Squeezing The Dummy

Sunday, April 22, 2007


I have been thinking a lot lately about auctions that start 1-(2)-X-(p). This seemingly simple auction can quickly become one of the murkiest constructive bidding sequences in bridge.

The double can be made with both 4 card majors, one 4 card major, or a 1 suited hand with a major. It could even be made with 5-5 in the majors and a weakish hand. Opener can then bid a 3 card major himself or make a very nebulous cuebid. Fundamentally both the double and the cuebid are overloaded.

For instance, if the auction started 1-(2-X-(p)-? one might bid 3 with any of the following hands:
  1. KQ43 KQ2 A43 AJ2
  2. A2 A3 432 AKQJ32
  3. KQ32 KQ92 4 A652
  4. KQ3 AJ2 872 AKJ4
On hand 1 opener cannot just bid 4 as partner may have a 3 card suit, and 3N may be the right spot.

On hand 2 opener just needs a stopper and doesn't want to bid 4 and bypass 3N.

On hand 3 opener has an invitational strength hand with 4-4 in the majors and wants partner to pick a major. Some people may even be planning to pass a 3M bid by partner!

On hand 4 opener is strong and balanced with no stopper. and is hoping partner can bid 3N.

So the cuebid covers a GF with 1 major, strong with clubs, invitational or game forcing with both majors, or strong balanced with no stopper. Great! The first thing that is clear is that the cuebid needs to create a force. With hand type 3 you just have to bid game or bid 2 of a major. What's not clear is what responder's duty is; bid 4 card majors up the line or bid NT with a stopper? If he bids NT with a stopper then a major suit fit may be lost opposite hand type 1 (the most common). If he bids majors up the line then hand types 2 and 3 are screwed. Not to mention that 5-3 fits are going to be very difficult to find.

We also have the issue of finding 3N when opener has one 4 card major and a stopper and responder has no stopper and the other 4 card major. For instance if you have hand 1 the auction might go 1-(2)-X-(p)-3-(p)-3-(p)-3-(p)-? Should responder always bid 3N here, with or without a stopper? This risks some silly 3N contracts as well as wrongsiding the contract if the stopper is Kx or the like.

These aren't even the only problems with this auction. The other day I had an auction start 1-(2)-X-(p)-2-(p)-3-(p)-? My partner had 4 hearts and a diamond stopper and bid 3N, worried I had a hand like 4333 with no diamond stopper. I had 4 hearts and a game going hand and was worried my partner had bid 2 with only 3. If you don't believe this is possible, ask yourself what you would do with a hand like Kxx AKx Qxx xxxx. 2N is horrible with this hand type and 2 is really your only choice. Anyways, I passed 3N and we missed our best spot of 4. I pointed out to partner that he should bid 3 and I would bid 3 with 3 hearts and no diamond stopper. While he agreed with this he wondered what would have happened if our fit was spades and not diamonds; I would be endplayed over a 3 rebid.

There are no great solutions to this problem, but perhaps with some artificiality we can improve on this auction.

Bob Hamman has played for a long time that jump shifts are forcing after a negative double. In this auction 3M can be forcing, and that eliminates hand 1 from the immediate cuebid. Over 3 partner can bid 3 without a fit or diamond stopper and opener can bid 3N with a stopper. There is still a guess over a jump to 3 though.

This would leave the direct cuebid to show a strong hand with clubs or a strong balanced hand without a diamond stopper. This would leave responder free to bid 3N whenever they have a stopper, and bid 3M with a 5+ card suit. Definitely a big improvement.

Even better would be to use 2N as an artificial bid. Really, bidding 2N with a weak NT is not a good option anyways, you may have only half the deck and would much rather play 2 of a major. 2N could puppet to 3, then 3 could show 4-4 majors invite, 3M could be that major plus a stopper in diamonds, game forcing. 3N would be 18-19 balanced with a diamond stopper. A direct 3 would simply be GF in clubs or strong balanced without a stopper, 3M would be natural and forcing, denying a stopper, and a direct 3N would be based on club tricks and a diamond stopper (so partner won't pull with a 6 card major). This solves all hand types and eliminates guessing.

That would mean that 2M could frequently be based on a 3 card suit. Over the cue you only have a problem sorting out stoppers and 4-4 fits if opener has 4 spades and a stopper and responder has 4 hearts, less than 4 spades, and a stopper.

I think this is a great improvement for almost no cost on one of the worst auctions in bridge. You only lose a natural 2N (useless) and invitational 3 of a major bids (of very limited use), in order to gain a lot of clarity on the NT vs major decision. A nice advantage of forcing 3M bids is better slam bidding as well (as trumps are set earlier).

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