Analyses 7W24 MainChallenge

2001: A Bridge Odyssey

Scores by Richard Pavlicek

As we head into a new millennium — officially now, since the A.D. calendar began with the year 1 (not zero) — I bring you this bridge odyssey into the past. In 1980, these six bidding problems were first posed to a panel of 12 Florida experts, of which I was the moderator. Twenty-one years later I posed them on the Internet to get a comparison of bidding trends between then and now. The 2001 poll was open to all bridge players.

Problem 123456Final Notes

Tenyo Tenev Wins!

This poll had 283 participants from 81 locations, and the average score was 45.00. Congratulations to Tenyo Tenev of Bulgaria, who topped everyone with a score of 59. Hmm… an appropriate winner, as his name sounds extraterrestrial. I wonder if the “Tenevs from Bulgaria” live like the Coneheads from France; but I digress. Close behind at 58 were Nobuyuki Hayashi of Japan; Jonathan Steinberg of Canada; and Frank Pancoe, our token American.

For the poll, it was assumed you play a Standard American system, including 15-17 notrumps, five-card majors and weak two-bids. The objective was to determine the best calls based on judgment, so only the most basic conventions are allowed. For a summary of the default methods, see my outline of Standard American Bridge.

The scoring of each problem is on a 1-to-10 scale. The call receiving the top award of 10 was determined by the consensus of the voting. The scoring of the other calls was determined partly by this and partly by my judgment.

HAL-9000 was not available for these problems (faulty motherboard I was told) so I had to find a fill-in to get a bot’s perspective. Fortunately, I found Hal’s nephew, GIB-9000*, and after feeding it the hands I was impressed. GIB scored a respectable 49 despite the fact that it passed on Problem 5 because it did not understand the gambling 3 NT. OK, everyone shed a tear for poor Gibby. In the future I may include a side poll for bots if there is enough interest.

*GIB is the excellent bridge-playing program created by Matt Ginsberg (

For the record, my own votes on these problems are (and were in 1980): 1. 2 H; 2. 3 D; 3. 4 H; 4. 6 S; 5. 4 H; 6. 3 H. Sigh. Even with my moderator’s license to set the awards, I scored only 51.

Analyses 7W24 MainChallengeScoresTop 2001: A Bridge Odyssey

Problem 1

IMPsNone VulYou, South, hold:

1 S

2 D

1 C
S A 9 6
H Q J 10
C A 9 8 7 5 3

3 C1086710035
2 NT82176021
2 S7186523
2 H618176
3 NT3004114

No surprises here. The current vote clearly upheld the 1980 verdict. I’m definitely in the minority on this one, so I’ll accept it as good news that at least the percentage has dropped. In competition, a 2-over-1 response may be shaded and does not promise a rebid if opener repeats his suit or bids 2 NT; hence, I feel this hand is too good for 3 C. Granted, there’s no perfect bid, but a natural 2 H is just as descriptive as rebidding the sickly club suit; and it’s forcing. Partner is unlikely to raise hearts since he didn’t make a negative double, but even if he did it might be the best contract — let alone a great story when you score up 4 H opposite S x-x-x H A-K-x D K-x-x-x-x-x C x. OK, I know, you’d lead a trump — wise guy.

But, I may be a dreamer. The potential misfit and lopsided nature of South’s hand could mean there is no game, so the 3 C bidders have a good case.

Comments for 3 C

Tenyo Tenev: Normal natural bid; I have long clubs.

Jonathan Steinberg: I have a good hand with six clubs. Why bid anything else?

Vil Gravis: I do have six of them. If notrump is the right place, we will find out later. The singleton D A is not promising.

Thomas Hanford: Easy hand; shows a six-card suit. Partner does not have four hearts or he would have made a negative double.

Baxter Clifford: I can bid notrump or cue-bid later if it seems wise, but this is the last chance to rebid my six-card suit. Presumably, partner has promised a rebid, but if he passes we are probably high enough.

Herbert Wilton: [Partner’s bid] is forcing for at least one more round; so why not describe my hand, instead of distorting it with 2 NT or 3 NT?

Peter Clinch: An underbid, but I could be in a good position if I survive this round.

Peter Gill: By elimination. All the other calls look even uglier.

Bill Jacobs: Take it easy nonvulnerable at IMPs. You have no fit yet, and it may not be easy to unravel the tricks at notrumps. I will pass 3 D, bid 3 S over 3 H, or bid 3 NT over 3 S.

Tim Bolshaw: … If either minor is running, we probably have a good shot at 3 NT. If partner’s diamonds are mediocre and he lacks a club fit, we are possibly already too high. 2 H and 2 S answer none of the crucial questions and I do not think we need to bully partner into bidding notrump. … I (conservatively) bid 3 C because partner with something like K-Q-x will know to bid up. If he does not have a club fit, better we play clubs than notrump. If he bids 3 D, paradoxically, my hand improves again as the D A has a good chance of filling the suit and I would be tempted to gamble 3 NT.

Karen Walker: Somewhat of an underbid, but the notrump alternatives give partner the wrong picture of my pattern and spade values — and could cost us missing a possible slam. If notrump is right, we can still get there from here.

Alex Kemeny: Don’t like notrump with three aces and a weak spade stopper.

Jojo Sarkar: This is an underbid (and implies better clubs), but it’s the best choice available. … 2 NT is not a good choice because of the suit-oriented hand and flimsy club suit. With one spade stopper, partner’s bits and pieces are not going to be enough to find a suit to run. If his diamonds do run, there may be entry problems. …

Comments for 2 NT

Mark Raphaelson: Should show a spade stopper and some extra values. 3 NT is a slight overbid. I like my partner to know I have my bid. 3 C is cowardly.

Andy Latto: Bad fit and no source of tricks devalues the hand; not good enough for 3 NT.

Dirk Enthoven: No negative double by partner, so four hearts are unlikely; he should have some values outside diamonds (missing the D A means he has an entry); yet, even though it’s IMPs, I would rather invite than leap, so 2 NT. …

Bas Lodder: … Partner will think I have 3=3=2=5 rather than 3=3=1=6, but in general, this should give quite a good picture.

Chuck Arthur: I hate it, but I cannot bring myself to bid only 3 C when I might have a king less to do so, especially since my clubs are so bad. Partner will expect better diamonds for 2 S, and 2 H can lead to all sorts of nightmares, including partner jumping to 4 H.

Leo Zelevinsky: Seems to me that the misfit with diamonds suggests the hand will be tough to play. Let partner go on with some extras.

Kit Nowicki: Seems like a misfit, so even with 25 HCP between us, an invitation is the best I can do. …

Comments for 2 S

Bruce Scott: … I intend to bid 3 NT next. This might get us to 6 C when it is right (or 5 C when 3 NT isn’t a make).

Micha Keijzers: I have no clear bid; too much to bid 3 C and 3 NT is a shot in the dark. Maybe it is even 6 C. …

James Hudson: Stalling.

Pete Roberts: 3 NT is the likeliest game , and it’ll play better from North’s side. If partner doesn’t have a bolster in the spade suit, maybe he can support clubs and 5 C could be on.

Josh Sinnett: Yuck. … I don’t like the idea of bidding notrump this round, and 3 C on this ragged suit is evil; 2 H should show better hearts. This leaves me with the 5,374th rendition of the “I dunno what to do” cue-bid.

Danny Miles: I must make a forward going move. I don’t want to commit the hand to notrump with aces, potential communication problems, and possible spade shortness opposite. 3 C is a tremendous underbid, as I would bid that with S x-x-x H Q-J-10 D A C A-x-x-x-x-x. Chances of finding the perfect 4-3 heart fit (A-K-9-x) are minimized by the lack of a negative double. 3 NT may go down opposite S x H A-K-x D Q-10-x-x-x-x C Q-J-10 when 6 C is pretty much laydown. This is IMPs, so I don’t mind playing 5 C instead of 3 NT.

Sandy Barnes: An overbid, but most flexible when one examines the other options.

Comments for 2 H

Ciaran Coyne: Cheapest forcing bid. You know you have values for game; it’s just a question of where. 2 NT misstates your shape and values (and only one spade stop); 3 C is a slight underbid.

Einar Sivertsen: Too weak for 3 NT, too strong for 2 NT.

Comments for 3 NT

Leonard Helfgott: Since 2 NT wouldn’t be forcing in competition, and 2 S sounds like a fit, 3 NT seems the best practical shot. I don’t think a 3 C rebid would be forcing.

Franco Baseggio: East’s failure to raise makes fishing for 5 C less appealing.

Analyses 7W24 MainChallengeScoresTop 2001: A Bridge Odyssey

Problem 2

IMPsBoth VulYou, South, hold:


1 S
2 NT

1 H
2 C
H A K 6 4 3
D K 10 2
C A Q J 7 2

3 D104339433
3 NT7007125
4 C66505519
3 C42176222
3 H10010

The march of time is fueled by wisdom (hmm… that might make the “Quotable Quotes” in Reader’s Digest) as the 2001 voting clearly righted a previous wrong. I was disappointed in 1980 when the consensus favored the clumsy 4 C bid. It hardly seems right to commit the contract beyond 3 NT when you don’t know where partner’s strength is, and it is equally wrong to bid 3 NT yourself as this is just a guess in the opposite direction. Why guess at all?

The flexible 3 D bid allows partner to judge the fit, hence if he continues to 3 NT you can be confident he has sturdy spades. The only downside for 3 D might be if partner raises, expecting you to have four. I’m not worried. This kind of bid is commonly made as a shape description, often with 1=5=3=4, so if partner were to raise diamonds, it’s probably the right strain. Give him S Q-x-x-x H x-x D A-J-x-x-x C K-x, and 6 D is a superb contract, while 3 NT may be set with a spade lead.

Several respondents didn’t care for the conditions, saying they would have jumped to 3 C on the previous round. It’s certainly close, but I think the majority of experts would settle for 2 C, rather than impose a game force on a potential misfit. I tend to be a loose bidder myself but still prefer 2 C.

Comments for 3 D

Tenyo Tenev: This shows 1=5=3=4 or better (0=5=4=4, 0=5=3=5)and a good hand. Next round I will bid clubs.

Jonathan Steinberg: Three clubs shows a nonforcing 5-5. Three diamonds shows a three-card suit and is forcing.

Vil Gravis: Hopefully telling partner about my spade shortage and extra points. Slam in clubs is not out of the question if partner has three of them. A bid of 4 C might have led to a club slam more easily, but then we miss 3 NT if that is the right spot

Mark Raphaelson: I’d like to get a better description of partner’s hand before bidding 3 NT. If he can support clubs, 5 C could very well be a better spot. …

Jack Hawthorne: This amplifies the spade shortness and gives partner a chance to show support for either of my suits. (Bidding 4 C might lead to a Gerber nightmare.) If partner bids 3 NT, I’ll give up, but over 3 H, I’ll persevere with 4 C.

Bruce Scott: I cannot stomach 3 C or 3 H here; 3 C is not forcing … (I would have bid that way if the H A-K were the J-T); 3 H is possible with this hand pattern, but you need much better interior hearts — A-K-10-9-7 perhaps. Bidding my diamond fragment is not really much of a distortion of my hand. It could easily be correct to play in either minor. …

Baxter Clifford: Three clubs would not be forcing, and the best natural call of 4 C gets us past 3 NT or might be taken as Gerber. Three hearts should be a suit with better intermediaries, and 3 NT on a hand that might produce 6 C seems to lack vision.

Herbert Wilton: Partner could have four spades and five diamonds, and/or weak spades and club or heart support

Peter Clinch: A perfect description.

James Hudson: Not ready to commit the hand to notrump, with my void. There’s still an outside chance of a minor-suit slam, and five of a minor, if that’s where we end up, won’t be bad at IMPs.

Tjeerd Kootstra: After anything, except 3 S I bid 4 C.

Bill Jacobs: Three clubs is nonforcing in my book. This is a possible minor-suit slam, but I’ll pack up over 3 NT (not perfect as we could miss 6 C) but 3 NT could be the only making game: S A-Q-J-x-x H J-x D Q-J-x-x C x-x.

Arindam Ray: I did not show my strength yet and am unwilling to bid past 3 NT because of the misfit. Is partner going to bid 4 D? OK, I will take a chance at 5 C then

Josh Sinnett: Should describe 12 of our 13 cards (1=5=3=4 is a possibility also) and a strong hand. Partner can insist on notrump with spade wastage or go looking for a suit contract with weak spades.

Chuck Arthur: Hopefully, partner will work out that I can never have more than three diamonds for this bid (I might be 1=5=3=4). … This draws attention to the potential weak spade situation. … On a good day, partner will prefer clubs, and a slam in that strain not out of the question.

Leonard Helfgott: Three clubs would be a weak sign-off, and we don’t need to bypass 3 NT yet. …

Danny Miles: With 0=5=4=4, I would bid 2 D instead of 2 C, … so this sequence is forcing and should show a good 0=5=3=5 or 0=6=3=4. Partner should realize I am very short in spades and bid accordingly. I will bid 4 C over 3 H, respect a 3 NT sign-off, and bid 3 NT over 3 S. If partner bids four of a minor, I will drive to slam.

Leo Zelevinsky: I think 3 D followed by a pull of 3 NT to 4 C will be a fair description of this hand.

Sandy Barnes: Running out of forcing bids. Need to hear another call from partner (how good are the spades?).

Karen Walker: Too big a hand to bid out your pattern with a meek 3 C (which is passable in many partnerships). Partner may temporarily think I’m 0=5=4=4, but I may be able to correct that if he shows a sign of life over 3 D.

Comment for 3 NT

Kit Nowicki: Partner promises values outside of spades, so a notrump game should be laydown.

Comments for 4 C

Micha Keijzers: This should show a maximum 2 C bid with a good 5-5, not suitable to play in 3 NT. Slam is possible.

Pete Roberts: Partner has something in diamonds to bid notrump, and hopefully his spades are weak. Four clubs gets across the strength and length — let’s find out if there’s a fit.

Rosalind Hengeveld: If partner has reasonable club support, which is likely (but not sure), we’re nearing 6 C. I assume 3 C would be a sign-off rather than forcing.

Comments for 3 C

Bas Lodder: Should be forcing. Keeps 6 C in the picture.

Tim Bolshaw: 3 C is surely forcing and allows maximum room to decide whether 3 NT, 5 C or 6 C is the correct contract. If partner bids 3 S over 3 C, I pack up at 3 NT. Otherwise, I guess I shall bid 4 D next.

Alex Kemeny: Continue to bid out my shape. Devaluing hand due to partner’s spade bid.

Jojo Sarkar: After partner bids over 2 C, it seems pretty unlikely he’s going to pass. We may as well describe the rest of the hand as 5 C could play better than 3 NT. …

Analyses 7W24 MainChallengeScoresTop 2001: A Bridge Odyssey

Problem 3

MatchpointsNone VulYou, South, hold:

3 S


1 C
S K 8
H A Q 10 9
C A K J 10 8 7 6

3 NT10007928
4 H83254315
5 C65424917
4 C3183914

It’s a bit painful to give the top award to 3 NT — yikes, 7-4 shape and a void — but I’ll stick to my own rules and honor the animals, er, I mean, consensus. Actually, 3 NT might lead to great story: West hits his partner with a diamond lead, and the opponents run the table! I know if I made this bid, partner would put down S x-x H K-J-x-x-x D Q-x-x C x-x-x. Very nice; I can make 12 tricks in hearts or clubs and make none in notrump. Nevertheless, I must admit that 3 NT could be right on the money.

I am torn between double and 4 H and slightly prefer the latter since becoming declarer could be a huge advantage. The main hope in doubling seems to be to reach hearts (a penalty pass by partner is surely remote), and laying down S K-x in dummy is not pretty. The disadvantage of 4 H is that partner may expect 5-6 shape and leave me to play in a 4-3 fit — but, hey, it’s matchpoints and even that could be right. Give partner, say, S x-x-x H J-x-x D K-J-x-x-x-x C x, and 4 H is the best game.

Comments for 3 NT

Tenyo Tenev: Semi-gambling (long semisolid suit and control in spades).

Vil Gravis: Hair-raising, since 6 C could make and 3 NT go nine down on a diamond lead! Also, 6 H by South could be a make with as little as H K-x-x-x-x in the North hand. But we can’t become card placers, can we?

Thomas Hanford: Partner may be broke; hearts are out (no negative double). I hope to find the C Q. Hamman’s Rule: Bid 3 NT when it’s a logical choice, especially at matchpoints.

Henry Wong: At IMPs I would double, since bypassing 3 NT is not as bad, such as when partner has a penalty pass of 3 S.

Bruce Scott: I will reopen with 3 NT so the opponents can lead a diamond through the board and a spade back, thus taking the first nine tricks. Since I already have a matchpoint zero, I hope I get heart-club squeezed on the ninth trick so I can choose which tenace to lead away from after being thrown in. It will make the opponents’ dinner story better. Seriously, I can’t double. Partner isn’t leaving it in (unless lefty is Marty Bergen or a partner of mine). He will bid 4 H and we will go down, or he will bid 5 D and I will excuse myself from the table.

Micha Keijzers: Don’t want to bypass 3 NT, because that might be the last playable spot. If I double to show hearts, then partner will bypass 3 NT without a spade stopper and we might get too high.

Peter Clinch: Mutter, mutter — Hamman’s Rule. Mumble, mumble — down three.

James Hudson: Hamman’s Rule at matchpoints.

Tjeerd Kootstra: Showing good clubs. The alternative, to double, works fine unless partner bids 5 D.

Pete Roberts: The likeliest game (suggests long clubs because of the 1 C opener rather than something stronger). Partner should not bid a six- or seven-card diamond suit!

Bill Jacobs: Needs no justification, other than success! Seriously, could make facing S x-x-x H x-x-x-x D x-x-x C x-x-x. Could also be nine off.

Josh Sinnett: I’ll blame Hamman when they run the first six diamond tricks with 6 C cold. This is matchpoints, and partner is allowed to have a useful card or two.

Rosalind Hengeveld: A shot at a likely best contract. Good problem, especially if they lead a diamond to the ace and a spade back. Anyway, a double leads nowhere.

Danny Miles: Preempts work. I bid what I think I can make. I could be missing a slam, and partner will not read me for this much playing strength, but with the S K probably not useful and suits likely not breaking, better to try to go plus at matchpoints. Three notrump needs only C x-x-x opposite and a spade lead, or as little S Q H x-x-x D Q-J-x-x-x-x C x-x-x to be almost cold.

Tim Bolshaw: As is often the case after a preempt, any action could work. There are two key factors here: First, partner is limited by his pass over 3 S. Second, a spade lead through the king could be a killer. 3 NT is sure to have some play. Double or 4 H could lead to silly contracts; 4 C is not game and 5 C is less likely to make than 3 NT. As usual, over a preempt, when 3 NT looks at all sensible, it’s the percentage bid.

Sandy Barnes: Double wrong-sides the hearts if partner pulls. They still have to find the diamond lead against 3 NT…

Steve White: It’s matchpoints. You have the stopper. Be optimistic.

Kit Nowicki: The partners that I play with would all have Q-x in clubs, and the D A.

Comments for Double

Jonathan Steinberg: Damn matchpoints! Bidding 3 NT with a void suit usually means they are going to lead it! Double gets the heart suit in, and I’ll risk 5 C over 4 D.

Mark Raphaelson: I hate to make an arbitrary decision when I can get more information from partner. … and maybe our best spot is beating 3 S doubled three tricks anyway.

Jack Hawthorne: 3 NT might work, but double is more flexible. I can convert 4 D to 5 C if need be. Maybe partner will pass and lead a diamond…

Baxter Clifford: 4 H is tempting, but should show a five-card suit, and sometimes they lead diamonds. I can try 4 H over partner’s 4 D… The only thing I fear is a 5 D bid from partner.

Andy Latto: Looking for a 4-4 heart fit, or a penalty pass, or 3 NT. Otherwise, I’ll give 5 C a try.

Arindam Ray: Hope partner won’t bid 5 D.

Chuck Arthur: If partner bids 4 D, I have endplayed myself into 5 C, but that’s the price I pay for protecting partner’s potential trap pass.

Leonard Helfgott: Double, and bid 4 H over a 4 D bid. A 3 NT bid is very scary with both a diamond void and a club suit that’s not 100 percent to run.

Daniel Korbel: I’m really worried about a ruff or wrong-siding the contract! My partner should not be declarer here. I’m torn between all of the choices. If I get the expected 4 D response I can bid 4 H and see what my partner has to say about that.

Comments for 4 H

Ciaran Coyne: There may be a spade ruff out there so an 11-trick game may fail. Partner should correct 4 H to 5 C with 3-2 or 2-1, so I’ll try 4 H. Double is most likely to hear 5 D from partner, which leaves you in a lot of trouble.

Jojo Sarkar: This call describes the hand perfectly. Partner knows we’ll usually have a four-card suit, and our hearts are good. 3 NT is very risky: there’s no guarantee clubs will run; RHO could have some diamonds to run; there could be no spade lead or heart card with partner (which leaves us with eight tricks assuming the clubs come in). Double is madness, because partner could bid 5 D or 6 D, which leaves us no escape; 4 C is unambitious, and 5 C takes us past 4 H.

Comments for 5 C

Michael Dodson: Damned preempts!

Leo Zelevinsky: Devaluing my S K a bit. I’d like to bid 4 H but don’t think partner will know when to pass or go on.

Comment for 4 C

Karen Walker: Partner has a right to expect a 6-5 hand for 4 H here, and 3 NT is suicide if West leads the likely diamond. This hand seems to be worth about 4.25 clubs, but I’ll round down because it’s matchpoints; and because partner may find a raise if he has the cards I need for game; and because it gives him room to bid 4 H on the off chance he has hearts.

Analyses 7W24 MainChallengeScoresTop 2001: A Bridge Odyssey

Problem 4

IMPsE-W VulYou, South, hold:
3 S
4 H
S K J 7 5 4
H 6 4 3
D A 6 3
C 5 4

5 S102176122
6 S94335419
5 D818248
4 S621710537
6 D332541
4 NT10052

A difficult problem to score. The top vote-getter was 4 S, but the consensus clearly favored some kind of preemption. Therefore, the preemptors deserve the top awards. Further, I think 4 S is terribly misguided because it allows West to bid 4 NT — the one bid that is likely to solve the opponents’ problem. The choice of preemption is moot, so I’ve followed the voting of the mainstream choices: 5 S, 6 S and 5 D.

A comparison of old-versus-new bidding trends on this problem is slightly flawed. In 1980, nonvulnerable doubled sets were scored 100, 300, 500, 700, 900, etc., but today (and since 1987) it is 100, 300, 500, 800, 1100, etc. Perhaps this accounts for the 1980 preference for 6 S — what the hell, it’s funny money — and the current preference for 5 S. I decided to stick with my original choice of 6 S, but I liked it a lot more back then. Today I could be bought for a peanut.

The purpose of the 5 D bid may not be clear. It is not intended as a lead-director (South is on lead against hearts) but to dim the opponents’ outlook toward slam. Anyone looking at diamond length may be fearful of a ruff, hence it may persuade the opponents to take a conservative view and miss a cold slam. The more I think about it, the more I like it.

Tactical problems like this generally have no clear solution. In fact, a case could be made for any bid from 4 S through 6 S, or even a striped-tail-ape double of 4 H — imagine the great effect if West redoubles and you run to 4 S. (I chose not to include this choice, lest half the bridge world think I was crazy. Fortunately, that’s not true — those who know me will assure you that I’m only partially crazy.)

The fake Blackwood response deservedly gets a low score (with just a sprinkling of votes it is obvious the respondents saw through this) because it gives West a free double to show strength. In other words, it allows West to bide his time without commitment. The psych used to be more common, in fact I once had a counter agreement with Bill Root that “to double Blackwood is Blackwood” — alas, it was like waiting for a rooster to lay an egg, so we junked it.

Comments for 5 S

Jonathan Steinberg: How good are my opponents? I’m on lead against any heart contract so there is no need to fool around with a diamond call. Let them guess whether to double or bid the slam.

Mark Raphaelson: The opponents figure to make 6 H, but I’ll give them a chance to make the wrong decision and double first.

Thomas Hanford: Let them guess at the six level. I take away their Blackwood. The real problem comes later: If they bid 6 H, do I save? …

Bruce Scott: This is a matter of partnership agreement about preempting style. Is this a pressure bidding situation? (It screams out for pressure bidding in my mind, but some partners think that first chair should be down the middle.) Playing with the down-the-middle partner that you have presumably given me, 5 S should be a good save. I am not willing to bid 6 S. Too much chance that two diamonds cash, or some such. …

Micha Keijzers: Maximum pressure, hope to get doubled there. They’ll probably bid over 4 S… so, if I bid 5 S West has to guess (maybe) whether to bid 6 H or not. We might end up in 5 S then. If they do bid 6 H, I will save with 6 S. I don’t expect partner to have much for a first-hand-at-favorable 3 S.

James Hudson: Four, five or six spades could be the winner. I’ll take the middle course. No reason to bid diamonds; I’ll be on lead if they win the contract.

Tjeerd Kootstra: Should be enough. Their only option is to double if I bid 6 S (can’t imagine them going to 7 H). …

Dirk Enthoven: With 12 trumps between us, even though the LOTT* was not practiced when this set was first adjudicated, it is now and so 6 S should be the ultimate bar to their easy 6 H; but maybe we may get by cheaper. … I’ll bid 6 S over 6 H. …

*Law of Total Tricks

Bas Lodder: Partner might have a side ace or king. Without it, they will make 6 H. … Since I can’t find this out, I hope partner will understand this and bid 6 S over 6 H without a side ace or king.

Leonard Helfgott: If my partner were on lead I’d bid 5 D, but since I’ll be on lead I’ll force them to guess at a high level.

Danny Miles: Maximum pressure. I would like to know partner’s style (can he have A-Q-x-x-x-x and out in this situation?). This cannot possibly go for more than 800 (six spades and the D A) and will make them guess their partner’s spade holding in order to bid slam. If they bid slam, what to lead is an interesting dilemma, so I might have to bid one more! Declarer could be 1=7=2=3 with West 0=3=5=5, and our diamond trick(s) could go away.

Tim Bolshaw: You are surely going to sacrifice in 6 S over 6 H, losing about 800, so the remaining questions are: (1) Any chance opponents might stop short? (2) Might they overreach to 7 H? … Over 5 S, they may just take the sure plus and double. Equally, if I pass, 4 H might be the final contract. 4 NT will not fool them; they are more likely to be goaded into slam by it. If I bid a direct 6 S, they may misjudge and bid 7 H but I reckon good opponents will normally get it right. …

Comments for 6 S

Jack Hawthorne: … The opponents appear to be cold for 6 H. Since I will be on lead against 7 H (if they go), I’ll make them guess now.

Ciaran Coyne: Partner is likely to have the S A-Q, so won’t have much outside. I expect 6 H to make. With a spade void the opponents may go on to 7 H. …

William Bascom: They have no spade losers. This may push them into a failing 7 H.

Rosalind Hengeveld: I’m a straightforward character and a believer in preempting. The only question is what level, but this is what I would bid over 6 H sooner or later.

Sandy Barnes: Maybe they will find 7 H.

Comments for 5 D

Vil Gravis: I have no doubt that we won’t buy this one in 4 S, so it is important to help partner decide what to do if they bid 6 H. The 5 D bid is also likely to stop E-W from bidding 6 H since they may well be afraid of the ruff when there isn’t one (we know that but E-W don’t).

Mark Shaw: Why bid 6 D or 6 S until I have to?

Henry Wong: I expect to be at 5 S sooner or later, and I want my partner to know what to do over 6 H. As I’m on lead, I should be promising the D A and many spades on this auction.

Baxter Clifford: I would prefer to save at 5 S rather than six, and this call might enable us to do it. Partner will know, if they bid 6 H over my later 5 S whether to save or double.

Peter Clinch: I wouldn’t find it at the table, but I like this bid; it seems to be a better mock show of strength than 4 NT. All the spade bids have flaws. …

Pete Roberts: Tell partner I have a trick. Could he have the D K or C K-J? I won’t save over 6 H.

Karen Walker: They’re probably making 6 H (or 6 C or 6 D), and 5 S may just stampede West into bidding it. If West has a marginal hand, 5 D gives him room to make a conservative underbid of 5 H (which he may be convinced to do if he has a weak diamond holding). If he has a stronger hand, 5 D takes away his 4 S and 5 C bids. …

Comments for 4 S

Bill Jacobs: I’m going to play this contract in spades, period; 6 S will go down less than the value of their game, even if it’s technically a phantom. If West 5 H and this comes around to me to bid 5 S, maybe they won’t bid 6 H. If I were to bid 5 S immediately, it’s likely to be a left-handed transfer on West. …

Josh Sinnett: Take away their 4 S cue-bid. Anything higher forces them to bid slam. No reason to make a fancy diamond bid since there’s a 99-percent chance I’ll be on lead anyway.

Steve White: You hope they won’t bid a slam. Take the action that will let West bid an ambiguous 5 H. Passing gives West a slam-try 5 H; bidding 5 S may force West into 6 H. An immediate 6 S, hoping to hear 7 H, is a fine second choice.

Kit Nowicki: If opponents bid 5 H, I will push to 5 S, and subsequently sacrifice in six if needed.

Jojo Sarkar: … We have 12 spades between us (for sure in 1980), so the only trick we take against a heart contract is probably the D A. In spades, we take eight tricks (nine if partner has three clubs, which is unlikely). If I bid 4 S, LHO will most likely bid 5 H, and they miss their slam: -680, a good result. If they are up to bidding the slam, I take the sacrifice then, and go down four: -700 (1980), worse than their game. Bidding 5 S would force them to find their slam, so we should not do that. …

Comment for Pass

Michael Dodson: Where’s my 5 C option? Might be the call to keep them out of 6 H. In the mean time a quiet pass may slow things down.

Analyses 7W24 MainChallengeScoresTop 2001: A Bridge Odyssey

Problem 5

IMPsBoth VulYou, South, hold:
3 NT1
H A J 9 8 4
D A J 7 6 5 3

1. gambling

4 H92176724
4 D72174616
5 D421741
4 NT3002810
4 C218176

The consensus favored the double, though in my view it has two glaring defects: (1) If partner passes, we might not be able to beat it, and (2) if partner bids, he rates to choose 4 S. Certainly, the double has an upside, but it seems too speculative. Usually, when you double you have some idea what you want partner to do — in this case I need a periscope.

For me, I’ll just bid 4 H, which is surely the most likely game our way (if we have one). This may seem like a blind stab, but at least it’s a stab (a double is only blind, hehe). The only other call that seems sensible is just bidding your long suit, 4 D. But there’s no guarantee of finding a diamond fit either, so you might as well take your chances on game. The only good argument for bidding diamonds is that you are less likely to be doubled if you step into trouble.

Comments for Double

Vil Gravis: … When West or East bids 4 C (East should do it since West has bid his hand) I will try 4 D. I don’t mind defending 3 NT doubled.

Mark Raphaelson: I’ll take my chances defending and maybe get a big score. Anything else would be speculation. If partner has either red suit, we figure to go plus big.

Bruce Scott: I would like to know whether lefty has any outside cards or not, but no one ever seems to know when I ask them. Double is general strength. After they run, I will double again for takeout. I will bid 5 D over 4 S and then go down one when partner corrects to 5 H. This could very easily be a real-life problem that went to committee because of tempo issues.

William Bascom: If partner takes out to 4 S, a bid of 5 D should clarify the red two-suiter.

Pete Roberts: Hope for a red queen opposite and the S J after a spade lead. East must have some values to leave in 3 NT; our contract could be expensive.

Chuck Arthur: If partner is broke, they’ll wrap it around my ears, but I’ve been there before. I cannot stand it when teammates whine about our collecting 300 in undoubled undertricks for our cold vulnerable game.

Jojo Sarkar: Tough problem! We might not have enough for game, and we could be laydown for 13 tricks. Once I bid 5 D over partner’s probable 4 S, he should have a fairly clear picture of our hand. If he passes the double, I have something to contribute to defense in all three “unbid” suits — and declarer’s clubs may not run. …

Comments for 4 H

Jonathan Steinberg: Toughest problem of the set! This is the cheapest game, and at least the hearts rate to be on my right if they break poorly.

Thomas Hanford: This may not end the bidding. … If I get doubled, or if the opponents bid 5 C, I will bid 5 D.

Mark Shaw: This has more upside then 4 D, and 4 C (takeout) gets 4 S. Over 5 C I’ll try 5 D and hope partner doesn’t have 2-2 in the reds.

Herbert Wilton: As long as I have to take a position, why not go for the maximum payoff?

Peter Clinch: Not loving it very much, though.

Ciaran Coyne: The toughest one. Don’t like suppressing the six-card suit, but 4 H is the most likely game. If 4 H is in big trouble, 3 NT was probably making. …

Bas Lodder: Then 5 D over 4 S.

Bill Jacobs: Take a shot at a possible game. If doubled viciously, then I can consider running. …

Rosalind Hengeveld: Dangerous — but so is passing.

Tim Bolshaw: I would prefer to know the style of ‘gambling’ 3 NT my opponents are playing. … I want to bid 4 C; partner should read this OK if he has a diamond honor, but the bid sounds natural and is just too risky. Double is ultra risky; the opponents may run nine tricks on a spade lead with our side cold for slam in a red suit! Pass is wet. The choices then are 4 D, 4 H and 4 NT (the latter looking better than 5 D). Bidding a five-card suit in this situation is uncommon, but 4 H is our cheapest game. If the opponents sacrifice in 5 C, I shall consider 5 D; but I do not want to voluntarily commit to 11 tricks.

Richard Price: If doubled, I’ll bid 5 D.

Comments for 4 D

Baxter Clifford: Only because I play them better than I defend them, and a 6-2 might play better than a 5-3 if tapped.

James Hudson: I don’t like my prospects against 3 NT (partner will probably lead a spade), so I’m going to bid something. It’s a toss-up between 4 H and 4 D. … What sways me to 4 D is that I can hold down the undertricks even if partner doesn’t have much help, while in 4 H I need partner to have some hearts, or I’m dead. Cowardice wins out.

Josh Sinnett: Those that bid 4 C deserve to play there, down six — just as bad as them making 3 NT. East’s pass should mean he has some chance at making 3 NT, so he’s got most of the missing goodies. But my length in the reds should make 4 D a decent contract.

Leonard Helfgott: Can’t afford to pass, or double and hear spades, so I’ll make the safer overcall and pray.

Leo Zelevinsky: I think East is likely to have the S A and red kings (one probably with the queen behind it) for his pass. If that’s true, partner will need the perfect lead to set 3 NT, and even that might not be enough, so I won’t pass or double. 4 C is cute, but what if partner gets confused as to what declarer’s suit is? He is likely to be short in both clubs and diamonds. I think a gentle 4 D is enough since the hand might well play poorly with a lack of entries to dummy. …

Sandy Barnes: I’m more worried about 3 NT making than our making a game somewhere. I’ll put my trust in my long suit.

Karen Walker: East’s pass should show honors in all my suits, so partner rates to be pretty broke. Still, I don’t want to defend 3 NT — especially with partner’s expected spade lead — so I’m willing to risk one bid with this hand. …

Einar Sivertsen: West has solid clubs and East has stoppers in the other suits, so North has virtually nothing. With a spade lead, 3 NT rates to make.

Alex Kemeny: Tricky. I do not like to double with this spade holding.

Kit Nowicki: Their 3 NT is probably making, and even if partner passes, I shouldn’t go down more than two.

Comment for 4 NT

Danny Miles: Good problem. There is too much risk in passing or doubling… If partner leads a spade without the ace, hello minus 750 vs. plus 600. Even if partner doesn’t know opener has clubs, 4 NT must be some kind of takeout, so he will pull to his cheapest playable suit. Over 5 C, I bid 5 D showing diamonds plus one or both majors; over 5 D or 5 H I pass; over 5 S I guess I pass also.

Analyses 7W24 MainChallengeScoresTop 2001: A Bridge Odyssey

Problem 6

MatchpointsN-S VulYou, South, hold:

1 S
1 D
2 D
2 S
1 H
S A J 7 6
H K Q 10 8 6
D 9 7
C 8 2

2 NT101810236
3 H93253813
3 D53254717

The people have spoken, and I guess I should listen. But it confounds me why so many would bid 2 NT on these cards. Partner is marked with a singleton spade, and notrump rates to play poorly. Even if partner has solid diamonds, say, S x H x-x-x D A-K-Q-J-x-x C K-x-x, you will probably fail in 3 NT — and don’t tell me partner should offer a heart preference with a hand that suitable for notrump.

I suspect that some voters (perhaps subconsciously) did not think partner could have three hearts because of their familiarity with support doubles. But my rules are no special conventions, so finding partner with three hearts seems rather likely. And even if you catch him with a doubleton, hearts may be the best strain (especially at matchpoints). Funny, I just noticed I’ve been fighting the same cause on four of the six problems — bid hearts and pray. :)

A double of 2 S seems premature. The most likely result is down one, which does not cover your partscore. Could we beat them two? I doubt it; it seems more likely that 2 S would make, and that’s ugly.

Comments for 2 NT

Jonathan Steinberg: I’m one of the old-fashioned people who still play this bid as natural. I’ll pass 3 D by partner. If partner accepts, he’ll show three hearts along the way.

Mark Raphaelson: This looks perfect to me: 10-12 points, opponents’ suit well stopped, doubleton support for partner, and it gives partner a chance to show secondary heart support.

Thomas Hanford: The value bid. If we have a game, it’s probably in 3 NT. If partner has three-card heart support and is interested in game, he can show it at the three level.

Micha Keijzers: This is not a good spade holding for defending 2 S — it might make when we’re cold for 3 NT. So, I’ll give a push towards 3 NT.

Ciaran Coyne: Right on values, stopper. Need to try for vulnerable games at IMPs. I will pass 3 D and bid 3 H over 3 C.

Bas Lodder: Partner can run to 3 D or 3 H. If he doesn’t, we will probably make 2 NT. Even if we can set 2 S, we will probably make 2 NT or 3 D for a better score.

Pete Roberts: Make an effort for the vulnerable game. Partner isn’t minimum and must have a good six-card diamond suit.

Josh Sinnett: A good description of my invitational hand with a spade stopper. It’s the wrong vulnerability for a double, as your plus 100 won’t beat a making diamond or notrump partial.

Leonard Helfgott: I’ll double them at the three level, but since we have a likely eight-card diamond fit and I have 1 1/2 stoppers and a possible source of tricks, 2 NT seems best. Partner can run to 3 D if appropriate.

Karen Walker: I can’t see getting rich defending 2 S doubled. It’s still possible that partner has three-card heart support (or even honor doubleton), but he’ll never show it if I double.

Kit Nowicki: My hand is too strong to sell out to 2 S, and it’s time to let partner in on the fact I have decent stoppers.

Jojo Sarkar: This is a flexible call; partner can pass or bid 3 D with a minimum, or bid 3 H or 3 NT with extras. Double is crazy; the spade bidder is on my left, and they could have a source of tricks in clubs. Pass is rather timid when we have a guarantee of 23 points or so. … Three diamonds would not let partner show three-card heart support. Three hearts might be an OK place to play, but it’s worse than 3 D or 2 NT if partner has a bad heart holding and a minimum. …

Comments for 3 H

Vil Gravis: This is likely to play well as partner is marked with some hearts. I know what I will do if they push on to 3 S!

Jack Hawthorne: Since partner is sure to be short in spades, an implied fit exists. If we’re playing support doubles, 2 NT would be best.

Baxter Clifford: Even a 5-2 fit might play well if partner has the values to take a free rebid. They might be making 2 S, [and if I doubled] partner should not pull with three hearts.

Danny Miles: Partner almost certainly has at least a doubleton heart (I suppose he could have a weak 2=1=6=4) and in notrump (or diamonds) the only entry to my hand will be knocked out at trick one. I don’t like a double with the S A (not useless for offense); they are not vulnerable, and I have soft values in hearts. Opposite S x H J-9 D A-K-10-x-x-x C A-J-x-x, hearts is the place to play (only eight tricks in NT)

Comments for Double

Bruce Scott: This was the toughest problem of the set for me. … I will try for 300, hoping the field is only getting 130 or is going set in 3 NT. In my regular partnership, I would pass and plan to pass a reopening double. At IMPs, I am a 3 D bidder. …

James Hudson: I’m not confident, but maybe partner will pull it if it’s wrong. He won’t expect me to have great spades, and he seems to have lots of diamonds.

Dirk Enthoven: I hope partner can lead a trump.

Don’t worry. If he can’t, just cut his tether and set him adrift in space.

Leo Zelevinsky: I think this is penalty oriented, but partner is allowed to pull. I think the opponents are in deep trouble and we probably don’t have a game our way. …

Alex Kemeny: Take a plus at MPs; I’m quite confident we can beat 2 S. A plus is less certain anywhere else.

Comments for 3 D

Tjeerd Kootstra: Maybe partner can cough up 3 S, in which case I’ll go to 3 NT; otherwise this will be very tricky.

Bill Jacobs: I don’t fancy suggesting notrump (that would be more attractive with the H A than K-Q). For example, partner may have: S x H x-x D A-K-Q-x-x-x-x C Q-J-x. Still, 2 NT is a close second choice (I would certainly try it at IMPs).

Chuck Arthur: Get opponents past their “Law” level before doubling them.

Rosalind Hengeveld: If East has S Q-8-x or equivalent, we won’t have a double stopper for notrump.

Tim Bolshaw: What are our game chances? Low, I suggest, if partner will tend to raise with three hearts and six diamonds. Partner is limited, with the most likely shapes 1=2=6=4 or 1=2=7=3. If I give up on game, I think I must look for the safest reasonable (110 or more) plus. It is a mistake to strain for +140 or +120 if this risks a minus score and close to a bottom. … If the opponents press on to 3 S, I’ll double and hope for 300.

Sandy Barnes: It’s very close between 3 D and 3 H, but I know I have a good dummy for diamonds, and partner is still there if he has three-card heart support and a little extra.

Steve White: My first inclination was double, but the LOTT suggests 3 D. There are probably 16 total trumps, suggesting that either 2 S or 3 D will be down, but not both. It also has the upside that opponents may anticipate 17 total trumps and bid 3 S.

Final Notes

Comments are selected from those in the Top 100. Over 80 percent of the eligible comments were included. If you supplied comments that were not used, I thank you for the input.

Use of a comment does not necessarily mean I agree with it, but just that it expressed something relevant, unique or amusing. Comments are quoted exactly except for corrections in spelling and grammar. Where I have included only part of a comment, an ellipsis (…) indicates where text was cut. Text in [brackets] was supplied by me to summarize a cut portion or fix an omission. Comments for each call are listed in order of respondents’ rank, which is my only basis for sequencing.

Well, have the times changed? I guess so, since five of the six problems took on different top awards than in 1980 (only Problem 1 was the same). For the most part this was an improvement. Not that I agree with them all — it’s just that I disagree a little less than in 1980. Oh, the modern times… Thanks to Problem 3, I can look forward to waking up in the middle of the night screaming: 3 NT with a void!

Thanks to all who responded, and especially to those who offered New Year’s wishes or kind remarks about my web site. While I was watching a TV movie on NBC, this remark arrived — in living color:

Grant Peacock: I noticed that average scores are much higher in the bidding polls than in the play contests. I think (or hope) this demonstrates that although many people bid pretty well, challenges of cardplay are endless and fascinating.

A colorful conclusion, but it really has more to do with my differences in scoring. Bidding problems are usually subjective, so the consensus determines the top award. Play problems, however, almost always have a distinct solution, which receives the top award regardless of the voting consensus.

Analyses 7W24 MainChallengeScoresTop 2001: A Bridge Odyssey

© 2001 Richard Pavlicek