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Evaluating for Slam 5: Jacoby 2NT Auctions
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My last article used Short Suit Total (SST) analysis to examine splinter auctions. The Short Suit Total is the number of cards held in the partnership's two shortest suits. You can estimate the working high card points required to make a slam using the SST and this simple formula:

 

Working HCP needed for slam: 20 + 3 * (SST-1)

For example, if the SST is 4, then the partnership will require: 20 + 3 * (4 - 1) = around 29 working HCP to make a slam. (If math is not your strong suit, review my last article to learn more.)

If your partner's bid describes his HCP within a 3-HCP range and describes his shape (as a splinter does), it becomes easy to:

  • calculate the HCP needed for slam using the SST
  • add up the actual working HCP held by the partnership
  • compare the two numbers

This method provides an easy way to see if the partnership is in the slam zone in many auctions. This article is the first of three to apply SST analysis to Jacoby 2NT auctions (J2N). It will examine tuning the bidding after J2N to make finding the slam zone easier. J2N is a different animal than a splinter and the bidding approach after J2N is quite different. Before we delve into J2N, let's contrast J2N with splinter raises to see why.

J2N versus Splinter 

A splinter raise communicates all the information opener needs to judge when the partnership is in the slam zone: responder's specific shape and his high card range. From this info opener can identify:

  • Working HCP the partnership needs for slam (by calculating the SST)
  • Working HCP the partnership holds (by adding his own working HCP to partner's range)

Finding the slam zone is a piece of cake when you know that the partnership needs 26 working HCP to make a slam and in fact holds 25-27 working HCP. This is the beauty and brilliance of the splinter raise--all the information needed to spot the slam zone is packed in one bid. Now let's consider the problem of locating the slam zone in a J2N auction: 

W
N
E
S
1
P
2NT
P
?

  • Can opener tell the partnership's SST? Not when he does not know whether partner holds shortness or where it lies.
  • Does opener know how many working HCP the partnership has? Not when responder might have 12 or 20 HCP (some of which could be wasted).
  • Can opener know which of his own cards are working? Not when responder might hold a singleton opposite any of his side suits. 

In short, after a J2N raise, opener has no clue whether the partnership is in the slam zone. The J2N raise simply does not carry the same amount of information that a splinter bid does.

So how to continue the auction? Before we can consider a slam, one of the partners will need to describe his shape and values more precisely. But who? When faced with an uninformative J2N raise, opener should describe his own hand rather than try to take over. Opener should communicate enough information that responder can accurately judge the SST and working HCP for the partnership (and hence whether the partnership is or is not in the slam zone).

Andrew's first guideline: After a J2N raise, unless opener is very strong and can take over, opener describes his hand and responder makes the decisions.


Responding to J2N

Let's take a look at the traditional J2N responses in the context of slam analysis. As I'll show, they make it difficult for responder to perform an SST analysis at the table. I'll propose some minor improvements that will help tremendously. However, let's start with this familiar structure

1M -- 2NT -- ?

3 new suit    =     shortness in this suit, 11+ HCP

3M              =     No shortness, 16+ HCP

3NT             =     No shortness, 14-15 HCP

4 new suit    =      A good 5-card suit, 11+ HCP (e.g, AQJxx, x, KQJxx, xx)

4M              =      No shortness, 11-13 HCP

 

Evaluating the Traditional J2N Responses

Recall that after J2N opener's bidding goal is to describe his shape and values well enough that responder can estimate the SST and working HCP for the partnership. Do these responses to J2N provide enough information? Unfortunately they do not. Responder will have two significant problems if your methods end with the above responses:

  • Determining SST. The 3M and 3NT calls do not distinguish balanced from semi-balanced patterns. If opener has one or two doubletons, does the location of those short suits matter in determining SST? (Yes!) Will responder be able to tell the SST reliably? (No!)
     
  • Estimating Working HCP. After opener's shortness responses, opener has not limited his values; responder will not know how many working HCP the partnership holds.

Determining SST

Let's look at the SST in some typical J2N auctions.

---

4-4-3-2   (Responder)

5-2-3-3   (Opener)

Opener has a dull 5-2-3-3 shape, responder holds a 4-4-3-2 pattern, typical for J2N. The SST for the partnership is 4, 2 for responder's club doubleton and 2 for opener's heart doubleton. With an SST of 4, around 29 working HCP are required for a slam.

 

---

4-4-3-2   (Responder)

5-3-3-2   (Opener)

This time opener's doubleton is in clubs facing responder's doubleton. With opener's doubleton wasted, the SST is 5: 2 for the doubleton and 3 for the tripleton. With an SST of 5, slam needs approximately 32 combined HCP. Straight away we see a problem with the traditional responding scheme. Since responder knows only that opener is balanced or semi-balanced and does not know the location of opener's doubleton, he can not diagnose this unfortunate duplication of shortness. 

 

---

4-4-3-2    (Responder)

6-2-2-3    (Opener)

What happens to SST when opener holds a semi-balanced pattern? With doubletons in two suits, (three actually) the SST is 4, which suggests slam should need around 29 working HCP. But if that is so, how can we explain this hand:

North
Kxxx
Axx
AQxx
xx
South
Axxxxx
xx
Kx
Axx
W
N
E
S
1
P
2NT
P
4
P
P
P

Only 24 working HCP, yet slam is excellent. Two factors have driven down the HCP requirements from 29 to 24:

  • Three working doubletons reduced the SST. Adding the third doubleton had the same effect as converting one of two working doubletons into a singleton. A deal with 3 working doubletons should be treated as having an SST of 3, not 4.
  • A 10-card trump fit made the QJ of trumps unnecessary and further reduced HCP requirements.

Lets see what happens if we change a small into a small .

North
Kxxx
Axx
AQxx
xx
South
Axxxx
xx
Kxx
Axx
W
N
E
S
1
P
2NT
P
4
P
P
P

This time, we need a 2-2 trump break (40%) to even make 5. Moving one small card from spades to diamonds has reduced the combined trick-taking power by about 1.5 tricks! When opener is 5-2-3-3 the SST is 4. To compensate, we need an extra king. With only a 9-card trump fit, we need the queen of trumps in addition to solidify the trump suit. In other words, we need an additional 5 working HCP (bringing the total from 24 back to 29 HCP) to make slam with the less powerful 5-2-3-3 shape.

Clearly, the 6-2-2-3 shape was much more powerful than 5-2-3-3 and using the same calls (3M, 3NT, 4M) to show semi-balanced and balanced hands makes it impossible for responder to tell the SST accurately in many auctions. Without knowing the SST, it will be easy to miss a light slam based on three working doubletons. We may also overbid to a bad slam when the SST is 5 because the partnership holds wasted shortness.

 

An Improvement to J2N Responses

Our brief exploration of balanced hands has shown how SST ranges from 3 (with three working doubletons) to 5 with one working doubleton. Let's make one small change to our J2N structure to help us sort out opener's exact pattern:

1M -- 2NT -- ?

3M           =   2 + doubletons and 14+ HCP
3M now shows specifically the semi-balanced patterns: 5-4-2-2, 6-3-2-2, and 7-2-2-2. 

We will also need to tweak our responding structure a bit to ferret out the location of the doubletons in opener's hand. Over opener's 3M, the cheapest call will ask for opener's side suit (or fragment). Opener can name a second suit or return to our suit with 7-2-2-2 shape. Responder will then know the location of all doubletons and hence the short suit total exactly. 

North
Kxxx
AJx
Axxx
xx
South
AQxxx
xx
KQxx
Ax
W
N
E
S
1
P
2NT
P
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
When opener shows diamonds as his second suit, responder can tell his doubleton is wasted and the SST is 4. Since slam will require about 29 working HCP and he holds only 12, he signs off in 4. There is something else interesting about this hand. While 6 has absolutely no play 6 is a reasonable slam, needing only a 3-2 break. When played in the 4-4 fit, the 5th spades provides a pitch for a losing in responder's hand that makes slam possible. It becomes possible to consider slam in the 4-4 when opener can describe this hand type.

North
Kxxx
AJx
Axxx
xx
South
AQxxx
Qx
Kx
AQxx
W
N
E
S
1
P
2NT
P
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
?
This time the magic 3 doubletons were found. Since opener showed 14+ HCP by bidding 3M, the partnership is in the slam zone and responder can afford to make a slam try. With 17, opener is easily worth cooperating and a good slam needing one of two finesses will be reached.

 

3NT          =  one doubleton and 17-19 HCP
3NT shows specifically 5-3-3-2 patterns. Since 11-14 balanced hands rebid 4M and 15-17 balanced hands open 1NT rather than 1M, 3NT can be restricted to the 17-19 HCP range. Over 3NT, responder can bid 4 to ask for the doubleton if he needs to know the exact SST.

North
Kxxx
AJx
Axxx
xx
South
AQxxx
KQx
KQx
Qx
W
N
E
S
1
P
2NT
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
P
P
Yuck. Responder's doubleton is wasted. With an SST of 5, slam will need approximately 32 working HCP. Even though partner has shown 17-19, a conservative pass is best.

 

Conclusion

  1. After J2N responder is the captain. Unless he is very strong, opener should describe his shape and limit his values. Responder should make the decisions to sign-off or try for slam, except in unusual circumstances.
     
  2. Standard J2N responses often do a poor job of describing opener's shape. The location of a doubleton may change the SST by 1, hence it is important for responder to discover opener's exact pattern if he wants to know the SST exactly.
     
  3. With one small change to the standard J2N responses, using 1M -- 2NT -- 3M as showing semi-balanced patterns, responder can diagnose opener's exact shape when opener has no singleton and accurately calculate the SST.

 

You may have noticed an odd absence in my description of these auctions--no cuebids! Never fear, cuebids have their place and my next article will discuss when cuebids are and are not appropriate after a J2N auction.

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