BBO bidders challenge: February Panel Comments

Conducted by Marc Smith

Set 2022-02

See the March hands here



Welcome to the second set of the 2022 competition. Our guest panelists this month are the co-winners of the December competition, Laura Mancini from Paris, France (making her second appearance as a guest panelist) and Dinçer Çağcı from Sakarya Province, Turkey. Laura’s husband taught her to play when she was at university. “More than half a century ago,” she says. “Now I play a few times a week in clubs but I particularly enjoy evenings at home playing bridge with friends. Lately, though, we are missing a fourth more and more, unless la petite fille has some time.” When Laura was a guest panelist following her previous victory, she joined with three bridge-playing friends to decide on her answers. She admitted that between the four of them they had more than three centuries of life experience. This was her third time on the podium even though she only discovered the competition half way through last year. A 52-year old financial advisor from the Marmara Region in northwestern Turkey, Dinçer has been playing bridge for 25 years. This was the first time he entered the BBO Prime Bidding Challenge, so perhaps both of this month’s winners will be serious contenders for the 2022 annual title.

Special thanks this month to one of our regular expert panelists, Larry Cohen, who included links to last month’s expert discussion and to this month’s hands in his newsletter. As a result, we can report a record entry for this month’s competition as we break the four-figure mark for the first time, and break it emphatically with more than 1,750 entries. Welcome to everyone joining us for the first time, and let me remind you that entering every month allows you to drop your three poorest scores during the year as only your best nine scores count in the race to win the annual competition. With only 7.1% of competition entrants breaking the 60/80 barrier needed to make the leaderboard, heartfelt congratulations to everyone who did so.

The panel produces a clear majority on four of the eight deals this month. I was expecting higher scores than on the tough January set, but the most popular action chosen by competition entrants only matches the experts’ first choice on two deals this month. Can the competitors at least avoid large groups scoring 2s and 0s on some hands this time? I said that last month’s set was really tough, and the average competitors’ score was 46.50. This month it is 44.49, so clearly this was an equally or even more difficult set and there should be plenty to be learned from the experts’ discussion. Let’s get to it…


HAND 1.


ACTIONMARKSPANEL VOTESCOMPETITORS ENTRIES (%)
3 :spades:10 1111
4 :hearts: 8 67
4 :diamonds: 5 0 26
3 :hearts: 4 0 5
5 :diamonds: 2 0 11
Pass 0 0 38
3NT 0 0 1.5
4 :spades: 0 0 0.2
4 :clubs: 0 0 0.1
4NT 0 0 0.1
6 :diamonds: 0 0 0.1


Competition Entrant Average Score: 3.43

For the panel, this was a straight choice between bidding game in hearts and starting with a cue-bid in case there was a slam in diamonds. The deal did not prove to be a good starting point for competition entrants, though, with by far the lowest average score for any deal we have had so far. The two bids that garnered votes from panellists ranked as only the third and fifth most popular choices with competitors, between them attracting less than a fifth of all entrants. Indeed, the Pass that was the most popular action (chosen by more than a third of competitors) was not even on the radar of any panellist and scores zero. To find out why, we start with the panel’s minority choice.

DE WIJS: 4. Partner didn’t start with a two-suited overcall, so I think he is very likely to be 6-4. Even if he is 5-5, though, I think the odds are that we have exactly three losers, so I will try for the ten-trick game.

Sjoert bravely starts the month with a prediction.

BRINK: 4. Partner’s hand should be 6 /4. With 5-5 he would have bid a Michaels cue-bid and with 5-4 he would usually double 2♠, intending to bid 3 if you bid 3♣. For me, bidding anything other than 4 is strange. Ok, I do it one more time and make a prediction – at least 90% of the panel will bid 4.

Well, 35% is nearly 90%, Sjoert 🙂

BIRD: 4. There is every chance of three top losers in the black suits, so hearts appears to be the better trump suit.
BROCK: 4. I would have bid 3 last time.
COPE: 4. My failure to bid over 2 means that this cue-bid must show a hand dramatically improved by the 3 bid. Vulnerable, I think I have to bid game. The failure of RHO to bid makes it likely that partner will be either 3-6-4-0 or 3-5-5-0. When he has six hearts, we should be in the right spot and, with 5/5, partner may convert to 5, as they know I have at most a doubleton heart.
SUNDELIN: 4. I just hope that the opponents don’t work out that they have a double fit in the black suits, as their save is likely to be fairly cheap.
The rest all start with a cue-bid.
COHEN: 3♠. Why guess when I can make partner disclose more?
KLUKOWSKI: 3♠. I will play at least a game. I bid 3♠ to find out more.
MANCINI: 3♠. My two red kings look great now. I could bid 4 or 4, but partner is an expert so I show my suitability with a 3♠ cue-bid and let him choose where we play.
LARSSON: 3♠. My hand just became amazing. I start with a 3♠ cue-bid to show a big diamond fit. We could end up in 4 or in game or slam in diamonds
ÇAGCI: 3♠. Partner’s 3 bid shows he has a distributional two-suited hand. My kings are precious now, so I cue-bid to show that my hand has improved significantly since passing 2 on the previous round.
WANG: 3♠. This is invitational to game in diamonds. If partner is 6-4, he can bid 4.
LAVEE: 3♠. We could have three black-suit losers and need to play 4. If partner has black-suit controls, though, 5 or 6 could be best. 3♠ shows a good hand with a diamond fit since I passed 2 on the previous round.
A couple start with a cue-bid with possible aspirations beyond game.
MEYERS: 3♠. My two kings and five diamonds are golden. If partner has as little as Ax/AQxxx/Axxxx/x, we can make slam in diamonds. As I didn’t raise hearts last time, my cue-bid must show a big diamond fit.

SHENKIN: 3♠. I have a great hand. We could be headed for slam in diamonds or game in hearts.



ZIA: 3♠. I’ll continue with 4 next, to offer a choice of games.
ROBSON: 3♠. Then 4 to offer choice of games. Sneakily, though, I want to bid 5♣ as an anti-splinter, saying, “partner, I know you’ve a club splinter; I have amazing cards for you.” But I can’t bear to start the set with only two points.

Partner’s hand was exactly as many of the panel expected, Qx/AQJxxx/AQ10x/Q, so you could make exactly ten tricks in either red suit

HAND 2.


ACTIONMARKSPANEL VOTESCOMPETITORS ENTRIES (%)
3:clubs: 10829
2 :hearts: 968
4NT 7128
4:hearts: 71 0.2
4:clubs: 60 3
4:diamonds: 60 0.7
5NT 60 0.5
6NT 40 6
6:diamonds: 40 0.3
2NT 31 5
3NT 20 14
5:diamonds: 20 0.8
2:spades: 00 1.2
3:spades: 00 0.9
3:hearts: 00 0.7
3:diamonds: 00 0.6
Pass 00 0.6
4:spades: 00 0.3
6:spades: 00 0.1
7:diamonds: 00 0.1


Competition Entrant Average Score: 6.47

A couple of panelists opted for Blackwood, either 4NT or 4 kickback, whilst the rest preferred to create a low-level force and investigate. Whether that force should be created with 3♣ or 2 was a close-run thing, with the vote split 8-6 with one loner who preferred 2NT, which for him is forcing but is not in standard methods. I also gave token marks to other bids that were either slam tries or, at least, game-going, as those competitors clearly deserved to score better than those who opted either for a somewhat bizarre pass of 2 or for a wholly-inadequate non-forcing bid such as 2♠ or 3. Competition entrants came up with what I think is a record 20 different answers, and there are at least some marks for many of them on the highest-scoring deal this month.:

DE WIJS: 2 . Let’s start by creating a game force. If you tell me that 2 is natural and non-forcing, I am switching system and/or partner.
MANCINI: 2 . In France this is rather obvious, 2 forcing.
BROCK: 2 . Unless I have some other conventional agreement.

Andrew and David both make the point that you ideally want to bid a forcing 3 next. If you start with 3♣ now, of course, you will be unable to do that.

BIRD: 2 . With sound stoppers in both unbid suits, I would normally bid no-trumps now. That’s not practical with such a strong hand, so I will create a force by bidding the suit that leaves most bidding space.
ROBSON: 2 . Forcing for one round, and often a waiting bid. When, over partner’s likely 2♠, I follow with 3, it must logically be forcing.
ZIA: 2. In my system I can bid a forcing 2NT, which I’d prefer, but as that is non-forcing in standard I’ll have to create a force with 2.

Only one panelist went down this route as 2NT is non-forcing in standard methods.

KLUKOWSKI: 2NT. I play 2NT as forcing here, so that would be my choice.

The rest chose the option about which there were no doubts.

BRINK: 3♣. This is a standard Acol problem. With my regular partner, I can bid 2NT (forcing and asking). I don’t want a misunderstanding, and 3♣ (a new suit at the three-level) is unquestionably game-forcing and partner won’t have four clubs (he didn’t bid 2♣). Bidding 3♣ followed by 4 is the way I would go.
LAVEE: 3♣. It’s forcing and artificial. Some top partnerships play that 2NT here is forcing, but that is not standard.
LARSSON: 3♣. I have no idea what is forcing here. It is easy in regular partnerships, of course. I bid 3♣ just to make 110% sure that we are in a game-forcing auction. 2 would be more convenient, but I have had that passed with undiscussed partners before.
WANG: 3♣. This creates a force. Whatever partner does, I will bid 4 next to show a slam try.
ÇAGCI: 3♣. Third-suit forcing, creating a game force. We can probably make slam. If partner now shows a partial spade fit, I can bid keycard. If no spade fit and partner bids 3 or 3NT, I will continue with 4 to show slam interest.
SHENKIN: 3♣. Slam in diamonds will be good if partner has the A and six good diamonds. I will continue with 4 if he bids 3NT next.
COPE: 3♣. This looks easy for now. The problem will come later. I prefer 3♣ to 2 as partner may have 4-5 in the reds and heart support from them may result in a tortuous sequence.
SUNDELIN: 3♣. This might help me, but probably not partner if later I invite to seven. With bad luck game is the limit. This hand illustrates the benefits of self-kibitzing.

Just a couple of outliers, who take the simple route of asking for key-cards.

COHEN: 4NT. Presumably, this is RKC in diamonds. A bit of a plodding bid, but keeping it simple.

Although I suspect that all/most of the competitors who chose 4NT intended it as Blackwood, I am not convinced it is (or should be). There are plenty of ways to agree diamonds and then ask for key cards, but only one way to bid a semi-balanced hand too good for 3NT but not strong enough to commit to slam.


MEYERS: 4. Key-card for diamonds (or 4 if that is our Blackwood method). If I find out that partner has the ♠K, the A and the A-Q, I am bidding a grand. If we are off a key-card, I will bid 6NT in case the K needs protection.



Although not specified in the system notes, this seems a better way of asking for key cards. As the system is not specific, though, in the interest of fairness I have awarded both actions the same score. At 18 tables in the Alt, the auction began this way at 16. The next moves were 3♣ (8), 2 (3), 6NT (2) and 4♣, 4 (=RKC) and 2NT (1 each). Partner had xx/A9xx/AQJ10xx/x, so 6 was excellent on anything but a trump lead and 6NT was also playable.

HAND 3.


ACTIONMARKSPANEL VOTESCOMPETITORS ENTRIES (%)
3NT1088
Dbl 8436
Pass 639
4:diamonds: 5240
5:diamonds: 201.4
4 :hearts: 005
4 :clubs: 000.2
4:spades:000.1
6:diamonds: 000.1
6:hearts: 000.1
4NT 000.1


Competition Entrant Average Score: 6.25

No majority on the panel, but we do have a clear favourite. The competitors were split into two main camps, but neither of those factions voted for the panel’s first choice. The main surprise is the high number of 4 bidders – did they, perhaps, think partner had opened 3? Let’s find out what our experts have to say.

SHENKIN: 3NT. A gamble at these colours, but I don’t think I will be on my own here.
ZIA: 3NT. A universal choice, I would bet.

Not quite, Z, but not as far out as most predictions from panellists.

MEYERS: 3NT. Is that obnoxious?
LARSSON: 3NT. I close my eyes and bid 3NT. If the opponents’ green against red pre-empts are anything like my partner’s, I should be ok.
WANG: 3NT. Maybe double is better, but I would bid 3NT at the table.
SUNDELIN: 3NT. Pass may very well be the best choice.
DE WIJS: 3NT. Let’s hope they don’t find the heart lead.

Larry sums up for the majority.


COHEN: 3NT. I may even survive AQJ10xxx with South, who might stick in the 10 to preserve communications with his partner. This would be more routine if the pre-empt was on my left. Anyway, somebody’s got to bid 3NT, and it won’t be partner.



So, what about the most popular alternative?

KLUKOWSKI: Dbl. 3NT is an option, but I would just double.
BROCK: Dbl. This seems to keep all options open. 3NT is tempting, but not quite tempting enough!
MANCINI: Dbl. Nothing else comes to mind. Of course, it would be better to have four spades, but these are the cards I was dealt.
LAVEE: Dbl. Pass could easily be right.

Whilst the vast majority chose to take action, a small group of intellectual heavyweights make a good case for prudence.

ROBSON: Pass. Unbelievably feeble, but the only other choice is 3NT. Unfortunately, the reality is that South will usually be able to work out to rise with the A at trick one. Vulnerable undertricks do cost.
BIRD: Pass. It is tempting to bid 3NT on an expert panel, many of whom are dripping in testosterone. I do realize that South might play the queen from AQJxxx(x), aiming to preserve communications. Still, preserving my reputation as a serial underbidder is worth more than a possible game swing our way.
COPE: Pass. Probably the least popular choice, but can it be right to bid at this vulnerability? Doubling will get us to 4♠ when partner has a 9-count and only four spades. Bidding 3NT is tantamount to signing up for Gamblers Anonymous, and bidding 4 gets us to a part score at the wrong vulnerability. Passing may be the cowards’ way out, but if you compare it to the other options, it has some logic, so colour me yellow.

Although the choice of more than a third of the competitors, the fourth option attracted only a couple of panelists.

ÇAGCI: 4. I am tempted to bid 3NT, but I manage to resist.
BRINK: 4. Nice problem! My first thought was to bid 3NT, but I need a lot from partner to make. My second thought was double and, if partner bids 3♠, to bid 3NT (doubt). My third option was to double and pass 3♠. But, if I would pass 3♠, it seems like it would be better to bid 4 rather than doubling. I don’t play leaping Michaels here, so I bid 4 and hope my partner will bid 4♠ and it didn’t matter anyway.

I bid 3NT at the table, which worked well, as partner took a shot at 6♣ with/ Ax/Qx/10xx/AKJxxx, and he would probably do much the same facing a double. Getting to slam after a 4 overcall depends on being able to identify a heart control, although how partner does that is less than obvious. After a Pass from West, partner would have had an even trickier problem, particularly as we were playing 4♣ as showing clubs and spades.

HAND 4.


ACTIONMARKSPANEL VOTESCOMPETITORS ENTRIES (%)
3:clubs: 1042.4
4NT 9510
3:diamonds: 733
3:hearts: 722.6
3NT6365
5NT400.2
3:spades:207
4:spades: 206
4 :clubs: 200.9
6NT 200.6
5:clubs:200.1
Pass001.8
4:hearts:000.2
6:spades:000.1
7NT000.1


Competition Entrant Average Score: 5.72:

Whilst there was no consensus at all from the experts, this hand id produce the largest majority of the month from the competition entrants, with almost two-thirds settling for a simple raise to the notrump game – the first time any bid has attracted more than 1,000 votes. The panellists adopted one of two approaches, with a majority (just, 9-8) choosing to further investigate strain by bidding one of the suits other than their long suit at the three-level, which is why the most popular of those choices picks up the 10 marks rather than the largest single minority action from the panel. The other half of the panel settle for a limit bid in notrumps but, here too, they are split: should you settle for game or is the hand good enough for a slam invitation? The latter, say our experts, by a margin of 5-3. I also awarded some marks to numerous other actions which, if nothing else, deserve to score better than passing 2NT. Let’s start with those who limit their hand:

BIRD: 3NT. Partner has not rebid his clubs, so I have to decide whether to bid 3NT or 4NT. The ♣K is a good card, but the lead is coming through my hand, so I think I’m nearer to 3NT. (If the panel opt for 3♣, please add a point to my total at the end, since I did consider it.)

You think I hand these points out like confetti, David?

LAVEE: 3NT. Partner’s 2NT shows 12-14 or 18+, so there is little chance for slam opposite 12-14.

I do not see why partner has shown a hand in these ranges – he is the responder, not the opener.

MEYERS: 3NT. I don’t have good enough spades to bid a quantitative 4NT.

The larger group think the hand is worth more.

ÇAGCI: 4NT. I would have to raise to 3NT with a minimum opening bid, so I must do more with a good 16 HCP.
BROCK: 4NT. Seems about right.
MANCINI: 4NT. Natural and invitational – exactly what I have.
SUNDELIN: 4NT. Natural and quantitative.
COHEN: 4NT. My second simple/plodding 4NT of the set, this one quantitative.

The majority don’t think they are done investigating strain yet.

BRINK: 3. My hand is all aces and kings, so ideal for playing a suit contract. But as it looks like we might not have a fit, we have to be creative. If partner has something like A/Qxxx/Qxx/AQJxx, 6♣ is an okay contract. To bid 3♣ on my doubleton might easily be the winning choice. I prefer to be more smart and bid 3 (I already denied four hearts with my 2♠ bid). Hopefully, partner understands that I have a hand like this. People who bid 3NT are usually not great players, as they don’t see the potential value of a hand.
KLUKOWSKI: 3. I play 2♠ as only promising five here, so for now I bid 3 to show six spades.

3 certainly focuses partner’s attention on the need to hear about a partial spade fit. The 3 bidders are looking for much the same thing.

WANG: 3. A waiting bid. If partner has a doubleton spade, he will support me.
DE WIJS: 3. I have no clue what partner will make of this, but I owe him more than a simple raise to 3NT. Over 3/3♠ I will bid 4♣, but I’ll pass if he just rebids 3NT.
LARSSON: 3. This should show a balanced hand with values here. The spades are so poor that I doubt if we belong in that suit now.

The final group seem to me to have the best of the debate.

ZIA: 3♣. The obvious way to advance.

It is clearly not ‘obvious’ to the vast majority of our readers (or, indeed, panellist), so it is a shame that Zia didn’t expand more to explain why. Let’s see if the rest answer the question.

ROBSON: 3♣. It’s cheap, so it doesn’t promise ♣KQx. I’d like to find out how many spades partner has, because facing something like x/QJxx/Axx/AQJxx, we want to play 6♣.



COPE: 3♣. Let us explore a little more. Partners’ 2NT is a waiting bid, leaving us room to tell him something more about our hand, so let’s do so. Partner could easily have something like x/Qxxx/Axx/AQJxx, when 6♣ is the only possible slam.
SHENKIN: 3♣. In my system, 3 would show six spades and a non-minimum and 3♠ would be a minimum with a six-card suit. 3♣ is a kind of catch all here. 3NT would be rather wooden, and will often be right, but we can still get there from here.

Holding A/xxxx/Ax/A109xxx, partner had a tricky bid over 2♠, and 2NT seems more sensible than emphasizing his moderate club suit or bidding those motley hearts. 6♣ needs little more than trumps 3-2, but I suspect only the 3♣ bidders have a chance of getting there as he will bid 3NT over 3 or 3 and pass either 3NT or a quantitative 4NT. You can make eleven tricks in either spades or NT.

HAND 5.


ACTIONMARKSPANEL VOTESCOMPETITORS ENTRIES (%)
Pass10912
5:clubs: 923
6:hearts:806
4NT616
Dbl5118
5:hearts:4652
5:diamonds: 002
6:diamonds:000.4
5:spades:000.4
6:spades:000.1
6NT 000.1


Competition Entrant Average Score: 5.20:

Another tough hand for the competition entrants, with more than half giving up on slam by simply competing to the five-level. A majority of the our experts started with a forcing pass, although those that told us what they planned to do next were not necessarily all in agreement. Let’s start with them:

ZIA: Pass. It’s still forcing, isn’t it?

Indeed, it is.

BIRD: Pass. A forcing pass invites partner to advance in hearts. That’s good enough for me.

Sally summarizes the auction so far from our side of the table.

BROCK: Pass. Forcing, of course, so this seems clear to me. Presumably, 3♠ showed a heart single-suiter, and therefore slammy (as I didn’t bid 4). With a two-suiter, I could either have bid my second suit or 2NT, according to agreement, and with a 2533 shape I would surely have doubled 2♠.

Whilst Sjoert considers partner’s actions up to this point.


BRINK: Pass. I like that we bid 3♠ – our first job is done. Now we have to think about partner’s pass of 4. He could have doubled or bid 4. Double would suggest they had made a mistake, but his pass should be more encouraging than bidding 4. I prefer to pass now and, if partner doubles, I will bid 5, showing no diamond control but enough to invite slam. However, I expect partner will bid 4NT and we can then jump to 6.



Jessica also plans to follow up with 5 if partner doubles.

LARSSON: Pass. I start with a forcing pass intending to pull partner’s double to 5 to show a strong slam try.

But Andrew intends to pass if partner cannot bid on.

ROBSON: Pass. 3♠ set up a forcing auction. Partner knows my hand type, so if he wants to defend 4♠-X, so be it.

And it sounds like Tim, Wen Fei and Laura are also in that camp.

COPE: Pass. This is surely not up to me. Having bid 3♠, I have created a game force already, and my pass must show a willingness to play at the five-level.
WANG: Pass. Pass is obviously forcing and shows slam interest. I trust partner to make the right decision.
MANCINI: Pass. This is clearly forcing, so I let the expert partner show what he can do.

Daniel and Simon choose to make their slam try via a cue-bid. Sadly, neither explains the difference between an immediate cue-bid and a forcing pass followed by pulling partner’s presumed double to 5♣.

LAVEE: 5♣. My 3♠ bid denied a second suit, so 5♣ is a control bid looking for a heart slam.
DE WIJS: 5♣. If lefty has some points in his suits, slam is very close, so I will make a cue-bid. My failure to bid 3♣ earlier should avoid any misunderstandings about the meaning of this bid.

Barnet settles for Blackwood, despite the unsuitable diamond holding.

SHENKIN: 4NT. RKC. Partner has not doubled 4, so he must have some suitability. I need two keys plus the queen or three aces.

The rest give up on slam.

MEYERS: 5.
SUNDELIN: 5. A decision I am prepared to apologize for….
COHEN: 5. Frankly, I would have Texased and then asked for keycards. But, now that I’ve gone this route, I’ve gotten a bad feeling about slam. Yes, I could make a forcing pass, but bidding 5 directly should give partner a decent idea about my hand.

And Michal is even worried that the hand does not belong to us at all.

KLUKOWSKI: 5. Partner didn’t double 4, so I am afraid they might even be making game, so my choice is 5.

Whilst Dincer takes the view that partner’s earlier passes are bad news, rather than encouraging.

ÇAGCI: Dbl. After the partner’s two passes, slam seems unlikely. I leave partner to choose whether to defend 4♠-X or to bid on to 5.

Partner had Axxx/10x/AKx/Axxx and, with such prime cards, he will certainly accept any slam try. 6 makes 13 tricks when trumps break 2-2. If you are not going to bid slam, though, you are better off defending: 4♠-X goes for 800 if you take your diamond ruff and 1100 if you play a forcing defense.

HAND 6.


ACTIONMARKSPANEL VOTESCOMPETITORS ENTRIES (%)
2 :spades: 10819
3:clubs:845
Pass8315
3:diamonds: 705
2NT 5131
5:clubs:211.6
3NT2020
4 :clubs:200.8
4 :diamonds: 200.3
2 :hearts: 000.7
3:spades: 000.5
5:diamonds: 000.6
4NT000.2
3:hearts: 000.1
5:hearts: 000.1
6:diamonds:000.1

Competition Entrant Average Score: 5.88:

The two most popular choices of the competitors attracted the combined support of only one panelist, leaving more than half of competition entrants scoring poorly on this hand. The panel was fairly evenly divided, with half making one gentle try for game and the rest just settling for a partscore in one of our two suits. Let’s start with the minority factions this time.

KLUKOWSKI: Pass. Good luck, partner!
BRINK: Pass. For me, a close non-vulnerable game is not worth the risk. So, I pass. Sorry, partner.
LAVEE: Pass. I don’t think we have game our way. North has passed twice and is unlikely to be able to balance, so I do not need to raise for defensive reasons.

The only real difference is that the next group prefers to make partner dummy.

WANG: 3♣. Partner will normally have 1-3-5-4 distribution, so 3♣ rates to be our best spot. Opposite a passed hand, game looks a long way off.
LARSSON: 3♣.
DE WIJS: 3♣. Even though I prefer the two-level rather than the three-level, I want to give partner a chance to bid again. Also, the opponents have a heart fit, so I don’t want to let them in cheaply.

Laura sums up for the pessimists.

MANCINI: 3♣. I only see two options here 2♠ or 3♣. 3NT looks like the Himalayas for an amateur and 5♣ opposite a passed hand looks even worse.

The rest all have their glass half full.

ROBSON: 2♠. Game is unlikely but, if partner is 5-5, we have three cover cards and 5♣ could make. If partner bids 3♣ next, I’ll pass.
SHENKIN: 2♠. It looks like we will need partner to be 5-5 in the minors if we are to have enough for 5♣. Not that I fancy no-trumps much either. I will pass is all he can do is bid 3♣.
COPE: 2♠. I am worth one try towards 3NT, but will pass 3♣ from partner. It is dubious whether we are worth a try at all, since even opposite a maximum such as xx/xx/AKxxx/Kxxx, we have no game, but opposite xx/Kx/A109xx/Kxxx we do have play for 3NT.

Everyone always remembers Hamman’s first law, but seem to forget his second: “If you need me to have a specific hand, just assume I don’t have it”.


ZIA: 2♠. It’s close between Pass and 2♠. Something like x/xx/KQxxx/Axxxx is possible, so I’ll keep things alive with 2♠.



Is partner going to bid any more than 3♣ next, though, even with that hand?

COHEN: 2♠. Just this one sign of life, but I am giving up unless partner can drive to game.
BIRD: 2♠. With something in hearts, partner can bid 2NT or 3NT now. I fancy my chances of emerging unscathed from the post mortem.
MEYERS: 2♠. I am curious to see partner’s next bid.
BROCK: 2♠. I’m thinking that 5m looks more likely than 3NT. Partner is quite likely 5-5. (Why? MS) Then all major-suit losers are covered and there is surely a decent chance of the minors playing for only two losers.

Only a couple of panellists thought their hand was worth more than a gentle try. Dincer wants to reach 3NT if partner is at the top of his range…

ÇAGCI: 2NT. Invitational. If partner has his maximum 11 points, he will raise to 3NT.

…and P-O takes the bull truly by the horns…

SUNDELIN: 5♣. Without knowledge of the no doubt ingenious continuations a user probably has, I take a chance on his holding x/xx/A109xx/AJxxx. A spade bid, whatever it means, may lead to 3NT, but it also seems likely to attract a potentially fatal heart lead.

Partner had about what you would expect, J/Kx/AQxxx/108xxx. You could make ten tricks in either minor and eight in notrumps, so most of the panellists register a plus score. Anyone who bids game, though, goes minus.

HAND 7.


ACTIONMARKSPANEL VOTESCOMPETITORS ENTRIES (%)
2:hearts: 101249
4:diamonds:837
2:spades:613
4:hearts: 416
2NT 201
3:diamonds:0016
Pass0012
3:hearts:005
3:clubs: 000.5
3NT 000.4
5:clubs: 000.1

Competition Entrant Average Score: 5.93:

This is one of only two deals this month on which the largest group of competition entrants scored a maximum 10/10. Perhaps the most concerning thing, though, is the high number of competitors who, holding eleven major-suit cards, thought they should pass partner’s double of 2! Takeout doubles are to be taken out! Having no points (or very few) is not a reason to pass the double. Indeed, I was tempted to give marks to bids such as 3 and 3 which, although clearly wrong, were obviously less wrong than passing. Why are those two choices wrong? Because both show good hands, which you clearly do not have. Indeed, playing Lebensohl, as would be normal opposite a takeout double of a weak two opening, a jump to 3 is game-forcing and stronger than a jump to game. I did give some marks to 2NT, as I assume those bidders intended it as Lebensohl, planning to show an invitational hand with hearts. This is an over-evaluation, perhaps, but not as far from the mark as some of the alternatives. The majority tell us why 2 is the right bid:

COHEN: 2. It is very likely that partner has the ‘big double’ without necessarily majors: he probably has a big club or notrump hand. I don’t want to get him excited by jumping now, leading to a no-play slam. I doubt everyone will pass my 2.
MANCINI: 2. It looks like partner has a very good hand, so he will bid again. If not, then South waits with a double and I’ll be glad I didn’t bid any more.
BROCK: 2. If I bid more than this now, partner will probably get us too high.
LARSSON: 2.This should give partner room to show his presumably strong hand without getting us too high.
BIRD: 2. This will not end the auction. If I overstretch to 3 or 4, partner is likely to carry us too high. Reese used to say that, with a weak shapely hand, you can afford to underbid initially as you will be able to catch up later.
DE WIJS: 2. Sandbagging a bit, but it feels like the most practical bid with a partner that is very likely to bid again whatever I bid now.
ROBSON: 2. It feels like there will be more bidding, and I can try to describe a weak 6-5.
LAVEE: 2. It sounds like East has a monster hand, likely with a long club suit. I want to bid 2 and then 3♠ and, hopefully, partner will then let me play in 4M.
SUNDELIN: 2. I can afford to bid only 2, as East is almost certainly strong and will probably introduce his long clubs over whatever I bid at this point.
WANG: 2. It sounds like partner has a very strong hand. I leave room for him to show which type of hand he has.
MEYERS: 2. I don’t think it is going to go all pass. If partner bids 2NT, I am still going to be sitting here thinking, but I would probably bid 3♠ and hope partner gets the picture.

Tim sums up for the majority


COPE: 2. With no 3bid on my right, we can expect partner to have a very strong hand. There is no need to over-excite them with a psychedelic 4 bid, especially when we have no diamond control. There is more to come from this auction.



A couple of panelists did opt for that ‘psychedelic’ option…


ZIA: 4. This is a non-serious cue-bid! With a better hand, I’d start with 3, so this just asks partner to pick a major.
SHENKIN: 4. Let’s play 4M. I don’t mind 2 either, as partner is sure to bid again.
BRINK: 4. Obviously, whatever you bid, the auction will not be over. If you bid 2 now, though, you will never be able to describe your hand. Bidding 4 (with my regular partner we play 4♣ as pick a major) at least shows the type of hand I have. As I didn’t bid 3, a clever partner could realize I’m not that strong (I will not be that clever partner myself).

We also had a couple of mavericks.

KLUKOWSKI: 2♠. I bid 2♠ now and hearts later. I usually always start with the longest suit, but here my strength doesn’t let me bid 2-3♣-3♠.
ÇAGCI:4. The practical bid.

As almost universally predicted, partner had a very strong hand: AKQx/AK10x/Jxxx/K. At the table where I saw the hand played, West jumped to 4 and East understandably bid on with RKCB. Getting one level too high was severely punished on this occasion as hearts were 3-0 offside, so 5 was one down.

HAND 8.


ACTIONMARKSPANEL VOTESCOMPETITORS ENTRIES (%)
5 :hearts: 10414
4 :diamonds: 933
5:diamonds: 920.6
6:diamonds: 910.1
6:hearts:813.3
3NT 710.3
4NT710.3
4:spades: 720
4:hearts:6242
4:clubs:500.1
3:spades:500.1
7:hearts:500.2
Pass3036

Competition Entrant Average Score: 5.59:

I knew when I posted this problem that it would be a nightmare to mark, as there are no clearly right or wrong answers to these strategy-type problems. The panel are split nine ways, with each choice attracting only a small number of votes, and as a result most choices score fairly well. However, the experts and the competitors can be easily divided into two distinct camps, with the competition entrants generally being conservative, and the experts much more creative. The two most popular choices of the competitors (with more than three-quarters of the votes), 4 and Pass, combined attracted only two experts. We start with the largest minority group on the panel.

COHEN: 5. I can’t imagine 4 buying it. Sure, I can make any number of psychic bids (like 3NT or 4NT), but my style is to just raise to a high level and make them guess. Surely there is no “right” answer or approach here. Any call from 3♠ to 6 can get awards/points!
WANG: 5. Hopefully, this is enough to make life difficult for the opponents.
ÇAGCI: 5. I want to bid as much as possible at this vulnerability. Let’s hope this is enough to make the opponents’ life a little harder
LARSSON: 5. Whether to psych or not in a bidding contest? Anything could be right, of course, but I chicken out and bid the ‘normal’ 5.

David puts forward a good argument for joining the ultra-conservatives…

BIRD: 4. Bidding 5 tells the opponents that they have a slam on. Bidding only 4 means that North’s subsequent 4♠ or 5 will have a very wide range. This may give South more of a problem.
MEYERS: 4. I would love to psych 4, but I think I would be asking for trouble.

Whilst this was a winning choice at the table.


LAVEE: 6. I’m guessing Zia will bid 4, fishing for a diamond ruff to beat their contract.

Many were more creative.


ROBSON: 4. Only a baby psyche, but they do make life harder. My second choice would be 5, but one can do too much. Doubtless I’ll get three marks (and the dull 5 will get ten).

You are only half right, Andrew – 5 does score 10.

SHENKIN: 4. Play for the lead and to mix up the opponents. We can always correct partner’s support back to hearts, right up to the seven-level if necessary.
COPE: 4. Our sole aim here is to buy a heart contract at the cheapest level, and decide which bid can best muddy the waters. We will have to save possibly all the way up to 7, so there may be a case for just bidding 6 immediately, but just in case the opponents have a spade contract, we might as well get partner off to the right lead. I will be interested to hear if there is a clear-cut reason for any other psychic heart raise. Meanwhile let’s have some fun.
KLUKOWSKI: 3NT. I held this hand! I bid 3NT at the table 
BROCK: 4NT. I am quite tempted by 4, as that might get me the lead, but I like the idea of getting us a bit higher.

Does the next choice not achieve both goals?


BRINK: 5. This is the perfect scenario for a good psych: 3♠, 4, 4♠, 4NT, 5… You name it, I might do it. You can also bid 4, 5, 6 and hope you put enough them under enough pressure that they make a mistake. If that is your strategy, I would prefer 6. Anyway, I go for 5 (partner will then lead a diamond) or I will write -550 (down 11). Everyone will have a different answer on this one, and none of them is wrong or right.
MANCINI: 5. This one is the most fun, so I’ll try 5, Exclusion Blackwood. It’s not often one gets the right hand for such a bid, and I suppose this would be classed as the mini version 🙂

And, proving that there is still plenty of life in the old dog…



SUNDELIN: 6. If this ends the auction, then -600 or thereabouts will probably be a decent score anyway.



It should be no surprise to find these two coming up with an imaginative ploy.

ZIA: 4♠. Let’s sow a little confusion.
DE WIJS: 4♠. Let’s try to confuse them with my favorite bid, the jump psyche.

At tables in the ALT where the auction began this way, there were votes for 4 (3), 5 (2), 3NT (2), 4NT (2) and 6 (1). Partner held J/KJxxxx/xxxx/xx, so he had already put you ahead of those tables where East opened only 2 or a Multi. 3-P-6-X cost just 500 against the 2200 made in 7NT in the other room, so +17 IMPs.



A pair of Venice Cup winners lead the panel with a score of 75/80 this month. Close behind with 74/80 are Zia Mahmood and Andrew Robson. We then have a three-way tie on 73/80 that includes one of our guest panellists, Laura Mancini. Our thanks, as always, to all of ou experts for devoting their time to entertaining and educating our readers.

The BBO Prime Expert Panel:

12345678TOTAL
Jessica LARSSON3:spades:3:clubs:3NT3:diamonds: Pass 3:clubs:2:hearts: 5:hearts: 75
Wen Fei WANG3:spades: 3:clubs:3NT3:diamonds: Pass3:clubs: 2:hearts: 5:hearts: 75
Zia MAHMOOD3:spades:2:hearts:3NT3:clubs: Pass2:spades: 4:diamonds:4:spades: 74
Andrew ROBSON3:spades:2:hearts: Pass3:clubs:Pass 2:spades: 2:hearts: 4:diamonds: 74
Tim COPE4:hearts:3:clubs: Pass3:clubs:Pass 2:spades: 2:hearts: 4:diamonds: 73
Laura MANCINI3:spades:2:hearts:Dbl4NT Pass3:clubs: 2:hearts: 5:diamonds: 73
Barnet SHENKIN3:spades: 3:clubs:3NT 3:clubs: 4NT 2:spades: 4:diamonds:4:diamonds: 73
Sally BROCK4:hearts:2:hearts: Dbl4NT Pass2:spades: 2:hearts: 4NT 71
Larry COHEN3:spades: 4NT3NT4NT 5:hearts: 2:spades: 2:hearts: 5:hearts: 70
Daniel LAVEE3:spades: 3:clubs:Dbl3NT 5:clubs: Pass2:hearts: 6:hearts: 69
Simon DE WIJS4:hearts: 2:hearts: 3NT 3:diamonds: 5:clubs: 3:clubs: 2:hearts: 4:spades: 68
David BIRD4:hearts:2:hearts: Pass 3NT Pass 2:spades: 2:hearts: 4:hearts: 65
Sjoert BRINK4:hearts:3:clubs:4:diamonds:3:hearts: Pass Pass 4:diamonds:5:diamonds: 65
Jill MEYERS3:spades: 4:hearts: 3NT3NT5:hearts:2:spades: 2:hearts: 4:hearts: 63
P.O. SUNDELIN4:hearts:3:clubs: 3NT 4NT 5:hearts: 5:clubs: 2:hearts: 6:diamonds: 62
Dinçer ÇAGCI3:spades:3:clubs:4:diamonds:4NTDbl2NT4:hearts:5:hearts:58
Michal KLUKOWSKI3:spades:2NTDbl3:hearts:5:hearts:Pass2:spades:3NT53
TOP SCORE3:spades:3:clubs:3NT3:clubs: Pass2 :spades: 2:hearts:5:hearts:


MARKS:

HAND 1: 3♠ 10, 4 8, 4 5, 3 4, 5 2

HAND 2: 3♣ 10, 2 9, 4/4NT 7, 4♣/4/5NT 6, 6/6NT 4, 2NT 3, 5/3NT 2

HAND 3: 3NT 10, Dbl 8, Pass 6, 4 5, 5 2

HAND 4: 3♣ 10, 4NT 9, 3/3 7, 3NT 6, 5NT 4, 3♠/4♠/4♣/5♣/6NT 2

HAND 5: Pass 10, 5♣ 9, 6 8, 4NT 6, Dbl 5, 5 4

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

HAND 7: 2 10, 4 8, 2♠ 6, 4 4, 2NT 2

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

AVERAGE SCORE:

HAND 1: 3.43

HAND 2: 6.47

HAND 3: 6.25

HAND 4: 5.72

HAND 5: 5.20

HAND 6: 5.88

HAND 7: 5.93

HAND 8: 5.59

Play the March hands here