Analyses 8W96  MainChallenge

Deutsch Lands Vienna Coup

Scores by Richard Pavlicek

These six bidding problems were published on the Internet in July of 2006, and all bridge players were invited to submit their answers. The problems are from actual deals played in a past tournament. In the poll I did not reveal the year or location, and participants were invited to guess from the clues on the page.

Problem 123456Final Notes

You’re getting better! Most guesses were right this time. The few who went astray assumed a Venice Cup (anagram in the title) won by Germany (Deutschland), which would mean Paris and Beijing; although Monte Carlo and Estoril were also suggested. On the lighter side, John R. Mayne insisted that the winged lion could mean only one location: “Club Griffin, and the grudge match between Hideous Hog and Papa the Greek.” — a great tribute to the unforgettable Victor Mollo.

Observe that my original title “Deutschland’s Vienna Coup” now appears as four words without the apostrophe, revealing its meaning. Seymon Deutsch captained the winning team, and he actually did land a Vienna coup of sorts by defeating Austria in the final. Many respondents thought my title was an anagram, as it often is. Tristan Dupas made me laugh with “Donald Haunts Venice Cups.” Would that be a Trump coup? The best I could come up with is “U.S. Lost Hand and Venice Cup” — plausible if a crucial deal lost the match, but irrelevant here.

The tournament was held in Venice, Italy. At top is a sunset view of the city skyline. The main giveaway, however, was the definitive picture of the famous Rialto Bridge (Ponte Rialto), which spans the Grand Canal. Also pictured is a view of St. Mark’s Square (Piazzo San Marco). Atop the concrete column is a winged lion, a symbol of Venice that also appears on its city flag, as well as scattered about these pages.

“In every life we have some trouble…”

Besides the title, my only clue to the year was the background song Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin. This became a #1 Hit in 1988, which was the year of the tournament. The song also portends a good attitude for bridge players, though I must admit it’s hard to apply when a 5-0 trump break scuttles your grand slam.

About 40 people offered a guess, and 35 were right on the location (a record by percentage), but only eight came up with 1988 as well. Congratulations to Barry Rigal, Peter Linssen, Joon Pahk, Tim Francis-Wright, Len Vishnevsky, Barry White, Kevin Podsiadlik and Bill Powell. About 12 people guessed 1974, the first world championship in Venice, so identifying the song or page title was key.

Richard Stein Wins!

This poll had 1404 participants from 125 locations, and the average score was 46.37. Congratulations to Richard Stein (California), who was the first of nine with perfect scores. I feel honored that the winner is a beer mug with my name on it. Prost, Deutschland! Others producing 60 were Guy Ledanois (France); Tim Francis-Wright (Massachusetts); David Dumont (Quebec); Gene Saxe (New York); Peter van der Stap (Netherlands); Ben Chosid (Australia); Antonio Ney (Brazil); and Ahsan Qureshi (Pakistan).

Participation was down (lowest since September 2005) for this last poll of the series, suggesting we all need a break. The average score (46.37) was slightly above the all-time average (46.08 for 36 polls with 37,319 entries from 6283 persons), and 741 persons scored 47 or higher to be listed. Nine perfect scores was the third most. Problems 3 and 5 were lopsided, drawing 50-51 percent for the winning call.

In the overall leaderboard, Joshua Donn (Nevada) took over the top spot with a 56.75 average. Josh had the top spot last year for a spell, and when he lost it humorously noted, “I’ll be Bach!” Well, the smoke finally clears, and here he is. Well done! Ragnar Paulson (Ontario) finishes in second place, followed by Manuel Oliveira (Portugal) in third, each with 56.50. Carsten Kofoed (Sweden) is fourth with 56.25; Emrah Sen (Turkey), Jeroen van de Pol (Netherlands) and George Klemic (Illinois) are next with 55.75.

Assume both sides use Standard American bidding (unless noted otherwise) with 15-17 notrumps,
five-card majors and weak two-bids. The object is to determine the best calls based on judgment,
so only basic conventions are allowed. For a system reference, see Standard American Bridge.

Each problem is scored on a 1-to-10 scale. The call receiving the top award of 10 is determined by the voting consensus. Other awards are determined partly by this but mostly by my judgment. What actually happened is included for interest sake but does not affect the scoring.

The eighth quadrennial World Team Olympiad was held in Venice, Italy, October 8-22, 1988. Teams from 56 countries were split into two groups, each playing a complete round-robin. After nine grueling days, the Victory Point standings in Group A: Greece 531, Austria 514, United States 507, Sweden 495, Poland 488, Germany 459, Australia 457, and Netherlands 455. Group B: Italy 525, Denmark 506, Great Britain 502, India 492, France 482, Brazil 476, Hungary 474, and Ireland 461.

Only the top four teams in each group advanced to the quarterfinals (64-board matches). India defeated Greece (surprise Group A winner) 155-132; Austria defeated Great Britain 168-158; United States defeated Denmark 162-147; and Sweden defeated Italy 170-101. The last was a shocker, as most anticipated another U.S.-Italy final. In the semifinals, United States defeated India 190-126, and Austria defeated Sweden 182-132.

The 96-board final would pit United States against Austria, with the U.S. enjoying a 20-IMP carryover from the qualifying rounds. United States increased their lead and held on to win 289-247, although Austria was in striking distance almost throughout. Playing for the U.S. (pictured L-R, top row first) were: Seymon Deutsch, Bob Hamman, Jim Jacoby, Bobby Wolff, Jeff Meckstroth, and Eric Rodwell.

The final match was touted as the worst played of all time, and some of my problem highlights provide evidence. The IMP score is also indicative, as giving up 247 IMPs in 96 boards would lose virtually any match. Two factors certainly contributed to the poor bridge: (1) The event was two weeks long, and (2) players had to cope with unusual systems.

Unusual Systems Threaten Future

Spectator interest and media coverage were dulled by the proliferation of weird systems. Conditions of contest allowing “virtually anything” caused many pairs to adopt bizarre methods, not for their technical superiority but because unfamiliarity might gain an advantage. In other words, if you don’t expect to win on talent, try to confuse the hell out of everyone.

For instance, the Austrian pair Kubak-Fucik played nonvulnerable that a pass showed 17+ points; 1 C showed hearts; 1 D denied opening values; and 1 H showed diamonds. As you consider your defense to this melange, consider also that this pair led its team to the Olympiad final. Thus, it’s easy to see how the strategy can work — alas, with the demise of bridge not far behind.

Is there a solution? I think so. The best way to run a world championship would be for all participants to play the same system. This would be defined by expert opinion, similar to the way Bridge World Standard is based, but on a worldwide scale. Carding methods would also be uniform, or at least chosen from popular alternatives. As an analogy, consider Indy-car racing; the object is not to build the most powerful machine on wheels — half the drivers would be killed then — but to perform best within narrow standards.

Bridge championships would then become tests of bidding judgment and card-playing skill. Spectators would enjoy it, because they could understand it; and before long, bridge would be popular again. Will it happen? Don’t hold your breath. Fifty years from now, a bridge player may be like an 8-track tape player today.

OK, the situation is not quite that bleak — as I listen to another 8-track tape. Now it’s time to pull up a chair and match your bids with the world champs and runners-up of 1988.

Analyses 8W96 MainChallengeScoresTop Deutsch Lands Vienna Coup

Problem 1

IMPsN-S vulYou, South, hold:
1 D
3 S
S A K 3
H A J 7 4 3
D 8 7
C A J 3

Dbl (negative)1059042
3 NT838527
4 NT422816
4 S313810
4 H2634

As expected, this problem was essentially a two-horse race between double (speculative and perhaps aggressive) and 3 NT (conservative to assure a plus score). Other options were thrown in to fit my format but were little more than fodder for the masses — yes, we always seem to have plenty of hungry peasants on the plantation.

Double will be comfortable if partner bids 4 H (insisting on slam seems right), so the main question is what to do over 4 C or 4 D. Many doublers commented they would bid 4 H next, expecting partner to interpret it as a good hand but not a good suit; hence, a probe for strain. I agree with this meaning, though a good slam could be missed (you have an ace more than you might have), and there is no way to stop in notrump if you belong there.* The alternative (over 4 C or 4 D) is to surge forward with a 4 S cue-bid or 5 NT (pick a slam) and hope partner has extra values or extreme shape.

*If partner bids 4 NT over 4 H, or if he cue-bids 4 S and you bid 4 NT, it would be Blackwood. Perhaps this is not the best meaning, but it’s certainly the standard meaning.

I agree with the consensus to double, though I’m torn with the best follow-up over four of a minor. Hey! It hasn’t happened yet, so I’ll just heed the advice of my background song: Don’t worry, be happy.

The other realistic option is to bid a cautious 3 NT. I actually thought it would be the winner — perhaps brainwashed by past quotations of “Hamman’s Rule.” This should certainly yield a plus score, but many slams will be missed. Partner will pass with extra values, as you might bid 3 NT under pressure with a 10-12 count. As evidenced by the voting, 3 NT is more of an underbid than driving to slam is an overbid.

Here’s what happened in the 1988 Olympiad in Venice:

West dealsS 10 7WestNorthEastSouth
N-S vulH 10 6 2RodwellFucikMeckstrothKubak
D A Q J 4Pass1 D3 SDbl
C K Q 9 5Pass4 CPass4 S
S J 6TableS Q 9 8 5 4 2Pass5 CPass5 H
H Q 9 8 5H KPass5 NTPass6 C
D 10 9D K 6 5 3 2All Pass
C 10 8 7 6 2C 4
S A K 3
H A J 7 4 3
D 8 7
C A J 3
Austria N-SUSA N-SWestNorthEastSouth
6 C North6 H SouthTerraneoDeutschKadlecWolff
Down 2 -200Down 1 -100Pass1 D2 S3 H
Pass4 HPass6 H
USA +3 IMPsPassPassPass

At the first table, Kubak faced the problem scenario and chose to double. In itself, this was fine, but he subsequently drove all the way to slam (5 H was certainly forcing). No luck this time, as Fucik had a shapeless minimum. While 6 C was not hopeless, the losing diamond finesse and 5-1 trump break meant down two; minus 200.

At the second table, Deutsch and Wolff faced only puny interference. Kadlec’s 2 S gave Wolff an easy start with 3 H (forcing); alas, he too got carried away by the abundance of controls and blasted into the poor slam. The 4-1 trump break doomed his chances, but Wolff timed the play well to escape for down one — an American victory of sorts, putting 3 IMPs in the plus column.

Comments for Double

Richard Stein: As much as I’d like to saw this off, I’ll have to settle for this start. Don’t ask me what I plan to do next. :)

Robin Zigmond: Good chances of slam, and doubt as to the correct strain. I’d happily bid 3 NT with an ace or so less, but my controls are just too good to give up in 3 NT now — especially at IMP scoring.

Vic Sartor: Three notrump seems a little chicken. If partner has four hearts, I’m willing to push toward slam. …

Bill Breslin: If partner can show hearts, I’ll check for aces — and if he can’t, I’ll still check for aces.

Arpan Banerjee: The preempt has done its job! What do I need from partner for slam? An ace and a couple of kings, right? Six notrump looks good, but I don’t rule out 6 H either, so I double to find out if partner has four hearts. If not, I prefer to play in notrump, even with a 5-3 heart fit. …

Georg Edelmann: I’ll bid 4 S over 4 D (then pass 5 D). I hope partner does not bid 4 C.

William Knowlton: If partner doesn’t bid 4 H, I will bid 6 NT (our 23+ points outside of spades should be enough). …

Jack Lacy: Seems like the best way to try to see if we have a slam; any bid is too unilateral.

Michael Spurgeon: No chance North will leave the double in — unless East has a death wish. I will rebid 4 H over 4 C; or 4 S over 4 D.

Jeffrey Turner: I’ll bid hearts next, or 4 NT [over 4 H].

Noble Shore: This hand is a bit too good for 3 NT. I’ll bid Blackwood over 4 H; 4 S over 4 C or 4 D; or 4 NT over 3 NT.

Gernot Reiners: If partner bids 4 H, I’ll go to slam [via Blackwood]; otherwise, 5 NT.

Antonio Kotsev: Too good to say only 3 NT. … Over 4 H, I’ll cue-bid 4 S

Bill Cubley: Most flexible toward finding a fit or ending up in notrump. Three notrump and 4 H are [inadequate]; 4 NT is just a blind stab that causes problems — do I just jump to 6 NT if partner has no ace?

Jyrki Lahtonen: Most flexible route. We may have a heart fit, and finding out about that is essential to evaluate trick-taking potential.

Sebastien Louveaux: Prospects for slam are too good to blast 3 NT. Staying low is best, as it is far from clear which suit should be trumps.

Marek Malowidzki: Three notrump could be the best contract, but I feel a slam in the air.

Ed Rais: If North has four hearts, slam is a strong possibility.

Willem Mevius: Double seems the most sensible. At the very least, it will make partner sweat for a while; and it will buy me some time to think what to do next.

Andrew Billson: I would like to hear from partner again and hope he will bid hearts next… The problem with 3 NT is that partner may leave it in when 6 NT makes.

Andrew de Sosa: If I find a [heart] fit, I will pursue slam with 4 S

Jay Weinstein: Steve Robinson always says to make the most flexible call. Since almost anything could be the right contract, I’ll keep the bidding as low as possible.

Franklin Gonzalez: Slam is in the picture, so I’ll start slowly to see what partner has to say. Most probable contracts are 6 H or 6 NT, but 5 NT is a potential escape. …

Leonard Helfgott: Three notrump and 4 H appear inadequate, and 4 NT would never be taken as natural. This delays the problem for one more round!

Martin Bootsma: I am not happy with this, but there is no perfect solution. I have too much to bid 3 NT; a quantitative 4 NT would be ideal, but it’s Blackwood; and 4 S [implies] spade shortness, not A-K. …

Jean-Christophe Clement: … This allows me to find the best slam (6 H or 6 NT), which may be too high; but with three aces, I must be optimistic.

Imre Csiszar: This risks bypassing the only makable game, but 3 NT looks cowardly with this rock-crusher. If partner cannot bid 4 H (over which I’ll cue-bid 4 S) or go higher, I’ll rebid 4 H,…which should be stronger than an immediate 4 H. …

Stephen Fischer: Followed by 4 H, unless something interesting happens. Since I didn’t bid 4 H initially, this should show doubt about the contract; and partner might move with a good hand for hearts, or length in both minors.

Jack Brawner: This is the only way to involve partner in the auction. I’ll soon be on uncertain ground and suspect I’ll be heading for 6 NT, unless partner shows a heart suit. Can I announce a quantitative 4 NT bid? :)

Brad Theurer: I need input from partner. Three notrump and 4 H do not show extras and are too committal as to strain; 4 S shows my good hand but uses up bidding space, and partner may think I have diamond support (certainly not five hearts); 4 NT is wrong since I do not know which strain to play…

Mark Raphaelson: Obviously, there’s no perfect call. If partner happens to have four hearts, even 7 H is possible. This keeps all avenues open. If partner is stuck for a bid, he might even bid 4 H with only three.

Harry Ropper: This [allows] partner to describe his hand, and I can still press on with 4 NT. If I bid 3 NT or 4 H, he will pass.

Charles Blair: I will try slam over 4 H by partner; bid 4 H over four of a minor; or lead a diamond against 3 S doubled.

Richard Morse: Three notrump is way too pessimistic and unilateral (particularly knowing that West is a passed hand), and 4 S leaves too little space. There is no chance partner will convert this to penalties, given my trumps.

Rosalind Hengeveld: Well-timed preempt! Three notrump may work out best but is too much of an underbid. Double is certainly not a panacea, but there is no sensible alternative — easy solution to a hard problem. :)

Owen Cotton-Barratt: A direct 3 NT may work out best, but I feel too heavy; there are lots of hands partner will pass, and slam will be missed. A direct 4 NT is not natural, and 4 H or 4 S badly misrepresent the hand. …

John Lusky: This should let opener give me useful distributional information. Slam chances are too good to bid 3 NT.

Tim DeLaney: The hand is too good to give up by bidding 3 NT. I will cue-bid 4 S next.

Joon Pahk: I’m not sure what it will mean when I follow up with 4 H over partner’s four of a minor; but hopefully he will work out that it’s a strong hand with uncertainty about strain… Over any other rebid, I’ll drive to slam.

Scott Stearns: A strange looking call, but it elicits the most information. Partner won’t pass or bid 3 NT, so I’ll have a [better] idea which strain to play slam in…

Danny Kleinman: I’m prepared to bid a heart slam if partner bids 4 H; else I’ll bid 4 NT next… Might not partner take a subsequent 4 NT as Blackwood? I hope not, as 4 NT should always be natural in the absence of major-suit agreement. …

Neelotpal Sahai: Slam is a distinct possibility, so I’ll conserve bidding space and learn more about partner’s hand.

Boris Richter: Hand is too strong to bid just 4 H, and I prefer to have 6+ hearts for that. If partner bids 4 D, I [will bid 4 S] to investigate a slam in diamonds.

Chris Willenken: Key question is the meaning of a 4 NT continuation over partner’s 4 C or 4 D. If natural (as my regular partnerships), it must be slam invitational, as I would bid 3 NT [directly] on all minimum game-forcing hands with a spade stopper. If a second-round 4 NT would be Blackwood, I’d bid a simple 3 NT now.*

*As always, my policy is never to change votes based on comments. Poor Chris will have to settle for 10. -RP

Daniel de Lind van Wijngaarden: It seems better only to try 6 H with a nine-card, as bad breaks are likely.

John R. Mayne: Ugly, but no other start helps with strain. If I could bid a natural 4 NT, that would be thrilling; but partner, the charlatan, is going to take it as Blackwood.

Andrei Varlan: Followed by a 4 S cue-bid.

Daniel Korbel: Three notrump could work out a lot better and is probably the superior call — but I just can’t help myself.

Mauri Saastamoinen: Ugly bid by East. Bidding 3 NT will miss many good slams. I intend to make one more try (4 S) over partner’s 4 C or 4 D, or raise his 5 C or 5 D to six; if he bids 4 H, I might as well bid 6 H. This way, we should find 6 C opposite S x H x-x D A-K-x-x-x C K-Q-10-x-x; 6 D opposite S x H K-x D A-Q-10-x-x-x-x C K-x-x; or 6 H opposite S x H K-Q-x-x D A-K-x-x-x C x-x-x. If partner has something like S x H K-x-x D A-Q-x-x-x C K-x-x-x, pass is a good option (I will lead the S K).

Barry Rigal: Four hearts and 3 NT figure to end the auction, of which 3 NT is at least playable — but I want more (cue-bid Sondheim).

Comments for 3 NT

Ken Cohen: Could easily miss slam, but probably the safest action.

Emmanuel Amiot: Stay fixed. Even a good-looking heart slam will probably flounder against bad breaks.

Chris Cook: East is nonvulnerable, so 3 S might be light; could it be S Q-J-x-x-x-x-x and out? … Slam does not look likely, as any missing honors are likely to be with West. With a lot of distribution [around], 3 NT is the safe place to play…

Rob Wijman: Bad breaks are announced, which makes a slam unlikely. Double is futile; if partner does not have hearts, what will I do after his 4 C or 4 D bid?

Sandy Barnes: Endplayed into this bid. Double followed by 4 NT could be misread; 4 H is a wild guess.

Jonathan Steinberg: An underbid, but 4 NT would be Blackwood. If I start with a double, what do I bid if partner bids 4 C or 4 D? Four hearts overstates my hearts and understates my hand; 4 S should show diamond support. Tough hand!

Joshua Donn: I have no diamond fit, no spot cards, and my jacks seem a bit isolated; so I’ll go low after the preempt. I really think 4 NT should be natural here, but very few would agree…

Forrest Smith: Several years ago I coined the phrase “sucker’s slam” for my benefit (if no one else’s) when the holder of 17 HCP opposite an opening bid cannot refrain from bidding slam. This case is different, in that responder [has few options], but I decided to stay true to my principles… It is uncanny how often it’s exactly 17 HCP opposite a minimum opener.

Gerald Cohen: An underbid, but sadly 4 NT is Blackwood; 4 S without a diamond fit is poor partnership bidding; and a negative double followed by 4 S (over the expected 4 C or 4 D) is a leap into the unknown. …

Charles Leong: Color me conservative, but slam needs a perfecta; too much chance of a minimum balanced hand across.

Matt Lahut: Hamman’s Rule strikes again. If partner has the holy city, his next move will point us to the correct slam.

I’m not sure I wholly agree, but the heart suit may be holey enough for your holy city.

Josh Sinnett: It is possible that I can make more — but it’s also possible that this is our limit.

Damo Nair: With 7 HCP in East’s suit, this hand doesn’t look all that remarkable — a heart suit with holes, and no diamond help for partner — so slam appears very distant.

Hendrik Sharples: Heavy, but all other calls would likely lead to intractable problems. If I double, what do I bid over 4 C? If I cue-bid 4 S or bid 4 NT, [where am I headed]? Four-heart bidders deserve to find partner with 2=1=5=5 pattern.

George Klemic: With significant extras, partner can take further action. Partner will virtually never have a spade stopper, so I may be stuck if I double.

Alon Amsel: A good hand but no good suit, and too many points in East’s suit to make a slam try on my own.

Steve White: No good way to explore, as 4 NT is Blackwood; and double is unsatisfactory unless partner bids 4 H.

Geoff Bridges: I’m a little heavy for this call, but most of the alternatives run a serious risk of ending in a bad strain or too high.

Curt Reeves: Suits will be splitting poorly, so I pull in a notch.

Analyses 8W96 MainChallengeScoresTop Deutsch Lands Vienna Coup

Problem 2

IMPsNone vulYou, South, hold:


2 D
1 S
S A K 10 2
H 10 7
D A 3
C A K Q 10 2

3 C1058041
3 NT929321
2 S622316
2 NT530822

I was surprised by the voting, as I thought it would be a race between 2 NT and 3 NT; now all of a sudden the field decides to be honest citizens, showing their real suit. Could this have been caused by my recent contest theme on Alcatraz? Who knows, but the lack of a heart stopper seems a trivial concern — especially after your takeout double implied hearts.

Most club bidders pictured a safe game in 5 C if partner had a club fit and as little as the D K or Q-J; e.g., S x H x-x-x D K-x-x-x-x C J-x-x-x would be enough, while a surprise heart lead might defeat 3 NT. There is also an outside chance for slam if partner is on the top of his bid; e.g., S x-x H A-x-x D K-x-x-x C J-x-x-x isn’t worth a jump response, and 6 C is excellent. These chances seem long, compared to the missed shot at 3 NT when partner passes 3 C, but I’ll honor the consensus. With slight misgivings, 3 C gets the top award.

My choice is to overbid slightly with 3 NT. If clubs run for five tricks, this will often make opposite many hands with which partner would pass 2 NT or 3 C. For instance, would partner raise 2 NT to 3 NT with S x-x H x-x-x D K-x-x-x C x-x-x-x? Maybe but doubtful. On a good day, 3 NT will make opposite nothing but the C J or the right Yarborough (e.g., S x-x H x-x D x-x-x-x-x C x-x-x-x) assuming a spade lead. I don’t consider a heart lead likely, as most Wests will assume the sequence (double then 3 NT) was chosen to check for a heart fit.

Cue-bidding 2 S has merit, as it is equally aggressive with 3 NT while offering potential to choose the superior game (5 C or 3 NT). For example, if partner has three hearts, he will probably bid 3 H (having virtually denied four), which will suggest 3 NT is the better game. If he bids 3 C instead, you can expect matching doubletons in hearts, then invite with 4 C. In practice, however, partner’s most likely rebid is 3 D; over which you’ll probably bid 3 NT anyway, so you may as well bid it over 2 D. Another downside is that partner may pull a delayed 3 NT, thinking your spade stopper is only the ace.

Those who bid 2 NT appear to be stricken by point count rather than visualization. They have a sound argument, of course, that clubs may not run — and without the C 10, I’d agree — but it feels pessimistic. I’ve never run a simulation for this situation, but I’d guess clubs are at least 65 percent to run.

Enough speculation. Here’s what happened in the 1988 Olympiad:

East dealsS 9 4 3WestNorthEastSouth
None vulH 6 3BergerMeckstrothMeinlRodwell
D Q J 6 5 21 SDbl
C J 9 4Pass2 DPass2 NT
S 7 5TableS Q J 8 6Pass3 NTPassPass
H A 9 8 4 2H K Q J 5Pass
D 10 9 4D K 8 7
C 6 5 3C 8 7
S A K 10 2
H 10 7
D A 3
C A K Q 10 2
USA N-SAustria N-SWestNorthEastSouth
3 NT South3 NT SouthWolffFucikHammanKubak
Down 1 -50Down 1 -501 SDbl
Pass2 DPass3 NT
No swingPassPassPass

The problem scenario arose at both tables, however, it was slightly different in Venice since both Easts opened four-card majors.* Rodwell handled the situation by inviting with 2 NT, and Meckstroth accepted, no doubt hoping to catch D A-K-x opposite. Kubak took the practical view and bid 3 NT directly.

*As a problem, it seemed better against five-card majors. Certainly, if East could have only four spades, the case for a heart lead against 3 NT grows considerably — as it happened. Thus, the notrump bids in practice were doubtful (if not misguided); while those in my problem were sensible.

On the actual layout, 3 NT was the only chance for game, because 5 C was doomed with any lead (except a diamond). Alas, both Wests ignored their partner’s opening and led the H 4 — curtains to 3 NT. I wonder how many experts would lead a heart playing five-card majors. I must admit I’d lead the S 7.

Comments for 3 C

Richard Stein: I have to go through with my plan. Bidding notrump isn’t appealing, as West is likely to have five or six hearts and lead one.

Tim Francis-Wright: I have sympathy for 2 NT (right on values but wrong on shape), which would get my vote over a 2 H advance. Partner is [likely] short in hearts but will surely make a try for 3 NT with a heart stopper…

Gene Saxe: Where are the hearts? My next bid is 3 NT.

Carsten Kofoed: Partner typically has 3-4 HCP, and a possible 3 NT may require him to be declarer.

Bill Breslin: … If partner bids 3 H, I’ll bid 3 NT. If he bids 4 C, I’ll bid 4 D to show a control and see if he can show heart control.

Michael Spurgeon: I doubled intending to bid clubs next, and partner has done nothing to alter this plan.

Chris Cook: Partner would bid hearts with four [so notrump is dangerous]. …

Noble Shore: Hearts is a valid concern for notrump, since opponents have a known eight-card fit, and West may well be 1-5 in the majors. Seems like a 2 S cue-bid will draw 3 D nearly all of the time.

Rob Wijman: The practical bid is 3 NT; I only need a bit of help and some hearts with partner to land nine tricks; however, partner will [almost never] have four hearts, given his 2 D bid. Bidding 3 C is more sophisticated; but will partner bid on with S x-x H J-9-x D K-J-x-x-x C x-x-x?

Bill Cubley: This describes my values… Maybe partner can bid 3 H, then I’ll bid 3 NT.

Jonathan Steinberg: This shows a very strong hand. I’m in no rush to bid notrump with two little hearts.

Perry Groot: The most likely contract is 3 NT, however, the heart suit may be a problem; if partner has non-minimal values, it is still possible to get there over 3 C. If I bid 2 NT, it will be impossible to get to a club contract.

Willem Mevius: This gives partner the option to bid his heart stopper; if he passes, 3 C is likely to be the best contract.

Or Shoham: If partner can’t rebid, I shouldn’t be any higher. [Notrump bids] are headed for trouble.

Franklin Gonzalez: … Conservative but reasonable; not all 20-HCP hands are destined to produce game… Partner will bid 3 H if he has a heart stopper, knowing he has already denied four hearts.

Bill Powell: Maybe I will have [better chances] in 3 NT, having understated my spade holding.

Billie Johnson: Invitational. Partner was forced to bid and might have a Yarborough.

Manuel Paulo: After a strong takeout double (i.e., not the expected distribution), I must show my long suit.

Stephen Fischer: Showing about this strength. If partner doesn’t have enough for game, 3 C is likely to be the best partscore.

Brad Theurer: Having no heart stopper, it seems right to mention a good club suit and see if partner can show heart values or club support. I’ll pass a 3 D rebid; bid 3 NT over 3 H; or raise 4 C to game.

Geoff Bridges: I see no rush to bid notrump; partner may be bust, in which case clubs may be safer than notrump. If partner has game values, he [may] cue-bid 3 S, and I can bid 3 NT. Given that West did not stick in a spade raise, I may not get a spade lead [in notrump].

Thijs Veugen: I’m afraid of a heart lead against 3 NT, so I’ll settle for a slight underbid.

Joon Pahk: If we don’t have game, this is the strain I want to play in. If we do, hopefully partner will bid again.

Neelotpal Sahai: Hearts is a weak spot for notrump, and 2 D from partner doesn’t enthuse me much. Partner may bid 3 H if he has [three or] four hearts and 4-8 HCP, in which case I will go to 3 NT.

Curt Reeves: I’ll give partner one more chance to do something; he can pass with a Yarborough.

Comments for 3 NT

Ken Cohen: Opponents may run five heart tricks, but it’s worth taking a chance.

Robin Zigmond: The pragmatic choice; I might even struggle to make this when partner has nothing at all. Partner would have responded at the three level with much in the way of values.

William Knowlton: I don’t want to clue West into a heart lead, as 2 S P 3 H P; 3 NT [might] do. A spade lead and an entry to dummy gets three spade winners in notrump.

Jack Lacy: I wonder why I doubled, but I seem to have survived. … If opponents do not take the first five hearts, I will probably make this.

Sandy Barnes: Three small clubs and the stiff S J may be enough for 3 NT.

Joshua Donn: I am worried about hearts but willing to overlook that. The one bid I think is clearly wrong is 2 NT; should partner raise with S J-x-x H x-x-x D x-x-x C 9-x-x-x? At IMPs, when the right pile of nothing makes game worthwhile, I bid it.

Gerald Cohen: A good partner has the black jacks, or the D K and a little something in hearts. When you dive into the depths of the unknown, it is better to grasp for a pearl than a pebble. No one will double, so going down is no big deal.

Marek Malowidzki: Most likely game we could make.

Charles Leong: A slight overbid; but as little as the D K opposite gives this a good play, and I’m not sure [partner] would raise 2 NT to 3 NT with only that card.

Tim McKay: Partner will never raise me to 3 NT with, say, just the D K, yet I have a good chance of making.

Josh Sinnett: Fine stoppers in East’s suit and a lot of tricks. Bidding less would be chicken.

Imre Csiszar: The HCP count suggests 2 NT, but this hand is much stronger than a mere 20 points. On the expected spade lead, 3 NT makes if partner has as little as 1 HCP, the C J.

Hendrik Sharples: Seems just a bit too good for 2 NT; so with a close decision, I’ll go for the bid that pays the best when it’s right. West’s silence hopefully marks partner with some values.

Charles Blair: Most likely game.

Steve White: Chances for 3 NT are excellent if clubs run; 2 NT could be less than this.

Rosalind Hengeveld: As partner did not bid hearts, opponents probably have eight between them, likely five with West. Since 2 S or 3 C does not ask for a heart stopper — before the postmortem — I hope West is the type who, when in doubt, leads his partner’s suit, if only to keep him happy. (My partners, though, in order to keep me happy, have strict orders to find the killing lead, be it my suit or not.)

Danny Kleinman: This hand is worth 23 HCP by my count (look at all those tricks!), so it’s too strong for 2 NT. …

Daniel de Lind van Wijngaarden: With eight tricks in hand, no use to look elsewhere.

Comments for 2 S

Arpan Banerjee: Too many points [to risk missing game], so I’ll tell partner the good news and ask him to describe further.

Gernot Reiners: I will not take a chance on the heart suit [in notrump]. If partner bids 3 H, I’ll go to 3 NT; if he bids 3 C or 3 D, we may have a shot at game in a minor.

Damo Nair: Looking for any signs of life. Partner obviously doesn’t appear to have four hearts, so I’m not sure if it’s wise to leap to 3 NT.

Richard Morse: Three notrump is wrong, because it may lead to a silly result with hearts wide open…

Jerry Fink: This [shows] 22+ points, which is just about right. Two notrump describes the right HCP range (19-21) but is seriously flawed by the unstopped heart suit; 3 C is a [slight] understatement of my strength.

Barry White: Hoping for more information. Over 3 C or 3 D, I will raise; over 2 NT or 3 H, I will bid 3 NT.

Comments for 2 NT

Anthony Golding: Close between this and 3 NT; partner should raise with a trick.

Georg Edelmann: Hearts [wide] open prevents me from bidding 3 NT directly, but there’s a good chance West will not lead his likely five-card suit.

Antonio Kotsev: Worst scenario: down two. As little as S x-x H x-x-x D Q-J-x-x-x C 9-x-x offers chances for 3 NT.

Andrew de Sosa: This is perfect on values, with only the minor flaw of a missing heart stopper. Partner’s failure to bid hearts is both ominous and encouraging; the fewer hearts he has, the more likely clubs will run. In any case, it will be difficult for West to lead the suit I have tacitly shown.

Leonard Helfgott: With plenty in reserve, to be sure, but I won’t bury partner for an obligatory response. …

Martin Bootsma: Close between 2 NT and 3 C. … As I cannot show heart weakness on this auction, partner could never know whether we should play in clubs or notrump; so I’ll just bid 2 NT to show the strength of my hand.

Jean-Christophe Clement: Asking partner to bid 3 NT with a non-minimum hand — but a heart lead may be a killer.

Jack Brawner: Carrying out my original plan. Even if opponents can run hearts, West may not lead one.

Mark Raphaelson: Partner has shown 0-9 points. I’m not convinced I can take nine tricks without some help, nor do I want to telegraph how ready I am for a spade lead.

George Klemic: Best description of my values. Partner needs to provide something for 3 NT to make.

Owen Cotton-Barratt: Treating this as a balanced hand. If I don’t mention a spade stopper this good now, it may be hard to stop in 3 NT. I may occasionally miss game, but 3 NT is too rich for me.

John Lusky: A slight underbid; but if partner bids again, it may help us judge whether to avoid 3 NT in favor of five of a minor.

Tim DeLaney: About right on values, and with a good chance to preserve a plus score if partner is broke.

Scott Stearns: I guess this shows a balanced 20-count with spades well stopped…

Boris Richter: Slam should be out of the question now that partner is relatively weak, so with spades well stopped I prefer 2 NT despite the danger of a heart lead. Since the top hearts are probably with East (or split), West will probably lead a spade anyway.

Chris Willenken: A mild underbid, but it gives me room to get out of notrump. Despite the heart worry, I think I have to bid notrump on this hand — despite it being wrong on the real-life deal.

A wise guy. Next thing he’ll tell me is that he played hookey from grade school to be in Venice.

John R. Mayne: This sounds about right on strength and shape, but all four options have merit (though 2 S accomplishes least). Things have actually gone well for my double. (I would have overcalled 2 C, but don’t tell anyone.)

Mauri Saastamoinen: … If West has five hearts and one or two spades, I say he should definitely choose a heart if I jumped to 3 NT now. This way, he has a much harder choice.

Barry Rigal: If I jump to 3 NT (I’m nearly worth it), I might hear 4 H next and not like it.

Analyses 8W96 MainChallengeScoresTop Deutsch Lands Vienna Coup

Problem 3

IMPsE-W vulYou, South, hold:
2 H
3 C1
2 NT
S A 8 7 3 2
D A Q J 3
C Q 9 4
1. feature

4 H1070050
3 S815111
3 H71078
3 D5886
3 NT435825

The near-majority vote for 4 H confirms that this was not a problem I was proud of, but it’s often hard to find six problems in the same event with good multiple alternatives. Sometimes I have to settle for mediocrity and hope (pray?) that other viewpoints will distribute the voting. No luck this time, as 50 percent saw it my way, bidding 4 H.

Certainly, the hand is not worth driving to game after 2 H (especially at favorable), so bidding 2 NT was necessary* to discover if partner had any extras, and 3 C confirmed it. Now it seems adequate to bid a game, and 4 H stands out because 3 NT is likely to suffer from communication problems.

*In the default methods, 2 NT is the only force below game, so starting with 2 S was not a consideration. Showing a feature indicates more than a minimum; i.e., opener should rebid 3 H with S x-x H Q-10-x-x-x-x D x-x C K-x-x.

Bidding a new suit after a 2 NT response is forcing, but I don’t see any advantage. Opener is unlikely to have adequate spade support, having already shown a club feature, so 3 S may elicit an unwelcome raise on Q-x or J-x; and even if you catch three spades, 4 S may be inferior to 4 H. Note that a second-seat weak two-bid is likely to deliver a decent suit.

Some respondents felt the lack of fit and blocked communication didn’t even warrant game after 3 C — and a few even questioned the 2 NT response itself, preferring to pass and hope West will act. Returning to 3 H, while conservative, is a reasonable action, as opener should bid again* with a tiptop maximum or exciting shape.

*Some would disagree, since 2 NT is occasionally used as a tactical bid. Even so, 2 NT shows game interest in the default system, so opener must be allowed to continue. Constructive use of this sequence improves game-bidding accuracy.

I’m not sure what a 3 D bid is trying to accomplish, but I’d love to be around for the postmortem. Anyone who follows this route probably also opens e-mail attachments that say, “Use this patch immediately!” By golly, it just might work.

The one bid I really dislike is 3 NT, a virtual suicide pact with entry problems staring you in the face. Give partner a typical hand such as S x H K-Q-x-x-x-x D x-x-x C K-x-x, and you’ll need a small miracle (3-3 hearts and the C A onside), while 4 H is a heavy favorite. My award of 4 is generous, but I couldn’t ignore the large vote. Hamman’s Rule? Not!

Here’s what happened in the 1988 Olympiad:

West dealsS JWestNorthEastSouth
E-W vulH K Q J 8 7 4JacobyKubakHammanFucik
D 4 2Pass2 HPass2 NT
C K 7 5 2Pass3 CPass3 D
S Q 5 4TableS K 10 9 6Pass4 CPass5 C
H 6 2H 10 9 5 3PassPassPass
D 10 9 6 5D K 8 7
C A 10 8 3C J 6
S A 8 7 3 2
D A Q J 3
C Q 9 4
Austria N-SUSA N-SWestNorthEastSouth
5 C North4 H NorthBergerMeckstrothMeinlRodwell
Down 1 -50Made 5 +450Pass1 HPass1 S
Pass2 HPass2 S
USA +11 IMPsPass2 NTPass3 C
Pass3 HPass3 NT
Pass4 HAll Pass

The problem scenario arose at the first table, but 3 C showed either a bad hand or a club feature; 3 D asked which; 4 C showed a pronounced two-suiter (3 NT would show a feature); and Fucik raised to game. I wonder if Jim Jacoby could keep a straight face, as he collected his three trump tricks.

At the second table, Meckstroth’s style nearly precludes a weak bid with 10 HCP, so he opened 1 H and curiously was able to bid 2 H, 3 H and 4 H on the artificial auction (2 S and 3 C were relays). Eleven tricks were easily won, and he could have made 12 if needed.* An 11-IMP present to the U.S.

*After the actual spade lead, West can be squeezed in the minors. (Only a diamond lead stops it.)

Comments for 4 H

Richard Stein: My C Q just became a useful value.

Tim Francis-Wright: There are surely hands where 4 S makes and 4 H doesn’t,…but the most likely game is 4 H, and I know it, so I should bid it.

Carsten Kofoed: In second seat, partner should have a decent heart suit.

Ken Cohen: Because of communication issues, our hands figure to take more tricks in hearts [than notrump].

Vic Sartor: If I trust partner’s second-seat weak twos to be decent, I have to follow through when he bids his feature; three losers seems a reasonable guess. Opposite possible garbage, I should probably have passed 2 H.

Toby Kenney: I assume 3 C also indicates a better-than-average hand for partner’s preempt, so I want to play in game.

Bill Breslin: Sometimes hearts break 3-3!

Arpan Banerjee: The C Q is working for partner, and my top cards in spades and diamonds will definitely offer a play for game, so I bid it.

Anthony Golding: Opposite a non-minimum, I’m bidding game, and 4 H must surely be the best game (unless partner has a five-card suit with three spades); and the best possible hand doesn’t make slam good.

Georg Edelmann: Bidding the game I think I (oops, partner) can make.

Emmanuel Amiot: Not sure I can get to dummy in notrump; e.g., opposite S x-x H K-J-x-x-x-x D x-x C K-x-x.

Michael Spurgeon: North’s hand may have no entry, or otherwise be useless in notrump. I’ll stretch a little to bid game at IMPs.

Chris Cook: Partner is not minimum, so despite a misfit in hearts there are good chances for…game. Notrump is dangerous,…as partner seems to have no more than one side entry.

Noble Shore: I can’t make 3 NT if I can’t get to partner’s hand.

Rob Wijman: The 3 C bid improved my hand quite a bit. Opposite S x-x H K-Q-x-x-x-x D x-x C K-J-x, we have a [good] chance for game, but partner might pass an invitational 3 H (depending on methods and style). I’ll take the blame myself and blast game.

Bas Lodder: If partner holds an average hand like S J-x H K-J-10-x-x-x D x-x C K-10-x, 4 H has a fair chance. Three notrump is only better if hearts run [and partner has an entry], which is not very probable.

Sandy Barnes: To want to be in slam, partner needs a stiff spade — and even that may not be enough. Four hearts takes much less to be a better spot than 3 NT.

Jonathan Steinberg: The 3 C bid helped me, and 4 H seems like the best game.

Joshua Donn: Like on Problem 2, if game may be on opposite the right hand for partner, I bid it at IMPs. No other bid has the slightest appeal — least of all 3 NT.

Sebastien Louveaux: This seems obvious. Game should have a play, and slam is out of the picture.

Jyrki Lahtonen: Looks like the safest game. Partner may have trouble drawing trumps, as he is unlikely to have a surplus of entries, but a likely pointed-suit singleton might do. Nine tricks may be the limit, but I’m not stopping in 3 H today.

Marek Malowidzki: A close decision, but there are reasonable chances when partner has a decent heart suit…

Charles Leong: In my universe, partner has a maximum weak two (for a second-seat preempt) and a club card. With H A-x, I would make a slam try;…but I can’t see 6 H happening here.

Or Shoham: Entries are an issue. Hopefully, partner can find 10 tricks somewhere.

Josh Sinnett: Aces are better for suit play than notrump; and partner should have a decent suit to open a weak two in second seat, even at these colors.

Billie Johnson: Partner’s 3 C is encouraging, and we [likely] have 26+ HCP. With his long heart suit, partner can [probably reach his hand] by ruffing spades.

Leonard Helfgott: Hearts should play better than notrump — or spades, even if a 5-3 fit — and I’ve heard the positive noise I asked for. Notrump could fare very badly if…hearts aren’t solid.

Martin Bootsma: Once partner makes a forward move, game should have chances.

Jean-Christophe Clement: A game must be played, and communication problems are likely in 3 NT.

Manuel Paulo: As partner is not minimum, I bid game, and his suit looks like the best strain.

Jack Brawner: … I once asked Jeff Meckstroth how to know when to bid 3 NT opposite partner’s weak two-bid. He answered, “You’re getting your bad boards when you try,” grinned, and walked away. A stiff ace would not have tempted me even in my younger daze, er, days.

Damo Nair: Feature in clubs? So what? :) If partner produced a feature in diamonds or spades, I’d still bid 4 H.

Hendrik Sharples: Three hearts has to be passable, and I don’t know what useful information can be elicited by bidding 3 D. Partner may raise 3 S to four, which may not be fun in a 5-2 fit. Three notrump may have nine runners (if I can reach them), but 4 H should have a good play. Since partner opened in second seat, I’ll play him for a classic weak two-bid.

George Klemic: Four hearts is [better than 3 NT] because of transportation problems, and should have a play, even opposite S x-x H K-J-10-x-x-x D x-x C A-x-x.

Alon Amsel: If I’m not going to bid game now, I should have passed 2 H. Three notrump doesn’t make any sense at all, because of the lack of communication.

Richard Morse: Why muck around, giving help to the opposition, when this is the obvious resting place? It is difficult to visualize hands where 3 NT is superior.

Geoff Bridges: Aggressive, but this may work out. … Transportation in 4 H should be a lot easier than in 3 NT.

Tim DeLaney: Choice is between 3 H and 4 H, and most of my cards are working; I expect game to make about half the time.

Scott Stearns: I’ll play partner for H K-Q-x-x-x-x and the C K, so game looks like a reasonable shot.

Danny Kleinman: What I would have bid at my first turn. I don’t believe in trying to thread the needle at IMPs, stopping one trick short of game; I don’t believe in weak twos with mediocre suits; I don’t believe in giving defenders further information needlessly; and I don’t want to play game in any other strain, where partner’s hearts might go to waste.

Neelotpal Sahai: This is surely superior to 3 NT. Partner has the C A or C K, and his six hearts to the K-Q, K-J or Q-J may be useful only in a heart contract. My spade suit is too weak to bid comfortably.

Chris Willenken: I need hearts to be trumps to enjoy partner’s suit. For example, give partner S x-x H K-Q-x-x-x-x D x-x-x C K-x, and 4 H requires either the diamond finesse or 3-3 hearts; while 3 NT requires 3-3 hearts, the C A onside [and no club lead], else some miracle.

Alan Kravetz: If partner has H K-Q-J-x-x-x C K-x, 3 NT [may be] hopeless, while 4 H depends on the diamond finesse at worst.

Carolyn Ahlert: …My spades are too weak to try 3 NT. I think we are better off in a 6-1 heart fit, especially since I have the ace.

Comments for 3 S

Andrew de Sosa: Partner’s 3 C already shows a non-minimum opener, so I will try 3 S on the way to game, just in case partner has a fit. I will convert 3 NT to 4 H, as there’s too much chance of losing the heart suit in notrump.

Stephen Fischer: Opposite a hand like S x-x H K-Q-x-x-x-x D x-x C K-x-x, 4 H is better. Swap a minor card for another spade, and I’d prefer to be in 4 S.

Mark Raphaelson: I strongly believe that partner may open 2 H with three spades…

Julian Lim: After which partner should bid 4 S with three-card support… I am reluctant to play in 3 NT because of the heart blockage.

Owen Cotton-Barratt: Lots of aces make my hand well-suited for suit play. Bidding 4 H might help get a favorable lead, but I’ll try 3 S and retreat to 4 H if not raised. …

Gerald Murphy: Who knows, partner may have three spades; if not, I can bid 4 H as intended all along.

Comments for 3 H

Robin Zigmond: It’s hard to see game making… Three notrump is obviously doomed on such a misfit; 4 S can’t be there unless partner has three to an honor (and he’s denied a feature there); and 4 H has potential losers in every suit…

Franklin Gonzalez: Considering the favorable vulnerability, partner may have H Q-J-10-x-x-x and C K-x-x. … If he has a better hand, he can move on to game…

Imre Csiszar: Four hearts appears the only possible game; but opposite a two-bid at this vulnerability, even 3 H may go down, so it looks mandatory to give partner the opportunity to stop. (Two notrump may well have been an overbid.)

Rosalind Hengeveld: This shows a limit raise, and that’s about what I have. The blocking H A may prove awkward in the play…

Thijs Veugen: Invitation to 4 H. I not only need the C A or C K but also a good heart suit.

John R. Mayne: I quit. Why did I bid 2 NT? I would have passed smoothly. What are the chances that West balances? Twenty percent? That’s 20 percent of 1400, thanks, and there are enough opponents who will balance more often. What are my chances of reaching a makable game? Poor. Even in second seat, partner is not blind to the vulnerability. Three notrump will have no play, guaranteed; entry problems figure to be insurmountable. I’m making the right bid here, and if it scores poorly, pfft.

Curt Reeves: Partner’s hearts can’t be that good if he has a club feature. …

Barry White: Invitational. Partner should bid game with a [maximum].

Comments for 3 D

Brad Theurer: Rather awkward hand, with potential transportation problems in notrump. My spades are too weak to suggest playing there, so I’ll probe with a forcing bid.

Mauri Saastamoinen: … Perhaps partner has a decent hand but a [poor] suit, then it could be right to play 3 NT instead of 4 H. I’ll give partner a chance to bid 3 NT, e.g., with S K-J H Q-10-8-x-x-x D x-x C K-J-x; otherwise I’ll bid 4 H. …

Analyses 8W96 MainChallengeScoresTop Deutsch Lands Vienna Coup

Problem 4

IMPsBoth vulYou, South, hold:
1 S
2 H
2 C
H 6 5
D 6 4
C A K Q J 10 7 5 4

3 D (artificial wait)1064146
5 C929921
4 C731422
4 NT31188
6 C2322

Bidding has come a long way. I wonder what our forefathers (or four mothers) would say if told it was better to bid diamonds on a worthless doubleton rather than clubs on a solid eight-bagger. “Nuts” comes to mind, but bidding the fourth suit as a waiting move* is popular today — and necessary on some occasions, though doubtful here.

*Commonly called “fourth suit forcing,” but I dislike that name because the fourth suit is almost always forcing, even if natural. “Artificial wait” is a better description, and I noted it as such, because I did not want to imply that 3 D was the only force (a jump to 4 C is also forcing).

Many who bid 3 D wanted to give partner a chance to bid 3 NT, either to play there or maybe right-side 6 NT if partner has the D K or A-Q. But I wonder if this is wise. How will you be sure partner has a diamond stopper, let alone control? Wouldn’t he bid 3 NT with S A-J-x-x-x H A-K-x-x D x-x-x C x? A club void is another concern, as he might have S A-J-x-x-x H A-Q-x-x D K-x-x-x C --. Steering for notrump at matchpoints is reasonable, as these anomalies are odds-against; but is it worth a potential disaster at IMPs?

Some 3 D bidders planned to follow with 4 C, but this suggests a suit that needs help — versus a solid suit that could be shown directly. In any event, the heavy consensus for 3 D earns the top award.

My choice is a simple, direct 5 C. This is hardly a sign-off opposite a non-limited opener, and the lack of diamond control makes the bid ideal. If partner has the extra values necessary for slam and diamond control, he should bid again; 6 C seems obvious with S A-K-x-x-x H K-Q-x-x D A-x-x C x; or 6 NT with S A-K-x-x-x H A-Q-x-x D K-x-x C x.

Many who bid 4 C cited the desire to be descriptive yet keep the bidding “low enough to explore.” Sounds nice in theory; but what will it accomplish? Partner may assume he is obliged to show the D A with a bare minimum; else how could you find out about diamond control if it were your only concern for slam? Many would argue that failure to jump shift originally precludes such a hand, but this is moot; i.e., is it right to jump shift with few high cards just because you have an eight-bagger? Or a nine-bagger? Where do you draw the line? I don’t claim to know the answer.*

*I do, however, claim a deficiency in the area of strong jump shifts (some would say all areas). I have always played weak jump-shift responses, because they come up more often, and it simplifies your system structure.

Bidding 4 NT (Blackwood) is clearly off base without control in the unbid suit, as is the macho leap to 6 C. The bluff factor may have some merit against an expert who assumes you have a singleton diamond, but I don’t live on that planet. Further, there is no assurance you can make slam even if partner has diamond control — let alone the Blackwood debacle if he has one ace.

Here’s what happened in Venice in 1988:

West dealsS 10 9 7 5 3WestNorthEastSouth
Both vulH A 10 9 8 7BergerHammanMeinlJacoby
D A KPass1 SPass2 C
C 9Pass2 HPass4 C
S A J 6 4TableS K 8 2Pass4 DPass6 C
H K 4 3 2H Q JPassPassPass
D J 9 5D Q 10 8 7 3 2
C 8 2C 6 3
H 6 5
D 6 4
C A K Q J 10 7 5 4
USA N-SAustria N-SWestNorthEastSouth
6 C South5 C SouthDeutschTerraneoWolffKadlec
Down 1 -100Made 5 +600Pass2 SPass3 C
Pass3 HPass5 C
Austria +12 IMPsPassPassPass

The problem scenario arose at the first table, where Jacoby chose to bid 4 C. Hamman obligingly showed his diamond control, and Jacoby took a chance on slam. Unfortunately, being control-rich would not change 11 tricks into 12, barring the gift of a spade lead. Even Jim’s dad couldn’t make this one.

At the second table, Terraneo’s 2 S opening was not insane but showed 8-15 HCP with 5+ spades and 4+ hearts. Weird systems, however, are not immune to sensible auctions. Kadlec forced with 3 C then jumped to the obvious game — not as sweet as 3 NT but still in bounds; 12 IMPs to Austria.

Looking at the North hand, it is apparent that two aces and a king, no matter how distributed, are not quite enough for 6 C. South needs to find additional values for a slam to be sound.

Comments for 3 D

Richard Stein: Then a club rebid after this, which should show a big club hand.

Tim Francis-Wright: Yes, this is the cowardly way out, but it’s what I would do at the table. At some point, I need to invite but not force to slam in clubs, and 3 D might at least let me [discover] if partner has diamond cards.

Gene Saxe: Aiming at 3 NT, and I can’t get there if I bid 4 C. …

Ken Cohen: I must give partner a chance to bid 3 NT.

Robin Zigmond: … At this moment I don’t really have a clue as to the correct contract, so I may as well try to find out more.

Toby Kenney: Slam requires a lot from partner, while even 5 C might be too high; so I should [preserve] 3 NT as an option…

Arpan Banerjee: A five-loser hand; but how many of those will partner take care of? I’ll go slow and try to find out more information. …

Anthony Golding: Looking for diamond control. I’ll play 3 NT, rather than guess if we have enough controls [for slam]. I hope partner has a club (or S A-K)!

Georg Edelmann: If partner bids 3 NT, I will invite with 4 NT; if he bids 3 H or 3 S, I’ll leap to 5 C showing my solid suit.

Jack Lacy: Maybe partner will bid 3 NT; then I will try 6 C, which will probably make if we don’t lose the first two tricks. I worry about notrump, because partner may not have a club.

Chris Cook: With partner bidding [both majors], slam or even 5 C could be too high. Four clubs is stronger than 5 C, so I prefer to make a waiting bid and bid 4 C next…

Rob Wijman: Three diamonds followed by 4 C should show a club hand with slam interest. …

Bas Lodder: If partner bids 3 H or 3 S, I will bid 5 C; if he bids 4 C, I will cue-bid 4 S; over 3 NT, my rebid is 4 NT.

Sandy Barnes: First target: 3 NT. Partner needs too many right cards to want to be in slam with the information I have at this moment. I have an easy 4 C bid over a major-suit rebid.

Jonathan Steinberg: Trying to elicit more information from partner, as I ponder how high I wish to bid.

Perry Groot: On the next round I’ll bid 4 C, inviting slam.

Jyrki Lahtonen: I’ll bid 4 C (forcing) next and leave the rest to partner.

Charles Leong: Intending to follow with 4 NT over 3 NT; or 4 C (to set trumps) over 3 H or 3 S.

Andrew de Sosa: Four clubs…bypasses 3 NT, which should be played by partner (if it’s the right spot). If partner doesn’t bid 3 NT, I’ll take my chances in 5 C.

Or Shoham: I’d like to hear more; no sense in rushing off to bid a slam.

Tim McKay: I will bid 4 C over 3 NT as a slam try.

Franklin Gonzalez: If partner bids 3 NT, we’ll probably get to 6 C; if not, I’ll just bid 5 C.

Pire Cusi: Slam seems remote, assuming two useful cards in partner’s hand, and even 5 C might be at risk; but I’ll give it a try. I will convert 3 NT to 5 C.

Imre Csiszar: After going down in 4 H on Problem 1, I will not bypass 3 NT again. Four clubs would surely be interpreted as a solid suit, setting trumps and requesting cue-bids, possibly leading to 7 NT — but more likely to 5 C down one.

Manuel Paulo: I’ll wait and hope partner can bid 3 NT.

Jack Brawner: I will raise 3 NT to 4 NT…

Brad Theurer: A club game could be down off the top, with 3 NT cold (from partner’s side, anyway) — visualizing partner with S A-J-x-x-x H K-Q-x-x D Q-J-x C x.

Damo Nair: Maybe it’s a good idea to wait; partner could have controls in the other three suits. Over 3 NT, I’ll try 4 C, as 5 C may be safer.

Mark Raphaelson: Blackwood and 6 C are unattractive with two top diamond losers. This looks safest, and I’m still angling for 3 NT. Opposite such a wide range, from S A-x-x-x-x H A-Q-x-x D x-x-x C x to S A-K-J-x-x H A-K-Q-x D x-x-x C x, 3 NT still requires only a 4-4 diamond split.

George Klemic: I will pull 3 NT to 5 C, and partner should be able to picture a hand needing controls for slam.

Charles Blair: A real guessing game, but I don’t want to preclude 3 NT.

Richard Morse: There’s no hurry, and partner may dredge up 3 NT. Whatever the eventual level, notrump will almost certainly play better from partner’s side.

Geoff Bridges: At matchpoints, I would worry about whether we belong in notrump or clubs… At IMPs, I worry that we could have two fast losers. …

For a quick fix at any form of scoring… Don’t Worry, Be Happy.

Tim DeLaney: If partner bids 3 NT, I will raise to 4 NT; if he bids 3 H or 3 S, I will bid 5 C.

Thijs Veugen: Maybe notrump in partner’s hand is best; I can always bid 5 C later.

Scott Stearns: Just to see if partner can eke up a 3 NT bid (which should show at least one club), so I can try 4 NT if I’m feeling optimistic.

Neelotpal Sahai: If partner can bid 3 NT, a slam from his hand (6 NT) is also possible. Four notrump and 6 C are unilateral actions without diamond control…

Boris Richter: I will follow with 4 C over 3 NT, or 5 C over something else. Diamond control is my main concern for both 3 NT and a club slam.

John R. Mayne: Was I not allowed to make a strong jump shift last time? Oh, well; we probably want to play notrump right-sided, so I’ll let partner help.

Carolyn Ahlert: Assuming partner will bid 3 NT only with a diamond stopper, notrump may be better than clubs. … With eight tricks, I want to be in game or slam. Even over 3 NT, I will jump to 5 C to show the character of my hand and let partner decide among pass, 6 C, 5 NT and 6 NT.

Stuart Newberger: If I bid 4 C (forcing) and partner bids 5 C, I have a guess — so I’m stalling.

Comments for 5 C

Vic Sartor: If I bid 3 D, partner may bid 3 NT with a club void, so I’ll bid 5 C. Maybe partner will bid six with a couple of aces and diamond [control].

Michael Spurgeon: I hope partner will bid slam if there aren’t two fast losers in diamonds.

Noble Shore: I am worried about partner having a club void and just one top spade honor.

Bill Cubley: To quote from Kantar’s web-site jokes, “What do you call an eight-card suit? Trump.” Partner can picture my hand well: short spades, less than four hearts, no diamond control, and self-sufficient clubs.

Gerald Cohen: My failure to bid diamonds suggests no diamond control. If I bid 4 C, I think I have to rebid 5 C over anything; so it’s better to suggest a solid suit and nothing outside.

Andrew Billson: Partner’s bidding isn’t strong, so I’m likely to lose two diamond tricks. If he is 5=4=3=1 with three aces, I expect him to realize the [power] of controls and bid slam.

Bill Powell: Middle of the road.

Julian Lim: Seems unlikely that partner can cover four of my five losers.

Steve White: A jump to 4 C would be forcing, so this shows long, solid clubs and not much else.

Owen Cotton-Barratt: Good clubs; nothing else to speak of. Four clubs seems too pushy when we need about four top tricks from partner to make slam good.

Alan Kravetz: Partner can bid more with extras. At matchpoints, I would bid 3 D in case partner has a diamond stopper (and hopefully a club).

Barry White: This should show a long, solid club suit with nothing outside.

Gerald Murphy: Showing many clubs and nothing else. Partner should be able to judge whether to bid slam, needing aces and [diamond control].

Comments for 4 C

Emmanuel Amiot: Actually, I’d like to make a fake cue-bid in diamonds before taking the plunge to slam.

Joshua Donn: … This followed by 5 C (without cue-bidding in the middle) shows slam interest without controls. I believe 5 C directly says: I have a ton of clubs but a bad hand for slam; leave me alone. Three diamonds would make sense only if I were going to pass 3 NT — which I can’t, given that partner could have three aces and a king.

Sebastien Louveaux: Setting trumps and trying to elicit a cue-bid.

Leonard Helfgott: Old school. Four notrump and 6 C seem way out; 3 D and 5 C are certainly reasonable, though 3 D isn’t descriptive, and club bids are.

Martin Bootsma: I have clubs, so I’ll bid them again.

Jean-Christophe Clement: Forcing, on the way to 5 C or 6 C depending on partner’s next bid (I hope to hear 4 D).

Stephen Fischer: Skipping fourth suit forcing should show a better suit and ask for cue-bids.

Hendrik Sharples: Why complicate the issue? I have lots of clubs and a game-forcing hand.

Rosalind Hengeveld: A suitable hand for this somewhat rare bid showing a long, solid suit. In my book, 5 C would imply a very long but non-solid suit.

John Lusky: This lets partner know my clubs are self-sufficient, and that I’m interested in slam.

Joon Pahk: A bit agricultural, but this should get the point across. …

Danny Kleinman: A picture bid!

Chris Willenken: Showing a solid suit and slam interest but not many high cards, as I did not jump shift last round. While 3 NT could be the last making game, bidding 3 D to get there has three ways to lose: (1) Partner has a club void without S A-K, so my hand is entryless; (2) partner bids 3 NT with a shaky diamond stopper, e.g., opposite S A-x-x-x-x H A-K-x-x D Q-x-x C x, 5 C is cold, while 3 NT could go down; and (3) we may miss a slam (perhaps a grand) when partner bids 3 NT with misfitting extras. Can I dream of S A-K-x-x-x H A-x-x-x D A-x-x C x?

Daniel de Lind van Wijngaarden: Setting clubs as trumps with slam interest. I hope partner can bid notrump first to protect his diamond [holding].

Daniel Korbel: I’ll see what partner can do. Five clubs at my next turn will ask him to bid six with good controls.

Mauri Saastamoinen: Informative; I have clubs, so I bid clubs — period. … Otherwise, how could partner know there is no worry about club quality, and that a collection of aces and a king, e.g., S A-K-x-x-x H A-x-x-x D A-x-x C x, is a great hand.

Jacob Grabowski: I need to convince partner about the quality of my suit before committing to a certain level.

Barry Rigal: Why no 3 C bid the first time? Still, at least this shows good clubs and maybe some slam interest.

Kevin Podsiadlik: Normally, 3 D would be routine, but I’m really not interested in asking partner’s opinion about strain. Rebidding 5 C over whatever partner says next should paint a reasonable picture of my hand.

Analyses 8W96 MainChallengeScoresTop Deutsch Lands Vienna Coup

Problem 5

IMPsNone vulYou, South, hold:
2 NT1
S 10 8 7 6 3
H 5 3 2
D Q 7 6
C Q 4
1. 20-21

Call or CallsAwardVotesPercent
D. 3 H then 3 NT1071151
E. 3 NT71188
B. 3 C (Stayman)6896
C. 3 H then Pass530822
A. Pass417813

This problem was the bomb of the month, as the majority chose to transfer and bid 3 NT, apparently because most players are optimistic of game at IMPs. Deep down, of course, we all know that 3 NT or 4 S is odds-against with 24-25 HCP mostly in one hand, a crummy suit and two stray queens. (Fate of these contracts is also often deep down.) Even so, normal game odds* do not apply because of the difference in strain; i.e., 3 NT might have a better chance to make than 3 S, especially if opener has a five-card (rarely a six-card) minor. Thus, I agree with Option D. On a good day, you’ll make a game (3 NT) as the other team goes down in a partscore (3 S).

*Nonvulnerable at IMPs, game odds are 5:6; i.e., if you make five out of 11 (45.45 percent), you break even. Vulnerable odds are 6:10 (37.50 percent). This assumes a single strain is involved, no doubles or redoubles, and down one if you fail.

Many who raised directly to 3 NT had similar ideas, i.e., that their two queens had greater potential in notrump, with or without a spade fit. If opener has three spades, this could be the winning strategy (3 NT may be better than 4 S); but it allows no provision to play 4 S opposite four or five spades.

Stayman bidders (Option B) solved the problem of missing a 9+ card spade fit by checking for four spades before bidding 3 NT.* The only question is whether the downside of revealing opener’s shape is worth the inquiry (compared to a direct 3 NT); I think not, since the odds against 4+ spades must be high and it is possible that a 9-card fit plays just as well or better in notrump.

*A few 3 C bidders expressed the intent to rebid 3 S (over 3 D or 3 H), but seeking a 5-3 fit from the wrong side must be a losing strategy.

The conservative camp preferred to transfer and pass (Option C). This is inferior because even three spades may be too high, while your queens may be golden in notrump. Still, it seems better than passing 2 NT (Option A), as opener will sometimes have a super spade fit and bypass (superaccept) the transfer by jumping to 4 S. Options A and C would have more appeal at matchpoints; or if you are trailing at IMPs and playing for swings.

Let’s put the cards on the table and see what happened in Venice:

North dealsS A 5WestNorthEastSouth
None vulH A 9 8KubakHammanFucikJacoby
D A K 42 NTPass3 H
C A 10 9 8 3Pass3 SPass3 NT
S K Q 4TableS J 9 2PassPassPass
H KH Q J 10 7 6 4
D 9 8 5 3 2D J 10
C K 7 5 2C J 6
S 10 8 7 6 3
H 5 3 2
D Q 7 6
C Q 4
USA N-SAustria N-SWestNorthEastSouth
3 NT North3 NT NorthMeckstrothMeinlRodwellBerger
Down 1 -50Down 1 -501 C2 HPass
Pass2 NTPass3 NT
No swingPassPassPass

The problem scenario arose at the first table, where Hamman upgraded his 19 HCP to open 2 NT (obvious with four aces and well-textured five-bagger). Jacoby followed our majority approach, and a sound game was reached. Alas, Hamman took the wrong view; after the H Q lead to the king (ducked) and a diamond shift, he led a low club to the queen*, then later lost a finesse to Fucik’s jack; down one.

*A slightly better chance is to lead the C 8 and run it (finessing next if it loses to the jack), mainly because a doubleton jack is more likely to be in East than West. Perhaps Hamman was aware of this too (not much escapes the odds maestro of SCA Promotions) but based his play on what he thought North would do at the other table.

At the second table, Meinl’s strong club opening allowed Rodwell to intervene with a weak jump overcall, then 2 NT showed about the same strength as Hamman did. Berger had less reason to seek a spade fit (three low hearts and no reopening double), so he took the direct route to game. Meinl played clubs the same way; down one, for a push.

Comments for D. 3 H then 3 NT

Richard Stein: All players are experts, right? Then my partner should be able to make this.

Tim Francis-Wright: I suspect that South at the other table will push to game. [I might bid differently] if we were behind in the match — oh, heck, I’m on my team, so of course we’re behind…

Robin Zigmond: At IMPs, I have to bid game, even though it could easily have no play; and I’d rather play in spades if partner has a fit. This would be tougher at matchpoints.

Peter Jorck: This, if the match were even or if we were behind; if ahead, I would pass 2 NT.

Vic Sartor: Every instinct says to pass, but I guess I’m forced to bid to avoid being severely beaten by my teammates when opponents bid and make their 30-percent game.

Toby Kenney: My spade suit isn’t great, but partner will probably have some honors in it. We have close-to-enough points, so it’s worth bidding the game — particularly when this [sequence] allows us to find the best strain.

Arpan Banerjee: Passing is criminal! My flat hand is good for 3 NT, but I’ll still try for a 5-3 spade fit due to the doubleton club.

Anthony Golding: While 2 NT may be the limit, passing is trying to land on a pinpoint. Four spades should be reasonable if there’s a spade fit; if not, my minor queens may well be useful — and I may have inhibited a killing spade lead.

Georg Edelmann: It’s a bidder’s game.

Jack Lacy: A game try; bid game and try to make it. The good news is that partner has to try.

Michael Spurgeon: Perhaps the lead up to the strong hand will allow partner to make 3 NT or 4 S.

Chris Cook: It’s IMPs, so I’ll push for a marginal game, hoping for spade support.

Noble Shore: … I would rather show what I have than make a unilateral decision [between spades and notrump].

Gernot Reiners: Better than a direct raise to 3 NT, as it gives partner the chance to correct to 4 S.

Rob Wijman: Seems automatic at IMPs. [I like to play] that if partner has two spades and five hearts, he should bid 3 NT over 3 H.

Antonio Kotsev: IMPs equals game.

Bill Cubley: I’ll make a bid that respects partner’s declaring ability. …

I see. So the only way to stop below game is to switch seats.

Sandy Barnes: If partner has three spades, I want to be in 4 S, which should have more play options.

Jonathan Steinberg: I would transfer and bid 3 NT at the table; so that’s my answer here.

Mark Bumler: Crossing my fingers on this one.

Joshua Donn: I hate it when my partners try to stop on a dime; I always seem to make at least 10 tricks then. At matchpoints, avoiding game would be reasonable.

Gerald Cohen: This should at least get me to the right strain, if not the right level.

Matt Lahut: I hate playing IMPs — it requires too much greed.

Andrew de Sosa: I don’t fancy our chances, but at IMPs I have to offer a choice of games in case it’s making. Experience tells me that 3 NT will make more often than 4 S, but partner might have a big spade fit and weakness in a side suit…

Or Shoham: That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.

Ray Bazinet: My bad, partner.

Brian Ross: It’s IMPs, and we might make a game; so I’ll bid it and let partner worry about playing it.

Franklin Gonzalez: At IMPs, I need to take a shot at game when chances are [fair]. … Besides, partner has to play it.

Josh Sinnett: I see no reason not to take a standard action. Masterminding by not showing five spades could lead to 3 NT with a suit wide open.

Bill Powell: Worth a shot at IMPs.

Leonard Helfgott: My queens are likely to be working, and this seems like a bit much to pass. As long as I’m pushing to the three level, I might as well offer a choice of games.

Martin Bootsma: I certainly bid 3 H, as partner may even bypass the transfer. At IMPs, I’ll just bid game and hope it has chances.

Jean-Christophe Clement: Having 24 or 25 HCP suggests playing game at IMPs. If partner has [three or] four spades, 4 S may be better than 3 NT.

Jack Brawner: Seems like anything else is an attempt at artificial brilliance.

Brad Theurer: Close decision, but I have to be aggressive at IMPs, even for a nonvulnerable game. Besides, 2 NT doesn’t make exactly eight tricks too often, and sometimes partner has a big spade fit.

Damo Nair: Let opponents defend game and see what happens!

Hendrik Sharples: The old excuse applies: Partner, it didn’t look like you would make exactly eight tricks.*

*This old cliche is biased in favor of bidding, as the word “exactly” is wrong. Passing is right whenever there are eight or fewer tricks. -RP

Mark Raphaelson: Looks pretty straightforward. If partner doesn’t have three spades, my minor-suit queens might be huge.

George Klemic: Random hands like this often produce game (or are misdefended), so normal action is to take the shot. Stayman appeals (to play spades only with a nine-card fit); but opposite S A-K-x, we are almost certainly better off in spades…

John Lusky: Either 3 NT or 4 S may be good, and I can’t afford not to explore for game at IMPs.

Thijs Veugen: I must bid game at IMPs.

Boris Richter: I don’t want to miss a game in spades.

Janet Dugle: I want to give partner the option to play [spades or notrump].

Comments for E. 3 NT

Pire Cusi: Game is not a favorite, but notrump seems marginally better than spades; and I don’t want partner to reveal his hand.

Alon Amsel: If 3 NT is going down, 2 NT will often go down as well; so why not give it a shot? Since my suit is poor, and it’s some kind of a gamble anyway, I won’t give away any information to opponents.

Chris Willenken: Notrump looks preferable to spades with this sterile shape and those queens. Because so much depends on the degree of fit, I’d prefer not to gamble on taking exactly eight tricks at IMPs. I’m rooting for S x-x H A-x-x D A-K-J-x-x C A-K-x, where partner upgraded his 19-count.

Mauri Saastamoinen: How about two and a half spades? Invitational! That’s about what the hand is worth. Evaluating our combined resources is difficult; opposite many maximums, e.g., S K-Q H A-Q-x D A-K-x-x C K-10-x-x, we might make only seven or eight (perhaps even six) tricks. However, it might be difficult for opponents to defend 3 NT knowing little about partner’s hand, especially his spades. …

Comments for B. 3 C (Stayman)

Perry Groot: With such a weak spade suit, I’ll treat it as a four-carder. At matchpoints, I would probably pass; but at IMPs, I’ll press on. These hands usually belong in 1 NT or 3 NT.

Sebastien Louveaux: With two queens and a bad five-card suit, notrump should play better — unless partner has four spades.

Billie Johnson: Whether we have game likely depends on how many spades partner has. …

Imre Csiszar: Whether or not mathematically correct at this vulnerability, I expect the majority will stretch for game; so I’d better follow suit. Stayman looks preferable to Jacoby, as with a 5-3 fit and minimum values, 3 NT often has better chances.

Tim DeLaney: With no high card in my suit, I will treat it as a four-carder.

Scott Stearns: I’d like to play in spades only with a nine-card fit; [else 3 NT] is probably easier. I won’t pass at IMPs.

John R. Mayne: All right, I’m going to be in trouble again by not trying to match the field, but Stayman is so far superior to 3 H. Most of the time, I don’t want to play in a 5-3 fit with slow values; yes, sometimes [only] 4 S will create an entry to the [long] spade tricks, but 4 S will be very hard to make without a [good] fit. Pass is justifiable, but Stayman is the right compromise between 3 H and 3 NT — the payoff being that I can bid 4 S with some confidence that it will have a play.

Daniel Korbel: If we have a huge spade fit, 4 S rates to be best; but with only a 5-3 fit, this balanced quack-pile may make 3 NT when 4 S is hopeless. I don’t expect to score well, but this is certainly what I would do at the table.

Barry Rigal: Unless a 5-4 fit comes to light, I will play 3 NT. After Jacoby, partner should always convert with three trumps, so I have to exercise judgment for our partnership — and what’s new, you say?

Comments for C. 3 H then Pass

Steve White: Clear to transfer and pass, since partner had the chance to superaccept. Odds are we can’t make any game, and that spades is better than notrump.

Rosalind Hengeveld: Contrary to popular intuition, a 20-21 range is 20 about twice as often as 21. We will usually not have a game, unless partner can bid 4 S (or similar) over 3 H.

Neelotpal Sahai: Nonvulnerable, it may not be worthwhile to go for game. … I choose spades over notrump, as partner is more likely to hold 3-4 spades than a doubleton. If partner has four spades and superaccepts, game will make for a bonus.

Daniel de Lind van Wijngaarden: Game is odds-against if partner doesn’t have a good spade fit. Over 3 H, he had the chance to superaccept.

Jacob Grabowski: … Some days partner will superaccept; some days I will continue to 3 NT. (Some days we’re both wrong.)

Analyses 8W96 MainChallengeScoresTop Deutsch Lands Vienna Coup

Problem 6

IMPsE-W vulYou, South, hold:


1 S
S Q J 9
H A Q J 6 5
D A Q 9
C 6 2

Call or CallsAwardVotesPercent
B. 1 H then 2 D1039628
D. 1 H then 3 S816912
C. 1 H then 2 S717713
E. 1 NT657641
A. 1 H then 1 NT1866

It should be obvious that I chose this problem to see how far people would go to simplify the bidding. Opening 1 NT establishes a familiar auction at the expense of distorting the nature of the hand. I am pleased to see the majority (59 percent) agreed with me that this is a 1 H opening, after which the chips can fall where they may.*

*A few complained that the problem was unfairly posed, i.e., four follow-ups after a 1 H opening might influence those on the cusp to choose 1 H. True, perhaps, but it could also be surmised that knowing partner responds 1 S would sway some to open 1 NT. Regardless, in two-part problems, the first call bears more wait and should be decided on its own merits, i.e., not knowing subsequent bids.

My general philosophy about opening 1 NT with a five-card major is that it’s fine, and usually preferred, unless the hand has a worthless doubleton. Therefore, the club holding makes this hand unacceptable. Too many times, the weak suit will haunt you in notrump, so I’ll start with the natural bid and worry about my rebid when it happens.

Having opened 1 H, there is no ideal rebid after a 1 S response — else this would hardly be chosen for a problem — as any option distorts your strength or distribution (or both). I agree with the consensus to rebid 2 D, as it is within range for strength and only a slight distortion of your shape. Chances are, partner will bid again; but even if he passes, you may be surprised to fall into an excellent spot, e.g., opposite S K-x-x-x H x D J-x-x-x-x C Q-x-x. If partner next gives a 2 H preference, a 2 S continuation is perfect to show three spades and extra values (nonforcing).

My second choice is to rebid 3 S, albeit a trump short, but accurate in strength (17 total points for a bid showing 16-18). Many will argue that the lack of a fourth trump demotes the hand to a single raise, and they may be right; but 2 S seems more of an underbid than 3 S is an overbid. The difference is often a game on a finesse, and at IMPs I’d rather be there.

The rebid option of 1 NT not only distorts the nature of the hand but also its strength (16 HCP for a bid showing 12-14) — grossly off base, and severely demoted in my awards. Certainly, if you’re going to ignore spades and suggest notrump, you should at least get the strength right and open 1 NT.

Here’s what happened in the 1988 Olympiad:

East dealsS A K 10 8 5 3WestNorthEastSouth
E-W vulH 4WolffTerraneoDeutschKadlec
D 6 5Pass1 NT
C K J 7 5Pass2 NTPass3 C
S 7 6TableS 4 2Pass4 SPass4 NT
H K 10 9 7 3 2H 8Pass5 CPass6 S
D K 4 2D J 10 8 7 3All Pass
C 8 3C A Q 10 9 4
S Q J 9
H A Q J 6 5
D A Q 9
C 6 2
Austria N-SUSA N-SWestNorthEastSouth
6 S North4 S NorthKubakRodwellFucikMeckstroth
Down 1 -50Made 4 +420Pass1 C
1 H1 SPass1 NT
USA +10 IMPsPass2 DPass4 S

At the first table, Kadlec chose to open a strong notrump, though this decision is hardly responsible for the overbid that followed. Two notrump was a transfer to clubs, then 4 S showed Terraneo’s longer suit (canape) with mild slam interest. It seems Kadlec should pass 4 S with only 3 HCP in the black suits, but he drove his “Cad’lac” to slam via Blackwood — or maybe 4 NT was something else, as the response of 5 C is a mystery.*

*Thanks to Kees van Schenk Brill (Netherlands) for pointing out that 4 NT was almost certainly six-key-card Blackwood, i.e., both the S K and C K are counted like an ace. Thus, 5 C showed zero, three or six — obviously three.

Against 6 S, Deutsch led the C A (oops) then another club, hoping to catch Wolff with a singleton. This gave away the contract. But wait! Declarer gave it back by carelessly ruffing a heart with the spade three, allowing Deutsch the incredulous opportunity to score his S 4. Talk about sending a boy! Could you spare the five maybe? Down one, after all.

At the second table, Meckstroth had no problem what to open playing a strong-club system, and the 1 H overcall quelled any ideas of ambition. Rodwell easily made 4 S after a heart lead; 10 IMPs to United States.

Comments for B. 1 H then 2 D

Richard Stein: I usually hate doing this intensely, but with concentrated strength, opening 1 NT and missing a 5-3 heart fit is too likely to hurt. …

Tim Francis-Wright: While 1 NT is about right on strength, it threatens to obscure a potential 5-3 heart fit. This is a bad hand to raise spades right away: too strong for 2 S, and too short in spades for 3 S. …

Carsten Kofoed: This keeps the bidding alive without overbidding. Even with two hearts and four diamonds, partner will bid 2 H; then I’ll give him a finger with 2 S.

And if he butchers the play make it a middle finger.

Ken Cohen: This gives maximum flexibility if partner can bid again, which is very likely.

Robin Zigmond: The most difficult problem of the set, at least for an Acol player like myself. I want to open 1 NT, but there’s every chance that our only making game is 4 H in a 5-3 fit, which would probably not be found then. … My second bid this shows why I don’t like opening 1 H either — too strong for 1 NT or 2 S, and I really ought to have four-card support for 3 S. So I’ll invent a bid and see what happens…

Arpan Banerjee: With an intermediate hand, I’ll manufacture a bid… If partner cannot rebid, there’s no game. Spade support can come later.

Anthony Golding: I don’t like opening 1 NT with a decent suit and a weak doubleton. I’m too good to raise to 2 S. If partner raises diamonds, I’ll bid 3 S

Jeffrey Turner: What? No Zia 2 C rebid?

Joshua Donn: I am minimum for the sequence of 1 H; 2 D; 2 S. With even one jack less, I would just raise to 2 S immediately. Opening 1 NT is not obviously wrong, but this just doesn’t feel like a notrump hand.

Mauro Mazzieri: Strange systems here in America. In Italy, I would either open 1 NT and let partner ask for a five-card major, or open 1 H and rebid 2 NT to show exactly this hand.

So what do Italians know about bridge? Have they ever won anything?

Perry Groot: Most likely, partner will give a preference to 2 H, after which I’ll bid 2 S to show 3=5=4=1 shape (or similar) with invitational strength. …

Sebastien Louveaux: This is a suit hand, so no 1 NT opening! The 2 D rebid is the least-of-evils type: too strong for 1 NT or 2 S; not enough spades for 3 S. …

Marek Malowidzki: I am too strong for 2 S, and do not have four spades to bid 3 S. I will drive towards 3 NT or 4 S, even on a 4-3 fit.

Willem Mevius: To be honest, at IMPs I prefer to have 1 NT systemically include a five-card major; however, with that unagreed, I should open 1 H. … I will rebid 2 S over a 2 H bid by partner; or 3 S over 2 NT…

Andrew Billson: Then 3 S over [3 D or] 3 H; or 4 S over 4 D.

Andrew de Sosa: If partner rebids 2 H, I will then bid 2 S to show my [extra] values.

Or Shoham: One notrump is unattractive with so many points in the red suits.

Bill Powell: The missing diamond is a tiny flaw, compared to other choices.

Leonard Helfgott: The old Bridge World Standard problem. As much as I love opening 1 NT with five-card majors, this hand is too skewed in honor placement (and a worthless doubleton). Rebidding 1 NT or 2 S seems like a severe underbid, so it’s a matter of jump-raising on insufficient length or temporizing. I intend to bid spades next…unless partner passes…

Martin Bootsma: Partner should know this can be done on a three-card suit; so if he passes 2 D, we’re probably in a decent contract. Otherwise, I will show my spade support later.

Jean-Christophe Clement: Waiting. If partner bids 2 H, I’ll bid 2 S to show three spades and extra strength; if he bids 2 S, I’ll bid 3 S. The danger is that partner may pass.

Pire Cusi: I might play a ridiculous partscore, but I won’t miss the right game if partner has more than a minimum. Over the expected 2 H, I’ll bid 2 S.

Imre Csiszar: I dislike the trend to open 1 NT on all 5-3-3-2 hands with 15-17 HCP (not denying that it may lead to good results, even on this hand). Over a 2 H preference, I’ll bid 2 S to show 15-17 HCP and club weakness… If partner believes in unrestricted 1 NT openings and thinks I have singleton club, it unlikely harms.

Manuel Paulo: I don’t open 1 NT with two wrong features — in this case, five hearts and a weak doubleton. After opening 1 H, I won’t raise spades with three cards.

Alon Amsel: With weaker hearts, I would open 1 NT…

Rosalind Hengeveld: A rule of thumb I’ve never seen in print, but which works in practice: Your hand may have one flaw for your bid, but not two. I hate opening 1 NT with a five-card major, but I’m not too dogmatic about it; and a small doubleton is no objection. However, the combination of the two definitely mitigates against 1 NT. After 1 H, I’m too strong for 2 S, but it’s close.

Daniel de Lind van Wijngaarden: Bidding where my points are. I will bid 2 S over 2 H.

Mauri Saastamoinen: With a good 16 HCP and a good five-card major, I think 1 H is almost compulsory. I will support spades next round — if there is any. With one red queen less, I would raise to 2 S.

Barry Rigal: One notrump initially is OK by me; but with a small doubleton, I think treating this as a heart-diamond hand (to be followed by spades) is [better].

Comments for D. 1 H then 3 S

Gerald Cohen: Two flaws (five-card major and a small doubleton) is one too many for 1 NT.

Charles Blair: I’ll let somebody else make up a hand on which 4 S is the best contract in a 4-3 fit.

Richard Morse: The fifth heart and lack of a club stopper argue for 1 H. Although partner may expect a fourth spade for 3 S, the quality of my three is good, and there is no natural rebid (2 D would be good if there wasn’t the danger of being left there).

Comments for C. 1 H then 2 S

Chris Cook: Hearts are too good to open 1 NT, and club shortage rules out rebidding 1 NT. I prefer to show spade support immediately, but 3 S overrates my hand.

Rob Wijman: Close to a 1 NT opening, but 1 H is better with the strong suit. Partner’s further bidding should cater for the occasional 2 S raise with only three-card support.

Sandy Barnes: I expect a massive vote to open 1 NT, but the lead value into my hand is minimal…

Billie Johnson: Nothing else looks good. Partner will expect a little more length but a little less strength, so hopefully this will balance out.

Damo Nair: I prefer this over a 1 NT opening. If partner takes another bid, we’ll be in game.

Mark Raphaelson: I do not open 1 NT with a five-card major, despite occasional problems such as this. With two aces and an unstopped suit, this seems like a good compromise.

Steve White: With a good five-card major and a weak doubleton, I bid 1 H first (partner might not bid 1 S). Over 1 S, 2 S is more descriptive than the ambiguous 2 D; maybe the hand is a little too strong, but 3 S is too rich.

Jacob Grabowski: I won’t hide the nice heart suit, even though the hand is in the notrump range.

Comments for E. 1 NT

Toby Kenney: This hand demonstrates an advantage of the weak notrump: If the hand had 3 points fewer, I could open 1 H and rebid 2 S without misdescribing my strength. Playing a strong notrump, however, I have no suitable rebid; so I open 1 NT.

Michael Spurgeon: This accurately shows my strength and [balanced shape]. Rebids after 1 H all have significant flaws: 1 NT and 2 S are big underbids; 3 S should guarantee four spades; and 2 D is ambiguous in strength and shows four diamonds.

Noble Shore: A pass by partner could be bad, but I am happy if he responds. Besides, the choice of partscore only matters at IMPs if one makes and one doesn’t. This may well stop opponents from finding a club fit.

Bas Lodder: A matter of partnership style. I open any 5-3-3-2 in the 15-17 range with 1 NT. Partner can find the 5-3 fit in hearts using a minor-suit ask — but I guess this is not part of Standard American. :)

Jonathan Steinberg: The age-old question of whether or not to open 1 NT with a five-card major. In real life, I would always open this hand 1 NT. I fear my Pavlicek score might not be as successful.

Charles Leong: One notrump promises a balanced 15-17. I have a balanced 15-17.

Josh Sinnett: If I had to open 1 H, I would rebid 2 D. However, the easy-to-foresee rebid troubles make 1 NT a standout.

Stephen Fischer: Precisely because I don’t have a good rebid if I open 1 H.

Jack Brawner: I belong to the indiscriminate 5-3-3-2 school — and I was well convinced before this question. Heck, this hand even has the three spades that Hardy advocated.

Brad Theurer: To avoid rebid problems; sometimes preempt the opponents; and to describe the strength and hand type in one bid.

Dom Goodwin: This seems much better, as 1 H will give me a problematic rebid after virtually any response but a raise. Perhaps, this is more a matter of style than judgment; many players open virtually all in-range balanced hands 1 NT. If not following this style and opening 1 H, 2 D seems the best rebid. …

Hendrik Sharples: Opening 1 NT with this sort of hand solves lots of rebid problems, and gives up much less than it gains.

Julian Lim: The problem with opening 1 H is that, when partner responds 1 S, this is a two-and-a-half spade rebid. Of course, opening 1 NT may cause me to reach an inferior 3 NT, but I still believe 1 NT is superior…

George Klemic: This is everything I want in a 1 NT opener with five hearts: three spades, tenaces in multiple suits, and 16 HCP is the right number. I have a feeling the poll will find a lot of 1 H bidders, but this is my style.

Owen Cotton-Barratt: Easiest question I’ve seen on these polls for a while! That said, my choice will probably be last.

Geoff Bridges: With 5-3 in the majors, I tend to open 1 NT, as it’s more descriptive; but I’ve lived to regret it on occasion.

John Lusky: Over a 1 S response to 1 H, there are some palatable alternatives (2 D and 2 S); but over a 1 NT response, I would be left wishing I had opened 1 NT.

Tim DeLaney: There is no good rebid if I open 1 H and partner bids 1 S, so I open 1 NT.

Thijs Veugen: To avoid rebidding problems like this. :)

Scott Stearns: With 16 HCP (thus a rebid problem) and tenaces in three suits, I go for the 1 NT opener. I could live with opening 1 H and raising to 2 S as well.

Danny Kleinman: If in range for a 1 NT opening, and with honors spread in three suits (rather than bunched in two), a hand with five hearts should be opened 1 NT — precisely to avoid the…rebid problem that a 1 S response would pose.

Boris Richter: With a balanced 15-17 HCP, I see no reason to open with anything but 1 NT.

Chris Willenken: I virtually always open 1 NT with a balanced hand in range, but it’s a standout here with exactly 16 HCP (difficult to show otherwise) and all those notrumpy quacks.

John R. Mayne: I know PavCo doesn’t like these multi-flawed notrumps, but I don’t view the five-card major as a flaw; and the nice 16-count is unbiddable [after 1 H] over any response by partner. …

Daniel Korbel: I don’t think too hard on these hands. Opening 1 NT has worked fine for me; and until it stops working, I will continue to do so. If it brings a low score because you’re a Kaplanite, so be it.

Kaplanite never bothered me. It’s the Kryptonite I fear.

Curt Reeves: This gets my strength across nicely and protects my red-suit tenaces — plus it solves this pesky bidding dilemma when partner responds in spades.

Janet Dugle: Although my hearts are a little better than I like for 1 NT, I think this will make it easier to find the right spot.

Barry White: I’ll put a heart in with my diamonds to describe my strength perfectly.

Gerald Murphy: [To avoid] a terrible rebid. I hope opponents don’t bid a bunch of clubs, or that I can get hearts in later.

Kevin Podsiadlik: I normally open 1 NT with a five-card major, exactly because of headaches such as this. Even for those who don’t follow this policy, 1 NT is appealing with all those queens and jacks. If forced to open 1 H, I would go low with a 2 S raise; this hand is not worth its point count.

Final Notes

Comments are selected from those scoring 53 or higher (top 220) or with an overall average of 51.25 or higher (top 213) prior to this poll, and on each problem only for calls awarded 5 or higher. Over 75 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.

I hope you enjoyed this rehash of the 1988 World Championship, and the return to Venice. While I’ve never been to Venice, I can claim to be almost there: Fort Lauderdale (Florida) is known as the “Venice of America” because of its many waterways. Exotic and picturesque? Not really; it’s more of an aggravation, with the labyrinth of canals forcing many dead-end streets.

Thanks to all who participated, and especially those who offered kind remarks about my web site.

I’m getting hungry, so I’ll close the Venetian blinds and head over to Olive Garden. Arrivederci!

Karen Walker: A German win in the Venice Cup? These problems were so hard that you really should have included a photo of the Bridge of Sighs.

Bryan Delfs: If time is money, I don’t want to know how much I’ve spent at the bridge table.

George Klemic: Was this tournament cut short by rain? Or a power outage? Or a peasant upheaval? Just guessing about your decision to have no more than five choices for any problem — besides the fact that any other choice would belong in the Fritz category.

Jack Rhatigan: Why do we waste our time with this game? If I win it’s skill, and if I lose it’s luck.

Scott Stearns: It can’t be in Germany; there’s not a beer stein to be found.

I beg to differ. A stein won this poll — with my name on it!

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