Ray Lee

To bid or not to bid

We’re in techno-limbo right now — all the feeds from Sao Paulo disappeared about an hour ago, so no chance to watch live action.  But it does give me a chance to look back on some of yesterday’s events.  No question, the most dramatic deal was this one:

Dealer: S

Vul: EW

West East
AJ74 K862
A984 KJ
9654 AKQJ87

The North players must have been surprised to have a chance to open the bidding, but as far as I can tell, that’s what happened at pretty much every table.  So what is the right call on the North hand?

The ‘obvious’ call is 4, but is that enough?  After all, the vulnerability is favorable, and you do have nine of them…  On the other hand, West has passed, and there’s no guarantee EW can make a slam.  I have sympathy for the 4bidders but it’s clear from the results that many of them thought they hadn’t done enough, and took another bid later.  I’m not a big fan of that kind of bidding.  The question to me is, how likely are you to buy it in 4?  If you open at the five-level, they aren’t going to bid over you except on a hand where a four-level opening wasn’t going to do much damage to them anyway.  However, there are many hands East could have where he’ll bid a suit over a four-level opening but will simply double if you open at the five-level.

Anyway, suppose North opens 4as most did.  Now look at the East hand, and try to be objective.  What’s your choice?  Clearly, again from the results, a fair number of people doubled.  I’m sorry, but do you really want to play in hearts with this hand — most of the time?  Or defend 4— which might even be making, from your point of view?  Surely the key to getting this auction right (as in most of these high-level situations at IMPs) is to be in the right strain — which is much more likely to be clubs than hearts.  So put me down as a 5 bidder.

South has nothing to contribute to the proceedings, so now let’s turn our attention to West — again, trying to be objective.  If partner has overcalled clubs, West has an easy raise to slam — four trumps, two aces and a spade control.  But what if East doubled?  What do you do now?  Maybe the LAWful action is to pass…  You have only one spade, so perhaps partner just has a strong balanced hand, in which case it’s probably right to take your plus (another reason East shouldn’t double).  One West found the call of 4NT, presumably transferring responsibility for picking a trump suit to partner.

But whatever West does, assuming he bids and doesn’t pass, North has to decide whether to save over some contract at the five- ( or even six-) level.  Let’s face it, if you are an aggressive preemptor, you could have KQJxxxx and out for that third-chair four-level opening at these colours.  So have you done enough?  Some of the best players in the world didn’t think so.  Sabine Auken, for example, bid 5and then elected to defend 6 .  In fact, if you look at the whole deal, you’ll see that EW can make thirteen tricks in clubs or notrump, since South gets squeezed in the red suits — and you could end up pushing them into the grand.  After all, you have zero defense against anything

The results frequencies are fascinating, as you would expect.  In the Senior Bowl, 8 pairs played  6, while 6 saved in 6doubled.  There were two successful grand slams, one seven-level save, and three pairs who did not get past game (one got home in the 4-4 heart fit).  Finally, one pair bought the hand NS at the five-level.  In the Venice Cup, 9 pairs played the club slam, only two pairs saving over it.  There was one grand and one seven-level save.  Three pairs played five clubs, while one bought it for 4doubled.  The Bermuda Bowl produced the widest range of results.  Again 8 pairs played  6, while 6 saved in 6doubled, with two successful grand slams and one seven-level save.  However, along with these were one five clubs, one five spades doubled, one four spades doubled, one five diamonds (unsuccessful — no doubt East is still regretting his double) and one (Italian) 6NT.

There will be those who disagree with me (and clearly, that includes a lot of the East players in these three events), but I think overcalling clubs on the East cards is much superior to doubling.  As Kit Woolsey likes to say, ‘So much easier if you describe your hand…’

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