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

 S:Kx H:QJx D:AQJ10xx C:Ax

You Partner
1D: 1S:
3D: 3H:

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 see.

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). 3D: 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

Today's panelists: Steve Altus, Andy Lewis, Brian Oxley, Ed Davis, Gary Soules, Kent Hartman, David Milton, Robb Gordon, Roberto Scaramuzzi, Bobby Bodenheimer, Joel Wooldridge, and Rolf Kühn,

The basic problem is "what does partner have?" Does he have a balanced hand with hearts well-stopped, but nothing in clubs (e.g.  S:J10xx H:AKx D:Kxx C:xxx) or maybe nowhere good to go other than 3NT, but with inadequate club stops (e.g.  S:J10xxx H:AKx D:xx C:Qxx or  S:Qxxxxx H:AKx D:xx C:J10x)?...

I think 3H: is stopper-showing, so I'll bid 3N.

3S: as a punt might be more useful, but I think it shows 3-card support here. [I like "3S: 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  S:AJTxx H:Txxx D:Kx C:xx, we could easily get to 4S: or 4H: 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 bid.

Say partner is 5-5, will he feel confident completing his description with 4H: 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 5C: over 4H:.

Fine, so you raise 3H: to 4H:, 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 3S: over 3H:, hoping partner will bid 3NT with a partial stopper. Even if partner raises 3S: to 4S:, this 5-2 may play very well.

But what about partner's going slamming? He'll think your 3S: 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 4D: or even 4NT, and you can then consider a natural continuation such as 4S: over 4D:. 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.

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.
...Or is 3H: 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:
It's frightening to think just how close I was to playing bridge 20 years ago.

I guess I'll bid 4C: 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 4H: show this strong a hand (meaning in a fitting-with-partner sort of way, not in a pure strength sort of way).

4C:. 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 4C: is a cue bid but for what? I would have reversed to 2H: instead of jumping to 3D: with four hearts. I would have bid 3S: with three spades or jumped to 4S: 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 2C: 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 3S: bid clearly for stoppers. If we opened 1C:, we have both new suits below 3NT...maybe 1C:-1S:; 3C:-3D: should be artificial, asking for stoppers: 3H: = hearts, 3S: = diamonds, 3NT = both? That way, 3H: could be natural and forcing as is 3S:. Hmm...I really like it. We could also roll other hands into 3D: 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 2C: 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 4C: 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 3D:. I would think that I would reverse into 2H: instead of bidding 3D: 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 4H: so I am making what I hope partner will read as an advance cuebid.
4H:. The choices I rank as possible are 3NT,4D:,4H:. Both 3NT and 4D: seem inferior. The hand seems oriented to play well in the 4-3 fit.
Not all who think partner is showing shape want to play hearts.
My bid is 3S:: 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: 3S:, 3NT or 4H:. To my mind 3S: 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 D:K is missing. If I can choose between the 5-2 fit in S: and the 4-3 fit in H: I choose the 5-2 fit, so I bid 3S:. I will continue over 3NT with 4H: and pass a 4H: rebid.
About a third do not know which type of hand he has and waffle for various reasons...
3S: at any form of scoring. I think 3H: is forcing to game and may be suspect; would rather raise spades on Kx than play in a 3-3 heart fit.
3S:. 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 C: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, 1D:-1S:;2N-3H: 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 3H: 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)!

I'm not fond of the 3S: 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 4C:. We are dreaming if we expect partner to bid 3NT with the D:K or a club stop. There's no way; he's going to think you have three spades if you bid 3S: 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 D:Kx. He may be forced to pass, particularly if we bid 3NT slowly with, say,  S:Axxxx H:K10xxx D:x C: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 4S: with a good spade suit, or more likely, bid 5D:. It's unlikely that we'd have a shot at a good matchpoint result in 5D:; 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:  S:J10xxx H:AKxx D:Kx C:xx, 6D: 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 6D:. If the scoring is IMPs, going past 3NT is less dangerous, as 5D: or 4H: 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 3S: is the wrong choice. Either 4C: 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 3S:. The next largest chunk bid 4H:; almost none bid 4C:. 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 4C is clearly superior to 4H:. By the way, I don't belive that it's a cue bid, just a strong raise to 4H:. 4H: might be a "nothing" raise, the only available call, so 4C: must be bid on any hand that really likes hearts. If we have spades and a good hand, we can bid 3S: and cooperate later. This shows why 3S: 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 4H: if he bids it, as many plan to do? Depends on whether 4H: 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.

Jeff Goldsmith, jeff@tintin.jpl.nasa.gov, March 25, 1999