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Unusual Notrump Leads to Slam

Today’s deal, from the Blue Ribbon Pairs at last month’s North American Championships, shows how an expert pair took advantage of a popular bidding convention to reach an excellent slam. Most players are familiar with the “unusual notrump” overcall, but few are aware of its entire spectrum of use.

6 H S K 3
H A K J 7 6 5
D K Q 8 5 2
C
Both Vul

West
1 C
Pass
Pass


North
2 NT
4 C
6 H


East
Pass
Pass
All Pass


South
3 H
4 S
S Q J 8
H 3
D A 10 4
C A K 10 7 5 2
Table S 10 9 6 5 4
H 10 9 4
D J 9 7
C Q 4
Lead: S Q S A 7 2
H Q 8 2
D 6 3
C J 9 8 6 3

After West’s one-club opening, North had a difficult hand to bid. It was too strong for a one-heart overcall, and an overcall of two hearts would show a weak hand. A takeout double was possible, but that would just postpone the problem — South would be unlikely to bid a red suit, and North would face the same dilemma at his next turn.

The unusual notrump overcall is widely used after a major-suit opening to show both minor suits, but that is only a specific case. The general agreement is that a jump overcall of two notrump shows at least five-five distribution in the two lowest of the unbid suits. Hence, in this case, since clubs were bid, North’s two notrump showed specifically hearts and diamonds. Made to order!

South indicated his preference between the red suits by bidding three hearts. This did not show a real heart suit; it simply meant that South liked hearts better than diamonds. Also observe that South was required to bid — only a fool would pass an unusual notrump bid — so he did not promise any high-card strength.

Another misconception about the unusual notrump overcall is that it shows less strength than an opening bid. It certainly may be a weak hand, and partner should assume so at the outset; but the bid is forcing, and the user may intend to follow it up with another bid.

North’s hand was worth a raise to game, but there also was the possibility of slam. Therefore, he bid four clubs, a cue-bid to show control of the enemy suit. South would return to four hearts with a poor hand, but the presence of the heart queen and spade ace warranted some cooperation. South showed the spade ace, and that was all North needed to hear. Six hearts! The play was simple, losing just the diamond ace.

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© 12-11-1988 Richard Pavlicek