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BBO Prime bidders challenge: February Panel Comments

Conducted by Marc Smith

Set 21-2 – February 2021

A warm welcome to the second edition of the BBO Prime Bidding Challenge, and we are pleased to announce the addition of a number of new experts to our panel this month. The amazing list of the achievements of all members of our panel can be found by clicking the ‘Experts’ button on the home page for this forum. Thanks to them all for taking the time to pass on their insights into this month’s deals.

Half of the hands this month produce big majority votes from the panel, to which the first reaction is “Fire the problem setter”. However, when you then look at the large percentage of competition entrants who have not opted for the panel’s first choice, on what are mostly questions of hand evaluation, it becomes apparent that many readers may benefit from the panel’s observations on these deals. We start, appropriately, with one of those deals…


4 :clubs:101228
3 :clubs:8110
5 :diamonds:705
4 :diamonds:5312
3 :diamonds:3131
2 NT001
2 :hearts:005
3 :hearts:002

This is essentially a question of hand evaluation: are we worth a mild invite (3), a strong invite (4) or a game force? With a huge majority of the panel choosing to splinter with 4♣, some of them not only forcing to game but looking for slam, I have also upgraded the other actions that force to game (3♣ and 5) even though they attracted only a single vote from panelists. Let’s start with the only really pessimistic member of the panel

SENIOR: 3. I like 4 to be game forcing, and I’m not going to support hearts with a doubleton, so 3 is all that’s left. Yes, I’m a bit heavy, but I’d rather have a bit to spare than have less than I promise.

None of those who chose 4 thought it was forcing…

WANG: 4 . Strong invitation.
LAVEE: 44. This sequence should be a shapely invite. With an ideal allocation of assets in partner’s long suits, it’s close to a game force.
VERBEEK: 4. I cannot find out which is the best game, 4♠, 4 or 5. Even if I force with 3♣ fourth suit, I still won’t know. It’s a nice hand but not good enough, so I settle for an invitational raise to 4.

Almost a third of readers thought this hand worth only a mild invite with 3, so let’s see if our experts can explain why that evaluation is faulty…

COHEN: 4 ♣. Every one of my HCPs is huge, so I have way too much for a non-forcing 3. Yes, we could belong in hearts, but it isn’t matchpoints, so I don’t mind if we end up in a making diamond game/slam that pays 1 IMP less than a heart contract might.
KOKISH: 4♣. A mild overbid and 3NT could be the best game, but partner will often be short in spades on this auction and the slam potential is decent. 3 is a huge underbid and 4 mysterious, not only in this feature but for many seasoned partnerships. The main alternative is a fourth-suit, game-forcing 3♣, which is the worst 4th suit bid in bridge and will usually make it impossible to show the stiff club. 4♣ is honest and clean.
BROCK: 4♣. Seems to fit with what I have.
KLUKOWSKI: 4♣. I’d just bid 4♣ as a splinter for diamonds.

Some are more worried about missing a slam than game being too high…

MOSS: 4 ♣. Surely the best way to find 6 .
LARSSON: 4♣. Splinter. We can have a nice slam here.
ROBSON: 4♣. We are live for slam here, and need very little beyond a void spade to make a grand.
CHAGAS: 4♣. I hope partner bids 4 so that I can advance with a 4 cue bid.
BRINK:4♣. This looks like 4♣ to me (splinter with diamond fit). My hand is super strong opposite a likely 1-5-4-3 shape. Unfortunately, I can’t just Blackwood, since I need three key cards and a response showing two will carry us too high.

David sums up for the majority…

BIRD: 4♣. This is obviously too good for an invitational 4. The alternative is a game-forcing 3♣, but I cannot see that we will hear anything useful and I have no interest in playing in 3NT. Better for me to tell partner something about my hand.

Thomas was alone in choosing the other route to game, but he does make an important observation about partner’s hand…

BESSIS: 3 ♣. We will play at least game here, probably 5 , maybe more. Don’t count on me though to guess right now to play in hearts when partner has something like xx/QJ10xx/AKxx/Qx. I’ll bid 4 on the next round and we’ll see. By the way, my style in this auction is to almost always rebid 1NT with a 2542 distribution, as the auction 1 -1♠-2 is a nightmare when playing natural methods.

I quite agree, and 1NT will often be the better partscore unless partner happens to hold four-card diamond support. This time, partner had a minimum opening bid, x/QJxxx/KJxx/AJx. Even so, 5 was an easy make, losing just two aces. South had an obvious club lead to defeat 3NT if the auction continued 3 ♣-3NT-Pass. Raisers to 3 (and probably 4 too) score just +150 for a 10-IMP loss.


3 :diamonds:101422
5 :clubs:814
3 :spades:5215
4 :clubs:3019
3 :hearts:0013
4 :hearts:001
4 :diamonds:001
4 NT001
3 NT006

The panel’s choice is clear, with a tie for the largest majority of the month, and yet only one in five readers scored the maximum. Even more surprising, perhaps, is that 40% of competition entrants scored no marks at all, so clearly there is plenty to be learned from this deal.

First, let’s think about what type of hand partner has for this sequence. Most of the time, he will have at least ten cards in his two suits. Another possibility is a very strong hand with 1-3-5-4 shape, with three-card heart support. However, he certainly does not promise hearts, which is why heart bids score zero. If you bid 4, he will pass with a singleton and maybe even with a void, whilst 3certainly invites him to raise with something like J-x. Do you really want that when you hold only queen-empty fifth?

The other large group failing to score is the passers: a jump shift rebid is 100% game-forcing, so passing Three Clubs simply is not an option. Again, we’ll start with minority views:

LAVEE: 3♠. 3 ♣ is game forcing and so the fourth suit by responder is the default/waiting bid.
BESSIS: 3♠. Those major-suit queens suggest bidding 3NT to right-side the contract, but I can’t do it with these cards. I would also bid 3NT with a hand like QJ9x/KJ10x/xx/xxx, so partner is likely to pass and I don’t want to play a ridiculous contract, opposite a 3055 hand for example. (Are you sure that bidding 3♠ avoids that? MS.) As I can’t bid anything else playing standard (3 would show a real fit, 3 6+ or much better hearts, 4♣ a better fit and hand), my choice goes to 3♠. Bidding 3♦, taking the chance that the partner bids 3♠ so I can bid 3NT, could work, but it is too dangerous without a clear agreement.

A large group of readers agree with Daniel and Thomas, but most of the panel does not. It seems that they are both planning to pass if partner bids 3NT and we’ll see how that works out later. Remember, though, that if partner has at least ten minor-suit cards, that means he has at most three in the majors. Is not one of the majors likely to be virtually wide open opposite your hand?

LARSSON: 5♣. Partner can raise if he has the right cards.

Jessica is perhaps a little optimistic, but the key point is that jumping to game in a game-forcing auction shows a weaker hand than a raise to 4♣, and one can hardly argue that this hand is not weak. Assuming that partner has a strong hand with 5-5 or 6-4 in the minors, it does not seem unreasonable to think that 5♣ will be the best contract, hence the upgrade in marks for this choice. Okay, on to the majority now…

BRINK: 3 . Waiting. I have no clue in which game we belong, so hopefully my partner has an idea…
COHEN: 3. SOP – a false preference to keep the ball moving.
VERBEEK: 3. I want to leave enough space for partner to bid his hand. This doesn’t promise real diamonds, but may only be false preference.
BROCK: 3. False preference. I need to keep the bidding below 3NT.

MOSS: 3. I hope to hear 3NT.

Are you sure?

BIRD: 3. The major-suit queens are probably useless, except perhaps in 3NT. With such a poor hand, I must keep the bidding low.
CHAGAS: 3. Tactically simpler. We can reach 3NT eventually.
WANG: 3. If partner bids 3NT, I will pass. If partner bid 3♠, I’ll bid 3NT.

Many seem willing (even happy, perhaps) to play 3NT if partner suggests it, but not all…

ROBSON: 3. I’d better wait and not excite. I can bid 4♣ over, say, 3. If partner is genuinely 1-3-5-4 (unlikely the opponents have ten spades for their silence, but I suppose they sometimes do in a bidding panel), he can bid 4 and I’ll pass. I am probably heading for game in a minor, though.

Basic principles are the same no matter where you are from:

KLUKOWSKI: 3. Well, I’ve never played a natural system, so I have very little idea what type of hands this 3 ♣ might include. Probably with the knowledge I have, I’d just bid 3 as waiting.

SENIOR: 3. I don’t like this sort of false preference on one or two small cards, probably because I play too much with partners who would struggle with that style, but Q10 isn’t too bad if partner assumes I actually have some diamonds, while leaving room for further exploration.

There was one man I was 100% sure would bid 3, so I’ll let him sum up:

ERIC KOKISH (aka ‘The Koach”): 3. I would also bid this with Qxx/Qxxxx/x/xxxx. A guy who jump shifts should be given the opportunity to complete his plan unless responder has something clearly important to show at his second turn: a sixth heart (3), four decent clubs and willing to cooperate for slam (4♣), happy spade stoppers with no interest in three-card heart support or slam (3NT).

Partner had K10x/—/AKJxxx/AKJx. In the match where I watched the hand played, one West bid 3♠ in this auction and passed 3NT, which went down when the opponents took four hearts and the ♠A. At the other table, East/West reached 6♣, which made when trumps came in for no loser. Bidding 3 and then 5♣ when partner cannot show three-card heart support seems right to me, and that should get you to game in one of the minors rather than 3NT, which may well be enough to earn you a game swing.


5 :hearts:10716
4 NT816
6 :spades:7419
5 NT504
4 :spades:0040
5 :spades:003
5 :clubs:002

There is an enormous difference in the evaluation of this hand by the panel and by the competition entrants, with almost half of the latter simply rebidding their suit at game level whilst every panellist heads for slam. The panel is split between three main choices, with more than half of them trying to investigate the grand slam before settling for a six-level contract. Let’s hear the various arguments, starting with those who just bid slam.

CHAGAS: 6♠. Looks like a good bet. We are not playing in diamonds.
BIRD: 6♠. 4♠ would be hopelessly inadequate, and 5♠ would ask for a heart control. I can’t come close to describing my holdings in all four suits, so I will steer a middle path.
KLUKOWSKI: 6♠. Not much idea about this one either. A practical 6♠ bid seems best to me.

Not overly convincing, but practical enough. Andrew summarizes the case for the plurality choice:

ANDREW ROBSON: 5. I can then follow with 6♠ and hope partner will bid on with solid diamonds.

Andrew’s glass is half full, whilst Larry’s appears to be half empty…

COHEN: 5. Seems like a waste of time, since I doubt partner will know that AKQ is enough to get us to seven. Maybe in some year, 5NT asked about top diamonds, but not in 2021 where it is choice of slams.
LARSSON: 5. I will follow with 6♠, which is the best I can do. It will likely be impossible for partner to raise to the grand without the ♣A, but such is life.
LAVEE: 5. Partner likely has 13+ of the 20 minor-suit HCP. Slam or grand in spades is looking good.

VERBEEK: 5. How to find out if we have a grand slam? I start with 5 and plan to bid 6♠ next, so hopefully partner will understand he can raise with good diamonds.

Wen Fei hints at the other popular alternative…

WANG: 5. Although here pass is forcing, if I pass, my partner will not know I hold a hand like this. So I bid 5, diamond suit fit or not. I will bid 6♠ next.
SENIOR: Pass. Playing 2-over-1, I can Pass now and see what partner does. I am, of course, not passing if he doubles, but this route suggests a stronger hand than bidding immediately.

MOSS: Pass. Forcing, of course, and I want to hear from partner as cheaply as possible.

BRINK: Pass. Guessing we play 2/1 G.F, so usually pass and pull is stronger. So first I pass and likely after I’ll bid 6♠… But for sure Pass now. 

KOKISH: Pass. We’ve all played with partners who responded 2 with: x/xx/QJ10xxx/AKQx, so 5 will get us to an undignified slam (that might make, of course). The nature of 5 (spades trump, heart control) is something for 2/1 pairs to discuss. Not that the forcing pass is guaranteed to give us what we need, but it leaves room for East to express an opinion or two before decision day.

Sally succinctly sums up the case…

BROCK: Pass. We are playing 2/1, so this is forcing. I might be in a position to guess more effectively if I get more information. It can’t be worse than guessing now.

I think they may have just about had the best of the argument. There was also one lone wolf on the panel, but he puts the case well enough to earn an upgrade in the marking…

BESSIS: 4NT. A very tough one. My hand was very promising to start with, and both my partner’s and RHO’s bids have made it even better. I am clearly going to play at least 6♠ here. The opponents are very unlikely to sacrifice when I hold A10x and they are vulnerable too. So the question is, how to get to grand slam when it is on? My first idea was to bid 5 (normally agreeing diamonds) followed by 6♠. We can indeed be confident that the partner will bid grand slam himself over 5 if he holds 5+ solid diamonds. I will then correct to 7♠ and we’ll score a well deserved +2210. Very well. What I am afraid of is if partner has a hand like -/xx/KQxxxxx/AKxx. How could he believe I don’t have the A and not jump to 7 over 5? Bidding 4NT is, IMO, the right technical bid to show a strong hand in spades, when followed by 5♠ or 6♠. I’ll probably have to jump to 6♠ (or 6?) on my next round to show what my 4NT bid was coming from, so we won’t have much chance of bidding the grand slam anyway. But I believe we still have a better chance than if I jump directly to 6♠.

We discussed last month the situation where the opponents have taken away our cue-bids below a minor-suit game, and there was consensus on the panel that 4NT should be an invitational bid in partner’s minor. Does that not also apply here? Perhaps if we invite slam in diamonds with 4NT and partner jumps to 6, we can then cue-bid 6 to offer a choice between 6♠ and 7. At the table, partner held x/x/AKQ10xx/QJxxx so 13 tricks were easy in either spades or diamonds. Anyone who bid 4♠ probably plays there. Anyone who thought 5♣ was a cue-bid in this auction may escape the rude awakening that would come with the appearance of dummy only if partner thinks he is worth a raise.


3 :clubs:647
4 NT6421
3 :diamonds:4010
3 :hearts:0010

We have a majority amongst both panelists and readers on this one, although I wonder if the reasoning is the same in both camps. Let’s hear from the majority first:

ROBSON: Pass. -470 could be our best result; and they may go down. My one semi-asset (♠10) is purely defensive.
KOKISH: Pass. Kaplan Kaveats about taking out takeout doubles linger in the smoke, but East typically has a fine hand with only three clubs and his honors will be well-placed or invulnerable. When East has two spades, won’t our chances for a best possible result increase significantly. If this works badly I do not intend to fall on my sword.
Pass. I do not like this hand. (You are not alone there. MS) Whatever I do, partner will think I have some points. I hope my partner will forgive me if opponent make 2♠-X.

I’m sure she will, and teammates may even be delighted. Gabriel is a realist…

CHAGAS: Pass. Anything else could be tragic…-470 , -570? Better than -1100…

A rare accurate prediction from a panelist.

BESSIS: Pass. Even if they make, the loss will probably not be much compared to the at least two or, more likely, three or four down vulnerable that I expect to go in every contract if we declare. For a change, teammates will be happy when I come back with -470 on my card. And well, sometimes, we somehow manage to make six tricks and get a plus score.

Brad sums up for the majority…

BRAD MOSS: Pass. I won’t make any other call. This could easily be the cheapest option even when it makes.

Sjoert’s prediction is even more astute.

BRINK: Pass. I dislike bidding a three-card suit, but to repeat it will be disaster. Let’s hope for a strong partner and a lucky down one. Second choice would be 2NT, but I dislike playing 3NT-X without any reason. 

So, what is the default action when you hold nothing? Is it 3♣ or is 2NT a scramble, no places to play, type? David thinks he knows…

BIRD: Pass. Expectations from a Scramble 2NT are around -800. Bidding 3♣, with no expectation of a fit, may be even more expensive. I will opt for the smallest spoon of this horrible medicine.
BROCK: 2NT. I should probably pass as –470 might be our best score!

Sally doesn’t sound very convincing, does she?

VERBEEK: 2NT. I can’t pass with this and I can’t bid a suit. Ergo…
SENIOR: 2NT. Has anyone ever actually had this problem in real life? (Actually, yes. See below. MS). I’m not passing what could easily be a cold contract. I’m not rebidding three low when I will then often have to play 3♣ on a minority trump fit. I hope that partner will not think that 2NT is natural but, if he does, it may be no worse a spot than anything else we can get to from here.

Michal is, at least, confident that partner will understand…

KLUKOWSKI: 2NT. My partner knows I might have this hand..

And so to the final group. Are they any more convincing?

LAVEE: 3♣. Lovely auction – what dreams are made of. Bidding 3♣ has to be the lesser of all evils.

Larry has suddenly turned into an optimist…

COHEN: 3♣. Praying that we go minus less than 200 on this deal. This sounds like the weakest possible thing I can do. Anything else might encourage partner to keep torturing me.
LARSSON: 3♣. I might run if they double.

I hope someone does! Passing costs -570 and partner held about what you might expect, give or take a heart: xx/AQx/AKQ109/Kxx. One of our expert panelists was East at the table when the hand occurred, but he is sadly not with us this month. His West bid 2NT, which was taken as natural, raised to 3NT and doubled. The defense could have taken the first eleven tricks but actually let declarer out for five down, but that was still -1100. If you bid 3♣ and it goes P-P-X, you might get to 3-X (perhaps only -500) whether or not you try to rescue via a redouble. Although none of the panel chose it, I have also given some marks to 3, which probably does rate to be your best fit once partner has competed with a second double rather than a club raise.


5 :hearts:10923
4 NT704
5 NT538
7 :diamonds:530
6 :diamonds:5118
6 :spades:304
4 :spades:0021
5 :spades:001
5 :clubs:001

We have another clear majority from the panel, but a total of twelve different options chosen by readers, with none attracting the support of more than a quarter of competition entrants. As on Hand 3, a considerable number of readers seriously undervalued their hand, settling for game and scoring no marks, whilst almost every panelist committed to at least the six-level. Let’s hear first from those who think they know where to play…

CHAGAS: 6. Partner certainly has five or six diamonds, and in my school we prefer not bid grand slams without enough information. Ok, chicken…

Sage advice, from a man who probably learned that lesson the hard way. And from the younger generation…

MOSS: 7. It sure seems like partner has a few.
BRINK: 7. Why not? Hope for the best….
LARSSON: 7. A guessing game, but partner has 5+ and maximum 2-1 in the majors I assume.

The other minority delayed the decision, but one wonders if they will learn anything useful…

MECKSTROTH: 5NT. Pick a slam.
BROCK: 5NT. Pick a slam. If partner picks diamonds I’ll bid the grand, if clubs then I’ll just bid 6.

I remain unconvinced by that particular logic, whilst David seems be have taken a trip in his time machine, back to an age before everyone played 5NT as ‘pick a slam’.

BIRD: 5NT. On this auction, partner will hold no more than two spades and one heart. He therefore has at least five diamonds, maybe six. If he shows two top diamond honors, even a cautious old-timer like me can visualize 13 tricks.

No one addressed the question of what 4NT means in this auction. If it shows an invitational 5 bid, though, as I think it should here, would that not be the best way to solve the problem? If partner signs off in 5 you can raise to six, and if he accepts the invite with a jump to 6, you can take a shot at the grand. Of course, if 4NT would be Blackwood it is not right, but should it be when our suit is a minor and the opponents have bid enough to take away our only cue-bid? The majority hoped the five-level cue-bid would help…

ROBSON: 5. Then 6 next. With a feeling we may be missing 7, but perhaps partner can sometimes raise with good trumps as, presumably, we are making a grand slam try (or we’d have jumped straight to 6).
KOKISH: 5. We may have to guess in the end. If pass were forcing I would do that, but it is clearly not (2♠ did not create a game force in this auction). As East would have raised with three spades, he’s a favourite to be 2-1-5-5 or 2-1-6-4. South’s unsolicited 4 must be based on extra shape, likely a long club suit rather than a seventh heart. That makes it more likely that East will have strength and length in diamonds. If I had to guess a final contract it would be 7, but it sounds like they have a paying save in hearts and it may well come down to whether we bid 7♠ over 7. Hopefully, the extra room will help.

COHEN: 5. Similar to Hand 3, where I want to know about top diamonds, but I am afraid that 5NT won’t ask that.

Except in Chandler’s Ford, apparently.

SENIOR: 5. 2♠ was not game-forcing, therefore I do not have a forcing pass at my disposal. It looks as though partner has genuine diamonds as he is presumably short in hearts. I guess to commit to slam and cue-bid 5 on the way.

LAVEE: 5. Partner likely has one heart. South likely has club length and strength for raising to 4 when they would normally pass. Slam or grand in spades or diamonds is likely. Maybe partner can help in the decision-making.

KLUKOWSKI: 5. I think I’d go for 5 and then 6 over 5♠/6♣ from partner. Maybe he has got KQJ and ♣A and he will somehow bid seven.

Wen Fei and Thomas make similar points, and summarize the case for the majority…

WEN FEI WANG: 5. Partner has at least five diamonds, so we can make 6 or even 7. I’ll just show my first-round control in hearts and interest in a grand slam.

BESSIS: 5. No need to have studied at Harvard to understand that partner has at least five diamonds here. He is likely to be 2-1-5-5 or 2-1-6-4. A grand slam is in the air and we just need partner to have good enough diamonds (at least KQxxx or KJxxxx) to basically claim thirteen tricks. 5 agrees diamonds and shows both my first round control in heart and my grand slam ambitions.

We had just one other lone wolf, but this one appears to be lost…

VERBEEK: Double. Partner will have at most two spades and one heart, so a lot of diamonds. I think I can double and partner will bid anything. After 5 I bid 5NT to ask for good diamonds. After 4♠ I can cue-bid 5♣.

No one else even mentioned double as a forward-going option, and I think most would consider it a suggestion to defend. You might escape if partner opts to remove to his second suit, but much of the time I suspect you will find yourself on lead to 4-X. Partner had Q9/x/QJxxx/AQxxx so twelve tricks in either pointed suit were easy. South held the singleton K so it was possible to make the grand, but only if you were a really tall declarer 🙂


2 :diamonds:101410
2 :spades:7338
3 :spades:502
3 NT201
2 :clubs:004
2 NT002

The panel offered only two options on this one, and one of those garnered a large majority of the votes. The panel’s minority choice was also the selection of the largest group of readers, but few chose the top-scoring bid. The anomaly is that nearly one third of readers failed to appreciate how good this hand is in conjunction with what partner has shown: with the panel universally heading towards game after investigating major-suit fits, passing partner’s 1NT is clearly wrong.

Despite the limited options, this auction throws up plenty of questions. Is 2♠ invitational? Forcing? Game-forcing? Would you have responded 1♠ with 4-4 in the majors, so that 2♠ now shows at least 4-5? Is 2 natural or does it show 4-4 or 4-5 in the majors. Is it forcing to game or just for one round? Perhaps the panel will answer at least some of these questions: let’s hear what they have to say…

ROBSON: 2. Then 2♠ over 2. I’d rather partner declare 4♠, which is why I’m not rushing to bid spades now, but we’ll certainly play some game.
KLUKOWSKI: 2. This shows a good hand with interest in the major suits. 
VERBEEK: 2. I want to find out about partner’s majors, so I bid 2. 2♠ would show 4-4 in the majors, but partner will bid 2 over 2 with three-card heart support.
BRINK: 2. Forcing and asking. I hope we bid 4♠…
COHEN: 2. Too strong for only 2♠. Is 2♠ forcing? Who knows, but I don’t want to find out by playing 2ª making five. Partner has shown 18-19 balanced so picture AKxx/AJ/KQxx/Qxx. Why would he bid again if 2♠ is non-forcing?

I can’t argue with that, but Eric explains later why 2♠ should be forcing. But is 2 game forcing or just a one-round force?

LAVEE: 2. Partner is showing about 19-21 and so it’s time to force to game. Cue-bidding is clearly game forcing and will probe for more distributional info.

To game, says Daniel. Just for one round, says David…

BIRD: 2. Game is possible opposite 18-20 HCP, particularly with my minors this way round. I will look for a trump fit and then make a game-try.

To game, says Jessica.

LARSSON: 2. Game-forcing and asking for majors.

For one round only, says Wen Fei…

WANG: 2. It’s cheap and forcing. I will raise a major to the three-level and pass if partner bids 2NT.

Thomas and Brad also start with 2, but both are prepared to stop short of game.

BESSIS: 2. It is quite standard in France to consider that 2♠ here shows 4-4 and some values. We start with 1♠ with 4-4 and 0-4 HCP, and we would cue-bid opponents’ suit with any “good” hand with 5+. I’ll pass over 2NT, but I’ll bid game if I find a fit.
MOSS: 2. First let’s see if we have a major-suit fit. I’ll raise 2♠ to 4♠, and 2 to 3.

‘The Koach’ covers all of the bases…

KOKISH: 2. A case could be made for treating this as natural, but most would label that idea heretical. Why not 2♠? Indeed. With 4-4 in the majors and a smattering of points, we would have responded 1♠, intending to bid hearts later. With 4-4 weak, 2♠ now would be presumptuous. With 4♠/5 and a poor hand, the plan would be to bid 1 and 2, so yes, 2♠ ought to be forcing, but 2 seems to cater to both 4-4 spades and 5-3 hearts while indicating enough for 3NT.

It seems that there is dissention about just how far 2 is forcing, but the minority are in no doubt that 2♠ is forcing.

CHAGAS: 2♠. Partner shows a balanced 18-20. 2♠ is forcing for one round.
BROCK: 2♠. This must show decent values, I think, as partner’s 1NT doesn’t promise spades.

It sounds, though, as if Brian does not think 2 would be forcing…

SENIOR: 2. Partner has shown a good 18+, ie too good for an immediate 1NT overcall. I therefore drive to game and, rather than an ugly jump to 3♠, start with a 2 cuebid.

Partner has AKxx/Qx/AJ9x/A10x so 4♠ is excellent. Just about everyone except those who pass 1NT or rebid their hearts should get there.


4 :spades:10723
5 :clubs:001

Everyone scores reasonably well on this deal, with the panel evenly divided between the two most popular choices. Since ten panelists opted for positive action, I have split the tie in favor of bidding rather than passing, but I have also upgraded the two alternative actions as a number of panelists also mentioned them. Let’s hear what the experts have to say…

VERBEEK: 4♠. Lot of options: Pass, 4, 4♠ or 5 all seem like reasonable choices. I guess 4♠.MECKSTROTH: 4♠.LAVEE: 4♠. It’s a bit of a shot in the dark. Vulnerable at IMPs, it’s worth the potential reward.WANG: 4♠. I do not like passing 4. I want to do something and 4♠ looks like the best of the options.

Some optimistically suggest that partner may rescue them if this is not the right choice…

KOKISH: 4♠. This is a respectable hand for diamonds at first glance so I’m willing to play 5 if 4♠ doesn’t work out. How much inference East can draw for my failure to act over 3♣ is a partnership philosophy issue.
BROCK: 4♠. Hopefully a flexible hand like this, but maybe not.
LARSSON: 4♠. This should only be suggestion since I am a passed hand.

Well, passed in that you couldn’t overcall at the three-level. A smaller group suggest another way forward…

COHEN: 5. It is too committal to pick a major, but I am not willing to risk missing a vulnerable game bonus. I would love to make a responsive double, but doubling partner isn’t allowed.SENIOR: 5. Anything is a bit speculative here, and trying to find a 5-3 major-suit fit risks playing a lesser fit than that. Partner has a long suit, I have some help, and if 5 fails then maybe so would have 4.
BIRD: 5. My last-minute switch away from Pass accurately sums up these values. On the testosterone-loaded Bridge Magazine panel, I scored an average of around 5.5 points every time I passed instead of bidding.

Well, bidding cost you 1 point this time, David, but earned you the kudos of gaining a vulnerable game bonus. So, let’s hear from the passers…

ROBSON: Pass. Partner may have worked out we have short clubs, so our hand is really nothing special. I don’t think I have enough to bid on. Swap my majors, and I may have tried 4, thinking we’ll win if partner has either four card major; but I’m nervous to bid 4 here.

A number thought it was sufficiently clear that they passed without comment…

MOSS: Pass.
CHAGAS: Pass. I won’t penalize partner. He didn’t double.
BRINK: Pass. No idea. I think I don’t have enough to bid…

Thomas sums up the case for this group…

THOMAS BESSIS: Pass. A nightmare hand. We are quite likely to have a fit in a major, as partner will often be 6-3 or even 6-4 with a major. It is, therefore, very possible that we are cold for 4 or 4♠. But even if that’s the case, I’m still on a 50% guess as to which one is right. If I bid 4 or 4♠ at this stage, my partner has no reason to pull, even with a singleton. I could still have something like KQ10xxxx and a queen: i.e. a hand not strong enough to overcall 3/3♠ but with which you’d now like to suggest 4/♠. I’d definitely bid 4 if I know that partner will rectify to 4♠ with 3+♠ and a singleton heart, but I don’t think I should expect him to. We could make 5 too, especially if partner has seven of them. I’ll take, for once, the down the line road and pass.

At the table, only the smallest faction from the panel and a handful of brave readers would have scored well. I am also pleased to see that a number of illustrious names ended up in the same stupid contract as I did at the table. Partner’s hand was x/AKJx/AKQ109/Axx. I bid 4♠ at the table and, as many of our panelists feared, played in a 5-1 fit, going down in game when we were making game or slam in other suits. Having already overcalled at the four-level, is partner really supposed to rebid his five-card suit? I don’t think so. Those who passed 4 or raised to game would have scored eleven tricks, but the 4 bidders would have hit the jackpot and scored +1430. Here, though, they have to settle for 7/10 and a glowing feeling of superiority.


2 :spades:10715
2 NT8212

The panel and the competition entrants were fairly well split between the four obvious options. With a 12-5 vote from the panelists and a 2-to-1 margin amongst readers in favor of action over inaction, Pass has been downgraded in the marking. Let’s hear first from those who decided to defend…

SENIOR: Pass. I don’t suppose many will agree (Another accurate prediction. MS), but I’m feeling old this morning. I’m light for 2NT and we all know what suit he will respond in if I double. Partner has some heart length or is not very strong as he couldn’t come in over 2. Let’s try for a plus on defense rather than hope to find a making game.
ROBSON: Pass. Bidding with four hearts rates to turn plus into minus. If I do bid, it has to be 2ª but with hearts getting overruffed, I don’t fancy it. I mean bidding will work mainly when partner has a hand that would already have made a take-out double. Further, if we can make 2♠, we’ll be too high, as partner will take a shine to three spades and one heart.
BIRD: Pass. It’s not attractive to double with only one diamond, nor to bid 2♠ on a four-card suit. If the Director awards me only 5.5 points, so be it.

That’s almost spot on as predictions from panelists go.

LAVEE: Pass. Partner failed to bid over 2 with likely short hearts, so game is very unlikely. It is not worth the risk of bidding and getting doubled by the responder. Defending 2 could easily be our best chance for a plus score. 
COHEN: Pass. If I ever were to overcall with a 4-card suit on the 2-level, this would be the time, but I am not yet ready to try that.

Let’s hear from those who are…

KOKISH: 2♠. Not exactly with a song in my heart. Pass is eminently sensible, of course. Even if we buy short hearts and spade length, there will be some serious handling charges. One upside is that partner could easily have a random 11-12 count that combines for 3NT or a black-suit game.

KLUKOWSKI: 2♠. I cannot really pass with spades and a good opening bit. I cannot double with a singleton diamond and Axxx is not the best holding on which to bid 2NT.

LARSSON: 2♠. I don’t like passing 🙂
MOSS: 2♠. A tough problem. It’s too good to pass. I don’t like double. 2NT is quantitatively reasonable but 2♠ can be safer and/or play really well. 
VERBEEK: 2♠. I want to try something (hard to pass) so I guess 2♠
BESSIS: 2♠. And another tough hand to finish with. I can’t pass. 2NT could be right but gives me stomach aches, so let’s try a fantasy 2♠! I believe that the game I am more likely to make is 4♠, when partner has a fit, but it could also work well in a 4-3 fit, especially when my partner is short in hearts. Also, the fact that the opponents are not aware of my relative shortness in trumps could make them misdefend the hand. Last but not least, I’ll probably avoid a big penalty if partner has a Yarborough.

And, as for the alternatives?

CHAGAS: Dbl. I am a lucky man….
BRINK: Dbl. What else? Aha, I don’t have diamonds… C’est la vie. Still double. But some people will try 2♠…. 
BROCK: 2NT. It may be better to pass, but we may have game on sheer power. WANG: 2NT. It is not ideal, but I have to bid something.

At the table, the passers were the biggest losers as partner held Qxxxx/x/KJxx/J10x, so 4 was a good contract facing an effective three-count. Opposite 2NT, partner probably transfers with 3 and you have to decide whether to break. If not, he probably passes 3 for +170. If you double, he will bid an invitational 3 via Lebansohl, which you will probably accept. If you bid 2, I suspect your next task will be claiming +620.

Alan Sontag

Congratulations to both Alan Sontag and Eric Kokish, who lead the panel jointly this month with an impressive 79/80. Andrew Robson claims third place with a more than respectable 75/80. Our thanks go to all of our experts for their time and effort. Readers and panelists are all welcome to send problems they would like to see discussed by the panel, but remember that the best problems should ideally have at least three sensible alternatives and should not be system dependent. Thank you and see you all again next month.

Andrew ROBSON4:clubs:3:diamonds:5:hearts:Pass5:hearts:2:diamonds:PassPass75
Wen Fei
4:diamonds:3:diamonds:5:hearts:Pass5:hearts:2:diamonds:4:spades:2 NT73
4:clubs:3:diamonds:6:spades:2 NT5:hearts:2:diamonds:Pass2:spades:72
3:clubs:3:spades:4 NTPass5:hearts:2:diamonds:Pass2:spades:70
4:clubs:3:diamonds:6:spades:Pass5 NT2:diamonds:5:diamonds:Pass66
4:clubs:3:diamonds:Pass2 NT5 NT2:spades:4:spades:2 NT65
4:clubs:3:diamonds:6:spades:3:clubs:5 NT2:spades:4:spades:Dbl63
3:diamonds:3:diamonds:Pass2 NT5:hearts:2:diamonds:5:diamonds:Pass62
Martine VERBEEK4:diamonds:3:diamonds:5:hearts:2 NTDbl2:diamonds:4:spades:2:spades:62


HAND 1: 4♣ 10, 3♣ 8, 5 7, 4 5, 3 3
HAND 2: 3♦ 10, 5♣ 8, 3♠ 5, 4♣ 3
HAND 3: 5 10, Pass 9, 4NT 8, 6♠ 7, 5NT 5
HAND 4: Pass 10, 2NT/3♣ 6, 3 4
HAND 5: 5 10, 4NT 7, 5NT/7/6 5, 6♠ 3, Dbl 1
HAND 6: 2 10, 2♠ 7, 3♠ 5, 3NT 2
HAND 7: 4♠ 10, Pass 9, 5 8, 4 7
HAND 8: 2♠ 10, 2NT/Dbl 8, Pass 6