One from the Riverside Sectional Swiss: Answers

Today's Panelists: David Caprera, Len Vishnevsky, Robb Gordon, David Weiss, Ed Davis, Barry Rigal, Mike Shuster, Chris Willenken, Marshall Miles

IMPs, both red, short matches. You hold

 S:Kxx H:AJxxx D:Kxx C:xx

The bidding goes

3C:3D: (do you?)

a) do you bid 3D:? If not, what?
b) what now?

(a) was a bust. Everyone bid 3D:. I think it's a close call, personally; bidding 4D: will get the hand off your chest, and diamonds is very likely to be a good strain. But everyone bid 3D::

3D: is clear.
I suppose. I guess 4D: would show something like  S:xx H:AJxxx D:Q10xx C:xx, and this certainly worked out well, finding out about the hearts so low. [Yes, that looks like a normal 4D: bid—good diamonds, tricks, not necessarily so much hand. --Jeff]
I do.
I agree with 3D:.
Yes, 3D: is truly surpassingly obvious, and anything else would be a grave mistake.
I emphatically agree with 3D:.
I think I would have bid 3D:, but upon reconsideration, I like 4D: better; then I'm through (no further aggressive action).

Thereafter, everyone diverged. Turns out the main reason for that is that folks don't agree on what's going on. Some think that 3H: promises three-card support. Some think honor-doubleton is plenty.

I don't believe that 3H: guaranteed a third heart. I would bid 3H: with  S:Qx H:Kx D:AQJ10x C:AKxx.
Partner's number of hearts is uncertain, though, because he could have, say,  S:xx H:KQx D:AQxx C:AKJx, where hearts is the right strain, or  S:xx H:Kx D:AQJxx C:AKQx, where diamonds is best.

The rest don't say, but most show examples with three hearts. On a related note, what would 4H: have shown here? Some think it's sure to be 4-card support, a hand "too good to splinter," but some think otherwise. DavidW expressly states that he thinks 4H: by partner is normal with three good hearts. He finds a raise or opens 2C: with four hearts.

My preference at that point would be 4H:, not 3H:...

Many of the panel think that 3S: now sets hearts as trumps. Those who think that 3H: promises three think they are in a low level cue-bidding auction. Their auctions are going to be pretty good. More of the panel, however, thinks 3S: is either a choice of games, the S:A, a probe for the right strain, "a wiggle," or "a noise." In other words, there's about even less agreement on what 3S: means as there is on how many hearts partner has shown so far.

3S: is unquestionably a cuebid.
I think 3S: sets hearts.
I think I would bid 3S: now, just to show something extra.
3S:, 4th suit at the three level.
...a noise (e.g., 3S:)
I'm worried about the ambiguity of possible continuations.

If you are sure that 3H: promises three and 3S: is a cue bid in support of hearts, it's easy. But otherwise, you have a problem.

Valuation is an issue. Most drive to slam, but some will settle in game. Partner said (and it seems reasonable) that he'd've bid 4D: over 3S:, so I asked what folks would do after that.

3H: by partner creates an ambiguity. I still don't know whether I am going to want to play H:s, D:s or NT. So, I bid 3S:, which as 4th suit at the three level is my hope that partner can do better than I can. Partner bids 4D: saying that they had better than average D:s for this auction. I think 4H: can be passed on this auction so I don't want to do that. 4NT [would be] a bad bid on my part because I am much better off describing my hand to him than I am asking for keys. 4S: should now be a cue in support of D:s. That may do it. Now partner can bid 4NT, I bid 5H: and they should be able to count 13 tricks. (If they are unsure about the S:K, they can bid 5S:. They shouldn't be at this point.)
I guess I bid 3S:. Yes, partner will expect first round control, but I think I have to make slammish noise and I'm sure Blackwood will sort it out. 4D: would reset diamonds as trump. I think 3S: sets hearts and I bid only 4H: over 4D:.
This is a slam drive. The only question is which slam?

 S:x H:KQx D:AJxxx C:AKQx belongs in 6H:.
 S:x H:Kxx D:AQJxx C:AKQx belongs in 6D:.

I'll just keep life simple with 5NT. Partner should read this as a choice between diamonds and hearts. IMO, my holdings in the red suits are completely typical for this auction. With a diamonds vs. notrump decision, I'd bid 4D: instead to let partner know that hearts are out of the picture, then bid 5NT later.

It seems like the only alternative bid is 3S:. Perhaps that is the best choice in theory (partner may raise to 4S: showing a void, and we are in potential grand slam territory), but I'm worried about the ambiguity of possible continuations. As a famed Israeli internationalist is reputed to have said, "I came here to win the tournament, not the bidding contest."

I think the way to sort this out is to bid 3S:. Then:
If he bids 3NT, I will play 6NT.

If he bids 4H:, I will KCB and if his answer permits, show that we have all the key cards and let him choose between 6 and 7 (if he has  S:A H:KQx D:AQJxx C:Axxx). [How? He bids 5D:, showing four. How do you know about the H:Q? If you bid 5S:, does that promise all the key cards or might you be looking for the safer slam between 6H: and 6NT? --Jeff]

If he bids 4C: (suggesting he doesn't know what trumps should be), I will bid 5NT to let him pick the slam.

[If he bids 4D:,] 5NT is a better call than 6D:, and it tortures him more (payback for some of the other problems!). He ought not to take that as GSF, since I could have bid 4NT to elicit that info. With two suits supported, picking the more solid one is often an issue resolvable via 5NT.
This hand looks too good to me to make a noise (e.g., 3S:) and then be willing to settle for 4H:. A typical minimum such as  S:x H:KQx D:AQxxx C:AKxx offers a good play for slam. I'd bid 4S: kickback with my hand. If that is not available, I'd probably bid 3S: and then later change my system to play kickback. This hand is a good illustration of where kickback gains (you can play 5H: rather than 5NT when opener has two KC and the H:Q). [Ed then bids 5H: over partner's 4D: continuation.]

[Kickback is not without its disadvantages. I've seen lots and lots of mixups with it. No, more mixups than that. --Jeff]

Some typical hand like  S:x H:KQx D:AQxxx C:AQxx (add a few jacks to be sure it's a jump shift if you like) and slam is pretty good. I bid Blackwood; 4S: is available.
Many difficulties, as 3S: followed by 4D: over 3NT is going to show the S:A, while 4D: now isn't forcing on general principles. It would be nice if 4NT had an obvious meaning, but all three are possible and any one of them would be useful if I knew partner knew what it meant. Ultimately, I think I'm going to drive to slam on this hand unless I get repeated sign offs, so I'll start with 3S: then over 3NT, 4D:. Now if partner bids 4NT, I'll give up, otherwise I'll try 6D:.
I bid 3S:. My S:K isn't pulling its weight, and I find it hard to think that slam could be better than iffy. But pard could have  S:x H:KQx D:AQJxx C:AKxx, for example, and I have to give him a chance. The question is whether 4D: is cooperative or just a stronger preference. But 3S: is unquestionably a cuebid, since partner has to be short and it can't be a NT probe. If pard bids 4C: and now I bid 4D:, he will know I am showing a card. If pard can't bid 4C:, I will check out.

[Over 4D:] 4H:. As I said, if pard can't bid 4C:, I will check out. In my style, partner basically denied the C:A. I am not saying my style is best, but that was what my bidding was predicated upon.

I think I would bid 3S: now, just to show something extra. At matchpoints, 4H:, wich is probably where we belong if we don't get to slam. The trouble is that I would bid the same way without the king of diamonds, and partner may think I have the S:A. If partner has  S:x H:Kx D:AQJxxx C:AKJx we will miss a good slam.
[4D:] probably means he is 0-3-6-4. I still think diamonds are going to play better — I don't want to ruff spades with high trumps. I guess I have to decide whether I've done enough and bid 4H: or 5D: or jump to 6D:. I think most constructs make 6D: a good bet... I'd guess to bid that. I'm afraid if I bid 5D: now, partner will play me for the S:A instead of one of my working honors and pass.
3S: then 4H: 2
3S: then 4S: 1
3S: then 5D: 1
3S: then 5H: 1
3S: then 5NT 1
3S: then 6D: 2
Blackwood 1
5NT 1

I decided calling this a consensus was a bit of a misbid. Despite folks' mostly bidding 3S:, few were on the same page either so far or thereafter.

get to 7NT. Partner had  S:A H:KQx D:AQJxxx C:Axx. The only auction I see that gets to a grand is Ed's:
Opener knows responder has five decent hearts, the D:K, and the S:K. That's 14 tops.

Everyone else gets to some small slam.

note that I'm not admitting what I bid at the table, but I can say for certain that in this partnership I had no idea what 3S: would have meant. I didn't know if partner could have two or three hearts, either. Given that this is obviously a situation in which there is no common agreement about what anything means, and knowing that we weren't on solid ground, anything I did was a crapshoot. My solution made sure that nothing really goofy happened. I'll leave it at that.

Can you get to the laydown grand intelligently? Ed's auction will get you there vs. the actual hand, but what will happen if opener only has two hearts? Might we play 6H: vs.  S:xx H:Kx D:AQJxxx C:AKQ? Maybe opener will try 6D: and we can pass. Or is that a grand slam try in hearts? Given that we don't know what our early bids mean, to feel confident that we know what our later ones specify to a great deal of precision is expecting a lot.

Can we stop short of slam when it's bad? I don't see how. The two who chose a non-forcing 4H: assumed that 3S: had set hearts as trump. Robb stopped because he thought partner had denied the C:A; he was in the throes of a misunderstanding. As, most likely, would we all be.

So all but two simply drove to slam. That's probably the right valuation; most of the time, slam will have play. The important issue, then, is getting to the right slam. Then maybe Chris' 5NT is best; if we can't come up with an intelligent way to stay out of slam when it is bad, and we can't find a grand with confidence, then why not simply focus on strain at the six-level right now? After all, 3S: will simply muddy the waters, and if we are going to guess to bid a slam and not have an intelligent auction on the way, this might get us the best result possibly achievable with confidence.

I was surprised during early discussion of the problem how many different opinions there are about a fairly simple sequence. Looks like this is one for partnership discussion.

Personally, I think 3H: should not promise three. What else can opener bid with  S:xx H:Kx D:AQJxx C:AKQx? He can't go past 3NT when that's the most likely game, and is partner really going to rebid his hearts with, say,  S:Qxx H:QJ10xx D:Kxx C:xx? I suspect that those who say that 3H: promises three would bid 3H: anyway with this hand.

I think 3S: doesn't confirm anything; it expresses doubt about strain. For the moment, the most important issue is getting to 3NT. If that's not one of the games responder has in mind, he'll bid the cheapest strain he thinks playable on the next round. Whether or not this is mainstream, I cannot say, but I think it's the most valuable meaning of 3S:. We need some bid to avoid committing when we don't have enough information, and 3S: is it.

As would DavidW, I'd've bid 4H: with partner's actual hand. With direct support, I try to show it immediately, so with the putative  S:x H:KQxx D:AKJxx C:AKx hand, "too strong to splinter," I'd just splinter anyway. My partners will have Last Train available, so if we have a slam, we'll have a shot at getting there, and I won't have to bid past game to find partner's Yarborough and go down at the 5-level. Besides, I'm tired of coming up with elaborate prepared sequences and having partner cross me up. I have a partner who happily passes 3C: on this auction from time to time; perpetrating the jump shift with a huge splinter is insanity playing with him. Even more normal partners sometimes raise clubs or jump to 4D:, making our prepared sequence as clear as mud.

Fortunately, much of the time, I'll have two splinters available, e.g. 1C:-1S:; 3D: or 4D:. I like to play that 3D: is either game invitational or a monster hand, and 4D: is just a normal game force. Then if partner signs off over 3D:, I bid game and didn't feel any reason to bid to the 5-level. With a true monster, I can make yet another slam try. If partner accepts the game invite, the five-level should be safe. Note that this approach is pretty much appeal-proof. If I bid on over partner's slow sign-off, I can't have anything resembling a marginal game force. Those who play that 4D: shows a void diamond have to miss a game sometimes when partner slowly judges to play a partscore.

After 1D:-1H:, I only have one spade splinter, and it looks like a good place to use Frivolous 3NT, but my rules say 3NT is natural. After all, I could have had  S:KQJ10 H:Jxxx D:xx C:Qxx. 4H: is probably fine, but 3NT looks completely laydown. Perhaps adding Frivolous 3NT over spade splinters even when we have only a 4-4 fit makes sense. For now, I play that 4D: there is Last Train, not a real cue. Yeah, 3NT as Last Train seems more effective.

Overall, this hand is a minefield for any but the most solid partnerships. It's probably a minefield for most of them, too.

Jeff Goldsmith, March 18, 2006