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All comments by Kit Woolsey
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Jeff,

Yes, that was a typo. I have changed it. Isn't web publishing nice – if you make a mistake, you can just change it.
March 31, 2012
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Bobby,

I see your point about North rebidding 3. In this sort of situation, the cheaper call should be considered more suspect, while 3 should definitely show a spade stopper and deny a diamond stopper. The danger with 3, as you point out, is that if opener has a strong spade holding he may go directly to 3NT without being concerned about the diamond suit, as he might on the actual deal. I'm inclined to prefer the 3 call.

Upon reflection, I believe you are right about the meaning of a 4 call by South. It is quite possible that North has 4 spades, and this is exactly the sort of hand where a 4-3 spade fit might be the only game. If 4 of a major can be interpreted as natural, that's what it should mean. In fact, if South's hearts weren't so strong he should bid 4 holding KQx of spades. If South feels he must make a slam try in clubs (not that important since his hand is already limited), he can always bid 4NT.
March 31, 2012
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I'm not convinced West's diamond shift is so bad. He doesn't know your heart spot is the 2 so you don't have a third heart entry to your hand. Suppose your hand were something like Kx AQ8 xxx J108xx. Might you not go up ace of diamonds and try to scoop the club suit, playing East for 9xx?
March 30, 2012
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Did South really bid 2 as a tactical bid, or was he just making a self-serving statement? The cards speak. He was making a self-serving statement. What South said has nothing to do with the issue. Good directors and committees should ignore what players say they were thinking. The only testimony which is meaningful is testimony regarding facts, either what happened at the table or what a pair's methods are.

Was South's explanation of 2 proper? It wasn't great. Pass or correct would have been a better explanation. However, it wasn't misleading. The implication is that North didn't like diamonds, so he wanted South to bid his major. That is the way I would have interpreted the explanation, and if I weren't sure I would have asked for clarification. If South had instead said that 2 was natural or to play, that would have been a clearly improper explanation.

Did South receive unauthorized information from the explanation of his 2 call? He certainly did. The cards say that South meant 2 as natural, and the explanation woke him up to the fact that he had made a mistake.

Does the unauthorized information suggest bidding 3 as opposed to passing? Yes, it does. Thus, if South has a marginal decision he should not be permitted to bid 3.

Should South be permitted to bid 3? Suppose you held the South hand and were playing with screens, so you didn't hear your partner's explanation of your 2 call. What would you do? Clearly you would bid 3. Your partner overcalled 1NT. Even if we grant that the 1NT call might be a bit off base, partner will always have at least 2 diamonds and at most 5 hearts, so the partnership has 2 more diamonds than hearts. The South hand is worthless in hearts. It isn't a remotely close decision. South has a 100% clear 3 call, so it is permissible even though South has received unauthorized information which suggests bidding 3.

Were E-W damaged by the explanation? As discussed, the explanation wasn't really misleading and could have been clarified. In addition, the auction timed out pretty well for E-W to find 4. West heard his partner double 2, which can be assumed to show 4 hearts. West had two chances to bid hearts, and failed to do so. The explanation had nothing to do with this. Even if North has 4 hearts, 4 figures to be better than 3NT. E-W were not damaged. So, table result stands.
March 30, 2012
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I would have no problem with the 7 call if there were a reasonable chance that clubs would be the better strain. However, West should know that this not the case. South has shown a heart void, so North will lead a heart against 7 and the defense will get every heart ruff they have coming.
March 25, 2012
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Charles,

True – provided he fully trusts that his partner has led an honest card. However, players don't always lead honest cards vs. slams. I think that East could easily get it wrong.
March 25, 2012
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Joshua,

I don't agree that partner would automatically double 5 with a singleton diamond unless he is completely broke. The 5 call doesn't say it is our hand. All it says is that you have the red 2-suiter you have, letting partner make the decision to double, pass, or possibly bid on with a big double fit. The 5 call could easily be on a KQJxx(x) side suit, and selling out to 5 without doubling can be the percentage action.
March 17, 2012
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Phil,

With a known 9-card heart fit, partner should never be willing to play 5 without a huge diamond fit. 3-small doesn't qualify. East knows that hearts is the right trump suit, so 5 is clear.
March 17, 2012
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Jeff,

I would not bid so much as 5 if West had overcalled 2NT. In my view, the unusual notrump doesn't have to be nearly as pure as your suggested examples. If you wait for such hands, you will be missing a lot of opportunities to get in the way of the opponents. With the 4-3-3-3 shape, I would just bid 3 and bow out of the auction, hoping that the 2NT call does whatever damage is necessary.
March 17, 2012
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Jim,

You are correct. I had forgotten that the potential spade loser would still be there after the club lead, and that the club threat can be killed. It would definitely be correct to play the king of clubs at trick 1 on a club lead.
March 12, 2012
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David,

With 4-3-3-3 distribution I balance with a pass. With the other shapes I might do either.

I strongly disagree with your statement that it is dangerous to double at the 1-level. It is much more dangerous to wait and balance. Several reasons:

1) You are a level lower.

2) If you wait, the opponents will have had a chance to describe their hands. For example, suppose the opening bidder has 4-card support as he does on this hand. If you make a takeout double of the response opener will raise, and you will be out of any trouble you might have been in. But it you wait, it is much easier for the opponents to penalize you as happened here, since they will have already found their fit.

3) Since the opponents are unlimited they might have a game, and finding that game will be their first priority. Once they have stopped they know they don't have a game, so they don't have to worry about a penalty being inadequate compensation.

4) Most pairs play support redoubles, as well as card-showing/takeout doubles by responder when they haven't found a fit or limited themselves. Thus, it is very difficult for them to get you.

The biggest danger of the light takeout double isn't going for a number. It is that partner might take you seriously and overbid. Even this danger is somewhat lessened by the fact that partner passed over the opening bid.
March 4, 2012
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Stephen,

Balancing with 2 is certainly possible. If North has 4 spades, it won't matter which balancing action South takes. So we need only consider when North has fewer than 4 spades.

1) Bidding 2 eliminates the possibility of defending 2. Admittedly that is unlikely, but as seen it is possible.

2) While South could have only 4 spades, that isn't certain. Will North always pull with a doubleton spade if 2 isn't doubled?

3) Assuming North has 3 spades, does 2 or 3 figure to be better on balance? If North has 4 diamonds, which he could easily have, then 3 will almost surely be better. If North has 3 diamonds, then 3 is probably better since the 4-3 fit might not play too well if the long hand is getting tapped. Only when North has 2 diamonds, thus specifically 3-3-2-5 distribution, does 2 figure to be better.
March 3, 2012
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I strongly believe that the double should be lead-directing. After the Bergen raise, most of the time partner is going to be on lead. I have seen many a close contract be defeated because of this lead directing double and its cousin – the inference from failure to make the lead-directing double which will induce partner to lead a different suit if he has an otherwise close decision.

The value of having the double be a takeout double of their major is overrated. It isn't often that you will want to be competing higher than 3 of their suit to begin with. If your hand is strong enough or distributional enough for that, you can either bid 3 of their suit or pass and then double, depending on whether you are 2-suited or 3-suited.

If more pairs made use of this free shot at a lead-directing double, players would understand just how inferior Bergen raises are. In addition to giving up a potentially good use for the 3 of a minor call (preemptive, natural invite, or strong jump shift are all worthwhile ways to play the bid and gain when the right hand comes up), Bergen raises helps the opponents on defense. The gains from Bergen raises are minimal, since these hands can be handled decently with other approaches.
March 2, 2012
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Mike,

I use the concept on opening lead quite often. A common situation occurs vs. a low-level partial when the opponents are likely in an 8-card fit. If I have an otherwise pretty equal choice between leading from a 5-card suit and leading a doubleton, I will often let my trump length be the deciding factor. If I have a doubleton trump I'll tend to lead my doubleton, but if I have 3 trumps I'll tend to lead from the 5-card suit and hope partner has a doubleton. The theme is to get or threaten a ruff in the short hand, just as I would do if I were declarer.
Feb. 28, 2012
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Why does double have to be takeout for this to be sensible? If you don't have a suit you know you want to play in, what are you doing competing to the 5-level in the first place?
Feb. 20, 2012
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Mike,

If you are going put the priority on slam vs. just competing, I think you can do better by inverting the meanings. Also, I think the 2-suited red-suit hand is very rare – how often do you want to fly in at the 5-level when you have no idea whether or not you have a playable trump suit. I suggest the following:

4NT: Relay to 5, a hand which simply wants to play at the 5-level in some suit.

5, 5, 5: All natural slam tries in that suit.

The advantage is that opener doesn't have to worry about either/or problems. When responder is making a slam try, opener knows what responder is doing.

Note that opener doesn't have to bid 5. If opener has a strong hand with slam values even if responder is just competing, opener bids the lowest suit in which he would not want to be in slam if that is responder's suit. If opener wants to be in slam opposite anything, he bids 5NT of course. Thus, if opener has a hand which wants to be in 6 if responder was competing to 5 but only wants to be in 5 if responder was competing to 5, opener bids 5.

You can see that this is analogous to Lebensohl or good-bad 2NT, where a 3-level call is constructive while 2NT is a relay to compete on a weak hand.
Feb. 20, 2012
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William,

I don't see the difference. After 1m-4-? 4 would be natural. So the situation is basically the same, except that if you go past 4 then only the minors are in play, while after 1m-4 all 3 suits are in play. But 4NT is still takeout for the minors in most partnerships.
Feb. 20, 2012
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A fine idea if you are dealt enough slam hands. However, I believe that the standard expert interpretation of 4NT on these auctions is takeout, assumed for the minors. Typical after 1-4 might be x xx AQJ10xx Kxxx. This follows the general theme that in competitive auctions the focus is getting to the best strain.
Feb. 19, 2012
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Adam,

How to apply restricted choice on opening lead depends on what you think the defender would have been likely to lead from various holdings.

If you think the defender would always (or almost always) lead a heart with xxx in spades and Qxxx in hearts, then obviously you will play him to not have Qxxx in hearts when he leads a spade.

If you think (as I do) the defender would always (or almost always) lead a spade with xxx in spades and Qxxx in hearts, then you should apply restricted choice. By the assumption about his opening lead he might have led either major with xxx in both of them, but he was forced to lead a spade with xxx in spades and Qxxx in hearts. Thus, if all other things are equal he is twice as likely to have Qxxx in hearts vs. xxx when he does lead a spade.

If I had led a heart, declarer would have the same problem in reverse. If he decides that I would never (or almost never) lead from Qxxx in hearts vs. xxx in spades, he would be sure to get the diamonds wrong in the end position.
Feb. 18, 2012
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Hendrik,

A heart lead is clearly more dangerous than a spade lead. It might guess the queen of hearts for declarer. Or it might flat out give away a heart trick, if the hearts are, say, Axx in dummy and KJx in declarer's hand. The spade lead could also guess the suit for declarer, but it never does anything declarer couldn't have done for himself.

The heart lead establishes a trick if partner has specifically the king of hearts. This will be necessary only if declarer has 12 tricks after knocking out the ace of clubs. The bidding indicates that both hands are balanced. There doesn't appear to be any 5-card suits in either hand. It is possible that declarer has 12 tricks with 4 spades, 3 clubs, 4 diamonds, and 1 heart if the heart trick isn't established, but this would be playing for a very specific layout. It is more likely that the heart lead will give up a trick than that it will establish a necessary trick. If it weren't for the very real possibility of a double squeeze, I think the spade lead would be clear.

I led a spade and didn't really consider it much of a problem. At the table (as opposed to being given the hand as a lead problem), I'm pretty sure that most experts would come to the same conclusion. It was only when writing this hand up that it occurred to me that the heart lead has a lot going for it.
Feb. 18, 2012
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