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1NT – 3♥/♠: Splinters, Fragments, and Slam Exploration

1NT – 3♥/♠: Splinters, Fragments, and Slam Exploration

Splinters versus Fragments

After partner opens 1NT, a popular treatment is for responder, with GF values, to bid 3♥/♠ to show a singleton in the bid major, 3 cards in the unbid major, and 5-4 in the minors. Holding sufficient stoppers in the short suit, opener’s 3NT bid will end many auctions [with full slam values, responder may bid her 5-card minor at the 4-level to explore for slam]. Opener can also usually determine where the partnership may have an 8-card fit if 3NT is not a feasible contract.

Using natural bidding, a suit bid by opener sets trumps. A direct bid of game is to play, whereas a suit bid short of game suggests good cards for slam and implies minimum or no wasted values in the splinter suit. However, given opener’s 3-point range (15-17), it may be unclear to responder how to proceed, especially when holding intermediate values and/or wasted values (i.e., singleton honor) in the splinter suit. Another problem is that, after a spade splinter, opener has no natural bid available below game to indicate potential slam interest in ♥s.

An alternative treatment is that responder bid the 3-card major suit fragment rather than the singleton. One advantage of bidding the fragment is that opponents are less likely to make a lead directing double. A common objection to fragment bids is that they will “wrong side” the contract when the final contract is in the fragment suit. However, in a simulation of 5000 deals the same number of tricks was available in the large majority of deals (91.6%) regardless of which hand declared. In the remaining 8.4% of deals, more tricks were available when responder declared, albeit by a negligible amount (218 versus 203 deals). These results indicate that partnerships may opt to bid fragments without fear of poor results due to being wrong-sided.

Slam Inquiry after Responder’s Fragment Bid

When the partnership has an 8+ card fit in any suit and opener has no wasted values (e.g., A-x-x or x-x-x) in the splinter suit, a small slam may be bid confidently on a combined 28 HCP [29 when opener’s shape is 4-3=3=3], excluding points for singleton face cards in the splinter suit. Opener needs only to know responder’s HCP to determine whether to bid slam.

In the treatment suggested here, after 1N - 3♥ opener makes the cheapest available suit bid (3♠) to ask responder to report HCP (excluding values for any singleton ♠ face card). Responder does not know, nor does she need to know, where the 8+ card fit lies. Responder answers using steps that are configured around the preliminary assumption that the fitting suit is ♥s. The response structure is:

3NT = 10 HCP

4♣ = 11 HCP

4♦ = 12 HCP

4♥ = 13 HCP

Holding 14+ HCP, which is always enough for slam, responder continues past the presumed sign off bid (4♥), each step showing a 1 point increment: 4♠ = 14, 4NT = 15, etc.

Once responder’s HCP is known, opener determines whether the partnership has the HCP required for slam. Holding 5 hearts opener signs off in game or slam in hearts; holding only one 4-card minor opener bids game or slam in that minor. To sign off in responder’s 5-card minor opener bids NT, which directs responder to bid that minor at the next level.

The structure for proceeding after 1NT - 3♠ is parallel to that shown above. Opener’s 4♣ bid is artificial and asks for responder’s HCP. Responses are configured around the preliminary assumption that the fitting suit is ♠s. However, because there is less bidding space after a ♠ fragment, there is a slight variation in the first step response:

4♦ = 10 or 11 HCP

4♥ = 12 HCP

4♠ = 13 HCP

4NT and higher steps = 14+ HCP, shown in 1 point increments

Once responder’s HCP is known, opener proceeds to the final contract using methods described above. After responder’s 4♦ response, opener proceeds to the final contract using methods described above when 11 HCP is not enough for slam. When opener has 17 HCP and responder’s 11 HCP would be enough for slam, opener bids 4♥ to ask whether responder has 10 or 11. Holding only 10 HCP, responder bids 4♠; then opener proceeds to the final contract using methods described above. Holding 11 HCP responder bids 5♥/♠ as flag bids to show 5♣s or 5♦s, respectively. Opener then bids a small slam in a fitting suit.

Note that this treatment does not work playing splinter bids rather than fragment bids. After a spade splinter and opener’s 4♣ asking bid, there is insufficient bidding space for responder to show all of the possible HCP holdings without passing the presumed 4♥ signoff bid.

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