BBO Prime bidders challenge: March Panel Comments

Conducted by Marc Smith

Set 2022-3



Welcome to the third set of the 2022 competition. Along with the monthly winners of this set, we will also post the first leaderboard for the 2022 annual competition, so remember to enter every month so that you can drop your weakest scores at the end of the year. (Only your best nine scores count towards your total in the annual competition.)

Our guest panelist this month is Douglas Schmickrath from the Bay area in California, who won the January competition on one of the most difficult sets so far in this competition. Douglas finished fourth in the 2021 annual competition as the highest-placed USA competitor (indeed, the only American in the top 15). He learned bridge about 25 years ago by studying books before ever making it to a club game. Having always been a math guy with a penchant for puzzle solving, he still takes lessons regularly, including from yours truly (MarcSmith) and Steve Conrad (ConradSR). He has historically played 2/1, although he has become quite fond of Oliver Clarke Precision (OCP), which he found through his involvement with the BBO Intermediate/Advanced Club (IAC).

We are also delighted to welcome a new panelist this month, a member of the royal family of Swedish bridge, Ola Rimstedt. Three world and three European titles as a junior, and victory in the 2018 World Open Pairs with his brother whilst they were both still juniors, suggests that the future of Swedish bridge is very bright indeed. For more details of the vast list of achievements by Ola and our other panelists, I encourage you to check out the bio page: just click the button marked ‘Experts’ from the Bidding Challenge home page on BBO.

Hand 4 this month comes from our South African panelist, Tim Cope. If you have a hand that you think would produce an interesting panel discussion, please send me details. Remember that the best problems offer three or more sensible actions rather than being a straight choice between two.

Perhaps a slightly easier set this month, with the panel producing a majority choice on five of the eight deals. For the competition entrants, their majority choice picks up maximum marks on three hands and also collects one of the top scores on three others. This is reflected in the scoring too: after two months with an average score in the mid-40s, competitors this month averaged 50.72, but the debate still promises to be entertaining and instructive, so let’s get to the action:


HAND 1.




(Note: 4 would be Michaels, showing a good hand with both red suits)
ACTIONMARKSPANEL VOTESCOMPETITORS ENTRIES (%)
Dbl10918
Pass 7549
4:diamonds: 5124
4:hearts: 20 6
4:spades: 00 1.4
3NT 00 1.2
4:clubs: 00 0.2
4NT 00 0.1
7:hearts: 00 0.1


Competition Entrant Average Score: 6.56

A clear majority from the panel, and they start the month in bullish mood, although only one panellist was sufficiently brave to commit the partnership to offense. Almost half of competition entrants side with the more cautious members of the panel, so we’ll start with them.


LAVEE: Pass. We could miss a non-vulnerable game, but we could also go -800 at the four- level saving against a partscore.
COHEN: Pass. On many hands where partner has a penalty pass, he would have overcalled 3NT. If he just has some random 10-count, entering here is way too dangerous. The agreement on 4 tempts me, but your addition of the word “good” warns me off.
WANG: Pass. I don’t think I will choose to bid.
Douglas starts off with a prediction, and quite right he is too.
SCHMICKRATH: Pass. Surely I will not be the only panellist who thinks this is not a good enough hand to come in at the this level, so I’ll start by making sure I avoid a zero on the first deal.
Although he may not score maximum marks, David at least earns himself the ‘Comment of the Month’ award.

BIRD: Pass. This is well short of the values required for any action. Am I meant to assign 6 HCP to the ♣Q?


The rest all choose to take action. Let’s see if they can explain why.
BRINK: Dbl. I might also have passed and, to be honest, I have no real preference.
LARSSON: Dbl. Difficult. Pass, Double and 4 are all distinct possibilities. I opt for double, but not with any great enthusiasm.
MEYERS: Dbl. I just hope I have not started us on the road to a disaster.
For some it was clear to bid.
RIMSTEDT: Dbl. Clearly, I’m not passing, as we could be making anything. I won’t bid 4 either, though, as that’s like putting all of my eggs in one basket. Double gives me all possible positive outcomes and few negative ones.
ROBSON: Dbl. This could concede 530, but it’s simply too dangerous to pass. I clearly don’t have a “good hand”, so not 4: over that, if we’re making game partner would probably put us in slam!
SHENKIN: Dbl. I have to protect partner’s possible trap.
MARSTON: Dbl. I am hoping partner has a penalty double.
For some it was just a case of which positive action to take.
BROCK: Dble. This hand is not good enough to show both suits with 4.
DE WIJS: Dbl. I am mainly hoping for partner to pass this. I might not like some of his responses, but I think bidding 4 here would be worse.
Only Tim was prepared to commit fully.
COPE: 4. Non-leaping Michaels. The hand has too much potential just to let it go, and a red suit contract looks like our best chance of making a game. Whilst double is more flexible, it may lead to the odd -530, or to 3NT when hearts is better.

For a change, I will not tell you partner’s hand, as you will be seeing it as a problem sometime in the future. I can tell you, though, that Tim is the only panellist who would have managed a significant plus score at the table.

HAND 2.


ACTIONMARKSPANEL VOTESCOMPETITORS ENTRIES (%)
2:clubs:10735
Dbl8523
3:clubs:615
2:diamonds:5217
2:hearts:205
Pass209
1NT004
2:spades:001
1:spades:000.5
2NT000.2
3:diamonds:000.1
3:hearts:000.1
4NT000.1

Competition Entrant Average Score: 6.69

There are two ways of playing negative doubles after a 1 overcall of partner’s minor-suit opening. One option, becoming more popular with experts, is to play 1♠ as showing at least four spades and double as denying spades (or you can reverse the meanings of those two calls), which simplifies things on the type of hand we have here. In traditional methods, though, double shows exactly four spades and bidding 1♠ shows at least five, which makes life easier for opener if the fourth hand raises hearts to a high level, which not an unlikely scenario. This problem examines your options with this tricky hand type if you play the standard style of negative doubles.

LARSSON: 2♣. If I was playing either double or 1♠ as denying four spades, it would be easy. Playing standard methods, I would have to settle for 2♣.
DE WIJS: 2♣. I would obviously bid 1♠ if that was defined as showing less than four spades and takeout, but given the fact that this problem is here now, our system most likely is different. Double or 2♣ (or pass) are my options and, although I don’t mind faking a spade all that much, bidding 2♣ seems to be the lesser evil.
David is on form this month, with another contender for Comment of the Month…
BIRD: 2♣. I assume that SLN (a slow negative double, to show only three spades) is not part of the system.
COHEN: 2♣. I don’t want to “guarantee” four spades, so double is out. However, I want to show some values, and this will do the job. We are not likely to be allowed to play here, though, as the opponents have at least an eight-card heart fit.
RIMSTEDT: 2♣. This is not particularly descriptive, but there is no perfect option. I won’t pass with such a good hand opposite an opener. Also, I won’t double because I don’t want partner to compete in spades if lefty makes a big bid in hearts, as seems likely.
SCHMICKRATH: 2♣. I was tempted by 2, but whilst this hand would be good enough for a Mixed Raise opposite a 1 opening, not after 1♣.
SHENKIN: 2♣. At IMPs, this may allow partner to compete at the four- or five-level when he has long clubs. I would double at matchpoints.
The second-largest group of panellists were willing to risk showing a fourth spade.
ROBSON: Dbl. This is a good hand for playing 1♠ showing four or more spades and double showing fewer. But, I’ll do it anyway. Maybe the 4-3 spade fit will play well…
LAVEE: Dbl. Many top partnerships these days can bid 1♠ to show 0-3 spades with a double showing at least four spades, but I assume we are playing standard methods, so double shows exactly four spades and 6+ HCP. If we end up in a 4-3 spade fit, at least the short trump hand will be ruffing hearts.
COPE: Dbl. Sorry, partner. I got one of my spades mixed up with my clubs. We can always go back to clubs if the auction permits, but I am too good just to bid 2♣ and not good enough for a cue-bid raise.


MEYERS: Dbl. My hand is too good to bid 2♣, plus I don’t have good clubs, so I am going to treat this as a four-card spade suit.


WANG: Dbl. I normally promise the spade suit, but with this hand I think it is better to double than to bid 2♣.
Sally grew up in four-card major land, where this option would perhaps be more mainstream.
BROCK: 3♣. I saw someone do this on only four clubs recently and it worked like a dream. LHO had to guess whether or not to bid (it is likely he has some heart support) and, when they did, East bid too much. So I’ll try that here.
Paul and Sjoert clearly like their hand more than the rest of the panel.
MARSTON: 2. Followed by 3♣, if I get the chance.
BRINK: 2. This depends on agreement. In my system, I can bid 1♠ showing less than four spades (double shows four or more). That is not an option playing BBO Standard, so I’ll go for 2.

Partner held Axx/—/KQx/AK98xxx, so 13 tricks were cold in either minor. In the match where I saw the deal played, one West bid 2♣ and the other doubled, and both North players then raised to 4. The East player facing a club raise advanced with 5 but the auction still stalled in 6♣. Opposite a negative double, East felt he could do no more than bid 5♣ and, when West passed, that was 11 IMPs out. Perhaps the second East might have done more, but it was certainly easier after hearing clubs raised.

HAND 3.


ACTIONMARKSPANEL VOTESCOMPETITORS ENTRIES (%)
3:hearts:1049
4:hearts:948
3:diamonds:9424
5:hearts:810.7
2:spades:6219
4:diamonds:409
6:diamonds:401
3:spades:307
5:diamonds:207
4:spades:205
4NT203
4:clubs:002
Pass003
3:clubs:001
2:hearts:000.7
6:spades:000.3
2NT000.2
5:clubs:000.1

Competition Entrant Average Score: 5.87

After setting a new record last month with 20 different answers on one deal, the competition entrants make a valiant attempt at breaking that record with 18 bids chosen on two consecutive hands, a fair number of them picking up at least a few marks. Not that the panel was united either – far from it, with three different actions tied, each with just four supporters. With a majority of the panel choosing to show their shortage immediately, though, I split the tie in that direction. Let’s start with those who set trumps with a simple raise.

MEYERS: 3. Let’s set trumps now, rather than confusing the issue by rebidding my spades. Since I have two short suits, it is silly to show shortness.
DE WIJS: 3. I have no idea whether 3 would be a splinter. 5 (Exclusion) was also on my agenda, but there are just too many hands where we would be missing two aces.
ROBSON: 3. Let’s set trump. We can follow with a jump to 5 later.
MARSTON: 3. Setting up an exclusion key-card ask on the next round.
David explains one reason why this approach may be flawed.
BIRD: 5. He is very likely to hold five diamonds, so Exclusion Blackwood looks good to me. If, instead, I bid only 3 now, I will not be able to ask for key-cards if partner then jumps to game.
The next group also agree diamonds.
SHENKIN: 3. I agree diamonds with a splinter.
LAVEE: 3. Splinter. We need the right two aces for 6, or the right three aces for a grand slam.
RIMSTEDT: 3. Splinter. Second choice would be 3. If partner tries to play in NT, I will cue-bid clubs, heading towards slam in diamonds. I don’t care about my seven spades: I’m going all-in for diamonds.
COHEN: 3. It is tempting to bid 5 now, but that is too reckless as we could easily be off two black aces, and they would make the right opening lead against slam. Picture so many normal hands for partner like x/AQxx/AQxxx/Qxx. I’ll start with a splinter bid and hope to sort this all out eventually.
The next group jump to 4, but are split as to its meaning.
It shows a void rather than just a singleton…

LARSSON: 4. I have had void-showing splinters passed before, but I’m bidding it anyway.
WANG: 4. I was very surprised when partner bid 2. 4 is a void-showing splinter. If we have enough key-cards, we can now bid a grand slam.
It is unclear whether Wen Fei thinks this is asking for key cards, or just showing the void, whereas both Tim and Douglas are sure…
COPE: 4. I did well to open this hand 1♠, as a high level pre-empt might have seemed more appropriate. Having got that part right, I might as well trot out exclusion keycard to determine the level we will play at. I would expect the agreement to be that any jump above the four-level of the agreed or implied trump suit is Exclusion to be standard.


SCHMICKRATH: 4♥. Though perhaps scrawny for an opening bid, things have really been improved by partner’s diamond bid. I roll out Exclusion to tell me whether to bid six or seven.


Just two mavericks choose to rebid their seven-card major.
BROCK: 2♠. For the moment.
BRINK: 2♠. This is a super difficult hand: 2♠, 3, 3, 4♣, 4, 4, 5 are all possible bids. If 4 would be exclusion, it would be perfect (if partner answers 4♠ showing zero, I can pass). But, if it is just a splinter, then maybe it would not be the best bid. I go for 2♠ and wait to see how the bidding develops. Afterwards, I will tell partner that, next time, 4 is Exclusion Blackwood.

Partner had —/KJxx/AQxxx/Axxx, so 6 was an easy make. 7 would have failed at the table, as South held ♠AJxx. After this discussion, it seems clear that it would be worth checking to see what your regular partner thinks 4 should be in this auction.

HAND 4.


ACTIONMARKSPANEL VOTESCOMPETITORS ENTRIES (%)
3:diamonds:10615
4:diamonds:949
5:hearts:810.5
3:clubs:706
4NT725
6:diamonds:600.6
6:hearts:600.4
4:hearts:4245
5:diamonds:403
3:hearts:008
2:hearts:003
2:spades:001.3
3NT001.4
Pass000.7
2NT000.4
4:spades:000.3
4:clubs:000.2
3:spades:000.2

Competition Entrant Average Score: 5.11

The competitors came up with 18 different choices on this one. With all but two of the panel looking for slam, those options which also do so attract some marks. Signing off in game, though, as nearly half of competition entrants do, scores poorly.

BROCK: 3. This is surely forcing, at least back to 3.
LARSSON: 3. Let’s see if partner does something intelligent.
You can surely assume that your expert partner’s efforts will be intelligent… whether they will be helpful is, of course, another matter entirely.
DE WIJS: 3. This is obviously forcing, so I’ll start there. The rest of the bidding might be more difficult.


LAVEE: 3. Slam is possible and 3 is the appropriate way to start investigating. If partner has as little as x/J10xxxx/QJxx/Ax slam is cold.


ROBSON: 3. Also “naturalish with some game interest” (actually quite a lot of game interest, and some slam interest). One little black suit bid from partner and we’re going slamming.
RIMSTEDT: 3. I’m more interested in going for slam than not. The only possible reason for partner being interested in game, with the cards he is missing in his long suits, is that he has top honours in the black suits. That’s basically all I need for slam, although, we will see how things develop over my 3.
If there is any doubt about whether 3 is forcing, this next group make 100% sure partner knows we are interested in slam.
SCHMICKRATH: 4. I want to ensure game while keeping slam in play. At least there’s no chance this will get passed out.
WANG: 4. I think 4 shows both my diamond fit and slam interest.
SHENKIN: 4. A picture raise, showing great hearts and diamonds. This is a wake-up call to partner to judge his aces.
And from the man who held the hand at the table (and more from him later).
COPE: 4. This is actually a two-part problem, as we want to try and persuade partner to bid the slam with a first round control in one of the black suits and a second round control in the other. If we start with 4 and, over the expected sign-off of 4, we can then continue with 5 to paint the picture. It might still be tough for partner to bid the slam missing AKQ in hearts, but this is our best shot.
As David points out, there are exceptions to every rule.
BIRD: 4NT. Blackwood is not usually advised with two top losers in a side suit. Annoyingly, the text books offer no help on what to do with two such suits. Still, for a game-interest bid with very little in the two bid suits, I am expecting partner to hold controls in both black suits.
MARSTON: 4NT. I am bidding slam if partner has an ace. If we are off an ace-king, South will need to lead well.
COHEN: 5. When I started with 2♣, I already had slam interest. Now, hearing 2, I am following up on that interest. What can partner have to show more than a minimum? So, I’ll insist on slam if he (likely) has clubs controlled. He will pass with an (unlikely) AKQ/J10987/QJ10/xx.
We finish with two players who are uncharacteristically pessimistic.
BRINK: 4. Sorry, no inspiration. (Partner has Axx/Jxxxxx/Qxx/A?)
A mysterious answer from Sjoert, who gives a realistic hand for partner on which we have good play for a grand slam, yet he signs off in game.
MEYERS: 4. I would like to raise diamonds but that would be passable. Also, partner may have invented a 2 bid to make some kind of game try.

Partner had Kx/J9xxx/Q10xx/AJ, so slam in either red suit just required the opening bidder to hold the ♠A. Here is Tim’s thoughtful analysis of the problem:
COPE: At the table, I possibly made the mistake of bidding 5, which was the only thing I could think of at the time, as I wanted to be in slam opposite a club control and presumed a spade control. Not unreasonably, my partner passed my 5 bid, as they knew I had no club control, and would therefore need me to have AKQ on a club lead. The question really is, could I have planned the auction any better? Other than 5, 4 is a possibility and then follow up with 5, or start with some sort of amorphous 3♣ bid perhaps. So although 5 was not a bad bid, is there a way in which I can make it easier for partner to bid the slam?”

Hopefully, the panel went some way to answering Tim’s question.

HAND 5.


ACTIONMARKSPANEL VOTESCOMPETITORS ENTRIES (%)
3NT10750
Dbl9619
4:diamonds:6211
5:clubs:404
4:clubs:207
6:clubs:200.5
3:hearts:006
5:diamonds:001
4NT001.2
Pass000.6
4:spades:000.3
4:hearts:000.2
3:diamonds:000.1
5:spades:000.1

Competition Entrant Average Score: 7.50

No majority on the panel, but a tight vote (just 7-6) between two of only three options to attract any support from the experts. The competition entrants also voted strongly (almost 70%) for the panel’s top two choices. Let’s see which of the groups wins the debate:

MARSTON: 3NT. We might miss a slam, but I am more worried about locking up game.
ROBSON: Dbl. I have too much slam potential to settle for 3NT.
SHENKIN: 3NT. Hearts are a warning here. We may miss a slam, but this is most likely to ensure a plus score.
MEYERS: Dbl. 3NT is tempting, but my hand is too good. We could easily have a club slam. I may be better placed to make a decision once I heard what partner bids over double.
BROCK: 3NT. I guess 6♣ might be good, but I don’t like to double with such poor majors.
RIMSTEDT: Dbl. There is no rush to commit to the final contract, whether I am going low or high. We could belong in any one of three games or even in a slam and, although I have little space to work with, nothing bad can come from starting with a double.
WANG: 3NT. Contract security comes first, and 3NT looks like a good spot.
SCHMICKRATH: Dbl. This should clarify things if partner cannot bid a major or 3NT. I just hope he doesn’t make some imaginative 3 bid on a 3-3-2-5 shape. Over 3♠, I’ll bid 3NT and feel I’ve done enough to suggest an alternative if partner hates no-trumps enough.
BRINK: 3NT. When 3NT is one of the sensible options, why not?
LARSSON: Dbl. To start with.


COHEN: 3NT. Hamman’s rule. A double might beget 4♠ from partner on something like KQJx/Qxx/x/KQJxx


LAVEE: Dbl. This caters for everything as it allows partner to rebid naturally, providing us with more information regarding which strain to play and whether we should be in game or slam. If partner bids 3♠, I bid 3NT. If he can jump to 4♠ over my double, then 6♣ or even 7♣ is likely to be the right contract.
COPE: 3NT. I have too many clubs to look to take a penalty, and too many points to Pass. We fall back on Hamman’s rule, and if it doesn’t work at least we can blame him.
So everyone’s clear then?
Only a couple committed the partnership to game in clubs.

BIRD: 4. South’s bid increases the chance that partner will have a worthwhile club suit. Bidding 3NT would miss too many club slams.
DE WIJS: 4. Maybe partner takes this as both majors, in which case I hope things become clearer when I continue with 5♣ over 4M. I have too much slam potential to sign off in 3NT.

Partner had KJ10x/Qxxx/x/KQ9x, so 3NT was your best spot, although 4 will also make. At the table in the Alt where I saw the hand played, West started with a double. East bid 4 to get partner to pick a major, and West then jumped to 6♣. Even 5♣ is too high if the defenders find their heart ruff.

HAND 6.


ACTIONMARKSPANEL VOTESCOMPETITORS ENTRIES (%)
2:spades:101311
4:clubs:915
3:hearts:800.7
4:hearts:800.5
3:spades:701
5:clubs:603
2NT5013
4NT502
6:clubs:500.4
3:clubs:4125
6:diamonds:400.1
3NT3031
5:diamonds:300.2
Pass004
3:diamonds:003
6NT000.1

Competition Entrant Average Score: 4.57

This hand produced by far the largest majority on the panel this month. Indeed, only a couple of mavericks enabled us to avoid the dreaded unanimous vote. The panel’s choice, though, was only the fourth most popular action amongst the competitors. Indeed, there were a surprising number of passers (scoring zero), as it assumes partner has made a stupid bid on the previous round of the auction. Partner cannot have hearts – he responded 1NT to your 1 opening, so stop and ask yourself what he is trying to tell you? The largest group of competitors also scores poorly, jumping to 3NT, which is game on a finesse when slam is easy in your correct denomination. Those who bid 2NT, although technically non-forcing, would probably hear 3♣ from partner and may then wake up to the hand’s potential.

ROBSON: 2♠. A one-round force to learn more. I am guessing we’re headed for 5♣ (or 5), but there is no rush.
BRINK: 2♠.
MEYERS: 2♠. Partner’s 2 should show interest in one of the minors, so I have a great hand. 2♠ is a waiting bid to see what partner bids next.
COPE: 2♠. I am biding my time until I find out which minor partner can support. We are on our way to at least five of a minor, but this gives us time for slam exploration.
For some, it is clear that partner is supporting clubs. After all, what suit is partner almost certain to hold when he responds 1NT to a 1 opening?
MARSTON: 2♠. I expect to play 5♣ but I will co-operate with any slam try.
LARSSON: 2♠. I’m thinking of slam. Starting slow with 2♠ will perhaps allow me to figure out how much wastage partner has in hearts.
SCHMICKRATH: 2♠. Partner is showing a heart value with a big club fit. Even if he has some wastage, slam isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Perhaps a 4 splinter would help partner more, but let’s hope the extra space created by keeping the bidding low will get the job done.
DE WIJS: 2♠. Interesting. My first feeling was 4♣, but with 2 showing values in hearts, we need the perfect hand to make 6♣ a good contract, so I’ll temporize a bit.
WANG: 2♠. This is the only forcing bid.
I’m not sure that is true. Surely 3, 3♠, 4 would all be forcing, and probably 4♣ too.
BIRD: 2♠. I can hardly sign off, with so few losers. I will let him show support for one or other minor and then raise to the four-level. No, probably to the five-level.
COHEN: 2♠. I don’t think 3♣ would be forcing, so let me show something in spades for now and see how partner reacts.
SHENKIN: 2♠. I have a maximum hand. Let’s tell partner and initiate further investigation.
Ola sums up for the majority.


RIMSTEDT: 2♠. I haven’t decided yet where I will end up, but I will start with 2♠ and work from there. It will give me plenty of space for partner to describe where we are going and how high we will go. Slam is definitely in the picture.


There were only two dissenters, although Sally seems to be on the same track as the majority.
BROCK: 4♣. This sounds forcing. I quite fancy just bidding slam, but I guess he could have something like xxx/KQx/Kx/QJxxx. Not 100% sure 4NT would be RKCB but, assuming we play 1430, we would then be too high when he doesn’t have any (although I suppose I could pass 5). So I think 4♣ will get him to cue-bid if he can.
I am less sure about Daniel, though.
LAVEE: 3♣. This shows 55+ with 15-17 points.
Really? Do you not have to bid 3♣ with a 5-5 12 count too? Those panelists who commented all thought 3♣ was the weakest bid you could make, and certainly non-forcing.

I bid 3 at the table and did not raise when partner jumped to 5♣. Perhaps starting with 2♠ will get the information we need, as partner had the perfect Jxx/Axx/Kxx/Q10xx, so 6♣ was an easy make.

HAND 7.


ACTIONMARKSPANEL VOTESCOMPETITORS ENTRIES (%)
Pass10917
3NT7642
Dbl2032
4:hearts:007
3:spades:000.7
4NT000.5
6:hearts:000.3
5:hearts:000.2
4:clubs:000.1
4:diamonds:000.1
4:spades:000.1

Competition Entrant Average Score: 5.26

This was a straight two-way choice for the panel, with the majority deciding that a prudent pass was preferable to the speculative 3NT favored by almost half of competition entrants. The second-largest vote from the competitors went to Double, which was rejected by every panelist because of the impossible question posed by a 4 response from partner. Those who double score slightly better than those bidding hearts who, presumably, misread the auction and thought that partner opened that suit, rather than LHO. Let’s start with the hawks:

WANG: 3NT. Maybe pass is better, but I’m sure I would bid 3NT.
BROCK: 3NT. And hope for the best.
SCHMICKRATH: 3NT. This feels like the least worst option.
COHEN: 3NT. Hamman again. When 3NT comes to mind in such auctions, just do it. In my dream, partner has something like Kx/xx/J10xx/AQxxx.
DE WIJS: 3NT.
RIMSTEDT: 3NT. Even with as few as 20-22 HCP between the two hands, we might make 3NT, because the weaker hand will be shut out for most of the defence. Pass is my second option. I am certainly not doubling, as that’s like hoping for a perfect outcome, which is by no means percentage.
And now for the doves:
MEYERS: Pass. What am I supposed to bid? I have no source of tricks if I bid 3NT and I certainly am not well placed to double and hear 4 from partner.
BRINK: Pass. I hope for a plus score
LARSSON: Pass. The only realistic options are Pass and 3NT. For me, the possibility of a non-vulnerable game does not justify the chance of going for an unnecessary penalty.
SHENKIN: Pass. I defend at 50 a trick. Partner could not act despite likely shortage in hearts.
LAVEE: Pass. Bidding 3NT could bid the winning option, but partner in known to have short hearts and yet he passed over North’s pre-empt, so his strength is limited.
MARSTON: Pass. We might have a game, but it is too risky to go looking.
ROBSON: Pass. The trouble with taking a positive action is …which one do I take? If I bid 3NT, we may well be in the wrong game (when partner has four spades); double and partner may bid 4. Let’s settle for a small plus instead.
BIRD: Pass. I am close to a risky double, but not quite there.
Tim sums up for the majority.


COPE: Pass. I feel forced to collect as many 50s as we can. Even if partner has a four-card spade suit, there will be a lot of work before we can make game, and we have no major source of tricks to suggest that 3NT will be viable



The minority would have been right this time, as partner held KQ10xx/x/xxx/Q10xx, so either 3NT or double gets you to the easy 4♠. Passing would have produced +50 if you were lucky, but virtue has its own reward and it earns 10 marks here.

HAND 8.


ACTIONMARKSPANEL VOTESCOMPETITORS ENTRIES (%)
5:clubs:10868
4NT833
Dbl737
6:clubs:514
5:hearts:406
5NT300.2
6:hearts:200.3
Pass208
5:spades:002.4
5:diamonds:000.8
6:diamonds:000.2
6:spades:000.1

Competition Entrant Average Score: 8.10

With more than two-thirds of competition entrants agreeing with the panel’s majority choice, this is by far the highest-scoring hand of the year so far. There were essentially three camps on the panel: bid game, try for or bid slam, and suggest defending. As we have seen on a number of occasions before, most experts play 4NT in this type of auction not as Blackwood but as a slam try in clubs, which is much more useful when you have only two available bids (ie 4NT and 5♣ here). Let’s start with the majority.

BRINK: 5♣. Nobody knows.
An accurate prediction from David, perhaps?
BIRD: 5♣. I have no great opinion of my judgement at these levels. Director: “So I can see!”
Perhaps we bid 5♣ because we are not certain we can defeat 4♠-X…
WANG: 5♣. It looks like the opponents have a ten-card spade fit and we have at least nine clubs. I hope we can make it but if it turns out to be a good save that’s okay too.
LAVEE: 5♣. We have a double fit. They might make 4♠ with ideal distribution. If Diamonds are 5422 around the table, my diamonds could be worthless in defence. LHO 4153 and RHO 6421 and I like their chances to make 4♠. Partner must have a good hand for his vulnerable 4♣ bid. Even if he has a sub-minimum like x/AQxxx/xx/AKxxx, 5♣ has play. 5♣ has to be safer than 5 because there is a higher potential for a trump loser in hearts and higher potential for a club ruff with hearts as trumps.
…or because the penalty will be insufficient.
COPE: 5♣. My diamond values might suggest a penalty could be the best option, but the ♠A should mean that 5♣ has a very realistic chance of success. If we use simple Law mathematics, there should be 19 tricks available on the hand, so if 5♣ makes we would only be getting 500 from 4♠. The extended Law of adding an extra trick when we have a double fit, means that there may be 20 tricks available on the hand.
For some, the decision was between bidding game and trying for slam.
LARSSON: 5♣. Partner was pressed to bid, so I am not going overboard.
RIMSTEDT: 5♣. I’m certainly not convinced. I might be too strong for 5♣, and it is quite possible that 4NT is a better bid, but I choose the cowardly 5♣.
SHENKIN: 5♣. Something like x/AQxxx/Kx/AKQxx equals a slam. 4NT should be a slam invitation, but 5♣ looks sound and conservative.
The largest minority group on the panel do not think just bidding game is enough, so they make a slam try…
DE WIJS: 4NT. This is a good 5♣ bid (what else?). I am perhaps a little light for it, but a lot depends on the partnership tendencies regarding the 4♣ bid.
MEYERS: 4NT. I hope this is some kind of slam try. I have wastage in diamonds, but partner could have xx/AQJxx/x/AKQxx, when I clearly want to be in 6♣. If he bids only 5♣ I’ll put down dummy.


BROCK: 4NT. My agreement is that I’m supposed to make a forward-going move if I have two key cards. I expect partner to sign off in 5♣ if minimum, and otherwise we’ll bid slam. If partner is void in spades my hand might not be so useful, but then the total tricks on the deal might be more too.


…and one thinks he has enough not to consult partner.
COHEN: 6♣. It just feels like the right guess. Partner bid to the ten-trick level on his own, and I have lots of useful cards. This was a very challenging set of eight deals! I am supposed to be retired.
It’s good for you to keep those little grey cells active, Larry.
Only three choose to defend.
SCHMICKRATH: Dbl. If we have a slam I have done the wrong thing, but our hand is really defensive, with the soft values in diamonds probably worthless on offense but potentially golden defending.
ROBSON: Dbl. The QJ10x is so powerful defensively. I reckon if we’re making 5♣, we’re getting 500, and we may be getting 500 when we’re not making 5♣, particularly as players like to stretch with their leaping Michaels.
MARSTON: Dbl. If 5♣ is making, those diamonds should ensure we get adequate compensation.

Paul, Douglas and Andrew would have been the only ones with plus scores, as partner held x/AQJ10x/xx/AKJxx. Both 5 and 5♣ need clubs to play for no loser, but South had ♣Qxx so ten tricks were the limit. Enemy spade contracts had four top losers plus a slow diamond, so doubling collected +500. It is closer at matchpoints but, at IMPs, taking +500 against a game that needs partner to have the ideal hand seems like the winning long-term decision. It is interesting to note that in all of the bid-or-pass decisions this month, the panel came down in favor of what would have been the losing choice at the table. Perhaps, though, it was because I thought the winning decision was hard to find (too hard for me, at least) that prompted me to set them as problems in the first place.



Barnet Shenkin leads all panelists this month, narrowly missing out on a perfect score, something we have still yet to see from a panelist after 15 months of this competition. Shenkin’s 79/80 ties Eric Kokish and Alan Sontag from Set 2021-2, Jill Meyers from Set 2021-10 and Andrew Robson from Set 2021-11. Two Swedes complete this month’s podium: Jessica Larsson scores 78/80, just missing out on consecutive wins, and first-time panelist Ola Rimstedt is close behind with 76/80.

The BBO Prime Expert Panel:

12345678TOTAL
Barnet SHENKINDbl2:clubs:3:hearts:4:diamonds:3NT2:spades:Pass5 :clubs:79
Jessica
LARSSON
Dbl2:clubs:4:hearts:2:diamonds:Dbl2:spades:Pass5 :clubs:78
Ola RIMSTEDTDbl2:clubs:3:hearts:3:diamonds:Dbl2:spades:3NT5:clubs:76
Andrew ROBSONDblDbl3:diamonds:3:diamonds:Dbl2:spades:PassDbl73
Tim COPE4:diamonds:Dbl4:hearts:4:diamonds:3NT2:spades:Pass5:clubs:71
Simon
De WIJS
Dbl2:clubs:3:diamonds:3:diamonds:4:diamonds:2:spades:3NT4NT70
Wen Fei
WANG
Pass2:clubs:4:hearts:4:diamonds:3NT2:spades:3NT5:clubs:70
Douglas SCHMICKRATHPass2:clubs:4:hearts:4:diamonds:Dbl2:spades:3NTDbl68
David BIRDPass2:clubs:5:hearts:4NT4:diamonds:2:spades:Pass5 :clubs:68
Daniel LAVEEPassDbl3:hearts:3:diamonds:Dbl3:clubs:Pass5:clubs:68
Paul MARSTONDbl2:diamonds:3:diamonds:4NT3NT2:spades:PassDbl68
Jill MEYERSDblDbl3:diamonds:4:hearts:Dbl2:spades:Pass4NT68
Larry COHENPass2:clubs:3:hearts:5:hearts:3NT2:spades:3NT6 :clubs:67
Sally BROCKDbl3:clubs:2:spades:3:diamonds:3NT4 :clubs:3NT4NT66
Sjoert BRINKDbl2:diamonds:2:spades:4:hearts:3NT2:spades:Pass5:clubs:65
TOP SCOREDbl2:clubs:3:hearts:3:diamonds:3NT2:spades:Pass5:clubs:

MARKS:

HAND 1: Dbl 10, Pass 7, 4 5, 4 2

HAND 2: 2♣10, Dbl 8, 3♣ 6, 2 5, Pass/2 2

HAND 3: 3 10, 3/4 9, 5 8, 2♠ 6, 4/6 4, 3♠ 3, 4♣/4♠/5/4NT 2

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

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

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

HAND 7: Pass 10, 3NT 7, Dbl 2

HAND 8: 5♣ 10, 4NT 8, Dbl 7, 6♣ 5, 5 4, 5NT 3, 6/Pass 2
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AVERAGE SCORE:

HAND 1: 6.56

HAND 2: 6.69

HAND 3: 5.87

HAND 4: 5.11

HAND 5: 7.50

HAND 6: 4.57

HAND 7: 5.26

HAND 8: 8.10