Jeff Lehman

Hand Evaluation: two recent hands

Hand evaluation is one of my favorite bridge topics. 

Here are two recent hands.  The first was shared by a friend of mine and arises from a club game matchpoint event.  The second comes from a club Swiss played yesterday. 

On the first hand your partner opens the bidding in second seat at unfavorable vulnerability with a 3 call.  RHO passes and you hold: AKQ8  QJ3  52  KQT3.  What is your call? 

My friend tells me that 15 of the 17 declarers at the club played 3NT on this hand.  How many of those pairs were faced with the same auction as my friend, I do not know.  But 3NT strikes me as an overbid.  I prefer Pass. 

My thinking it is that is unlikely that we can produce nine tricks without running the diamond suit.  Even with partner being in second seat at unfavorable vulnerability, are his diamonds likely to run opposite two small?  Surely, they might run: perhaps he owns seven diamonds heading by the AK and the suit splits 3-1 or better, or he owns seven diamonds to the AQJ and Kx or Kxx of diamonds in the slot, or maybe he owns seven diamonds to the KQJ and a side entry of the J: there certainly are chances that diamonds run.  But mps is a game of probability and, methinks, there is a much more likely possibility that partner’s diamonds are not ready to run, in particular when his diamonds are not headed by the ace and a defensive gambit so easy as holding off the ace for one round kills the diamond suit.  Partner’s hand could easily be worth one diamond trick in notrump and six diamond tricks in a diamond contract. 

I would pass at mps for sure.  And I even think I would pass at IMPs.  (Yes I know that the odds favor bidding tight vulnerable games at IMPs, but the generally communicated odds are presented under the assumption that the game will either make or fail by a trick; this contract could easily fail by multiple tricks.) 

As it turns out, my friend informs me, the opening bidder held 942  T7  AQT9863  6.  The 3NT declarers who finessed the Q on the first round of that suit found themselves the owner of seven diamond tricks and 3NT often made with overtricks. 

The second hand is IMPs scoring.  A discussion of your partnership’s bidding agreements is essential to your follow ups.  You play 2/1 game forcing with high reverses by opener promising extra values (defined as a king over a minimum opening bid).  

You also play “serious 3NT”, meaning that once an eight card major suit fit is found in a game forcing auction, a bid of 3NT promises extra values and requires partner to control bid, while skipping 3NT to make a control bid denies extra values.  In a hand where each partner has opening bid values, the purpose of serious 3NT is to clarify whether partner has extra values.  The rationale is that: (a) two minimum hands opposite each other will not make slam (absent some spectacular fit that might have been disclosed through a splinter or a “picture bid”); (b) one extra value hand opposite a minimum might make slam, depending upon how the hands mesh; and (c) two extra value hands opposite each other will make slam (unless there is disclosed an uncontrolled suit).  

Lastly, you play “Italian cue bids”, meaning that you control bid aces and kings up the line, but indiscriminately; that is, you would control bid a king in a lower side suit before you would control bid an ace in a higher side suit.  Also, to allow partner to better evaluate his secondary honors in a suit you control bid, your control bids show aces or kings but not singletons or voids. 

OK.  You are dealt A52  8  AK9873  853.  Partner opens 1 and you have an easy response of 2.  Partner next bids 3 (promising extra values as described above) and you bid 3 to show your three card spade support.  (If you held two small in each minor suit, you would have bid 4 as a picture bid.) 

Next partner bids 4.  You haven’t discussed the meaning of skipping serious 3NT in an auction where partner has already shown extras by making his high reverse call of 3.  Logically, though, I think the 4 call describes a minimum for partner’s previous bidding: that is, he has no extra values beyond the extra values already shown. 

You can bid 4.  This promises the A or K of diamonds in your methods.  Since partner had shown extras by bidding 3 at his second turn, your hand is worth the control bid that is “on the house”; that is, that is below game level. 

Partner now control bids 4, showing the A or K of hearts. 

Now what? 

I think 4 is the best call now, much better than keycard or another diamond control bid that would be above game level.  Partner’s heart call has not improved your hand: you have a heart control in the form of a singleton heart.  If partner owns the K, second round controls of hearts are duplicated.  Even if partner owns the A, that card might be less important for slam purposes than, say, the Q or the K, where partner’s high cards match your lengths and not your shortness.  Your 4 call does not deny possession of another control high card, but rather just communicates the message that you have a minimum for your bidding to this point (or, what Mike Lawrence might call the “box” in which lies your hand as described by your earlier calls). 

Partner is not foreclosed from going on, but his hand is also minimum and not particularly good fitting for the auction to date.  He owns this seventeen count: QJT87  AKJ  J  AJT6 and would/should pass 4.  As it turns out, 4 is high enough as no slam makes on the combined hands.  But had partner’s hand been something like this sixteen count: QJT87  Ax  Qx  AKTx , he would have bid on, accurately upgrading because of his diamond help and reaching a good spade slam. 

At the Swiss match yesterday, each table in my match reached a spade slam, missing an opportunity for a big pick up from staying in game.


David GoldfarbJanuary 24th, 2012 at 11:31 pm

I think you’re completely right about both hands. That first one in particular has only a 20% chance of making game (assuming that the opponents knock out the heart stopper early — say, heart to the A then a heart returned and ducked). 20% games sometimes make, 80% games sometimes fail. All you can do is try to take the actions that are best in the long run.

EugeneJanuary 25th, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Strongly disagree with pass on hand one. Your partner is in the worst seat, at the worst vulnerability. AQT9-seventh and out is a dead minimum for this situation, if not sub-minimum, and even then you are over 26% to make the contract on best defense (which is not guaranteed). Factor in the possibility of bad defense (maybe the defense leads a spade, maybe the defense leads a club to the ace and continues, maybe the defense leads a heart but switches to a club from AJxxx) or factor in that partner could have a hand much better in range (Same hand with the heart king, or a slightly better suit, or a worse suit but the heart ace), and passing is just taking a huge position even at MP.

RobinJanuary 26th, 2012 at 9:09 pm

Interesting to see good debate on both sides of hand 1. I was the informant, BTW, and made game even though I played the hand correctly for MPs (I believe) by finessing the T which lost to the J (IMPs requires finessing Q), because the defenders failed to cash out. I think bidding game is marginal and certainly would not if I’d know how “bad” partner’s hand would be at those colors.
On the second hand, I agree with Jeff’s evaluation, even though you have one of the best 11-counts in the history of bridge. Perhaps opener’s better rebid might have been 3NT, assuming that this shows a (relatively) balanced 15-17 with no great fit. With the actual auction, there’s a possibility I too would have gotten carried away after 4H (though I hope not).

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