District 8 Solvers Forum -- December 2003

by Karen Walker, Champaign IL




% Solvers





4NT 80 2 12
5C 80 3 22
Pass 70 3 15
5D 70 0 15
6D 60 1 0





1.  IMPs, NS vulnerable     

  West    North     East     South 
-- -- -- 1D
1S 2H 4S ???

What is your call as South holding:  S-A4  H-K   D-AQJ532  C-QJ106 ?

The panel offered six possible solutions and several different ideas about the meanings of their choices. One of the most interesting discussions was about whether or not a pass would be forcing here. 

DODD:  "Pass. Given the vulnerability, I'll let partner clarify and then take my guess on the next round. Yes, this pass IS forcing!"

HUDSON: "Double. Pass wouldn't be forcing and 5D is too unilateral. Double is more discouraging than I really want to be with this rather offensive-oriented hand, but I must show some strength and no fit for hearts."

Eddie Kantar wrote an entire book on forcing passes. The quick version of his guidelines, as they apply here, is that for a forcing-pass situation to be "on", our side must have:
   (1) Shown game-forcing values -- one partner must have made a forcing raise, a game-forcing 2-over-1 response, a splinter bid, etc. OR
   (2) Issued and accepted a game invitation.

Neither of those conditions have been met here. It's not a forcing pass just because one of us has shown invitational values or because the opponents preempted.

Expert Richard Pavlicek has an even simpler guideline, which is that we're in a forcing-pass situation only if the bidding suggests that our side holds at least 23 HCP. That's not the case here, as explained by:

FEILER: "Double. The 5-level doesn't come with a guarantee, particularly since we don't yet have a suit to play in. Partner could have choked out 2H on a 6-card suit and 8 or 9 high-card points. If he has a good hand, he can bid on. He knows I'm not doubling on the basis of a spade stack."

Even if you play a 2-over-1 forcing-to-game system, partner's bid in competition doesn't show game-forcing values. If you pass and he has that 9-point hand, he'll have no reason to believe your side has any more than 21 or 22 high-card points.

The majority of the panel chose to take some action. A few bidders speculated that a pass might be forcing, but they thought it would put too much pressure on partner. If a pass were forcing here, this really isn't the hand for it. A forcing pass suggests your hand is suitable for offense, and partner is likely to interpret that as at least moderate support for hearts. A singleton -- even a good one -- isn't what he'll expect.

MERRITT: "5C. Double is a sure plus, but it doesn't look like we'll get rich."

ATHY:  "5C. Still feeling around for a spot. This is a great 5-loser hand and the heart king isn't just any old singleton. Over 5D or 5H, I'll bid 5S."

There's exuberance for you. Better not make a 2-level freebid on a 9-count if you're playing with Norm!

The problem with the 5C bid is that partner will think you have a 5-5 or 6-5 hand. That could land you in a Moysian fit, as he'll pass if he holds 3 clubs and 2 diamonds. If you want to show clubs, but more gently, this approach has merit:

BIRDSALL: "4NT. This normally shows the 6-4 type hand. I'm fairly sure of making a 5-level contract, and doubling 4S won't yield a big penalty."

KNIEST: "4NT, minor-suit takeout. Partner probably has at least 6 minor-suit cards. It seems the best we can get them for is 300 while we have a sure +600, and maybe more."

If you're going to insist on game, 4NT would be a handy way to show primary diamonds and secondary clubs, but only if partner reads it. There's a good case for playing 4NT here as Blackwood for hearts, and without a specific discussion to the contrary, that's probably how I'd take it.

I'm surprised that so many panelists thought they had a "sure" game on this deal. Some were convinced partner had a singleton spade, but at this vulnerability, my opponents never seem to need a 10-card fit for this kind of bidding.

The majority of the panel went for the "absolutely sure" thing:

K.C. JONES: "Double.  This shows a good hand without a good fit for partner. He should know I 'live' in the minors, but neither suit warrants bidding it myself at the 5-level."

I think the double here covers all bases. Partner can see the vulnerability. If he has the hand you need for your "sure" game, he'll probably bid. If not, you'll collect your +300 or +500 and live to fight another day.

2.  Matchpoints, none vulnerable             




% Solvers


100 9 46


80 3 44


70 2 8


70 2 2
  West    North     East     South 
-- 1S DBL 1NT
2C 2S 3C ???

What is your call as South holding:  S-Q5  H-J82   D-J963   C-AJ96 ?

Has Christmas come early? Or is there a trap here?

ATHY: "Double. I don't see how this 10-loser hand can be much help to partner in spades, and 3C might be costly. I'll double and hope to catch 300, put my second hope on +100, and apologize if it's -470."

VONGSVIVUT:  "Double. I should get two or three club tricks on defense. If we can make 3S, they should go down at least two tricks. I plan to use the spade suit to force their trumps."

STRITE: "Double. I think I have to take a crack at this at matchpoints, even though partner is likely void. He'll rescue some of the times this is wrong."

This was Board #11 in the ACBL-wide Instant Matchpoint game held in September at local clubs. My partner, Lynne Feldman, didn't think long at all with this hand before she bid 3S. I held  S-J10xxxxx  H-AKx  D-Qxx  C-Void and went down one against accurate defense. The good news was that 3C was making, so we survived with an average for our -50.

Was Lynne just lucky to catch me with so few high-card points and such long spades? Or was her action based on good judgment? Several panelists and a large percentage of the Solvers shared her view:

KLEMIC: "3S. I have a lot of points for this auction, so I suspect partner is bidding on distribution. Give him AKxxxxx of spades and an ace, and we're in the right spot. I expect we may beat 3C, but it will only be one non-vulnerable trick."

RABIDEAU: "3S. Beating 3C isn't going to happen very often. I'll go for the -50, -100 or occasional +140."

It's true that those are awfully good clubs, but it's unlikely they'll take more than two tricks (perhaps only one) on defense. So if you choose to defend 3C, you'll have to count on partner for at least three defensive tricks -- not a good bet.

Most panelists thought the opponents had a 9-card fit, which leaves partner with length in the red suits. That makes your paltry jacks look a lot better. They won't take tricks on defense, but they may be valuable fillers if partner declares.

A few panelists went for the gusto:

DODD: "3NT. It's tempting to double for the 'sure' plus (maybe even 300 or 500), but with my spade queen being a potentially solidifying card, all I need is AKxxxxx of spades and a red ace to score this up."

That decision doesn't work out at all on this deal, but I can see the appeal. There won't be many (any) other pairs wandering into this contract, so if you happen to hit that hand, you may score one of those rare tops across North America.

3. Matchpoints, none vulnerable  




% Solvers


100 8 36


90 6 18


70 0 15


60 2 30
  West    North     East     South 
-- -- -- 1S
2D Pass 3D ???

What is your call as South holding:  S-AQ9843   H-A965   D-2   C-K4  ? 

Cautious bidders get the top score here. It's hard to argue with their logic:

STRITE:  "Pass. Partner didn't make a negative double, so we aren't missing much joy."

RABIDEAU: "Pass. Double could be right, but my high-card points (not much extra), position (in front of the stronger opponent) and shape (a doubleton in the suit partner is most likely to bid) all suggest the use of the green card. The auction isn't over."

MERRITT: "Pass. Partner can't make a negative double and I'm supposed to bid here? Am I missing something?

You're missing matchpoint madness:

KNIEST: "Double. I'm pushing, but I have a little extra, and partner may be able to pass. Or he may have a weak hand with heart length. If he bids 4C, I'm a passenger."

KLEMIC: "3H. This is a pretty thin hand, but the vulnerability and scoring suggest competing. At IMPs, I'd pass with little thought."

VONGSVIVUT: "Double. If partner doesn't have four hearts or five clubs, he should have at least two spades and we'll land in 3S. With my singleton diamond, I have to try to compete."

Yes, this is only a 13-count, but it's quick tricks and majors and a stiff in their suit ... and there's that little voice telling you that defending 3D will be a bad score. That's more than enough to elicit action from those who follow the "greed is good" (or at least "forgivable") philosophy of matchpoint play.

I admit that I would double here, too. The deciding factor for me is that if partner can't pass or bid hearts, my sixth spade offers us some safety. If partner holds five mediocre clubs and a doubleton spade, he may well choose to take the preference to 3S to stay a level lower.

What I'm really hoping, though, is that partner can pass my double. My choice may be somewhat influenced by the growing tendency of my real-life opponents to make 2-level overcalls on junk. Even some fairly experienced players seem to think a 10-count and any 5-card suit will do. I figure if I don't take out the cannons on them every now and then, I'm letting them get away with murder.

With half of our panel opting to charge back into this auction, it's surprising that none voted for 3S, which would be my second choice. There was a stronger vote for 3H, but this can create the same problem as a 5C bid in Problem #1. It will sound to partner like you have equal length in your suits, and he'll pass with two spades and three hearts.

FEILER: "Pass. I have an opening hand with a stiff diamond -- just what partner might expect."

There you go again ... destroying the all the bidders' fun with your pesky, bullet-proof logic.

4. IMPs, NS vulnerable        




% Solvers


100 10 44


80 4 26


70 2 30
  West    North     East     South 
3D DBL Pass 4S
Pass 5C Pass ???

What is your call as South holding:  S-KQ8763   H-J752   D-43   C-J ?

What type of hand is partner showing with his 5C bid? Here are three interpretations:

VONGSVIVUT: "Pass. I have no first-round control so no hope for slam. Partner should have a good hand and a self-supporting club suit."

STRITE: "5S. No red-suit control to offer, so I've shot my wad. If all partner needed was good spades, he chose the wrong slam try."

KLEMIC: "5H. Partner doubled for a reason, so there's somewhere else to play. He'll know there's a length disparity in my major suits since I didn't bid 4D on the last round."

The majority of the panel agreed that if partner held a club one-suiter, he would have overcalled 4C or 5C instead of making a takeout double. Most also rejected the idea that he was making a cuebid for spades, since he has other, less-ambiguous ways to show a big hand with support. The consensus picture of partner's hand is best summarized by:

KNIEST: "5H. Partner's auction guarantees that he holds hearts and clubs -- probably 2-4-1-6 distribution. Rebidding spades is wrong. After two diamond leads, dummy may be endplayed -- or spades could go out 4-1."

If you follow this reasoning, you have to give partner the good news about your heart fit and resist the temptation to rebid spades. As this panelist points out, partner has probably already figured out you have a long suit:

NELSON: "5H. Partner knows I would never jump with only a 4-card suit when the auction starts this high. It's best to correct to hearts and not rebid the spades."

At least one panelist was disappointed that he couldn't do more:

FOGEL: "5H. I don't have enough to jump to slam, but I would if I held an ace ... or if I thought we really needed a board to win the match."

5.  IMPs, NS vulnerable   




% Solvers


100 7 32


80 3 15


70 2 25


60 4 23
  West     North      East     South 
-- Pass 1C 1H
Pass 2C 3C ???

What is your call as South holding:  S-K83   H-AQ832   D-KJ5   C-104 ?

The sane, conservative approach wins again. As in Problem #3, the panel isn't passing just because they're chicken. They back up their choice with simple but sound reasoning.

K.C. JONES: "Pass. My vulnerable overcalls at IMPs show good hands, and this one has nothing extra."

BIRDSALL: "Pass. Not nearly enough to double, and bidding here is just plain wrong. If it's correct, then partner will bid on after I pass."

So why are so many others pushing toward game -- or blasting into it? Several panelists explained their aggressiveness with comments along the lines of "vulnerable at IMPs, gotta bid game". It leaves me wondering if there are any bridge crimes that have been committed more frequently than those in the name of "vul at IMPs".

IMP scoring does favor bidding close games when you're vulnerable, but it shouldn't alter your basic hand-evaluation skills. To judge your chances for game, start with a picture of partner's hand, which is typically a 3-card limit raise (10-11 points with three hearts). If you had been the opening bidder and partner had shown you this hand, you would pass, quickly. The only difference here is that the opponents will probably make a better opening lead than they would have in an uncontested auction.

Several panelists opted for more flexible advances:

KNIEST: "3D. I have full values for my overcall, so I make a game try with 3D."

And all this time, I thought partner's cuebid asked if you had anything extra for your overcall. I didn't know it was checkback to see if you really had "full minimum" values for your first bid.

HUDSON: "Pass. This must be forcing to 3H, even if I made a light overcall. I would bid 3H here to show a weak overcall."

This is the opposite of the standard treatment after a cuebid raise. We aren't in a forcing auction. If partner thinks it's right to defend 3C, I certainly don't want to bid in front of him with a weak hand. Over RHO's bid, pass is the weakest call you can make.

RABIDEAU: "3H. An in-between bid for an in-between hand?"

This makes sense, although the only really "serious" in-between bid here is the 3D game-try. I like to treat the freebid of 3H as a "not-so-serious" in-between bid -- it still shows a not-interested-in-game minimum, but suggests some extra playing strength (a sixth heart or a singleton).  

Here's yet another approach:

MERRITT: "Pass. Sure, I have a decent hand. Hopefully, partner can come in with something other than 3H, and then I'll bid game."

Finally, a panelist who's willing to let partner be the pushy one. That leads us to another important consideration: If you're still inclined to try for game with this hand, can you be sure you're the only overbidder in the partnership? Partner knows all about this "vul-at-IMPs" thing, too, and that may have motivated him to stretch a bit to make the cuebid. If you don't want to continually reach hopeless 13-opposite-9 games, one of you has to play the straight man in these auctions, and on this one, I think you're elected.

6.  Matchpoints, both vulnerable




% Solvers


100 9 48


80 6 17


60 1 15


60 0 13
  West   North     East     South 
-- -- Pass 1D
1H DBL * Pass 2C
2H Pass Pass ???

* (negative)

What is your call as South holding:  S-A5   H-104   D-AQJ106  C-K1083 ?

This could be a world's record in this forum, with Pass being the top choice on three problems and a logical alternative on three others. Most of the panel saw this one as a "Partner Has Spoken" situation:

FOGEL: "Pass. Partner knows what you have and he elected to pass. It's unlikely to be your hand at the 3-level. Without extras, go quietly and wait for the next board."

STRITE: "Pass. I think I've shown my hand already. I don't expect a good score, but I have to trust partner."

HUDSON:  "Pass. I have no reason to expect a fit, as partner could be 4-4-2-3 with 6 points. If he had a 4-card minor, I expect he would have raised. I have only a little more than I've shown, so I'll abide by his decision."

Jim makes a good point about partner's likely distribution. Because there's a fairly wide range for your 2C rebid, partner will try to help you out if he can. He would stretch to compete if he had a fit, even with a weak high-card-point hand. 

The doublers wanted to have one more go at it. They liked their quick tricks and good suits, and were hoping to find +200 in the cards:

DODD: "Double. Last of the big spenders. Even if partner passes with a 4-3-3-3 8-count, I like our chances of scrounging a set."

KNIEST: "Double. I have extras for both offense and defense, and the double pinpoints my distribution since I didn't bid 2S."

This is a nice opening bid, but since you might hold as many as 16 or 17 points for the 2C rebid, a 14-count -- even with three quick tricks -- might not be partner's idea of "extras". This probably won't affect his action here, as he's surely going to pass your double. All you have to do then is hope your cards are well placed and/or that you can maneuver a spade ruff.

The final word, from someone who's been there:

ATHY: "Pass. I've seen (and made) some pretty weak 1-level negative doubles, and I don't want to see one of them at the 3-level. By the way, I tried a 3D bid on almost this exact same hand in a rubber-bridge game a few years ago. Thanks to the 100 honors, I was able to get out for -400. Live and learn!"

Thanks to all who sent in answers for this set. Thanks to this issue's guest panelists Gareth Birdsall, Micah Fogel and George Klemic, and congratulations to Greg Berry and Robert Lambert, who topped all Solvers. They're invited to join the panel for February.

Our bidding system is based loosely on Bridge World Standard. You can use it as a general guideline for conventions, but you don't have to study it to answer the problems. Our focus in this column is on how auctions are popularly treated in mainstream play, not on what BWS dictates. When in doubt, just answer the problems as if you were playing with an experienced player and the specific situation is undiscussed.

The 2004 Solvers Contest begins with the next issue. I hope you'll all join in and try the six new problems for February (see below). Please submit your answers by January 15 on the web form or by email to our February moderator:

Scott Merritt -- scottmerritt@verizon.net

Thanks to everyone for reading the column and offering your suggestions. We appreciate your participation, and we hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and New Year.

  -- Karen, Scott, Tom & Tom

How the Panel voted (Panel/Staff Avg. -- 526):









Norm Athy, St. Louis








Gareth Birdsall, Cambridge UK

4NT Pass DBL 5H Pass Pass  540

Kent Feiler, Harvard IL

DBL DBL Pass 5H 3D 3C  540

Micah Fogel, Aurora IL

5H DBL DBL 5H 4H Pass  500

George Klemic, Bensenville IL

5C 3S 3H 5H 4H DBL  460

Jim Hudson, DeKalb IL

DBL DBL Pass 5H Pass Pass  600

K. C. Jones, Euless TX

DBL DBL Pass 5H Pass Pass  600

Larry Matheny, Loveland CO      

DBL DBL Pass 5S Pass DBL  560

Bev Nelson, Fort Myers FL

6D 3NT DBL 5H 4H DBL  460

Larry Rabideau, St. Anne IL

Pass 3S Pass 5S 3H Pass  500

Toby Strite, Hagendorn, Switz.

Pass DBL Pass 5S 3D Pass  530

Arbha Vongsvivut, Godfrey IL        

 DBL  DBL   DBL  Pass   3H    Pass   530

How the Staff voted:

Tom Dodd, Boerne TX

 Pass   3NT   Pass   5H    Pass  DBL   520   

Tom Kniest, University City MO

4NT DBL DBL 5H 3D DBL  530

Scott Merritt, Arlington VA

5C Pass Pass Pass Pass DBL  500

Karen Walker, Champaign IL         

DBL  3S DBL 5H Pass Pass  570

Solvers Honor Roll  (Average Solver score: 486)

Greg Berry, Sleepy Hollow IL


Warren Bosch, Elgin IL


Robert Lambert, Warsaw IN


Tad Hofkin, Aurora IL


Jody Castillo, Warsaw IN


Doug Jonquet, Decatur IL


Mason Myers, Chesterfield MO


Don Mathis, Florissant MO


Rich Peer, St. Louis MO


Manuel Paulo, Lisbon, Portugal      


Len Vishnevsky, San Francisco CA        540 Tom Rossow, South Bend IN   520
Steve Babin, Normal IL 530 Bob Shair, Champaign IL   520

Solvers Forum -- February Problems

1. IMPs, EW vulnerable                                 
  West    North     East     South 
-- -- -- ???

What is your opening bid as South holding:
S-Q943  H-AQ98762  D-108   C-Void ?         

2.  Matchpoints, NS vulnerable             
  West    North     East     South 
-- -- 1D Pass
1H 1S 2C Pass
2D 2H Pass ???

What is your call as South holding:
S-109   H-A106   D-J63   C-A9865 ?

3. IMPs, both vulnerable
  West   North     East     South 
-- Pass Pass 1D
Pass 1H Pass 2D
Pass 3D Pass ???

What is your call as South holding:
S-J42   H-K   D-AK9765  C-A93 ?

4. Matchpoints, EW vulnerable                  
  West    North     East     South 
-- -- 1H Pass
Pass 1S Pass ???

What is your call as South holding:
S-Void   H-AQ102   D-KJ953   C-A843  ?

5. Matchpoints, none vulnerable   
  West     North      East     South 
-- -- -- 1NT *
Pass  2S ** Pass 3C
Pass 3NT Pass ???

  * (15-17)      ** Minor-suit Stayman

What is your call as South holding:
S-AQ3   H-1092   D-AK5   C-Q982 ?

6. IMPs, both vulnerable                            
  West    North     East     South 
1S Pass 1NT ???

What is your call as South holding:
S-10543  H-AK82   D-C-AKQJ ?

Thanks to Kent Feiler for Problem #6.