 for a void; 3 for a singleton and 1 for a doubleton = 5+3+1=9; which is a safe raise to 2H (although 5HCPs could also be justified on the basis of supporting partner and bidding to the level of the fit).

However, I understand distribution can be based on counting losers and, when an 8+card fit has been found, the losing trick count can be used for Major game contracts and the responder should apply whichever method produces the highest raise.

In this case, the above hand contains 7 losers which represents the standard opening hand (12+pts) and, on the basis that partner opened with 7 losers (in this case 4), responder can be fairly assured that the partnership could be at least in game (7+7=14).

On that basis, can the responder bid Jacoby 2NT to indicate his distributional opening/game strength so the opener can start cue-bidding his 1st/2nd round controls?  

The question of distribution also arises in the bidding of weak 2s, whereby most bidders will open with 6 cards and 6-10pts (although I understand that not less than 5 cards and not less than 5pts is also permissible).

I have in the past opened with the 6/6-10  ratio but with less than the standard 7 loser opening and been told I should have opened at the 1-level as my hand was too strong to open at the weak 2 level.

Still figuring it out.......



Thank you Carol. I'm delighted to have you as a real correspondent, rather than a fictional one.

First let me address your Jacoby question. The Jacoby 2NT response to partner's opening suit bid at the one level is best played as a hand with at least slam interest and at least an eight card fit. It is a hand type that is very difficult to get across otherwise since you want to create a game force (at least) and confirm the suit - all without taking up too much bidding space. So my preference is to  reserve Jacoby for hands where I know where I'm going, and that is to the slam zone in partner's suit provided she has better than a minimum opening.

On the losing trick count, I'm worried that I may demolish any thoughts that you may have that I am a serious bridge player - because I don't use it. I can do arithmetic, and I use arithmetic a lot when I'm playing the cards - but not so much in the bidding. That's not to say I disapprove of the losing trick count, for those who like to use it, and it's certainly much better than relying on 'points' for all your bidding decisions, but I prefer a more intuitive approach. To show you what I mean, let me give you a hand from last weekend's Perry Shield (Welsh Bridge Union Inter-Area Teams).                                                       





                             ♠KJ962                                       ♠AQ3

                             J                                                62

                             965                                            KQ742

                             ♣AJ95                                         ♣Q86





The bidding at the table where my partner and I sat North/South was as follows:

W                   N                      E                      S

                      1H                   2D                    3D*

P                    4H                   all pass

3D was an unassuming cue bid, promising a constructive raise in hearts. 4H was an excellent contract, despite N/S having only a combined 17 points, and ten tricks rolled in. It was bid at every table in the event, so partner and I did not do anything brilliant. My bidding reflected my bridge judgement. My partner (South) employed the losing trick count! And it's true, the losing trick count (if we both use it!) does get us to game - six losers in the North hand; 8 losers in South. But I prefer not to use it. I prefer to see my hand as a picture, not a number. Still, if you find the losing trick count a useful tool, don't let me dissuade you. Anything is better than simply totting up your points.

But you will probably accept that the losing trick count has to give way to bridge judgement in some instances. Take the responding hand you gave me:


Now what do you bid if partner opens at the one level with........1C, 1D, 1H, 1S, or 1N?

These are my answers. See if you agree with me. I think you'll have to agree that it's a matter of bridge judgement.

1C - 1S

1D - 1S

1H - 3H (we employ 3C and 3D as Bergen raises, so 3H is quite a weak bid)

1S - 4S

1N - 2C (Stayman)

There's just no escaping judgement in bridge!

Thank you again for your letter. Keep them coming.

Best wishes,

Mr Agony


Dear Mr Agony,

It's me again. Still confused. When I first learned bridge I was taught Strong 2 openings. That made sense to me - after all, I was claiming to be able to make eight tricks! Now everyone seems to be opening Weak 2s. Is that your influence? I would prefer to just stay as I am, rather than go in for all this new-fangled nonsense. Or do you think I should change, along with everyone else?

Yours, Confused


Dear Confused,

I'm delighted to hear from you again. No, you don't need to change. Opening strong hands at the 2 level is a perfectly respectable method. I will point out a few things, and then of course you must choose the method you feel comfortable with.

First, there are many more weak hands than strong hands. That's a numerical fact. This means that if you devise methods that cater for holding weak hands, you are at a distinct numerical advantage. If you permit yourself to open with a 5 carder when non-vulnerable (as I do!), that numerical advantage grows exponentially. The more opportunities you have to enter the auction, the greater your chance of securing a good result on the board.

Second, most players - with good reason - dislike playing against Weak 2s - because they find they are always being 'bounced' by these aggressive methods, which in turn means they have to start bidding their hands some two levels higher than would otherwise be the case.

Third, Strong 2 openings - which are quite rare in any event - can readily be shown by means of a one level opening followed by a strength showing rebid (either a jump bid or a reverse). So you don't need to open at the 2 level to show eight playing trick hands!

If you play Strong 2 openings, you have FIVE bids, all catering for a hand type that seldom comes up, or which can comfortably be expressed by other means. You have NO bids, short of the 3 level, by means of which you can show weak hands.

If, instead, you play a common version of Benjaminised Acol, your 2C opening will show one of two types of strong hand; your 2D  and 2NT openings will show two more strong hands; and your 2H and 2S openings will show WEAK hands. So that is - at the 2 level - FOUR types of strong hand catered for and TWO types of weak hand.

But you can do better still.

I will briefly mention what I prefer to play (NB I don't suggest you copy this at the moment).

2C - either a game force (25+ if balanced) OR a weak opening in diamonds;

2D - either 23-24 balanced, OR a weak 2 in hearts, OR a weak 2 in spades;

2H - a weak hand with both hearts AND spades;

2S - a weak hand with spades AND a minor;

2NT - 20-22 balanced.

That is not the place to start because you need the methods to discover which of the various possible alternatives partner is showing. It's good, but it's too complicated as a place to start. But the benefts are huge. Count the hand types opener can show at the 2 level. If you add them up it comes to EIGHT different hand types - THREE strong and FIVE weak. So this method, which I grant you takes a bit of effort to learn and to employ properly, enables one to open loads of different hands - and especially it enables one to open far more WEAK hands. It's almost unfair to the opponents! It reminds me of a corny old 'Western' song called Big John, which included the immortal lines:

If you see me coming, better step aside -

a lot of men didn't, and a lot of men died

I was always a sucker for that sort of song. More realistically, as a first venture into playing Weak 2s, how about this:

2C: 23+ or some other game force;

2D/H/S: weak, single suited in principle; 

2NT: 20-22 balanced

That is TWO strong bids and THREE weak bids - so heading in the right direction. You will still require additional agreements, but this is a method employed by many experts, so it is the place to start if you wish to employ Weak 2s.

By all means stick with Strong 2s if that's what you feel comfortable with, but you might like to try out Weak 2s with a co-operative partner. They are certainly effective - and what's more, they are a lot of fun!

Kind regards,

Mr Agony  


Last updated : 7th Jun 2019 09:03 BST
Agony Corner

Agony Corner is a service for all those attending Bethany Bridge Club. It is designed to answer your queries, with a view to bringing solace and reassurance to troubled bridge players. The latest query - 'Can I keep my Strong Two openings?' - is below. 

Last updated : 23rd May 2019 13:09 BST
Troubled Doubler
Dear Mr Agony
Having read your column this week, I understand that “following partner's 1NT opening, X is for take-out in principle” i.e. 1NT-(2S)-X.
I have also read that, following a 1NT response, X is for takeout and not for penalty eg. (1H)-P-(1NT)-X
Can a X of a 1NT opening also be for take-out and not for penalty if made by the protective bidder eg. (1NT)-P-(P)-X  - say, with 11-14 points?
Troubled Doubler

Dear Troubled Doubler,

Thank you for your letter, which I found both interesting and encouraging (encouraging because it showed that at least one person had read my column).

If I might start with a few general observations about system. Your letter is sensible because you are asking someone who (hopefully) has a bit more bridge knowledge before adopting some scheme that you have invented. However tempting it is to invent system with partner (perhaps over a bottle of wine, or maybe two), that is generally a mistake. Play what good players play, rather than invent your own methods.

When developing partnership agreements you should also bear in mind the following:

a) is any conventional treatment going to be more useful than the the alternative that it is, of necessity, replacing?

b) is it going to come up often enough for it to be worthwhile?

c) have partner and you worked out what the various possible continuations of the auction are going to mean?

d) have you worked out what your various possible continuations are going to mean if the opponents are unkind enough to intervene?

e) will you be sure to remember it?

f) will your partner be sure to remember it?

On your specific question, X in the pass-out or 'protective' seat after the opponents have opened 1NT is not quite as effective (in principle) as doubling 'over' the opening because your high cards are not so well placed. But if you enter the auction on moderate balanced hands you are still taking a risk. First, the opponents may have the balance of power. Your right hand opponent will know her side's playing strength and so may wish to wield the axe. Secondly, your bid is not really for 'take-out' as no suit has been bid. So in general, with a modest, balanced hand, it is probably best just to aim to defeat their contract. That is what I - and most tournament players - prefer to do.

It would be different if you were playing against opponents who played a Strong No Trump. It still would not be sensible to enter the auction on a flat hand, but some partnerships do invent a different meaning for X when the opponents are playing a Strong NT opening. That is because they don't have much occasion to double for penalties, so they use the X card to show a different hand type. But here in the UK we are in the land of the weak NT, so that doesn't apply against most pairs.

What other methods do you employ over the opponents' 1NT opening? For example, do you play 'Landy', with 2C being used to show both majors? If you don't, I thoroughly recommend it. If you do use 2C to show both majors, you have of course lost your natural 2C bid. If you use this method, you might (and I do emphasise 'might') use the X in the protective seat to show a hand containing 6 or more clubs. That would be interesting (and not completely mad). I don't advise it, but it's more sensible than some agreements I come across. If you try it, please report back! But I for my part will continue along my stodgy path, employing X both 'over' and 'under' the weak NT to show 15+ points, and looking for a penalty. But perhaps you are braver than me.

Kind regards,

Mr Agony


Last updated : 2nd May 2019 19:52 BST
Scoring Mystery

Dear Mr Agony,

I hope this is not a silly question, but I am confused. I keep getting bad results where really it's not my fault. I'm not an expert but sometimes I play quite well, and then it is dispiriting to discover that I have scored below average (again). I will give you two examples. Last week a pair bid a slam against us on Board 5. It made. They were the only pair to bid it. We scored 0% on the board! My question to you is: we did nothing wrong on this board as we both passed throughout; declarer had an easy 12 tricks; so can it be right that we scored a zero? I understand that it's a good board for the opponents, but why should it be a terrible one for us?

The second hand I want to mention is Board 2, on which I was declarer. The contract was Two Hearts, which I was very pleased to make. Imagine my feelings therefore when I looked at the scores and discovered that this was another zero %! Please can you explain - or better still, change these scores which are obviously unfair.

Yours, Confused

Dear Confused,

I sympathise. Bridge scoring can appear to be unfair sometimes, and it is indeed the case that you can score badly on a board whilst doing nothing wrong. First, a general point about the bridge scoring system. Duplicate bridge scoring derives from Rubber bridge, as played socially for many decades. The closest to the original form of scoring is Teams bridge, where you have direct opponents in the opposing team - and your scores, over the two tables in the match, can be compared directly with those of your opponents. But mostly in bridge clubs these days we play Pairs. The reason is simple: it is very much easier to organise. However, a way then has to be found to compare the scores of all the competing pairs. The way that this is done is somewhat artificial. The objective is to give each pair a ranking on every board they play. The rankings run from top (100%) to bottom (0%), with every other pair who played the board somewhere in between. So if, for example, you defeat the opponents in their contract and score +50, you will still rank below the other pairs holding your cards who score +100. If ALL the other pairs sitting with your cards score better than your +50, your score on that board will be 0%. 

One more example: say you defeat a vulnerable game and score +100. But most other pairs with your cards have played in 2H - and made eight tricks. The score for making 2H is +110. The difference between +100 and +110 is tiny. One might almost say it is trvial. But it is not trivial at Pairs scoring! Plus110 beats plus100 just as surely as if it were some much bigger score, so your +100 will rank below all the +110s, and of course below all the higher scores achieved by pairs holding your cards.

You will gather from these examples that your score on each board is a reflection of what is going on at all the other tables, as well as being a reflection of your own efforts. Sometimes the scores at other tables will work in your favour; sometimes it will appear that players at other tables are sabotaging your efforts! You have to console yourself with the thought that luck does even out eventually.

Now to the two board you mention. On the first, your opponents did indeed do well to bid the slam. I notice you weren't vulnerable and held just three points, all in hearts. In fact your heart suit comprised QJxxxxx. Did you open it? I think perhaps not. Had you opened, say, 3H, your opponents might have found it harder to bid the slam. I'm not criticising - many players will not wish to bid on such a poor hand - but it's worth thinking about because sometimes, even with very poor hands, it may be possible to make life difficult for the opponents.

On the second board you made 2H and scored +110. That is OK, as far as it goes, but sadly it doesn't go very far. Every other pairs sitting your way play in Hearts, some of them in game. Those in game made all made 10 tricks, whilst the other pairs, who played in 2H or 3H, all made at least 9. The lesson here is that when playing Pairs you should always look to MAXIMISE.  It's nice to make your contract, but on many hands that will be practically irrelevant. Your objective is to score better than the other pairs holding your cards. Until you understand this fundamental fact you will find, I'm afraid, that the bridge scoring systems (at Pairs) is very unforgiving.

So the two key messages are: a) make sure you understand the bridge scoring system; and b) especially when playing Pairs, always aim to MAXIMISE.

Kind regards,

Mr Agony

Last updated : 10th May 2019 07:57 BST