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Mini-Splinters and Alternatives

More than 40 years ago, I used to play all sorts of weird stuff, including Jacoby Transfers, Jacoby 2NT, new minor forcing, negative doubles, Michaels, splinters, and mini-splinters.  All of these except mini-splinters are now mainstream, in some form or other.  The mini-splinter I am talking about is a jump shift into a short suit by responder, as a direct response to an opening bid in a major suit.  Nobody I know currently plays them, including me.  (I'm not talking about the use of a jump reverse by opener.) 

Some partnerships dedicate one or more jump shifts to show a specified strength range with an unspecified singleton.  When deciding whether to move toward game, opener must guess the short suit, clearly a negative factor.  For example, Ken Eichenbaum in Winners, Losers and Cover Cards (p. 39) gives this example:

K Q J 9   J 9 7 6   10 8 5 4  7

A 8 7 6 4   A Q 5   3   J 9 6 4

After partner opened 1, Ken responded with an artificial 3 LIMIX raise, promising two sure tricks and an unspecified singleton.  Partner guessed the singleton was in clubs; he bid and made a game "when the cards were favorable."  What if the singleton had been in hearts?  Nobody hears about that hand.  The singleton could even be in diamonds: I have seen hands where the opponents are silent with an 11-card fit.  On top of the correct guess, favorable cards, too.

In order for the mini-splinter to be truly useful, you need to know (or be able to find out), where the shortness lies, before committing to game.  In the basic variety, this means committing all three jump shifts to this relatively uncommon purpose. (The example above would be bid 1 - 3; 4, definitely getting to the right contract.)  

There are other ways.  Since the ACBL GCC permits using any jump shift to indicate a raise, you could use 1 - 2NT or 1 - 2 to indicate an unspecified mini-splinter, with opener's next step asking.  Then the other jump shifts and the jump raise become available for raises without shortness.  You could use "submarine" mini-splinters or responses, bidding the suit below the shortness.  I'm sure you could dream up lots of options.

A mini-splinter generally falls into three ranges:  weak, strong and game-going.  If opener bids an intervening suit, responder bids game with a strong hand or game-going hand (or cue bids).  If opener signs off, responder continues with a game-going hand only.  The only problem is, when responder shows his shortness by bidding just below trump, there is no inquiry available.  The usual approach is to not make this particular mini-splinter with a weak hand.  I'll leave it to the reader (or the bidder) to define the three strength levels.  In order to improve bidding if they interfere, you might wish to exclude game-going hands.

Some people play strong, weak, intermediate (e.g. 1 - 3 inv), or fit-showing jump shifts.  I'm in the last camp, playing "fit-showing jumps always" for many years, including fit-showing non-jumps when obvious [(1) - 1 - (2) - 3 came up last week].  My best reference on this style is Robson & Segal, Partnership Bidding at Bridge.

My newly formed opinion is that mini-splinters would be better than FSJs in a non-competitive auction by an unpassed hand over a major suit opening.  (A FSJ is superb over a minor suit opening, offering a good major with a place to hide.)  High card points are great for bidding balanced hands.  As distribution enters the picture, the location of cards becomes increasingly important.  In general, no single bid describes an unbalanced hand better than a short suit bid.  However, if the opponents bid a suit, I'd use FSJs: distribution of their suit often becomes apparent anyhow.  By a passed hand, instead of mini-splinter's I'd use FSJs, plus Drury with a short-suit game try available to both partners.

Playing mini-splinters (and splinters), responder's other 4-card raises would usually produce a balanced or semi-balanced hand, where HCP are more accurate.

These game tries by responder are made by the the eventual dummy, so they tend help the opponents only with the opening lead.  Opener's game tries give up information that can help the defense for the entire hand, so it's important for responder to have the best raise structure possible.

What say ye?

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