The spring plants are all blooming, the ANC has been completed for another year (and well done to all the NSW teams) and the Cricket World Cup has been completed (and hard luck to the New Zealanders), which can only mean one thing: it's time for another bidding forum.
I confess that I would have bid 3, splinter, on the previous round. Sure, I'd prefer another point or two, but I do have two aces, five-card support and a void. These will be useful in a slam if partner has the right cards -- if we're opposite xxx-xxx-Kxxx-AKQ, a pretty uninspiring collection, we just need diamonds and clubs to break for 7 to be cold -- but the aces will also be useful on defence against 4 doubled, which seems a lively possibility. And 4 is very often where the auction has reached before we get another go, so it's important to get our hand off our chest as soon as possible, so partner can judge what to do.
However, only two experts (Sartaj Hans and Andrew Robson) were with me on this, as was one reader. Let's hear from him:
Gareth Birdsall: 5. 3 would have been a much better call on the first round.
Now that we haven't bid 3, there's a lack of consensus, even amongst the experts, about what our actions show. It still amazes me, after nearly 100 years of bridge, how many fairly common auctions this applies to. Views about how strong 4 is ranged from merely competitive to strongly invitational, and one reader intended his 4 as a slam try. Likewise, some thought double from either side would have been for takeout -- as three-level doubles normally are -- but others couldn't see any need for a takeout double, when we've already shown a fit and denied four hearts.
Hoping for more clarification around earlier bids was:
Ron Lel: Dbl. I dislike 2. Does it promise a good diamond fit? To what level is it forcing? If I bid 4 now is this a game force? All of these need discussion in a good partnership. I hope it just shows a hand with good playing strength. If partner bids 3NT after my double should I pull to 4? What if partner passes? Too many questions but at least double is somewhat flexible.
There was no footnote, but a low-level non-jump cuebid normally shows a good raise to at least three of opener's suit. Typically it's forcing to that level -- i.e., in this case, forcing to at least 3 -- but over a minor, it makes sense that 2NT would also be non-forcing. Whatever your agreement, we're already above 3, so we're no longer in a forcing auction.
Obviously growing up in the UK turns you into pessimist (although I don't know where Alan is from):
Julian Foster: 4. My first instinct was 4. But there is some risk partner is a 4-4-3-2 weak notrump here.
Nigel Guthrie: 4. Unimaginative, but enough opposite Qxxx-Kxxx-KJx-KJ.
Alan Mace: Dbl. Partner probably has 4-4-3-2. Points at least 22-18 in our favour. Partner may convert to penalties.
At Matchpoints, pessimism is often well rewarded. But as Ron Klinger pointed out in the expert panel, the chances that partner will be 4-4-3-2 exactly are quite slim. We can't work out the exact odds without knowing how likely the opponents are to have a ten-card spade fit, or the hands on which partner would have bid over 3. But even if partner does always have four spades, at most five diamonds, and no void, he could also be 4-3-4-2, 4-2-4-3, 4-4-4-1, 4-1-4-4, 4-2-5-2, 4-1-5-3 or 4-3-5-1, so he has the death shape only one hand in four. Real-world considerations (he may have only three spades, or six diamonds) probably make it less than 20%.
Even once you've decided what to do, the question is, how do you do it? We had two different actions from people who just wanted to make a game try:
Arthur Porter: 4. In case partner has clubs. Highly invitational.
Brad Johnston: Dbl. I'm happy doubling for takeout. Partner knows that they're in the sandwich in spades, so they won't pass lightly. The odd -730 is a matter of course, but you can't really know when it's right to defend, play 3NT, or play 4/5 minor. Double lets partner decide what's good.
But most were happy to rebid their diamonds, the exact level being a matter of taste. Some were bidding reluctantly; others sounded like they almost wanted to bid 5.
Charles Scholl: 4. Feels right. Too much potential to pass, too little defense to double, no guarantee we'll even make four.
Robert Black: 4. Partner seems reluctant; may wish to double 4.
Rainer Herrmann: 4. If partner passes I doubt we have the potential for more tricks.
Dan Baker: 4. It's quite likely one of 4 and 3 makes. Doubling 3 expecting partner to have a stack and leave it in may be right, but the fact that I can't lead them to cut down on ruffs (and that partner is in front of overcaller) makes me think it'll backfire too often.
Peter Vlas: 4. Although I already made a cue-raise, I don't like to introduce clubs now; they are too bad and basically the same applies against bidding 5.
David Matthews: 4. I can't immediately go the whole hog with 5 as partner may have a balanced minimum. 4 describes my hand and I will leave the decision to partner. Another option is a trial bid of 4.
Tim Trahair: 4. We have about 27 HCP if the contract is played in diamonds, so we must keep bidding.
And one was trying for slam:
Peter Robinson: 4. Surely forcing, setting the suit. Slam is still possible with no wastage in spades.
I'm not sure I'd want that agreement. Sometimes, 3 and 4 are the last two making contracts. This would mean we could defend 3 or play 5, but nothing in between. Sitting firmly on the fence:
Neil Silverman: 5. Really I bid 4 and a half diamonds but they disallowed it.
As you may have guessed from my desire to bid 3, game forcing, on the previous round, I would be going high here. Let's hear from those who are with me:
David Caprera: 5. A magic void, two aces and a fifth trump, what's not to like? Too many losers to search for although opener could be something like Qxx-Kxx-Kxxxx-Ax where six is good.
Tania Black: 5. And looking confident!
Nigel Kearney: 5. We could be too high if partner has spade values, but 4 sounds like a hand that just wants to compete and 4 would be a cue bid not a help suit try.
And highest of all was someone who chose the strong road to 5:
Emil Battista: 4. Partner's pass is a bit of a red flag. If partner is 4-4-3-2 then 4 forcing us to 5 may not prove to be winning action.
I suspect that Peter Robinson would have bid 4 as well, if his partner was making him play 4 as non-forcing.
The last option is the ever-popular Double. Something I learnt many years was to avoid takeout doubles with a void. Like any bridge maxim, there are plenty of hands on which it should be ignored -- will this be one of them? There's one very big upside that I'm surprised didn't get more mentions, from either the experts or the readers:
Phil Cummings: Dbl. South's hand has good minor options for North to choose or if North has four hearts a seven card fit may also work well.
Indeed. With as little as xxxx-KQJ10-Kxxx-x, for example, you can ruff the spade opening lead, play a heart to hand, ruff another spade with A, cross to K, draw trumps and cash diamonds for a probable 11 tricks. Even a trump or singleton diamond lead allows you to make your contract -- and I've only given partner a 9-count. A wary potential doubler:
Henri de Jong: 5. Would like to double, but do we have five tricks?
Other doublers were hoping that partner had a trap pass:
Phil Hocking: Dbl. Assume North's pass is leaving it up to me or a trap pass waiting for a double from me? HCP may break 22-18 or better. I can always bid on in diamonds if the double isn't left in.
Tony Treloar: Dbl. Defending at these colours is attractive. Partner knows we are short and we have some defence.
Cathy Hocking: Dbl. I have shown partner I have a fit with his diamonds and I am giving him the option to make a decision to leave the double in if he has four spades and doesn't want to rebid diamonds.
Ian Patterson: Dbl. Partner must hold four spades. If he bids, I will bid clubs.
Roger Yandle: Dbl. This looks like the most flexible option. Pard likes likely to have a weak notrump hand with 3-4-4-2 or possibly 4-4-3-2 shape. If so, then hopefully we've got enough to take 3 off. If pard has different shape then hopefully they'll let me know!
Mick McAuliffe: Dbl. This would seem to be the most versatile forward going bid, as partner should have about four spades, but just how good are they? There may be blood in the water.
Martyn Rew: Dbl. We have the balance of points here and partner could have four spades from the bidding. I expect him to pull it to diamonds if he does not have a good defensive hand.
Let's hear the argument against a double. Each year, the NSWBA hosts a Teams of Three event, in which three less experienced players play with an expert, who's drawn from a hat on the day. This year they were short of actual experts, so I got asked to help out. One of my victi ... -- er, sorry, teammates -- was someone who's obviously emerged from the scars I inflicted with his sense of humour still intact ...
Alex Kemeny: 4. Doubling a partscore with a trump void often isn't good. 5 seems too committal, so let's try for a plus in 4. If they push to 4, I will double that for -790, which is better than the -930 that I will score for doubling now.
(For what it's worth, we didn't record either of these scores on the day).
The full deal, from Paul Lavings at Kings and Queens:
Most of the field played in the making 5.