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All comments by Mike Doecke
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You will definitely find out, but when the club king doesn't hold the trick, know which suit you should've led isn't going to do you much good.
Oct. 26, 2018
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Pass is definitely a logical alternative for me.

4S is super wide ranging on this auction (maybe 3-15 HCP?) and the opponents could easily be cold for slam.
Aug. 11, 2018
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“Always cover the 6 with the 9” might be a bit tough to sell.

Matt bumped into the declarer today and mentioned the hand again. Maksymilian's first comment was that he regretted his misplay! He should've led the S4 to the S7 - can't afford to waste that S6…
Aug. 10, 2018
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I played 2NT as a puppet to 3C for a while but felt that it was only effective against weaker opponents that hadn't discussed a defense.

To counter Kit's main point, the frequency of a G/F 2-suiter is low. This is especially true when the 4th seat holds a strong hand. When 4th hand holds a weaker hand, they can often pass and hope to act again in the balancing seat once responder has confirmed a preemptive hand.

A simple but effective defensive method to (2C)- P - (2NT*) is:

Pass and then double = Weakish takeout. Avoiding danger vs the strong option.

Double = 15+ balanced (X then pass) OR Strong takeout 13/14+ (X then X) OR ANY very strong hand (X then bid). Note that 15-16 balanced with club length is very awkward after (2C)-P-(3C)-??? because you're forced to commit to 3NT opposite a potential bust.

3C = 5+/5+ majors. Can be very weak, especially with 6/5. Letting the opponents in on these hands is a significant downside of the method.

3D/3H/3S = Strongish/Constructive single-suiter, encouraging partner to bid 3NT.

Pass then 3D/3H/3S = Weak/Distributional single-suiter. Again, allowing these hands to get into the bidding is a serious disadvantage of the method.

3NT = Not 15+ Balanced (else start double). Knowing the 3NT bid is usually based on a long suit rather than a flexible hand is another advantage to the defenders.

Once you consider how you would show each of these hands over a 2NT puppet and a direct 3C preempt, I think it's pretty clear that the 3C preempt is superior.

However unless East took a very aggressive view, any preempt is likely to keep EW out of game on this deal!
Aug. 4, 2018
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Long time reader, infrequent contributor but still loving your column. Many thanks for writing it!

It's especially refreshing to hear from a top level player that is willing to share some failures along with the triumphs.

Re: this hand, I'm an experienced strong club theory-crafter and can appreciate the issue of dealing with strong 4441s. However, 4D on 13+ committing to 4NT+ is just too unsound for me. This is especially true if you tactically upgrade the appropriate 14/15 counts (which I think is a big winner for the reasons you mention in this article).

4441 hands often get treated in a special way by strong club systems, but not for the right reasons. They don't play particularly well, but they're often awkward to fit into the rest of the system.

I explored this situation a while ago via a dealing simulator and came to a simple conclusion. When you have a strong hand with a shortage opposite a strong club, partner is overwhelmingly likely to hold a minimum hand with length and strength in your shortage.

Getting to 4NT/5H/5S rather than 3NT/4H/4S on misfit hands might not cost you a ton of EV each time, but if you consider the frequency of the loss, I think you'd be convinced to change the method.
Aug. 4, 2018
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Well done with the problem!

You do clarify that 2D is usually a 5c suit, but I think you need to go a bit more in depth into the rest of the methods to get meaningful results.

E.g. I answered based on the assumption that you play 2C* as any BAL G/F, in which case I think supporting diamonds is clear.
Aug. 4, 2018
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I think the joke has gone over your head Jim ;)
Aug. 4, 2018
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Maybe i'm missing something, but if Heart's did start 6/3 and RHO discarded 2 hearts (on the run of the diamonds) you can just keep an extra spade in hand, and play spades. At most you'll lose 3 hearts and the SA.
Oct. 5, 2016
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Automatic call, Not close.
July 12, 2016
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Sounds like your wife is becoming quite the bridge player :)
March 29, 2016
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The continuations I prefer are:

3D = Shortage ask.
3H/3S = Natural, good 5c suit.
3NT = To Play. No interest in either minor.
4m = Suit setting slam try.

Having 3D available as a shortage ask is the main thing that makes this method playable.
March 8, 2016
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If East does hold weak length in clubs, why can't declarer hold xx Jxxx Kxxx QTx or a similar hand without many entries to hand.
Oct. 31, 2015
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As usual a great article.

You point that East's could've done better with he spade pips is a fair one but isn't the fact that East switched to trumps an even a stronger indication that he must have values in Clubs?

The trump switch is certainly appealing on East's actual hand, but with 9xxx in clubs instead, it looks more likely to butcher West's Qx or Qxx of spades than to cut down ruffs.
Oct. 31, 2015
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If 3H is actually an invite (which it shouldn't be) then you should accept. Well placed Ks, nice trump spots and a good 5c suit more than make up for the potentially wasted Kd, especially when you might have raised very aggressively in a competitive auction.
Oct. 17, 2015
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Here's a counterpoint:

If our hypothetical expert is so experienced that they rarely need to break tempo in a common auction like 3M-Pass, why do they suddenly need 15 seconds to think when holding a strong hand that is just short of a raise to game?

Surely they would recognize that the difference in expected value between bidding and passing is trivial, while breaking tempo and then passing could be disastrous if it allows the opponent to pass on a marginal hand and avoid a penalty? Do world class players really break tempo and then pass on this kind of hand?

Who gets to decide that an ‘almost raise with marginal support’ is the only hand type that you are allowed to think on?

Regarding the hand mentioned in the initial post, I would have no trouble acting in tempo. However I can imagine different hands that might be an automatic for other players that I would need time to think on. I would be very unlikely to break tempo holding an ‘almost game’ raise.





Oct. 16, 2015
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Thanks for clearing up my sloppy description Steve.

An extension of case (2) is that when West turns up with 5 spades (and presumably 5134 or 5044 shape) East will show out on the second spade. Now the contract can be guaranteed by crossing in Diamonds and taking a heart finesse.

Also in case (3) where East turns up with the long spade it's not really possible for West to be 2254 because East would never play the 9 of diamonds from 94 doubleton.
Oct. 10, 2015
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That was the presumed 4144 in my scenario.

After 4 rounds of clubs and the As, Ks, Qs East will show out, leaving you in dummy. At that point, West is presumed to be either 4144 or 4234 so you have time to fall back on the double heart finesse. I did miss that this line will pay out to hKJ tight.



Oct. 10, 2015
Mike Doecke edited this comment Oct. 10, 2015
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If you're prepared to trust the opponent's early signals, this this line feels close to 100%.

After the first trick starts Qd from West, 9d from East it seems impossible that East false-carded from an initial holding of T9(xx) or 9x. Taking such a big position early in a hand that might be cold off on simple defense isn't world class bridge.

So based on that assumption and East's subsequent diamond discard, the original diamond layout is West QJT(x) and East 98x(x).

Now when East discards a spade and a diamond on the run of the clubs, (and under the previous assumptions) we know for sure that cashing the spades and exiting with the 3rd round of diamonds will give West the lead and guarantee the contract.

Finally if West started with a weird shape like 4144 or 5044 we will find out in time to guarantee the contract via hearts.


Oct. 9, 2015
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Kieran: They were on lead 5 times during that match and 4 leads matched the hypothesis (horizontal placement in each case).

<edit> On B18 Nunes led a singleton heart vs NT horizontally rather than vertically.
Sept. 14, 2015
Mike Doecke edited this comment Sept. 14, 2015
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Given your methods allow it, I'm surprised that you didn't choose to open 1S on this hand.

Holding short hearts and few high cards, finding a spade fit feels like the most likely way for our side to win the auction and if West does end up declaring, getting partner to lead a spade (rather than a diamond) will often be worth a trick. It's hard to argue with success on this deal though!

Regarding the choice to reopen:
At Favourable Vulnerability, against reasonable opponents, it makes a lot of sense to use balancing actions with a higher emphasis on sacrificing (rather than simply confirming deal ownership). Do you also apply similar philosophy to balancing after you've opened a strong club at favourable?
July 25, 2015
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