We moved recently, and not surprisingly “found” many long lost items. Thus I re-discovered a long forgotten book by Kelsey – Match-Point Bridge. Of course, I re-read it.
Early on, Kelsey discusses “The First Blow” and he gives the following two hands as examples of “an opening bid at any vulnerability and any position by successful pairs players”:
(a) ♠:AT952; ♥:A9842; ♦:T5; ♣:6
(b) ♠:KJT763; ♥:4; ♦:A754; ♣:83
noting that in both examples the spade suit is held; and in referring to the spade suit as The Boss Suit, Kelsey adds, “on borderline hands this always plays a big part in determining whether to open the bidding”.
A couple of months ago, playing in a strong team game on BBO, I held ♠: x; ♥:ATxxx; ♦:Kxx;♣:K9xx and in 1st position opened 1♥. Partner had a good hand with heart support and I was soon in 6♥. The contract was hardly laydown, but with the help of the lead, a finesse and a squeeze, 6♥ came home. Despite this excellent result partner, an expert from Sweden, was not impressed with my 1♥ opening and there was some discussion of it. My RHO, an international from India, agreed with my 1♥ opening but added that he would not open the hand if the major holdings were reversed.
What! Pass with the boss suit? Heresy!
I took this hand to my local gurus who all said they would not open my hand 1♥, but when I reversed the major holdings some did agree they would open 1♠. Instead of clarity I was getting confusion.
I sat down to think this out and it struck me that if you open 1♠ a possible continuation is a 2♥ overcall by LHO perhaps followed by a negative double by partner; or, if LHO passes, partner could respond 2♥. Now what? In both cases, your choices are not very palatable. However, if you open 1♥ neither LHO’s 1♠ overcall nor partner’s 1♠ response is as embarrassing.
Could it be that Kelsey is mistaken about opening 1♠ on marginal hands?
Then, as one of my gurus pointed out, with a marginal hand you can come in subsequently without as much jeopardy if you hold the spade suit than if you hold the heart suit. Thus, if you have passed originally and the auction is dying out, most of us would bid 2♠ over 2♥, whereas most of us would be a lot more cautious about 3♥ over 2♠.
Maybe Kelsey is not right about opening 1♠ on marginal hands!
With these thoughts swirling through my mind, I couldn’t help but wonder if bridge writers and bidding theorists have been short-changing the heart suit.
Consider the 1NT question. It is now common to include 5-card majors in 1NT openings, and even here hearts is considered the problem suit. Players, especially playing 2/1, are more likely to open 1NT with a 5-card heart suit than with a 5-card spade suit since they fear being passed out in 2 of a minor in the auction 1♥-1♠-2m. Surely, if partner passes out 2m, we have not missed anything. And haven’t all our partners been trained by now to give a “courtesy” raise on 8 HCP so we can bid 3NT on our 15-17 HCP?
Yes, the spade suit is the “boss” when the suit is rebiddable (Kelsey’s hand (b) above) or when you have a rebiddable side suit (Kelsey’s hand (a) above). Note also that the heart suit is the most effective second suit.) Absent these two conditions, when you open marginal hands and the auction gets competitive, opening the spade suit may be an embarrassment.
It's high time we give the heart suit its due!
What does the community think?
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