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Superacceptance of Jacoby Transfers
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Superaccepts are a useful and popular adjunct to Jacoby Transfers. The original notion was that after a transfer, a superaccept showed a hand that had reevaluated so well that game might make opposite many responding hands that would pass a simple accept. Assuming a 15-17 opening 1NT, here are some examples:

W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
3

xx, Axxxx, AKx, AJT

xx, QTxx, AKJx, AKx

Ax, JT9x, AKxxx, Ax

These hands all have play for game opposite as little as: xxx, Kxxxx, xx, xxx. You certainly want to be in game if partner has: xxx, Kxxxx, Qx, xxx.  On all of the given hands, it's easy to see why driving to 3M makes sense.  The risk of going down in 3M is small, while the risk of missing a game by bidding only 2M is large.


The Law of Total Tricks Superaccept

Marty Bergen was the first writer to promote the idea of superaccepting on weaker hands. Marty argued that the Law of Total Tricks (LOTT) suggests that the three-level would be safe any time we had a 9+ card fit, and therefore opener should superaccept on all, or virtually all, hands holding four-card support. In Marty's style, opener superaccepts on two classes of hands: true superaccepts like the examples above, and nuisance superaccepts (4 trumps with a minimum).

Marty recognized that for accurate game bidding, it was important to have different paths to 3M to distinguish the two hand types.  He proposed this structure:

1NT (P) transfer (P) ?

  • 3M = 4 trumps, minimum
  • 2NT  = 4 trumps, maximum with 4-3-3-3
  • 3X = 4 trumps, maximum and a doubleton in the bid suit

While his ideas did help us see the value of the 9th trump, I have come to believe that automatically superaccepting with 4 trumps is misguided. Marty argued (correctly) that in competitive auctions, possession of the 9th trump is the single most important factor in determining when it is right to compete to the 3-level. However, when he wrote about superaccepts, Marty extended that reasoning to non-competitive auctions. When both LHO and RHO have passed, the chance that the opponents will threaten your 2M part score by balancing is only moderate, so superaccepting willy-nilly risks getting too high without cause. 

As a young player, bidding as high and as often as possible appealed to my aggression, and I adopted Marty's advice enthusiastically, with distinctly mixed results. Many times I bid to 3M, down one, which looked okay, since the opponents could make 3m.  However, I'd find that I'd only get 2 out of 12 matchpoints when most of the field was allowed to play 2M, making two. What went wrong?

Suppose that the opponents promised never to balance after your transfer auction. Would it still be right to superaccept on all hands with four-card support? Clearly not. Superaccepting greatly increases the risk of going down in a partial when responder is weak. It is silly to voluntarily turn a plus into a minus before there is pressure from opponents. In my real-world experience, players balance after a transfer auction perhaps 1 in 3. So 2/3 of the time that I nuisance superaccepted, I was endangering my plus score for no reason. What about the remaining 1/3?

Suppose you hold 4-card support and a non-max and bid only 2M, and the opponents do balance. How much of a threat is this really? If the opponent's fit is in a minor, you can always bid 3M after they balance, reaching the same spot after a superaccept. Unless they can make 4m, your passivity cost you nothing. Thus, even when it was technically "right" to nuisance superaccept, the tactic often gained nothing. The one exception occurs when responder's suit is hearts, and opener fears an opposing spade partial (perhaps opener has a doubleton spade or 3 small). In this case, the chance of opponents being able to out-compete you successfully is high enough to make the nuisance superaccept attractive. 

When to Superaccept

Competitive part-score bidding can be reduced to three cases:

1. Both contracts make

2. One contract makes

3. Both contracts fail

In case 1, we must bid on. In case 2, it does not matter (much) whether we bid on or defend, as we collect a small plus (or small minus) regardless of what we do. In case 3, we must defend. 

Ideally, we'd only make a nuisance superaccept in case 1 (i.e., we can make 3M, and they can make something too). If either side could go down, automatically pushing to the three-level has a low upside (case 2), and risks being negative when the opponents can't make anything either (case 3). This leads us to two principles that will guide our superaccept actions.

We want to superaccept when:

  • our offense is good, so we are likely to make our 3M contract
  • our defense is limited, so if partner is weak, the opponents are likely to make a contract 

From these two principles, we derive some specific rules for guiding our nuisance superaccepts:

Rule 1: Super-accept with hearts more often than with spades, and especially with a doubleton spade.

For the opponents to make something, they will have to outbid us. If they outbid us in a minor, they are forced a level higher, and consequently their chances of making their contract are less than if they can outbid us at the same level. When we have the spade suit, we can always wait for the opponents to compete at the 3-level and then bid on to 3 if we wish. When our suit is hearts, we must fear that opponents can make 2 or even 3. This fear is greatest when we hold short spades, so an opener holding 4 hearts and a doubleton spade has the optimal shape for a nuisance superaccept, trying to keep opponents from getting to 3.

Rule 2: Superaccept with known working values. We are far more likely to make something if our high cards are working. 

Rule 3: Always superaccept with 5 trumps. With a 10-card fit, chances are high the opponents can and will balance.

Rule 4: Never superaccept with a 4-3-3-3 shape. With 3-3-3 side shape, your offensive potential is reduced by almost a full trick. Your risk of going down is too high. Even with a max, I rarely superaccept when I'm 4-3-3-3.

Rule 5: Rarely superaccept with too many high cards of uncertain worth. For example: Qx, AKxx, KJx, QJxx. This hand has 16 HCP, but facing a weak responder, some or all of the outside high cards will not take tricks on offense. However those cards might produce a defensive trick. Your risk of going down in 3M is relatively high and worse you might get a plus on defense.

A couple of examples illustrate these rules: 

Hand 1: xx, QJxx, AKxx, Axx (14 HCP)

Hand 2: Qx, AKxx, KJx, QJxx (16 HCP)

Assume you are playing a 15-17 1NT opening, and a bracing ocean breeze has caused you to open 1NT a point light on hand 1. You should still superaccept! If you superaccept and go down, chances are excellent opponents were making something. On hand 2, your soft values require responder to have fitting cards to achieve their potential. If partner is weak, you can take it to the bank that some of your high cards will have no value on offense. However, they may have value on defense. With less offense and more defense, you make a simple accept with hand 2.

The key notion is known working high cards. When responder is weak, soft outside cards will frequently have no value. If your QJxx faces xxx, and the opponents start with AK and a ruff, then your 15 count was just reduced to 12. So reserve your superaccepts for hands with high cards that are sure to contribute, rather than on those that only have speculative value.

 

When to Make a True Superaccept

What about the maximum superaccept? How should you decide when your hand is a max? Again, the most important factor is working high cards. A pure, working 16 is worth a maximum superaccept. A soft 17 is not. The extra point is far less important than whether your values are working. So when considering a maximum superaccept, look for hands rich in aces and kings, where secondary values lie in partner's suit. For example:

Hand 1: xx, QJxx, AKQx, Axx (16 HCP)

Hand 2: Qx, AKJx, KJx, QJxx (17 HCP)

Hand 1 is an easy superaccept. Hand 2 should just make a simple accept.

 

 

How to Superaccept

Now that we've covered when you should superaccept, how should you go about it?  The methods must differentiate strong superaccepts from nuisance superaccepts. I propose the following:

1NT (P) transfer (P) ?

  •   3M = a nuisance superaccept 
  •   2M+1 = a strong superaccept (For example: 1NT-2-2 or 1NT-2-2NT)

After a strong superaccept: responder's next step asks for a doubleton. Responder uses this only when the information will be helpful. If you are simply going to game or signing off, then skip it. Use it when you have game or slam invitational values only. Bergen's structure, where opener always shows a doubleton, is useful when responder has an invitational hand. However, it also gives information to the defenders. By using a relay that conceals the location of the doubleton, responder can ask for that information when he needs it, and can place the contract when he does not.

If responder's major has not been bid, responder can retransfer at the 3-level to ask opener to accept the transfer.  Here are several examples to illustrate the idea:

Example 1:

W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
P
P

2 = transfer

2 = true superaccept

3 = retransfer to hearts

3 = accepting retransfer

4 = responder wants to play in game and has no slam interest.

Example 2:

W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
3
P
3
P
P
P

2 = transfer

2 = superaccept

2NT = asking for doubleton

3 = doubleton club

3 = transfer to hearts

3 = accepting retransfer

P = responder disliked his hand after hearing the doubleton club.

Example 3:

W
N
E
S
1NT
P
2
P
2
P
2NT
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
P
P

2 = transfer

2 = superaccept

2NT = asking for doubleton

3 = doubleton diamond

4 = transfer to hearts

4 = accepting retransfer


Conclusion

In a competitive auction, you must often risk a minus score by overbidding.  In a constructive auction, you expect that passive bidding will earn you a small plus. The only reason to risk that plus is for a larger one (via a game or slam bonus). So superaccept only when:

1. There is a reasonable chance of a game opposite a hand that would pass a simple accept

2. Even though game is not that likely, there is a significant danger the opponents can compete effectively by balancing.

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