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All comments by Kit Woolsey
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Henry and Bob,

I'm not guessing about the meanings of 4 and 5. I talked to the director, and he said that both bids were explained as normal Q-bids. 4 was not any kind of RKC. 5 was not any kind of denial Q-bid.

May 16, 2011
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The guess about what 4 and 5 meant seems reasonable looking at the N-S hands, but that guess was wrong. 4 was explained as a Q-bid. 5 was also explained as a Q-bid, obviously a psychic Q-bid but he is entitled. 5 was of course a grand slam try. Apparently both players were on the same wavelength about hearts being agreed considering North's 6 choice.

In this sort of tempo sensitive situation, the opponents should never allow a fast signoff at 6 to be made without a screen huddle. Thus, if the delay were on the order of 20 or 25 seconds that would not mean anything, since it would be expected that the tray would be delayed for that long. If the delay were significantly longer, there would be unauthorized information that North was seriously thinking about doing something other than bidding 6. Whether that something was bidding a grand or trying to figure out which suit is trumps isn't totally clear, but it looks like that wasn't the issue. Since I wasn't at the table, I can only accept the director's judgment that there was a tempo break significant enough to make it clear that North had a real problem.

Should South bid the grand? North's 4 call clearly shows a secondary club suit, but does it promise 6-5? Probably not. If North's 5 Q-bid is assumed to show a diamond control that would make North's likely distribution 2-6-1-4, in which case the grand won't make unless North also has a spade card. If all this is accurate then South's 5 call should be asking North if he has something extra, and the 6 response says no.

In practice I imagine that South had sort of decided to shoot out the grand after the 5 call, but he hadn't really made up his mind so he stalled with 5. Of course this is bad practice. If South is willing to bid the grand over a signoff then he should just do so, since obviously he isn't considering an alternate strain. He was probably thinking something like: I'll punt with 5. If North does anything but bid 6, I'll bid the grand. If he bids 6, I'll reconsider. We have all been guilty of this flawed logic at some time or other. If the 6 call had come in tempo then of course South could do anything he wants. But when there is a meaningful break in tempo before the signoff, South is no longer permitted to take the inconsistent auction of making the grand slam try, hear partner's signoff, and then bid the grand. It can't be a crystal clear action or he would have bid the grand without inviting. The unauthorized information (assuming there was unauthorized information) clearly suggests bidding the grand. Therefore, the ruling is quite correct.

May 16, 2011
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Your point is well-taken. It is probably more likely that passing as opposed to bidding 6 will prevent the opponents from bidding 6, then it might well be the winning action. The question is whether the potential advantages of bidding 6 (perhaps buying it there, shutting out East's 6 Q-bid) are sufficient compensation is anybody's guess.

Of course, if the 6 call is expected to be made on a hand which would welcome a 6 call by the opponents as Geoff suggests, perhaps bidding 6 is the best way to stave off the feared 6 call.

Shall we all sit down for a friendly game of poker?
May 2, 2011
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If your double is a total “shut up partner” double then I would bet that they aren't making. For example, if you had the same hand but were 3-1-8-1 would you have doubled? Maybe you should, but I'm betting you wouldn't – particularly since the non-diamond lead you will get may swing the contract in some variations. Thus, if you are doubling without a void I'll bet you have the nuts.

Assuming you do have a void, with his club/heart length differential it is probably at least 4 to 1 that your void is in clubs. Of course, you don't have to have another trick for the double. But you might have another trick, or the ace of diamonds might live. Imagine if your hand is xx xxx KQJxxxxx – and the diamonds are 1-1. That is -1100 instead of +500. If your teammates are +650, certainly possible, the save loses 10 IMPs (-1100 vs. -650) instead of winning 15 IMPs (+500 vs. -650), for a cost of 25 fat IMPs. That's why I said he is getting at worst close to even money IMP odds on passing. He might be getting a lot better.

Suppose he has the example hand I gave but the diamonds are 2-0, yet your teammates fail to reach slam (always possible). The save is a winner, but how much does it win? You will still lose 9 IMPs (-1100 vs. -710) instead of 14 IMPs (-1660 vs. -710), so under these circumstances taking the save gains all of 5 IMPs when right. Do you really want to lay 25 to 5 odds that the enemy diamonds are 2-0 instead of 1-1? I'll grant that I chose a total worst case scenario and magnified it by having your teammates avoid the slam, but I believe this illustrates just how bad the IMP odds can be for taking such a save.

In order for the save to be right, a parlay is needed. That parlay is you not having another defensive trick and the ace of diamonds not living. I'll grant that either of these probabilities individually are greater than 50%, but is the product of these probabilities greater than 50%? You may judge that to be the case. I feel otherwise.

I have always said that the only good save is one which generates a plus score, either because it makes or because it pushes the opponents to where you can defeat them. Bidding 7 is not going to generate a plus score.
May 2, 2011
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I agree with the 6 call. Sure, Brian knows that the opponents can probably make a slam. But his opponents don't know that. The 5 call was made under fire, and doesn't have to be a particularly strong hand. From their point of view the 6 call might be to make, with North having a strong hand. Are E-W in a force? It isn't so clear to me that they are, and many partnerships might not be on firm ground about this. The 6 call may buy the contract, doubled or undoubled, and it has the additional advantage of shutting East out of a 6 grand slam try. Brian can always save over 6, and the 6 call may make it more difficult for the opponents to determine if they have a grand.

The double is definitely defined as a Lightner double, as are all slam doubles when it isn't clearly our hand. Of course it may be pure penalty or, when partner might be saving, intended to shut partner up, but partner will take it as a Lightner double when considering his opening lead. The 3 questions John has to ask himself when considering doubling are:

1) Does the double increase (or possibly decrease) the chances of defeating the slam.

2) Might the double give us a shot at getting a number when partner would not have been able to double.

3) If partner would save if I don't double, would I be happy or sad about that.

Regarding 1), even though partner may lead the wrong rounded suit the double does increase the chances of a set when partner finds the club lead. Dummy might have a spade honor. The opponents might have a 10-card spade fit, in which case declarer will be on a guess after the club lead gets ruffed. Even on the actual hand, declarer must have wondered if he should be playing North for the stiff king of spades. The double is very unlikely to cost, as it is hard to imagine South not getting a trump trick even after doubling.

Regarding 2), the double could collect 500 or 800 on a good day, particularly if partner's ace of diamonds lives. This might happen even when partner is unable to double himself. If partner has something like Ax of diamonds and a king, he won't be doubling 6.

Regarding 3), if I were South, I would be quite unhappy if I passed and partner took a save. I have a totally unexpected trump trick on defense against 6. Partner could easily take a phantom. The double has the advantage of shutting him up.

Conclusion: I definitely agree with the double.

Should Brian save anyway? Not clear. He was certainly going to save if John hadn't doubled, and John doesn't have to have a lock for the double on this auction. In addition, while the odds are that John's void is in clubs that isn't certain. Still, John could have anything for the 5 opening. He might have them beat in his own hand, or the ace of diamonds might live. What are the IMP odds. 7 will certainly go down 500, maybe 800. At best, the cost of saving and being wrong is 12 IMPs (-500 vs. +200). At best, the gain of saving and being right is 15 IMPs (-500 vs. -1660). Thus, at worst Brian is getting close to even money odds on passing. If 7 goes down 800 or if 6 goes down more than 1, the odds on passing get even better.

I think Brian has a close decision, but I would have passed as he did. So, I agree with all the actions despite the awful result. Color me -1660.
May 2, 2011
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Of course the possibility of a redouble affects the odds. In practice, on an auction like this there will seldom be a redouble. Most pairs don't play as I suggest. And even if the contract is redoubled, that doesn't mean that it will make. If you do the same math taking into account the possibility of a redouble, I don't think the final results will be much different.

I am not saying that my 80% and 60% estimates are accurate on this hand. You can decide for yourself what you think the numbers should be. What I was trying to illustrate is that one needs only a small improved chance of defeating the contract to justify such a double, even when the contract is a favorite to make after the double.

The same argument works in reverse when a double might improve declarer's chances of making his contract by telling him how to play the hand, such as when you have an unexpected trump stack. In this situation it is often right to avoid doubling even though you think the contract is still likely to go down when you double and the double probably won't affect the play, because the cost when the double swings the contract is large. Players are familiar with this concept, but are less aware that a double which improves the chances of defeating the contract doesn't have to gain very often to be a winner.
May 2, 2011
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I totally agree with Adam. IMP pairs scoring is not the way to go for such a trials.

I had a very bad experience with this a while ago. The ACBL decided to hold an IMP pairs trials to determine USA2 for the 1991 Bermuda Bowl. My partner Ed Manfield and I qualified for this trials by winning the Blue Ribbon Pairs, but most of the qualifiers were winners of regional 4-session IMP pair games (yikes!). There were 20 pairs in the trials, and the quality of these pairs ranged widely. The structure was about the same as with the youth trials here, but scored by IMP pairs.

We survived the qualifying round okay(bringing the field down to 10 pairs), and were going along fairly well in the finals. Then the following happened:

On a hand where we opened a high-level preempt, our vulnerable opponents foolishly stumbled into 7NT, down 4. We might have doubled, but it was far from obvious. Still, it seemed like we were headed for a great result, as they had a suit slam which could make.

Not so! The board was played only 5 times, of course, and the results on this board were:


As you can see our +400 was a disaster, losing a net average of about 9 IMPs instead of the expected big win. This result kept us from making the top 3 for the team.

The problem is that there is too much variance. The number of comparisons is too small, and the field is too random. This is true in matchpoints also, of course, but there at least each board counts the same. Edgar Kaplan once described IMP pairs as a matchpoint game where every now and then somebody rings a bell and the score on the board you are playing is multiplied by 5. This is exactly what happens, particularly in a small and uneven field.

The Cavendish is an IMP pairs event which is generally runs true to form. There are three reasons for this. The field is very strong, so if your opponents do something right against you you will usually get some field protection. The field is large enough so a couple of strange results don't distort a board too badly. And it is a 5-session event, giving pairs a chance to overcome bad fortune. Even with all this, there is still plenty of luck in the event.

IMP pairs events can be fun to play in. But for choosing a team from a pairs trials, that scoring is a bad idea.
May 1, 2011
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Yes, I am a strong supporter of ELC. I would not make a takeout double on a pure diamond 1-suiter. If the hand were too strong to overcall 3, I would bid 3 (stopper ask) and take it from there (or if 3 were Michaels in my agreements I would simply bid 4). The takeout double must show tolerance for spades. However, it doesn't promise 4 spades. I could easily be 3-1-6-3 for a takeout double, and in my partnership agreements that is what would be expected from the 5 follow-up.

The meaning of 5 here is spelled out quite clearly in my notes – it is natural and non-forcing as opposed to a slam try in spades. But that is in my notes. You say that any established partnership would be on firm ground as to the meaning of 5. That would be true in Utopia, but this is real life. Many partnerships which have the seventh round of a constructive relay auction down to the last jack do not have adequate coverage of competitive auctions in their agreements. It is difficult to formulate such agreements which cover the wide range of auctions which might occur, and some choose to wing it, hoping they will be on the same page. Most of the time bridge logic and their partnership experience will get them on the same page, but occasionally the wheels will come off. You may be right, but I would bet that Joe and Curtis were not on firm ground about the meaning of 5.

There is one other aspect of this auction which has not been discussed. Why did Curtis bid 5NT? There can be no question that this is pick a slam. Virtually all expert pairs play that is the default meaning of a 5NT call. Also, if Curtis wanted to invite a grand he could and would have done so unambiguously with 6 or 6, and it is clear looking at his hand that a grand was not on his radar. He was looking for the best small slam.

But why would Curtis offer a choice in the first place? Suppose Joe had something like AJxx xx KQxx Qxx. Joe would choose 6 without giving it a second thought. Yet, 6 has no play while 6 is quite good. Curtis can easily visualize this possibility from looking at his hand. He should know that spades is the trump suit. Yet he did bid 5NT, offering a choice. Why?

As I see it, there is only one logical explanation. Curtis wasn't sure Joe had interpreted his double as a takeout double. He was afraid Joe thought it might show spades, and that Joe had “raised” on a 3-card suit. Once East bid 5 N-S would have to play at the 5-level anyway. From the enemy bidding Curtis was confident that if Joe had only 3 spades he would have to have diamond support, so 5 should be okay. I believe that was the reason Curtis bid 5. When he made his pick a slam 5NT call, he expected Joe to pick diamonds holding 3 spades, pick spades holding 5+ spades, and perhaps bounce it back with 6 holding 4 spades. If Curtis were sure that Joe had at least 4 spades for the 4 call, he would not have bid 5NT.
April 26, 2011
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When trying to bring partner into the picture, the most important thing is to make sure that you are sending partner the right message. It isn't so important what slam try you make. What matters is that partner understands you are making a slam try, and in what suit. I have seen experts make this error countless times. Cheek fell into that trap. 5 carries some degree of ambiguity. 5 does not – it is a clear slam try in spades. If Cheek chooses to invite, which is probably best, that should be his call.

What Grue would have bid over 5 is anybody's guess. But at least his choice would be based upon a proper understanding of what partner is trying to accomplish.

April 25, 2011
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Mike ….

Normally your idea about leading a trump would be right when your side has the balance of power. But I believe the auction says otherwise here.

The key is South's 2 call, asking for North's better major. If South had 3 hearts and 2 spades he would have bid 2, not 2 diamonds. South must be 3-3 in the majors, so there is only the dubious ruffing value of the fourth round of spades. Since West can ruff the third round of spades, West's trumps may be more valuable than South's.

I think West is right to lead a high diamond. If dummy is 5-5 in the majors, a forcing defense may be necessary to prevent establishment of the side spade suit. If dummy is 5-4 in the majors, a spade shift may be right to get a ruff. A trump lead is more likely to play into declarer's hands.
April 19, 2011
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Thanks for the clarification. That changes things a lot.

Now the chances that South is short in clubs has gone up considerably. Still, why can't South be 4-2-5-2 and 3NT is where they belong.

Can North solve this problem by bidding 3? I don't think so. South will probably be bidding 3S. Now 3NT by North will sound like North has clubs stopped but was worried about the spade situation. So I still think North has to bid 3NT.

I believe it is up to South to act over 3. Probably 3 is best, showing a spade stopper and implying club shortness. If South does this, North will not bid 3NT without a good club stopper.

On the actual auction, I still believe South should not sit 3NT. He showed an unbalanced hand with the 1 opening, but this is more than merely an unbalanced hand. South has a void, and hands with voids don't belong in notrump.

April 19, 2011
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What South should do over the double is not clear and might depend on partnership agreements. Presumably 3 would be a signoff, and he clearly has too much playing strength for that. Passing can't be terrible, as it gives North the most room.

North's 3NT call looks automatic to me. What else can he do? He expects South to have a weak notrump type of hand. From North's point of view 3NT is the right game, and if he doesn't bid it South might not be able to do so.

It is South's final pass which is way off the mark. Distributional hands are not meant to be played in notrump, particularly when there is a good fit as South knows there is. 5 figures to be at least as good a contract as 3NT, probably better, and there could well be a diamond slam. A sensible continuation might be 4 by South, 4 by North, 4 by South, and after that North can hardly fail to reach 6 and might be able to work out to bid the grand if he can determine that South has a club void and the fourth heart.
April 18, 2011
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Jason …

That makes quite a difference. Now passing 5 is pretty clear I think, since South should definitely have longer hearts for the 5 call since 5 was available.

It does help to count to 13.
April 15, 2011
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On the first hand I agree that bidding 3 is too risky. That could (and probably should) mean just to play on a weak hand with long diamonds and spade shortness. But there was no need to commit to game. Either 3 or 3 would convey the message that you are interested in game, and partner can take a look and see what his 2 call was made of. I prefer 3, since that keeps 3NT more in the picture. If partner does bid 3NT over 3, it figures to be a better game than 4.

In situations like this, it is not so important to describe your hand perfectly. The important thing is to make sure your general message is understood. If partner knows what you are trying to do, he will usually get it right.

On the last hand, obviously South should have bid 5 – whether he then chooses to shoot out 6 over 5 is his business. Presumably his reason for not doing so was that he was afraid he would be seeing an empty bidding tray. If there was no danger of that, the 5 call is too obvious.

I think North should convert to 5. There must be at least as many spades as hearts, and if partner is 5-7 who knows which strain will be better. Once again, there may have been some doubt in North's mind about what was going on.
April 15, 2011
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Paul ..

With regard to declarer possibly being 8-4-1-0, I was referring to how things look to East. That would give West perhaps KQxx KQJ QJ9xx, which is completely consistent with everybody's bidding and the opening lead. If that is the hand declarer does not have the option of leading a heart from dummy, so he will be forced to make the heart play from his hand. Overtaking and returning the 9 of hearts would be a concession, but not overtaking and letting West continue diamonds would leave declarer with a guess in the heart suit.
April 13, 2011
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Adam …

You make a very good point. Come to think of it, declarer might play it as you suggest anyway. Suppose declarer has AJ8x of hearts and solid spades. If East has doubleton king or queen of hearts, both plays succeed, so the only relevant holdings are when West has both honors. That leaves 2 slots in each hand for the remaining hearts, so it is equally likely that East or West has the 9 of hearts. Thus, the plays appear to be equal. Since it appears more likely that East would overtake when he has 2 small hearts than when he has 9-doubleton, not overtaking gives the show away anyway. If this were all that was relevant, it would appear that East should have overtaken. However, there are two other points to consider.

1) Declarer might not be able to cross to dummy. He could be 8-4-1-0, which would be consistent with everything. In that case, overtaking and shifting to a heart gives away the contract when otherwise declarer would have a guess.

2) Declarer might not have the 8 of hearts. If declarer has, say, AJxx of hearts, he has to guess whether to play West for both honors or East for a doubleton honor. Starting with a heart to the jack won't help him. If East shifts to a heart, that gives away the suit.

Upon looking at these possibilities, I'm starting to wonder if it might be wrong to overtake and shift to a heart even when East has a doubleton heart with at most the 8. While of course there are holdings where this is necessary, the possibility that not overtaking and shifting will cause declarer to play East for a heart card and get the suit wrong might be sufficient compensation.

This is really a fascinating problem. The more one looks at it, the more possibilities unfold.
April 13, 2011
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Martin ….

If East has Q9x or J9x of hearts and overtakes, he most certainly won't shift to a heart. He will lead back a diamond or a trump. A trump is probably slightly better, as that will clarify to West that East doesn't have a trump trick.

It is true that if West shifts to a heart and East has J9x or Q9x the defense can still survive by East putting in the 9 of hearts – provided West knows what is going on. But having embarked on this defense, West will surely win the ace of spades and play ace and a heart, going after the ruff. Perhaps at a very high level it can be worked out, if East would know to not play the 9 of hearts from 9-doubleton. But we are all human, and I wouldn't have too much confidence in the inference that the 9 of hearts should show a higher honor.

If East does have Q9x or J9x of hearts, I do believe his correct defense is to overtake the diamond and come back a diamond or a trump, preventing West from going for the heart ruff. When East doesn't do this West should work out that a heart shift from his hand must be the winning defense.
April 12, 2011
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Victor …

I agree that West might make an offshape double with 2-4-2-5 (but much less likely with 2-5-2-4 wouldn't you say?). However, as I mentioned in my initial posting, if West had QJ9xx of clubs and KJ doubleton of diamonds he surely would have led a club rather than a diamond.

I'm not claiming that it is totally impossible for West to have KJ doubleton of diamonds. However, if you assume that East has Q9x or J9x of hearts along with his A109x of diamonds, I believe you will find it very difficult to construct a full 52-card deal giving West KJ doubleton of diamonds where:

1) You would make a takeout double with the West hand.
2) You would bid 4 with the South hand.
3) You would lead the king of diamonds from the West hand.

Give it a try.
April 12, 2011
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Victor …

Let's suppose that East does have 1083 Q95 A1095 1073. If declarer has your constuction of KQJxxxx KJ Qx Kx, what does that leave for West? Ax Axxxx KJ QJxx. Would West have made a takeout double with that shape? Not likely. Would he have led the king of diamonds? Not likely. Would South have bid 4 on that garbage? Not likely.

The point is that from the auction and the opening lead East can work out that it is virtually impossible for West to have KJ doubleton of diamonds, so the overtake is safe. West can see that East can work this out, and that if East has a heart holding such as Q9x East should overtake to prevent West from doing the wrong thing. When East doesn't overtake the conclusion is that he doesn't have such a heart holding, hence the heart shift is safe.
April 12, 2011
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Barry …

You are correct – 2C, followed by 2NT shows 4-4 majors invitational.

We do not combine inviting with looking for a 5-3 major-suit fit. The assumption is that when partner opens 1NT, he doesn't have a 5-card major. If we happen to fall into a 5-3 fit via Puppet, fine, but that isn't the reason we play Puppet. It is just a byproduct. It might surprise you to know that I don't like opening 1NT with a 5-card major even though I play Puppet. I will only open 1NT with a 5-card major when the rebid problem is impossible if I open 1 of a major or when the hand has notrump written on it.

The main reasons we play Puppet are:

1) Concealment of opener's hand when responder has one major. For example, suppose responder has 4 spades but not 4 hearts with a game-forcing hand. Playing Standard, the auction goes: 1NT-2;2-3NT or 1NT-2;2-3NT, and the defense knows whether or not declarer has 4 hearts. Playing Puppet, the auction goes 1NT-2;2-2;2NT/3C-3NT, and only opener knows how many hearts he holds.

2) Choosing between 3NT and a 4-4 major-suit fit. Suppose you have a 4-3-3-3 11-count with 4 spades, and partner opens 1NT. You have to guess whether to just bid 3NT (when 4 might be better), or bid Stayman and play a 4-4 spade fit if you have one (when 3NT might be better). Playing Puppet, you can bring partner into the loop. Suppose there is a 4-4 spade fit with opener having a minimum. The auction goes: 1NT-2;2-2;2-3NT, and now opener knows responder has 4 spades but is interested in 3NT even with a 4-4 spade fit, and opener can make the final decision. If opener has a non-minimum with 4 spades but interest in playing in notrump, he bids 3 over 2, which shows that, and responder can make the final decision.

3) Ability to avoid 3NT and get to a sensible 4-3 major-suit fit or 5 of a minor when there is a weak suit, since responder can describe his shape. The actual hand shown here is a perfect illustration.

The theme of these auctions is that it is responder (the weaker hand) who is doing the describing and the strong hand makes the final decision. In Standard Stayman, the weak hand pretty much has to make all the decisions. It should be obvious that the player who holds the most high cards is better placed to choose the contract when he knows about his partner's hand.

Yes, we can show 5-4-2-2 hands with 4-card major and 5-card minor. We use 2 response (which is initially assumed to be a size ask) for that. Opener can only bid 2NT (minimum) or 3 (non-minimum). Then, responder bids 3 with 4 hearts and a 5-card minor (opener can ask the minor with 3). 3 shows 4 spades and 5 clubs, 3 shows 4 spades and 5 diamonds. These sequences are very valuable for avoiding 3NT when 2-2 in a suit.

You may be right that the South hand should be considered a minimum. I guess it is a matter of philosophy. I hate playing 2NT. Consequently, I will reject an invitation only if my hand is so minimal that I think we might be too high already. That is not the case here.
April 11, 2011

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