Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Late sacrifice

Friday I held the following collection:
QJ98xxx
xxx
xx
J
We were favorable, RHO was dealer. The auction starts with 1. Do you bid anything?

Although I usually preempt with garbage, this particular partner prefers decent action. So I passed, because the hand is just too weak on both offense as defense. Partner may easily double opponents for penalty and then we'll have a real problem. So the auction continues:
1 - pass - 2 - pass
2NT - pass - 3 - pass
3 - ?

Do you double? Since the chance of cashing some tricks is very small, and because it's an automatic lead anyway, I decided to pass.

1 - pass - 2 - pass
2NT - pass - 3 - pass
3 - pass - ...3NT - pass
pass - ?

LHO hesitated for a very short time (playing with screens, you wouldn't even notice the hesitation), and bid 3NT. Do you bid anything now?

From the auction, I thought it was clear that my partner would have some support, probably honour-small, and in case it's Ax we know where the K was. 3NT would probably make (if declarer ducks he'll block the suit), so I bid 4 with confidence it wouldn't go more than 3 down.
LHO definitely wanted to play, and she bid 5 which ended the auction:

1 - pass - 2 - pass
2NT - pass - 3 - pass
3 - pass - 3NT - pass
pass - 4 - 5 - pass
pass - pass

Here's the full deal:

Dealer:East
Vul:EW
Scoring:MP
KT
Jxxx
Kxxx
Kxx
Ax
x
AQJx
Qxxxxx
xx
AKQxx
T9x
ATx
QJ98xxx
xxx
xx
J

4 would've gone for -500 while opps had an easy 620 or 630. My LHO however misplayed the s (she started with the Ace) so they only collected 600.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

6H-7C

Friday at a club evening, we had some wild distributions. I want to share the wildest one. I held this fine collection:
-
AKJxxx
-
KJT9xxx

The auction was quite interesting (RHO dealer, we're at favorable):
pass - 1 - pass - 1
1 - 2 - 2 - 3NT
4! - ...

My RHO passed first but now went Vulnerable against not to 4! What the hell was going on? I only need to know about Q and AQ. However, partner already showed a minimum hand with values in and probably in as well. So I decided not to bid slam, but just a simple 5. Partner thought about this a bit, but passed.
I think it's better not to bid 5 (although that contract is laydown) because it doesn't show the hand's full potential.

LHO leads Q and I get the following dummy:
K98x
Q6
KQ98x
xx

Pretty useless, but I'm already happy with Q.
We now have to find a safe line. If opps keep playing s and s I'll get short on trumps and lose control. In the worst case, they'll let me ruff on every occasion, and I might lose 2 s, so 4-1 trump split will be hard to handle.

This means that you may want to just play 3 rounds of trumps ending in my hand, and play s. This line of play works only with 3-2 split, but I get burried alive when they split 4-1. So I thought I'd need a helping hand in and played 9 out of my hand. Theoretically the King is better, you'll see later. LHO played the Q and RHO showed out! It's not easy to see for my LHO that he should duck, and when playing the King it would be even more difficult (this isn't even the reason why the King is better). This was the end of the defense.

The full hand:

Dealer:East
Vul:EW
Scoring:imps
K98x
Q6
KQ98x
xx
QJx
9xx
JTx
AQxx
ATxxxx
Tx
Axxxx
-
-
AKJxxx
-
KJT9xxx

After taking Q, LHO gave his partner a ruff. RHO played T which I took in dummy, I ruffed a and played "en passant".

On this deal I made it myself difficult, but I don't think a 4-0 split is one to try and take care off, when a 4-1 trump split is way more frequent. But then again, I can't handle a 4-1 trump split when s aren't helpful anyway, so it's a choice between:
- dropping A
- dropping Q
- play trumps for 3-2
This is why K is better: if the Q falls, your s are all high. If you catch a stiff Ace, you still have to remove the Q...

Note that if s don't behave the way you want them to, you can still play for a 3-2 trump split.

At the other table they managed to go -2 doubled, but I don't know what happened exactly.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Use Romex, not Puppet Stayman

A popular convention after 2NT openings is Puppet Stayman, because it's easy and it finds 5-3 Major fits. The 3 bid is used to ask for 4 or 5 card Majors, and you won't miss a 5-3 or 4-4 fit (except when responder has a 5 card and opener has 3 card support, but in this case responder will usually bid something else, like transfer).

There are however hands which become problematic because of this convention: 5 and 4 for example. Using regular Stayman, you can use Smolen (2NT-3-3-3M) to show a 4 card M and a 5 card OM, but this isn't possible anymore when using Puppet Stayman.

So how do you solve this? There are many ways:
- use the 3 bid for such hands. It's quite a waste however. Since 2NT is a huge preempt for your own partnership, you better keep as much space available as possible for slam investigation.
- use 3NT for such hands. Problem here is that it's not forcing, so when you have slam interest you have a new problem. And ofcourse you can't bid 2NT-3NT, so the defense will have more information available.
- treat it as 4-4, or transfer and just ignore the 4 card suit. Problems are obvious: you usually miss the fit in the suit you ignore.
- use Romex instead of Puppet Stayman. This is my preferred method, since it keeps 3 and 3NT bids free to show various types of hands.
- there probably are a lot more solutions...

Some of you might wonder what Romex is exactly. It basically combines the merrits of Puppet Stayman with the possibility to show 5 and 4. All it requires is a different response structure after 3:
3 = <4, <5
3 = 4-5, <4
3 = 2-3, 5
3NT = 4-4 in the Majors

- After 3 and 3NT responder knows enough.
- After a 3 response you can use 3 to search for a 5 card (opener bids 3NT with 4 and cuebids with 5s)
- After a 3 response, you can search for a fit using 3, and you can show that precious 5-4 hand with 3.

It's a bit more complicated, but it gets the job done. You can even save space for cuebidding in a lot of situations where the fit is obvious:
2NT-3-3-3-4+ cues with fit ( fit is impossible)
2NT-3-3-3-4+ cues with fit (shows 5)
2NT-3-3-4+ cues with fit (this is an agreement, can be used for other purposes however)
2NT-3-3NT-4 sets , start cuebids
2NT-3-3NT-4 sets , start cuebids

Around half of the worldclass players use regular Stayman for various reasons, and the other half of them uses some kind of (modified) Puppet Stayman. What's best? I have no idea, and apparently even the topplayers don't agree on this matter.