BBO Prime bidders challenge: March Panel Comments

Conducted by Marc Smith

Set 21-3 – March 2021

Welcome to the third BBO Prime Bidding Challenge. We are again delighted to announce the addition of two more multiple world champions to our expert panel. Previous experience has taught me that Kate McCallum, twice the winner of the Venice Cup, the McConnell Cup and the World Womens Pairs in more than 30 years at the top of the game, will be a lively contributor to the panel’s discussions. Jacek Pszczola aka “Pepsi” has won the World Pairs, the Bermuda Bowl and two other World Championship events as a player and coached three teams to Seniors World Championship titles. You can see the amazing list of the achievements of all members of our panel 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.

We also welcome our first guest panelist, Luwen Koh from Singapore, the winner of Set 21-1. Luwen learned to play bridge twelve years ago as a junior college student and he has recently qualified as a W.B.F. Assistant Tournament Director. A second good score last month meant that Luwen held a 9-point lead after two months of the annual competition, so don’t be surprised to see him back here as a guest again during the coming months.

The panel came up with a total of 33 different bids across the eight deals, with at least three on every problem. On only three deals did any action attract a majority of the panel, so the discussion promises to be a lively one, and high scores hard to come by. Here we go…


2 :hearts:101247
2 :diamonds:6224
3 :hearts:202
2 :clubs:002
2 NT001

We begin with a clear majority from the panel, supported by the largest faction of competition entrants. We start, though, with one of the minority choices. Those competition entrants who bid 2 intending it as a transfer should note that it definitely is not: after all, you are likely to pass partner’s double with almost all decent hands, so why would you want to have to climb all the way to 3 with a hand such as xxx/xxx/108xxxx/x? A similar argument applies to those who bid 2♣, presumably not intending it as natural. One of our new panelists kicks off with a well-reasoned explanation of her chosen action.

Karen McCALLUM: 2. This is not a high-card double. Partner is likely to have a void somewhere to justify reopening. He’d pass out 1NT with strong balanced hands, so he has shape, not necessarily with extras, in a hand unwilling to defend 1NT. His most likely shape is (430)-6, but possibly (440)-5. He is unlikely to be 6/5 as he would bid his second suit with that. It’s good that I have the cheapest suit so we can probably find our fit without landing in a silly contract. If he bids 2♠, I’ll bid 3 since he must fit one of the red suits, although there is a danger that we’ll be propelled to 4 when he’s 4-0-3-6, but he’ll probably pass 2 with that hand.  

Sjoert had less actual reasoning but plenty of self-confidence…

SBRINK: 2. I won’t pass since I don’t know what to lead. Usually with 5-5 and points around 20-20 you make something at the two-level. I guess the majority will pass, and that shows I’m better than the majority 😉

Well, it didn’t take long for us to get our first poor prediction of the month, although the Pass that Sjoert predicted did attract a few illustrious names.

COHEN: Pass. If I guess to bid a five-card suit, who is to say partner has support for it? Meanwhile, I have reasonable defense, so can hope to set them. Glad you didn’t ask what I would lead.
FREDIN: Pass. Will lead my club.
BROCK: Pass. And lead a spade. This is a matter of partnership agreement, though. This is the old-fashioned treatment I believe. Partner should not just have a balanced 18-count because how am I supposed to know what to do.
KOH: Pass. I didn’t promise anything, yet I have the diamond suit about locked up and decent defense in hearts. I expect South to struggle more than us in this contract.

I stuck The Koach, perhaps unfairly, with his first guess (he won last month so he can afford a couple of points this time around) but he hits on exactly the point this problem was designed to answer: what sort of hand does partner have for his double?

KOKISH: Pass. If double is penalty, we should pass and lead our club, which is perfectly acceptable, so for this feature, with no annotation from Marc, I would pass. However, as the agreement I favor is “takeout of the other minor” it’s a different problem altogether, essentially how many hearts to bid. As my cards are not great for hearts despite the fifth heart, I would settle for 2. East could be 4315 in a pinch.

Although there is no unanimity amongst the majority as to the meaning of partner’s double, there does seem to be a clear consensus. David is on one side of the fence…

BIRD: 2. Partner is likely to be balanced, with 18-19 points. If instead he had long and strong clubs, he had the option of rebidding 2♣ or 3♣. Defending could easily turn out badly, and I bid the higher of my suits to preserve the option of competing with 3 over a possible 2♠.

Andrew takes the exact opposite view…

ROBSON: 2. Partner’s double cannot sensibly be penalties, ie a flat 19-count, sitting under the strong hand. It should therefore be a three-suited take-out. Hence my 2 bid; if partner removes to 2♠, we can bid 3.

Norberto found the obvious way to avoid the lead problem mentioned above by Larry…

BOCCHI: 2. I am too afraid to miss lead if I pass. Over 3♣ I bid 3.
De WIJS: 2. I am definitely bidding and start here.
CHAGAS: 2. If they compete in something, I can bid 3.

The rest of the group all think they are on firm ground…

SONTAG: 2. I play the double by opener shows shortness in the lowest unbid suit.
LARSSON: 2. I expect partner to be short in other minor.
WANG: 2. I like double to show a take out of the unbid minor.
LAVEE: 2. Many have the agreement that double by opener is take-out of the unbid minor. Partner should be something like (43)15 or 4414 so I bid 2.
ZIA: 2. Partner’s double suggests Majors.

I can certainly see the logic for such an agreement: something for readers to discuss with their favorite partners. At the table, many would presumably not have doubled with partner’s hand, which was Jx/AK10/K10/AQJxxx. If you are going to bid 2, though, he has done the right thing, as the opponents have seven easy tricks in 1NT (doubled or not) via five spades and a trick in each minor, whilst you can make at least eight tricks in either minor, and nine in hearts. With 12 of 17 panelists bidding, Pass has been downgraded in the marking


3 :spades:10611
4 :diamonds:518
3 :diamonds:4128
5 :diamonds:203

Six different actions from the panel, with none of them attracting even a third of our experts, and barely 10% of competition entrants picking up one of the top two marks, so the discussion promises to be educational.

One of the first questions surrounds the meaning of 2NT: some thought it natural, some scrambling and others Lebensohl. To me, it makes sense for this to be a Lebensohl position, as the problems are effectively the same in this auction as they would be after (2)-Dbl-(P)-?

Even if Lebensohl does apply, though, it was the panel’s almost-unanimous view that the hand was too good for a constructive 3, although that was the selection of the largest group of competition entrants. Meanwhile, the readers’ second choice, 3NT, attracted support from no members of the panel. Indeed, you can see why: if partner has no help in spades you will need to be able to cash nine tricks right away in 3NT. If you can do that, surely game (and maybe more) in at least one minor will also be making.

BRINK: 2NT. I start with 2NT (scrambling), and after 3m I’ll decide. If it goes 2NT-(3♠)-P-(P) I will then bid 4. 3NT is very unlikely to be making.
BROCK: 2NT. Maybe we have game on but I’m used to playing with an aggressive partner. I’ll settle for 3m. 3NT looks unlikely with what is probably only one spade stopper, while 5m is a lot of tricks.

Both Sally and Sjoert expect partner to bid a minor. Perhaps Norberto does too…

BOCCHI: 2NT. I’ll see what to do later.

Only Karen is clear that 2NT is Lebensohl, although I am mystified by the meaning of her 3NT continuation.

McCALLUM: 2NT. If this was not a Lebensohl situation, I’d have to settle for 3NT, but that would not be a happy choice, although perhaps the best of a bad lot. If I start with a value-showing cue-bid of 3♠ we are likely to miss a good 3NT, and 3 isn’t enough, even if defined as constructive. 2NT should be Lebensohl here, which allows me to bid 3NT next to show doubt about this as a contract.

Doesn’t that sequence just deny both four hearts and a spade stopper? One group who are sure where they are headed…

KLUKOWSKI: 4NT. Pick a minor. That seems accurate to me.
WANG: 4NT. Pick a minor-suit game. I think 5♣/ will be better than 3NT.
ROBSON: 4NT. Minors. My slight concern is playing an eight-card club fit rather than a nine-card diamond fit, but any other route (eg via 3♠) gets murky.
FREDIN: 4NT. Maybe 4 is better but I go for the game.
LAVEE: 4NT. What is 2NT? Some partnerships play that it shows two places to play, whilst for others it is Lebensohl. I think it should be Lebensohl, since game is still possible. Give partner as little as x/Axxx/Kxxx/Kxxx and I would want to be in 5m. Fortunately, I don’t have to decide on this hand because I am worth 4NT, giving partner a choice of minor-suit game contracts.

The largest faction on the panel started with a 3 cue-bid. If 2NT would be Lebensohl, though, does this not then show four hearts and deny a spade stopper? Apparently not…

CHAGAS: 3♠. I have a 12-count and here’s the time to show it… Maybe he can bid an unexpected 3NT.
De WIJS: 3. I don’t feel comfortable jumping to 3NT with this. If partner bids 4, my 4NT should be “pick a minor”

Something worth discussing with a regular partner, for sure, as I’m not sure I’d want to risk that sequence with an unfamiliar partner. Some would surely expect it to be RKCB agreeing hearts.

ZIA: 3♠. This is a game try for me, although maybe better for most. I would pre-protect on many hands with a stiff spade, so I will let him out below game if all he can bid is 4m.
PSZCZOLA: 3♠. Probably too aggressive, but I don’t like to miss a vulnerable game.

You still might opposite Zia.

LARSSON: 3♠. For me 2NT (scramble or Lebesohl) followed by 3NT shows hearts. I’ll pass 3NT, and raise 4m to game.

Our guest panelist sums up for the plurality:

Luwen KOH: 3♠. I need to inform partner of my good hand after rightfully passing the 1♠ opening. I could bid 3NT, but 5m will often be better. 3NT not only wrong sides the contract if partner has ♠Qx, but will go down if partner gives me spade blanks and one of our minors is not running. If 5m doesn’t make, 3NT is unlikely to succeed either if partner cannot bid it now.

Only one member of the panel took the conservative route on this hand…

COHEN: 3. I like partner to “pre-balance” here with something like x/KQxx/K10xx/Kxxx, and perhaps even with less. True, we are vulnerable at IMPs, but I think the ♠K is useless in 5m and I doubt we have enough for 3NT, so I am taking the low road.

Well, unlike some, you would have gone plus at least, Larry.

KOKISH: 4. On the surface the hand is worth 3, but 3NT doesn’t figure to stretch unless we have nine on top, and the ♠K may be an uncertain assert in a suit. It’s tempting in a way to go very low with 3, but perhaps medium (an invitational 4) is sufficiently discreet. As we know East will strain to act over 2♠ with spade shortness, so this is an everyday problem that has a partnership experience element. The main downside to any diamond bid is that we may belong in clubs. A sneaky good problem.

An accurate prediction from Eric (see below).

SONTAG: 4. I don’t want to bury my partner for a potential balancing double in direct chair.

Plowing a lone furrow, we have an unexpectedly imaginative effort from our final panelist, the original model for ‘The Man on the Clapham Omnibus’…

BIRD: Pass. Partner is likely to be minimum, after their bidding, so I do not rate the chances of game our way. It is easily best to play Lebensohl in this auction, so 3 would show about 8-11, so that is my alternative choice. Passing and leading my singleton heart rates to produce a plus score, though, and perhaps a much larger one than making a partscore out way.

Partner had Q/98xxx/Kx/AK10xx, so 5 is where you want to play. The 4NT bidders and probably those who start with 3 get there. Perhaps 2NT (Lebensohl) then 3NT also gets the job done. You can also go plus in a minor-suit partscore or defending 2-X, but anyone playing in 3NT loses four heart tricks and the A off the top.


4 :hearts:7110
4 :spades:6433
3 :spades:0010

The choice here is between attempting to take a penalty from 3-X or bidding game. The problem, if we decide not to defend, is which game should we play. The panel offer four options, with two clear favorites. With the panelists choosing play over defense by a margin of 12-7, I split the tie for the top spot in favor of 3NT, but we start with those who opt to defend…

ZIA: Pass. Too much fun to miss. Second choice 3NT.
LAVEE: Pass. In general, it’s not best to bid the unbid Major with only a four-card suit when you also have four good cards in the opponent’s preempt. You might get a bad split in spades and/or might be overruffed in hearts. I think it’s between Pass and 3NT. Pass has a higher reward and there is a slight chance 3NT cannot make, so I aim for +800.
KOH: Pass. I expect 3NT to make 9-11 tricks and slam is very unlikely. But I’m roughly following the Law of Total Tricks here. If my assessment of 3NT is right, they are going for -800 to -1100. The only downside is if South has an entry and uses it to finesse my rather soft heart holding, but that is -500 even in their best-case scenario.

Oh, the folly of panelists making predictions LOL.


Sjoert raises the legitimate question of table feel…

BRINK: Pass. This all depends on who my opponents are. If they are French, I would bid 3NT, but if it is a Russian pair I may even have more hearts than the pre-empter, so it would be an easy pass.  Anyway, without knowing opponents, I just check the age of opener. Between 15-37, I pass, 38-67 I bid 3NT, over 67 (most crazy of all) I pass and turn over my double card to count undertricks… Pass or bid without knowing opponents can only be in a panel. Usually passing is right, but playing Paul Chemla it is the worst thing you can do…

Simon offers some wise words…

De WIJS: Pass. When in doubt between 4S and 3NT, I choose the third option. We are likely to get +500, I think.

Let’s hear from the other large group, most of whom have passing as their second choice…

BOCCHI: 3NT. I understand anyone who says Pass.
BIRD: 3NT. I used up my reserves of courage by passing a take-out double on the previous deal. 3NT looks like the best game with all those queens and jacks.
BROCK: 3NT. Second choice Pass.
KOKISH: 3NT. Just a guess. Why pretend otherwise? Vulnerable preempts tend to be quite sound, so we may well have to let declarer score all his trumps in 3-X. Collecting + 500 is no big deal vs +600-odd, but if there is another trick in dummy, we’ll get only +200. Even though we might go minus in the wrong game once in a while, slam is still in the picture for us, so by taking out the double we leave more options open. East needn’t pass 3NT, which has a wide range.

Both Larry and Wen Fei think it is a question of which game…

COHEN: 3NT. Hamman’s rule (if 3NT is at all possible, then give it a try). Opposite, say a 3-1-4-5 hand, 4♠ could be problematic.
WANG: 3NT. With all those soft Q-J values, I choose to play 3NT rather than 4♠,

A couple of our experts went for game in the major…

ROBSON: 4♠. Pass is the other option, and I would do that with majors reversed. It would surprise me if 4♠ goes down with ruffs when 3NT would make. However, it’s too big a gamble. I’ll stick to the normal action.
PSZCZOLA: 4♠. It’s between Pass, 3NT and 4♠. The quality of the spade suit won and this also keeps us in play if we belong in slam.
KLUKOWSKI: 4♠. This is the practical bid, although I have only four spades and many low honors. I might also pass or bid 3NT, but I expect to be able to make 4♠ and it keeps the way to a slam most open.

Peter FREDIN: 4♠. Pass, 3NT, 4 and 4♠ are all options. The only reason I choose to bid instead of passing is because we may be able to make a slam. If partner passes 4♠, I may have made the wrong call.

A lone wolf on the panel, but only Gabriel would have gone plus at the table:

CHAGAS: 4. Tough hand many ideas, but again I must show my strength now.

I would think that 4 should show two (or three) places to play, one of which will often be a possible 4-4 spade fit, so is it not a better option than 4♠ on this hand? If partner has four spades (and no slam interest), will he not bid 4♠ over 4? On the actual deal, it was the route to reach the only making game, as partner held A9x/–/J109xxx/AKxx. In our match, the board was flat at -730 when both Wests passed the double. North holds AK98xxx and South both the A and the ♠K, so declarer scores dummy’s two winners and all seven of his trumps. 3NT can also be beaten: you have to duck when a low heart is led to South’s ten. South returns a heart and North cashes the defenders’ third heart winner before switching to a spade whilst his partner still holds the ¨A.


2 :spades:10717
2 :hearts:8742
1 :spades:6321
3 :spades:524
4 :spades:001

The main question is whether to describe this hand as a two-suiter or just show our moderate six-card spade suit. The secondary question is then how many spades to bid if you are just showing one suit. The experts were split evenly between two choices and, with the panel preferring to show just spades by a margin of 12-7, I have split the tie at the top in that direction.

Those readers who chose to pass received no support at all from the experts, but I thought it was worth more zero. Approaching half of the competition entrants opted for the Michaels cue-bid, so let’s start the discussion with that faction on the panel…

LAVEE: 2. I am not a fan of the Michaels convention, but this seems like the hand for it. At favorable vulnerability and partner being a passed hand, it seems like this could be a sacrifice board and partner needs to know that I have two suits I’m interested in doing that in.

Beware what you wish for. You may get it.

KLUKOWSKI: 2. First, it will be difficult for them to find my stiff honors. Secondly, we might have a cheap defense if my partner has short spades and big minor support.
ZIA: 2.
ROBSON: 2. I’ve only five spades, haven’t I? This is such a weird flawed hand that defending may be best. (I’ll win my K that way.)
CHAGAS: 2. Michaels, despite this bothersome sixth spade. I prefer to enter the bidding with two-suiters either with weak or with strong hands. In between, I bid a suit.
BRINK: 2. Spades and minor. Unfortunately, I don’t normally have this option, so I would have to bid 2♠. But, luckily, in this system we do play Michaels… Thanks!! I hope I can convince my partner to play this convention.

Perhaps refusing to play Michaels is his way of stopping you using it hands like this one, Sjoert 😊.

Let’s see if those who just bid their spades are any more convincing, starting with those who enter at the lowest level…

BOCCHI: 1♠. I would make a two-suited bid, but the few points I have are in the singleton suits.
FREDIN: 1♠. I need partner to support me if we are to take a save.
McCALLUM: 1♠. I’d like a better hand for Michaels at these colors. Roughly six losers and good suits would be my minimum criteria, but here I have neither. I am not willing to pass with this much shape as, even after partner’s pass, we may still make a lot of tricks if we find a fit. If it doesn’t happen, at least I’ve made a stab at it.

And going up a level…

BIRD: 2♠. If partner had not passed, I would prefer 1♠. As it is, I can make an undisciplined weak jump even with all my strength (such as it is) outside the suit.
COHEN: 2♠. At these colors I’d like to preempt higher, but I have so much defense and such poor spades that I can’t bring myself to do any more.
PSZCZOLA: 2♠. Giving us a chance to bid 4♠ over their likely 4.
KOKISH: 2♠. Although the hairy-chested gang will laugh at this inadequate effort, those red honors and the weak suit point at resisting temptation.

Wen Fei makes an excellent point.

WANG: 2♠. Partner is a passed hand. We will often end up defending, so I don’t want to give too much information to the opponents.
KOH: 2♠. This hand is too poor for a 3♠ preempt, and a 1♠ overall is not going to do much damage to the opponents. I do not use Michaels with a six-card major unless I intend to bid it later.

I think this group had much the better of the debate. Sally sums up for them…

Sally BROCK: 2. Maybe I should bid 3, but that could be expensive. Those singleton red cards might also come into their own as defensive tricks.

And for the macho brigade…

SONTAG: 3♠. Why not?
De WIJS: 3♠. A bit random but, with 6/5 opposite a passed partner at this vulnerability, 2♠ is not enough.

Partner had Q10/10xx/Jxxx/10xxx. Some N/S pairs made 6 via winning guesses in the red suits, but it also went down at some tables. Most E/W pairs conceded 650/680, but at one table East raised his partner’s 3♠ overcall to 4♠, which cost 1400. At another, East saved in 7♣ after a Michaels bid from his partner: another 1400!


3 :hearts:101329
4 :clubs:6335
3 :clubs:416
5 :clubs:001

The largest majority of the month from the panel, with nearly a third of competition entrants also collecting maximum points. I held this hand at the table and thought it was a choice between 4 (showing both suits) and Pass, but I bow to the weight of the panel’s opinion. Let’s start with the majority.

KLUKOWSKI: 3. Seems clear to me.
SONTAG: 3. As my mentor Al Roth would frequently say, “What’s the problem?”.
ZIA: 3. Only Robson would bid 4♣.

Another failed prediction…

ROBSON: 3. Gotta cater to the main thing. If I get doubled in the proverbial voice of thunder, I’ll seriously consider a Zia (self-rescuing into 4♣). 

Some mentioned an alternative method, although in terms of safety there seems to be no great advantage, since 3 virtually commits you to the four-level anyway…

De WIJS: 3. I like the convention where 3♠ here is a mini-Michaels (a weak version of a jump to 4m) but when not playing that I would overcall 3. 4♣ should be a better hand.
BRINK: 3. I would say, see above. I like 3♠ (weak leaping Michael’s), but also this I don’t play with Drijver. In that case 3 would have do the job. Obviously, I’ll ask him to play this convention after we miss 6♣…

My preference is to use 3 to show both minors and a hand not good enough for 4NT. Some were just philosophical about their choice…

KOKISH: 3. Just because it’s necessary. I don’t have to love it.
PSZCZOLA: 3. I just cannot bring myself to pass.
LARSSON: 3. A difficult one. In general, I prefer 4m but I think my partner will expect better cards so I have to settle for 3.
BROCK: 3. Not good enough for 4♣.
LAVEE: 3. Hands like this illustrate the effectiveness of preempting in bridge: Pass, 3♣, 3 or 4♣ (Leaping Michaels) are all options. However, any of those bids could also end up being a disaster. Bidding 4♣ should have a much stronger hand. I can’t imagine (m)any experts bidding 3♣. Passing will not be fruitful in the long run as you will miss game too often. And so that leaves a simple 3 overcall. If LHO makes a penalty double, I will probably run to 4♣.
KOH: 3. I must take action as green vs red preempts tend to show just 13 cards nowadays. I would like to show both suits but I am too weak for a Leaping Michaels.
McCALLUM: 3. Not strong enough for 4♣. Too good to pass. Double is way too dangerous with a singleton diamond. So 3♣ or 3 is all that’s left. I choose 3 since that’s the simple route to our most likely game, 4. We’re a lot less likely to get there if I overcall 3♣.

Only Karen mentioned 3 as an alternative, but one panelist opted for that choice,

FREDIN: 3♣. If I could have bid 3♠ to show hearts and a minor, I would have done that even though it is an overbid, but I have to bid 4♣ to show that hand. As I want to keep 3NT open as an option, I’ll start with 3♣ and hope to get my hearts in later if possible, since I don’t like any of the other options either.

Larry sums up for the majority…

COHEN: 3. Dangerous to bid, but dangerous to pass too. Not a good enough hand to show a two-suiter.

There were a couple of intrepid souls who agreed with my original choice…

CHAGAS: 4♣. Showing clubs and hearts. I think the double or 3 are not clarifying bids here. I will take the risk and get rid of my problem at once. Big trouble ahead…maybe, but I will say I was sorry…
BOCCHI: 4♣. Hearts and clubs. I usually play 3♠ as +minor not strong and 4♣/ stronger with the minor+.

I can see the sense in that in terms of partner being able to judge how to advance. There were just two who were not tempted, led by Mr Conservative of Chandler’s Ford…

BIRD: Pass. Tempting as it is to march bravely into minus 1100 territory, I will allow sanity to prevail.
WANG: Pass. If I was in the balancing seat, I would overcall 3, but in second seat I choose pass.

I did bid 4♣ at the table, and that appeared to be a good thing after a diamond was led around to 108xxx/AQ/Kxx/98x in partner’s 4 contract. That was, until he cashed the A and South discarded. Unfortunately, North held Q/J9xxxx/AQJ10/Kx, so diamonds were blocked and South had no entry. Teammates did not open 2♠ on the 5-5 hand and oppo sailed unopposed into the unbeatable 3NT, so you are struggling to flatten this one whatever you do.


3 :diamonds:1078
4 :clubs:7724
5 :clubs:001

A significant difference in evaluation on this hand, with all but three panelists investigating slam whilst almost half of competition entrants simply jump to game. Very few readers collected maximum marks on this deal, so let’s hear first from those advocating that action…

COHEN: 3. Forcing to game, of course, but leaving room to investigate a possible slam opposite something like AKxx/Q10xx/xxx/Kx.
CHAGAS: 3. A cue aiming to show we could even have a slam.
BOCCHI: 3. Forcing to game. We may have a slam.

David highlights the reason why the tie has been split in favor of 3.

BIRD: 3. I wrote down 4 at first, but on such an illustrious bidding panel I should bid 3 on the way just in case partner has a suitable hand for slam. Another alternative is 3♣, but that is a game try, so if partner accepts with a jump to 4 it will then be unclear whether I should bid on.
KOH: 3. It is easy to call it a day with 4, but partner is unlimited and could have something like Axx/xxxx/xx/KQJx (on which he would not fit jump to 3♣). Reaching slam may still be tricky, but 3 leaves us the maximum room and clearly establishes slam interest.
WANG: 3. For a simple overcall, this is very strong hand. Now that we have found a fit and partner has shown some values I cue-bid and we will see where that leads.

They all speak with one voice: establish a game force and leave maximum room for slam investigation. So, what do the other major faction have to say?

McCALLUM: 3♣. Ostensibly a help-suit game try, followed by 4 if I get the opportunity. A jump to 3 should be forcing and slammish, the perfect call IMO, but I don’t want to bet on partner being on the same channel. 3♣ will accomplish the same thing in a more roundabout way.
LAVEE: 3♣. Would 3 now be forcing by the overcaller? It should be but I would only make that bid with a partner I knew was on the same page. I bid 3♣ which is a natural game try showing 3+ clubs and interest in game or better. This leaves the door open for a possible slam: give partner Axx/Qxx/xxx/KQJx.

Both Karen and Daniel suggest that 3 should be forcing and showing slam interest, although it is unclear to me why, when 3 seems to be available to send exactly that same message.

KLUKOWSKI: 3. I don’t know what I can do, but probably I’d go for 3 as some sort of forcing bid.

Jessica LARSSON: 3. Keeping slam on the table.

ZIA: 3♣. I don’t need to look for 3NT, so I bid 3♣ to show a feature. Then over 3 I bid 4, suggesting a slam. Partner could have something like Ax/xxxx/xx/KQxxx.

Although no panelist suggested it, it seems to me that a jump to 4 (control-showing) over 2 gets that same message across even more clearly, so I have upgraded that bid in the marking for the benefit of those competition entrants who thought of it. A couple of panelists choose 3 in order to keep an alternative game in the picture…

ROBSON: 3♣. And 3NT over anything from partner, offering a choice.
PSZCZOLA: 3♣. If partner bids 3NT, that’s good. This also might help up reach slam,

I am nowhere near as convinced by the 3 bidders. We have one small minority who also have doubts about the final destination…

KOKISH: 2NT. Unambiguously forcing and in my opinion unambiguously best. Lots of room to explore if NT is not best.
De WIJS: 2NT. This is forcing in my book. If partner bids 3, I continue with 3NT expecting him to remove to 4♥ without a suitable hand for NT since I didn’t jump to 3NT

Our final three experts saw the hand in the same way as the majority of readers. Just how far out of step with the rest of the panel they were is summed up by Sjoert’s prediction, surely the worst of the year so far.

BROCK: 4. Slam seems a long way off with such a balanced hand. 3NT seems too unilateral.
FREDIN: 4. Why make it more difficult than it is?
BRINK: 4. I had small thought about 3NT, but my hand is good enough to make 4. So no risks… I guess a unanimous panel….

Yes, almost unanimous, Sjoert, but for anything other than 4. At the table, partner had a suitable 10-count, Axxxx/Q10x/Axxx/x, so 6 was excellent.


2 :clubs:10743
3 :clubs:8611
2 :diamonds:001

We have a good hand but RHO has shown 18-19 points, which leaves little for North and East. Do we go quietly with a pass, double 1NT (whatever that means), or introduce our second suit? The question is further complicated as RHO has already bid our second suit, so can we still bid it naturally? A majority of both the panel and the readers say ‘Yes’. The only question is, at what level should we bid? Let’s hear from the majority…

BROCK: 2♣. It seems pretty unlikely we have game on, so I just want to compete the partscore. Will go to 3♣ if pushed.
BOCCHI: 2♣. Natural for sure. 
FREDIN: 2♣. Hopefully partner thinks it is natural. With 4-6 in the majors I would double 1NT to show a takeout of clubs.
BIRD: 2♣. If I just had a strong 1 overcall, I could double or bid some number of hearts. If partner tells me that 2♣ is not natural, I will do my best to explain it to him.
COHEN: 2♣. I have a big hand with clubs and hearts and this is what 2♣ shows. With short clubs I would double 1NT.
KOKISH: 2♣. Double would be takeout of clubs with five or six hearts.

They all seem at least relatively sure. The next group think 2 is not enough…

CHAGAS: 3♣. Should be natural and strong.
ZIA: 3♣. Avoiding the more pleasing double as it might be dangerous 
WANG: 3♣. This shows 5-5 and a strong hand.
PSZCZOLA: 3♣. Natural and strong. With one good card from partner it’s possible to make a game

A couple feel they have to jump to make up for the ‘mistake’ made on the previous round of the auction…

KLUKOWSKI: 3♣. No way I would overcall 1. I think it was a big mistake: I would have started with a double as this hand is simply too strong for a one-level overcall to me. The way I respond to a one-level overcall (not every 7, 8, sometimes even 9 HCP hand bids), so I can easily miss a cold game. Now I might bid 3♣, trying to fix it.

I really thought we had left that style in the 1980s, so it is particularly surprising to hear support for it coming from one our youngest panelists. Michal did get support from another youngster too, and perhaps this is all the more surprising since Daniel is Canadian, just like Koach Kokish, who was one of the earliest advocates of the ‘bid shape then catch up with a double later’ style that has been almost universally adopted these days.

LAVEE: 3♣. Firstly, the hand is too strong for a 1 overcall. West has a four-loser hand including an excellent club suit behind the 1♣ bidder. I think it’s best to double, planning to bid hearts later. Nevertheless, opener has shown 18-19 balanced so I don’t think it’s clear whether a double now would be for penalty or for takeout. I would think it’s for takeout since the overcaller is limited to less than what opener has shown. I would like to double for penalties, but I think my partner will not read it as that. I wish I had doubled the first time. As a result, I was going to abstain but will settle for 3♣ as the best I can do to get across my strength after this start.

I have a feeling that I’d have had far more complaints had I given the panel an auction that began with a takeout double of One Club on this hand.

About a third of the panel elected to defend, although some did so because they were unsure about the meaning of club bids…

De WIJS: Double. 2♣ would show a hand with both majors, typically 4-6. I am unsure how to continue over some of partners options, but that will be of later concern.
BRINK: Double. For penalties. What else? I have to say, for me 2♣ would be majors (4♠/6), so that is not an option. I have super maximum and an easy lead, so double is the bid.

Karen is clear about the meaning of double.

McCALLUM: Double. Unequivocally for penalties, in my opinion. If the system says it’s a takeout double, then I would have to bid 2♣, natural. I suppose 2♣ natural is debatable also, but that’s a matter for agreement. In my regular partnerships, overcaller’s two-level rebid of RHO’s minor is natural, irrespective of intervening bids or passes.
KOH: Double. Quite clear to me. South has points; I have tricks. His 1♣ opening promises fewer diamonds which is good news for us. Besides, I don’t have a lead problem.

Our final group wait more in hope than expectation, it seems.

ROBSON: Pass. I’m not sure partner will treat 2♣ as natural.
SONTAG: Pass. Hope for a small plus score.

East had Kxxx/x/J109xx/10xx so you could get a decent penalty from 1NT. You can also make 3NT yourself if South has less than four clubs. However, it seems doubtful that partner will make a move even over a jump to 3♣, and certainly not over 2♣. If you double and partner thinks it is for takeout, what will you then do if he bids 2♠? Would 3♣ at this point be taken as natural or a game try agreeing spades? This is certainly a situation with plenty of scope for a misunderstanding and worth discussing with your favourite partners.


5 :diamonds:7429
5 :clubs:535
4 :spades:415
4 :diamonds:3021
4 :hearts:2020
5 :spades:001

Although this was the third of this month’s deals that attracted a majority vote from the panel, 87% of competition entrants dropped marks here, so perhaps this hand will prove the most educational of the month. Let’s see what the majority have to say…

CHAGAS: Double. Invitational to 5
De WIJS: Double. Invitational for 5. Maybe partner will surprise me with a pass of 4♣-X. That would be fine too.
BIRD: Double. I cannot underwrite 5 and would need a much better four-card suit to bid 4♠. Partner should read the double as a game-try in diamonds, maybe concluding that it is best to defend.
KLUKOWSKI: Double. This shows extras and usually some interests in diamond game/major suits.
BOCCHI: Double. Good hand. It depends on whether partner’s 3 bid is weak……..

In this jammed auction, 3 has to be fairly wide-ranging, from a fully-fledged invitational raise to a hand that would have preferred to make a limited single raise but is marginally too good to pass.

BRINK: Double. Finally, a difficult problem, although double (invitational to 5) looks like the winner. However, if my partner would bid 5 with KJx/KJx/xxxx/xxx then it is my mistake.

That looks more like a pass of 4-X to me, and the comments below suggest they would agree,

ROBSON: Double. However partner interprets this (take-out, game try, suggesting penalties), I’ve got it!
FREDIN: Double. Hopefully partner will do the right thing

Daniel offers a fair summation of the problem…

Daniel LAVEE: Double. This shows extra values and asks responder to do something intelligent. Double is flexible as 4M, 4, 5 and defending 4♣-X could all be the right contract.

I think Alan agrees that the doublers have the best of the argument…

SONTAG: Double. Automatic

Let’s see what the dissenters have to say.

COHEN: 5. Feels about right.  I can’t see scientifically/accurately reaching 6 and surely I am not settling for only 4.
BROCK: 5. I could double as a game try but think I’m too good for that. Partner should have some bits and pieces in the majors, so I’ll have a go at game.
ZIA: 5. Value bid.

Karen clearly expects her partner to understand her intentions…

McCALLUM: 4♠. On the way to 5, just in case. Partner rates to have a four-card major and/or five diamonds, since he’s unlikely to have more than a doubleton club. Game chances are likely to be good even when he doesn’t. Even opposite as little as Ax/xxxx/Qxxxx/xx game is on the heart finesse through the non-preemptor.

Wen Fei has less faith in her partner’s psychic powers, but plenty in the ability of her partner to hold a suitable maximum…

WANG: 5♣. It’s a slam try, although perhaps a little overbid. I’m not sure whether 4/♠ would be natural or a cue-bid, so bidding either of those may lead to a misunderstanding. I choose 5♣, the meaning of which is, at least, clear.

Luwen agrees with Karen’s interpretation of 4M, but not with the panel’s overall evaluation of the hand.

KOH: 5♣. We have a good fit in diamonds, so strong action is required with a five-loser hand. A 4 bid is off the table because a major suit bid here could be passed. Partner could still have a four-card major but be too weak for a negative double at the three-level, something like Axxx/KJx/Jxxx/xx or Kx/KJxx/Jxxxx/xx. 4NT looks dubious to me and doesn’t solve my issues even if it is RKCB, so I only have 5♣ remaining to tell partner I have a good hand for 5. Hopefully he will bid slam with Ax/Kxx/QJxx/xxxx.

Can partner really hold four clubs on this auction? At the table, he held Axx/Jxxx/QJxx/xx. With diamonds 2-2 and the K onside for us, 4♣-X goes for +500 if you double and partner passes (which he probably should with such a balanced hand). Ten tricks were the limit in diamonds, losing two spades and a heart. Even so, with support from none of our experts, the 4 bidders still score poorly as the hand is clearly worth at least a game try and, some panellists thought, even a slam try.

It would seem that this month’s set was particularly challenging, creating a tightly-bunched finish, one of the lowest winning scores I can recall, and only two panellists scoring in the 70s. Congratulations to David Bird, who finishes on top with an excellent 71/80. Close behind, we have Swedish star Jessica Larsson with 70, and a tie for third place between two of the game’s great gentlemen, Gabriel Chagas (his second podium finish in three months) and Zia Mahmood, both with 69.

David Bird

Perhaps this is the month in which a competition entrant will outscore the entire expert panel. That could happen, although I suspect that we will also see a smaller number than usual on the roll of honor breaking the 60/80 barrier. One thing is for certain — this month’s guest panelist, Luwen Koh, will be on that list. Well done to him for his very creditable score of 65 on this tough set.

2:hearts:Pass3NT2:spades:Pass3:diamonds:2 :clubs:Dbl71
2:hearts:3:spades:3NT2:hearts:3:hearts:3 :clubs:2 :clubs:5 :clubs:70
2:hearts:3:spades:4:hearts:2:hearts:4 :clubs:3:diamonds:2 :clubs:Dbl69
2:hearts:3:spades:Pass2:hearts:3:hearts:3 :clubs:2 :clubs:5:diamonds:69
2:hearts:2NT3NT1:spades:4 :clubs:3:diamonds:2 :clubs:Dbl68
2:hearts:4NT4:spades:2:hearts:3:hearts:3 :clubs:2 :clubs:Dbl68
2:hearts:3:spades:4:spades:2:spades:3:hearts:3 :clubs:2 :clubs:5:diamonds:68
2:hearts:4NTPass2:hearts:4 :clubs:3 :clubs:2 :clubs:Dbl67
Wen Fei
2:hearts:4NT3NT2:spades:Pass3:diamonds:2 :clubs:5 :clubs:67
Pass3:diamonds:3NT2:spades:3:hearts:3:diamonds:2 :clubs:5:diamonds:66
Pass4:diamonds:3NT2:spades:3:hearts:2NT2 :clubs:Dbl66
Pass3:spades:Pass2:spades:3:hearts:3:diamonds:Dbl5 :clubs:65
2:hearts:4NT4:spades:2:hearts:3:hearts:3 :clubs:PassDbl65
Pass2NT3NT2:spades:3:hearts:4:hearts:2 :clubs:5:diamonds:63
Pass4NT4:spades:1:spades:3 :clubs:4:hearts:2 :clubs:Dbl55
2:diamonds:2NTPass1:spades:3:hearts:3 :clubs:Dbl4:spades:54


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