A Problem from an Old Bridge World/Answer
About 20 years ago, the Bridge World's Master Solvers Club
posed this problem:
Don't remember the form of scoring or vulnerability, you hold
Kx QJx AQJ10xx Ax
The panel's answers and comments were generally surprising
to me. ...and to the moderator, come to think of it. Twenty
years later, I'm posing it to you guys. I'm not sure if this
will answer my real question or not, but if you would have
done something different twenty years ago (if you were two
then, don't bother to say, "I'd just gurgle and spit up on
my mother" or the like, please) I'd be curious to hear it.
If this panel is very different in tone than the previous
one, I'm curious if the reason is that times have changed
or if they were just up a tree then (as Jeff Rubens seemed
to think, by the way). Or maybe I'm up a tree now. Let's
What do you bid and why? As I don't remember the scoring
or vulnerability, if it matters, please say why and what
you'd do at other forms of the game. Assume as a default
both vul at IMPs.
Yeah, yeah, I know some of you would open 1NT (a serious
underbid) or rebid 2NT. Some animals would even open 2NT
(a moderate overbid, unless you play 19-20 or such). 3
certainly wasn't a terrible call and you are stuck with it.
A fair number of the panelists complained then, so I'll
preempt you all this time
The basic problem is "what does partner have?" Does he
have a balanced hand with hearts well-stopped, but nothing
in clubs (e.g. J10xx AKx Kxx xxx) or maybe nowhere good to
go other than 3NT, but with inadequate club stops
(e.g. J10xxx AKx xx Qxx or Qxxxxx AKx xx J10x)?...
...Or is 3 a 5-card suit; partner isn't interested in playing a 4-card
heart suit as he knows you have enough to reverse, so you'd almost
certainly bid a 4-card heart suit if you had it:
I think 3 is stopper-showing, so I'll bid 3N.
3 as a punt might be more useful, but I think it shows 3-card support here.
[I like "3 Last Train to 3NT" as much as anyone, but I agree we
don't have room for it here. --Jeff]
3nt. Have to do it. If partner has AJTxx Txxx Kx xx, we could
easily get to 4 or 4 if another course of action is taken. I don't
normally like bidding 3nt with only the A, but I think this is the
exception considering the lack of room necessary to clarify.
Yikes! What a complex problem. My immediate answer was "3NT, what
else?", then I paused for thought and felt rather stupid for my haste.
Obviously, you would like to know if 3H was a suit, or a try for 3NT.
Your real problem isn't so much your rebid, but partner's subsequent
Say partner is 5-5, will he feel confident completing his description
with 4 over 3NT? I'd feel bad since opener could easily be 2=2=6=3.
Worse, say responder is 5=5=1=2; now he'd be nervous that opener will
run to 5 over 4.
Fine, so you raise 3 to 4, figuring that partner, if 5-4, must have
strong suits to bother suggesting hearts as an alternative when opener
has already denied 4 of them with his failure to reverse.
Oh, but then responder was just trying for 3NT and showing weakness in
clubs (spades are assumed to be a "safe" suit for notrump play -- it
would be just too difficult otherwise!). Ok, you have clubs sort of
covered, but you'd much rather partner play it when he has Qx. So you
try 3 over 3, hoping partner will bid 3NT with a partial stopper.
Even if partner raises 3 to 4, this 5-2 may play very well.
But what about partner's going slamming? He'll think your 3 was
completing the description of a very strong 3-card raise. Uh-oh.
Given the landmines scattered about, I think I'll go back to my initial
choice of 3NT. It's very likely to make no matter what partner has,
and it covers most of your bases most of the time.
If partner is slamming, he can easily continue over it with 4 or even
4NT, and you can then consider a natural continuation such as 4 over
4. 3NT is imperfect, but possibly less fraught with the danger of the
partnership derailing than are the other choices[*].
[*] On the other hand, who the hell am I to use such authorative,
conclusive language? I mostly want to see what others have to
say about this hand.
- JEFF WHEN READING THE ARTICLE
3NT, what's the problem? Partner has
asked for a club stop and I have one. If he has 5-5 in the
majors, he'll bid again or not and his judgment will probably
let us get to the right contract.
Not all who think partner is showing shape want to play hearts.
It's frightening to think just how close I was to
playing bridge 20 years ago.
I guess I'll bid 4 now. I like my hand a lot, but I don't
know which red suit should be trumps. I'd like to bid 4
forward-going hearts, but no way does 4 show this strong a
hand (meaning in a fitting-with-partner sort of way, not in a
pure strength sort of way).
4. Could this be natural? No, if I wanted to suggest playing in clubs
opposite length in the majors then I would have done it earlier. So 4
is a cue bid but for what? I would have reversed to 2 instead of
jumping to 3 with four hearts. I would have bid 3 with three spades or
jumped to 4 with strong spades. By eliminating all the things I can't
have, we are (I hope) left with what I do have... support for both
majors, a useful hand and plenty of choices regarding the final contract.
Just about every time I see a 1m-1x, 3m... auction, it makes me think
that an artificial 2 rebid (as in Cole) offers really useful assistance
in getting to the best contract.
[I agree somewhat, but the other similar auctions aren't as bad
as this one. If partner's major is hearts, we have a free 3
bid clearly for stoppers. If we opened 1, we have both new
suits below 3NT...maybe 1-1; 3-3 should be artificial,
asking for stoppers: 3 = hearts, 3 = diamonds, 3NT = both?
That way, 3 could be natural and forcing as is 3. Hmm...I
really like it. We could also roll other hands into 3 that
plan to bid past 3NT. We have to be careful and define which
auctions show stopper problems and which are slam tries, but
this could be useful. Anyway, this is the only one of the
four 1m-1M; 3m auctions that nails us thoroughly. If 2 were
Cole, then we couldn't have 3-card spade support. Is that
sufficient here to solve our problem? --Jeff]
I bid 4 clubs, participating in a cue bidding auction and/or partner
will clue me in on his 6/5 or 5/5 hand with minimum values. Partner
takes control over 4 clubs with slam interest so if he bids his major
again I pass. For the record I would have rebid 2nt over 1 spade
playing Match Points.
At the table, I would probably bid 4 which should be a
cue bid in support of Hearts. The key point of this problem as I see it is
can I realistically have 4 hearts after my jump rebid of 3. I would think
that I would reverse into 2 instead of bidding 3 if I had a good 6-4 hand.
Now, twenty years ago (I wasn't two but may have been gurgling anyway) I was
playing bridge (some of my partners may have disagreed) and I seem to recall
that reverses required more values in those days, just like opening bids
. So if partner does not expect me to have four hearts, they ought to
have five of them unless they are just showing a stopper for 3NT (?) without
club cards. In any event, I think my hand is too good to just bid 4 so I am
making what I hope partner will read as an advance cuebid.
4. The choices I rank as possible are 3NT,4,4. Both
3NT and 4 seem inferior. The hand seems oriented
to play well in the 4-3 fit.
About a third do not know which type of hand he has and waffle for
My bid is 3:
Partner seems to have either a problem with the club suit or he is at least
5-5 as I already denied a 4-card heart suit. From here on every bid could be
right: 3, 3NT or 4. To my mind 3 is the winner. I don't think I want
to play 3NT as I need to get to dummy twice fast, if a club stopper and
the K is missing. If I can choose between the 5-2 fit in and
the 4-3 fit in I choose the 5-2 fit, so I bid 3. I will continue
over 3NT with 4 and pass a 4 rebid.
3 at any form of scoring. I think 3 is forcing to game and may be suspect;
would rather raise spades on Kx than play in a 3-3 heart fit.
3. Bidding 3N myself is too unilateral; in a perfect world,
partner will be able to bid it so we get there from the right
side. [Dreamer. Besides, if pard has J10x, we are the right side.
But we assumed that --Jeff] Hopefully he will know that I might have
only 2 spades for this bid, and since he has already shown 5, can
bid 3N knowing I will correct with certain hands with 3 card support.
(Or is that too convoluted?) [No, but optimistic. Partners have
this habit of bidding the obvious game or cue bidding towards slam
once they think they have found a fit. --Jeff] At MPs I would be
more tempted just to try 3N myself. As a side comment, though I
think 2N would be a better bid last round, 1-1;2N-3 leaves us
with more or less the same problem. [No, it's a different problem.
Presumably, we have one- or two-way checkback available, so 3 is
natural and forcing. Length minimum depends on methods. One
of our current problems becomes a non-problem, because we have
no way to ferret out unstopped suits after this start. --Jeff]
I would bid 3 spades. I think I have too much major suit stuff
to discourage partner with 3NT.
Besides, one club stopper may well be insufficient.
[Maybe that's what partner is thinking? --Jeff]
All we need is another 3NTer to produce a perfect 3-way split!
...found him! Joel send in answers a bit late, but I was really
hoping for a strong three-suiter (4441)!
- JEFF UPON REFLECTION
I'm not fond of the 3 waffle. I think we
should be playing in hearts, diamonds or notrump. Partner
would not introduce a weakish 4-card heart suit intending
to play hearts; if he has only, say K10xx, he won't let us
play hearts no matter what. Therefore, if we are going to
look for a major suit contract, we should raise heats
vigorously via 4. We are dreaming if we expect partner to
bid 3NT with the K or a club stop. There's no way; he's
going to think you have three spades if you bid 3 in tempo.
If you don't, he probably can't bid 3NT, so the waffle
effectively buries 3NT.
So I think we have to decide. If partner has a major
two-suiter, he may bid again over 3NT, particularly if
he has a good hand or Kx. He may be forced to pass,
particularly if we bid 3NT slowly with, say, Axxxx K10xxx x Jx.
I don't think I would, but it could well be right to play 3NT.
That won't be a good result for us against that hand. If he
has the stopper hand, he'll either try 4 with a good spade
suit, or more likely, bid 5. It's unlikely that we'd have
a shot at a good matchpoint result in 5; we probably have to
bid six to have a chance at a decent score. And make it.
There's some hope---if he has the hand I started with, slightly
tinkered: J10xxx AKxx Kx xx, 6 is on a hook.
So, I think it comes down to the fact that we have to commit
ourselves. If we commit with 3NT and are wrong, (1) partner
may correct, and (2) 3NT might win the board anyway. If we
commit by raising hearts and are wrong, we'd better be making 6.
If the scoring is IMPs, going past 3NT is less dangerous, as 5
or 4 is almost certainly playable, if, perhaps, inferior.
On the other hand, I think it's substantially more likely that
partner has the majors (there was no low-level overcall in
hearts and some partners just bid 3NT with hearts stopped
in this auction) than a stopper. So it comes down to judgment
as to whether the chance of recovery plus the chance of partner's
having the 3NT hand outweight the chance of his having the major
suit hand. I have no idea which is better.
I'm pretty sure 3 is the wrong choice. Either 4 or 3NT is
right. Most of the panel feels strongly one way or the other.
And are split right down the middle!
In 1981, half of the panel voted for 3. The next largest
chunk bid 4; almost none bid 4. Four panelists, including Rubens,
the moderator, bid 3NT. Rubens felt very strongly about his choice
and was astounded at the panel's vote. I was, too, and feel much
better about our vote. A 3-way split seems quite reasonable, and
4 is clearly superior to 4. By the way, I don't belive that it's
a cue bid, just a strong raise to 4. 4 might be a "nothing"
raise, the only available call, so 4 must be bid on any hand
that really likes hearts. If we have spades and a good hand,
we can bid 3 and cooperate later. This shows why 3 is so
dangerous---further actions by partner are cue bids not
natural bids. I'm not sure we can ever get back to hearts
after choosing spades here. Should we pass 4 if he bids it,
as many plan to do? Depends on whether 4 is a cue bid or
to play. Do we really want to have to solve that problem too?
Richard Lesko also sent in an answer, but I lost it. Sorry.
March 25, 1999