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All comments by Kit Woolsey
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Hamman's 1 call might work well or badly. My criterion for taking a low road action such as this is: If it goes all pass, will I await the dummy with anticipation or dread? If dread, as it would be here, I don't take the low road.

The sequence 1-1;1-1;3 is a very awkward sequence, as the pair is at the 3 level with no knowledge of what trumps are. Presumably 3NT, 4, 4, and 4 by Zia would all be natural calls, so there is no way to make a below game slam try in spades.

A good treatment which solves this problem is to have a third round 2 call by opener show a good spade raise. Now if responder doesn't have spades he can bid what he has at a low level, and if he does have spades he can confirm that and will have room to make a slam try if he wants. Also, if responder is weak, they can stop at 2. This gives up the ability to show 5-6 shape. Either don't bother, or open 1 in the first place.

I think Zia should bid 4NT RKC over 3. He is the one with the source of tricks (the long diamond suit), so he should take control rather than leave partner to make the wrong guess. Any hand Hamman has with 3 aces or 2 aces and the queen of spades will have some play for slam, often very good play.

In all fairness, I don't know what 4NT would mean in their partnership. My agreements are that 4NT is never natural unless notrump has been previously bid naturally, but many pairs would play that 4NT here is natural since spades haven't necessarily been agreed. Still, if Zia doesn't have spade support he should have either just a 3NT call or some other natural call to make.

On the actual hand, RKC would have located 3 aces, queen of trumps, king of clubs. Zia would then have to decide whether or not bidding a grand is a good percentage action. It probably is, although on the actual layout 7 appears to go down on the likely trump lead.

The real problem was the 6 call. A grand slam try isn't logical. Hamman's hand is limited by the failure to jump shift. Zia's 5 is clearly just invitational. It is impossible to suddenly have grand slam values when the partner of a limited hand has merely invited a small slam.

Can 6 be natural? Why not. Hamman would love to bid 6 as an offer to play holding something like Axxx Axxx AKQJx, since 6 could easily be better than 6 if partner's spades are weak. My partnership agreement are that if a 6-level call could possibly be natural, it is. While this might not be best, it avoids disasters such as this. Every partnership should have unambiguous rules along these lines. I think that if Hamman wanted to invite a grand in spades he should have bid 6. Since he is known to have at most a singleton diamond, that can't possibly be interpreted as an offer to play.

Should Zia have passed 6? Probably not on his actual hand, holding only 2 clubs and the jack of spades. I think he is shooting for too thin a target. However, if his hand had been something like Kxxx x AKJxx xxx then passing 6 would be a no-brainer, and 6 would still be a silly contract.
Feb. 21, 2011
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Returning the 9 of clubs will work fine if partner figures out the hand. However, partner would probably just lead back a club, not seeing any significance to your choice of the 9 of clubs. Once that happens declarer will be able to ruff the third round of clubs and locate the club honors. It is when you return a heart and declarer leads clubs that partner should work out that the defense isn't supposed to be playing clubs.
Feb. 21, 2011
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There can be no question that Michael is right about the 5-3 heart fit. If North doesn't bid 3, a 5-3 heart fit will probably be missed. They might get there if South chooses to bid 3 over 3, North raises to 4, and South passes, but that probably isn't going to happen.

It is a judgment call about which bid is the lesser of evils. Even if there is a 5-3 heart fit, 3NT or 5 can still come home. South might hold Qx Qxx AQx K10xxx, in which case 3NT is where you want to be despite the 5-3 heart fit. Or perhaps x Axx AJx K10xxxx, in which case 5 looks to be more comfortable than 4 I believe. I'm not saying that on balance you don't want to be in a 5-3 heart fit if you have one. Of course you do. I'm simply illustrating by these examples that, due to the weak heart holding and the strong black-suit holdings, a 5-3 heart fit might not be right even if it exists.

The downside of 3 is that it makes the choice between 3NT vs. 4 or 5 more difficult, I believe. The 3 call will make club slam decisions easier as well.

My judgment is that due to the strong club holding and weak heart holding, 3 is the percentage action. If the hand were AKJxx QJxxx Jxx, then I would opt for 3.
Feb. 15, 2011
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There are two fundamental principles which I think should be a guideline for undiscussed bids in any partnership, particularly a new partnership. They are:

1) If a bid can logically be interpreted as natural, it is.
2) If a bid can logically be interpreted as non-forcing, it is.

Using these guidelines, North does have hearts (as opposed to just heart values), and is willing to hear South pass 2. The argument that failure to make a negative double denies 4 hearts doesn't hold water. If North's hand looks like 1NT is the right contract, the only way to get there is for him to bid it.

There are a couple of other inferences available from North's call. One is that he has some game interest, otherwise he would have simply passed 2. The other is that he is willing to play 3, since he can't know that South has any heart support. In other words, his 2 call isn't correctional.

South has a great hand in light of his previous bidding. The one question is whether or not North has 5 hearts. As Mike suggests, South should bid 2. This logically must show a good hand with 3-card heart support, since otherwise South would have found some other call.
Feb. 15, 2011
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Regarding North's choice between 3 and 3, there is a fundamental principle of constructive bidding involved: When you have a choice between two otherwise roughly equally descriptive (or mis-descriptive) calls, choose the cheaper action. This leaves more possibilities open, as Martin describes in detail.

Suppose partner's next call is 3NT. If you have bid 3, you are happy enough. Partner knows for sure about your diamond shortness, and he is ready for it. If he isn't sure about 3NT he has 3, 3, and 3 available as probes for a different strain as well as club slam moves. But if you have bid 3 and partner bids 3NT, you have to make the choice of passing and possibly being in the wrong strain, or bidding 4 which is a fine description of your distribution but flying past 3NT which might be the last making contract.
Feb. 15, 2011
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North's 3 call is reasonable with the strong clubs and weak hearts. However, unless South comes back with 3 (which would presumably show good 3-card support since South didn't raise immediately), North should pretty much forget about playing in hearts. His 3 call doesn't do any damage, although it won't be known to be a 5-card suit. But his 4 call is too likely to be misinterpreted.

In my mind it is a fundamental principle that unless a major-suit fit has been established, calls below 3NT are not slam moves. They are assumed to be attempts to get to the best game until proven otherwise. South's 3 call doesn't do any real harm, although perhaps 3 is more accurate and would have been more successful. But his 3 call should show honor-doubleton in spades and suggest the possibility of playing in a 5-2 spade game. In fact, North might well have bid 4 over 3 with his strong spade suit.

The big problem in the auction was that South never clarified his intentions. All South had to do was bid 4 over 3, making it clear that clubs is trumps and that South has slam interest. Now North will know that a 4 call would be interpreted as a Q-bid, so he will bid something other than 4 and the hopeless slam will be avoided. They won't get to the best contract of 4, but that is difficult to find once North chooses the 3 rebid. But they will get to 5, which is reasonable, although on the lie of the cards it looks like it is slated for defeat.
Feb. 14, 2011
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I apologize, Michael. I was simply constructing what I considered a standard weak 2. While you might not consider it such, I would predict that a large majority of players would open that hand 2, and that most would not open the 5-5 hand. Rightly or wrongly, I do consider passing on the hand with the KQJxxx of hearts to be inferior to preempting, and I do believe the hand is too flat to open at the 3-level.
Feb. 13, 2011
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No, Mike, that is not what I'm saying, although I can understand how it might be interpreted that way. What I said was that I would rather be dealt the “offbeat” preempt than the “standard” preempt.

Let's suppose Michael Rosenberg is sitting in my seat at the other table. If I pick up xx KQJxxx Qxx xx I know he will open 2. If I open 2 (assume I'm not playing multi for simplicity), then I will feel that I have slightly the worst of it because his partner will have a better picture of the hand than my partner will have. I will still open 2, since I think that if I do anything else I will have considerably the worst of it.

Now, suppose I am dealt x K1098x xx A10xxx. I know that Michael holding my cards will pass. I will open 2. Obviously I believe (rightly or wrongly) that opening 2 is the superior action within my general partnership tendencies. Therefore, I will feel that I have the best of it.

I definitely agree that preempting on xx KQJxxx Qxx xx (versus passing) is far clearer than preempting on x K1098x xx A10xxx (versus passing). So if I am dealt both hands and for some reason am only permitted to preempt on one of them, I would choose the standard preempt rather than the offbeat preempt. But I would rather be dealt the offbeat preempt than the standard preempt.

When I wrote my book “Matchpoints” many years ago, I stated that one of the negatives for a preempt was holding the ace of your suit. This was questioned by an expert who claimed that results would show otherwise. I looked through several world championship books, taking every deal which was preempted at one table but not the other. The results demonstrated that he was right. The preempts holding the ace of the suit came out considerably better on balance than the preempts without the ace of the suit. This was quite an eye-opener to me, and made me realize that so-called standard preempt style is not necessarily best.
Feb. 13, 2011
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Michael would be surprised to know how similar our feelings about the cons of preempts are. I totally agree that one of the dangers with preempting is that it can give the opponents a road map in the play. If all your preempts are of the book variety, that danger is magnified. However, if you will be opening a preempt on hands such as the East hand in this article, all declarer can infer is that you have a heart suit of some kind and less than an opening bid. That won't help him much.

I also agree that preempts often push the opponents into a “lucky” 3NT. We all know that against a preempt it is generally right to choose 3NT vs. a suit contract if the decision looks close. There are two reasons for this. One is that the preempt is an indicator of bad splits, and these bad splits may defeat a suit contract. The other is that the preemptor often has no outside entry, so a holdup play will render his suit worthless on defense. The actual hand is a good example. If East had a book preempt he would not have the ace of clubs, so a heart lead would do no damage. It is his unexpected side card which defeats 3NT on a heart lead.

It has been my experience that a preempt is more likely to be effective when it has some bite to it – some kind of unexpected twist. This bite can cause the opponents to suffer a big loss when they judge wrong. For example, in the last Bermuda Bowl against the Italians my partner opened 2 multi on a hand very similar to the East hand here. I was able to jack the auction up to the 3-level. Our opponents judged very badly, and wound up in 5 in a 4-3 fit rather than their laydown 3NT contract. However, it still took the 5-1 club split to defeat 5. If partner had a more normal preempt 5 would have made, and our opponents would have cost themselves only a couple of IMPs instead of a double-figure loss.

For these reasons, I would much rather be dealt the 5-5 hand in this article than a book weak 2 such as xx KQJxxx Qxx xx. I will still open the latter multi (or 2 if not playing multi) since I believe that will get me better results than passing, but I expect my equity will be greater preempting on the 5-5 hand.

Feb. 13, 2011
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Dan is (as always) quite correct about our structure. We use a 2 opening as the old Precision 2 opening, showing short diamonds. Possible shapes are 4-4-1-4, 4-4-0-5, 4-3-1-5, 3-4-1-5. The 2 opening isn't particularly effective, but it allows us to guarantee at least 2 diamonds for our 1 opening and at least 6 clubs for our 2 opening. We find these guarantees to be very important.

Obviously there is no intrinsic need to play 2 as a diamond preempt. We used to play it shows a good weak 2 in spades, but found that usage wasn't particularly valuable. We chose to have it show a good diamond preempt because that plugs a hole in our structure. Let's say we are dealt something like xx xx KQJxxx KJx. We could open 3, but partner will be expecting a much weaker hand than this. We could open 1, but partner will initially assume a balanced hand not in our 1NT opening range and if there is competition we might not have a chance to describe our true hand type. We could pass, but we would rather bid if we can. Using 2 to show this type of hand solves this problem.
Feb. 13, 2011
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Thanks for the spelling catch, Barry
Feb. 12, 2011
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Good point Andy. Another consideration is that people have different interpretations of the rules, and two different committees may make entirely different rulings in the same situation. This is particularly true in claiming situations, where the rules themselves leave a lot to subjective judgment.

Several years ago in a national pair game, a grand slam in a suit contract was reached when one of the opponents had preempted. Both declarers claimed upon seeing the opening lead and dummy. This would have been a fine claim had the trumps not been 4-0, or had the partner of the preemptor had the long trumps. However, unexpectedly the preemptor had 4 trumps, which meant that the intended line of play would not succeed due to an overruff danger. One round of trumps would have made this clear, after which there was a trivial squeeze on the partner of the preemptor which could not be missed. If the hand had been played out, any decent declarer would always make the contract, and very good players were involved.

So, should the contract be allowed to make or not? That could be debated, and is not the issue. What is of interest is that this identical scenario happened at 2 different tables. While I can't know exactly what was said at each table, I doubt if either declarer stated the squeeze option when claiming, although as soon as the bad trump split was known the squeeze was obvious. Both tables took this to committee. One committee ruled the contract made, the other committee ruled the contract was down.
Feb. 9, 2011
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While all Mike's points are well taken (and very nicely played hand btw), East didn't really have a problem. All he had to do was count to 13. He knew his partner had led the lowest heart, so declarer had either 3 or 5 hearts, and if declarer had 5 hearts he had 9 top tricks. He knew declarer had a doubleton club, since declarer showed out on the third round of clubs. And he knew that declarer had at most 4 diamonds, since if declarer had 5 diamonds the diamonds would be running. That gives declarer at most 9 cards outside of spades, so declarer has at least 4 spades. The hand must be what it is for the defense to have a chance, and East's play of cashing AK of spades was simply a blunder.

Should East be entitled to redress after such a clear blunder? Yes, but not because Mike's comment caused him to lose focus. I believe that Mike's comment constitutes a claim (or, in this case, a concession of down 1). Play should not have continued. Declarer's hand should be exposed after the claim/concession is made, and that would be that.

Kit
Feb. 7, 2011
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I don't understand South's 5 call at all. If North had made a negative double with 1-4-2-6 or 1-5-2-5 shape and chose to continue with something other than a double of 4, surely North would have bid 5 rather than 4NT. I can't construct a distribution consistent with North's sequence which has fewer than 3 diamonds, so it must be right for South to bid 5.

Other than that, everything seems reasonable. 6 is a fair contract, but far from cold, and virtually impossible to reach with the interference unless somebody (probably South, who knows the fit is good) takes an aggressive action.
Feb. 7, 2011
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My experience is different from yours, Mike. I believe that in this position most good defenders will play quite quickly from king-doubleton. Whether they choose to go up king or not they will be afraid that declarer has 10-doubleton, and if they think for a while that will give the show away regardless of what they do.

It is interesting to note that if East has K10 doubleton he is more likely to think about his play, since at least he knows that declarer doesn't have 10-doubleton. Does that mean that when East plays the king quickly West should be careful to play the 10 on the second round of the suit, since that is the card he is “known” to hold?

It is true that if East had Kx there might have been some discomfort, and I might have picked that up. Since I didn't pick up such discomfort, that is an argument that he has KQ doubleton. Still, as Steve points out playing him for the queen would be a pretty big position on the information I have.
Feb. 5, 2011
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Mike – that is exactly my point when I said that if there had been a pause I would have to judge what it meant. You have described what I call the “expert's coffeehouse”. It is a very short pause in a non-problem situation. Many good players do this. They probably don't realize that they are doing it – it is an involuntary reaction. An alert declarer doesn't need redress from the director. He can read the coffeehouse and take advantage of it.

As an illustration, several years ago against good opponents I was declaring with a trump suit of Axxx in my hand, Q9xx in dummy. I led the ace, and got small cards from opponents. I led small, and LHO played either the 10 or the jack. There didn't appear to be any end-play or speed danger which would tempt him to take his king from K10x or KJx. Thus, via restricted choice playing the queen was a 2 to 1 favorite over ducking. However, I judged that I had picked up the expert's coffeehouse on my left, so I ducked and was right.
Feb. 5, 2011
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Mike – If there were a pause, I didn't pick it up. The table action seemed to me consistent with “I'm grabbing my king before something bad happens”.

If there were a pause, then I would have to judge what it meant.
Feb. 5, 2011
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I totally agree Steve. I don't remember the exact specified minimum range for the 1 opener, but I definitely remember that they were playing a strong club. I was stunned to lose to the queen of hearts.

It was particularly frustrating to have thought of leading the low heart from dummy (not at all an obvious play), have it apparently succeed for all the right reasons, and then get it wrong in the end.
Feb. 5, 2011
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Steve, I agree that you can't afford to out and out psych a redouble since the redouble has to bring partner back into the picture. But you can redouble on a hand such as Axxxx AK Ax QJxx. You will be quite happy if partner doubles them or competes somewhere. The one thing you wouldn't be happy about is if LHO has a penalty pass and you wind up in 1 doubled or redoubled. Thus, your redouble isn't exactly a psych, but it doesn't necessarily mean you expect to make 1. If my opponents don't have a penalty pass available then I am even happier to redouble, and might do so on a weaker hand if I believe the redouble will let me dodge a bullet.

Whether it is better to play the pass of the redouble as penalties or not can be debated. One thing is clear. It is vital for any partnership to have firm and unambiguous rules for when the pass of a redouble of a takeout double is business and when it is just non-committal. I have in the past semi-psyched a redouble on this and other auctions where I thought I was in trouble but judged that the opponents wouldn't be on firm ground, and the redouble has often saved me from going for a number. I have yet to get caught.

Kit
Feb. 4, 2011
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Very interesting idea Victor, and I'm going to think about modifying our structure as you suggest.

The main drawback appears to be that if double guarantees the next higher suit you can't offer 3NT as an option. For example, suppose the bidding goes: 1-3 to you, and you have a game-forcing hand with 4 spades and a heart stopper. Playing the way we do now, I can double and then bid 3NT over 3S. If the double promises long spades, this is not available.

Come to think of it, maybe it is available. Unless partner has bid spades, you can play that 3 is the negative double, keeping 3NT open (and from the right side also). When partner has bid spades you can't do this since 3 is needed for the limit raise, but then it won't be as important. Your suggestion may well be better.

Kit
Feb. 1, 2011
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