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The Little Things

In a major championship, whether baseball or bridge, little things always mean a lot.  You just never know in advance which little things it will be.  Stunningly, the same little thing caused two double-digit swings in the 3rd segment of the Bermuda Bowl final.

Take the auction:

W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
3
P
?
.

Opener's shape is ambiguous, so many pairs play that the next step (3 here) asks him to show his singleton or void, if any.  If using step responses, the order would be no shortness, low shortness, high shortness.  Here that means: 3NT=no shortness, 4 = club shortness, 4 = spade shortness.

Notice something interesting, though.  After either of the lower two responses, responder has room to make an additional try or "last train" bid if he still isn't sure whether to sign off, bid slam, or risk the 5-level. But after the highest response, always 1 step below game, he is stuck; he must sign off or commit to at least the 5-level without any further information.  There is a simple solution.  The 3rd step should show high shortness with a minimum jump raise, and the 4th step (which is always 4 of our major) high shortness with a max.  This is a familiar concept from any relay system; the bid one below game leaves no more useful space then the game bid, so you should always use both of them to distinguish different hands.

I confess that I have played this gadget for years and never thought of this simple improvement until today, when amazingly this failure to optimize bidding space bit Wooldridge and Hurd twice in the third segment!  Twice they made a jump raise, an asking bid, and the 3rd-step response showing high shortness.  First, holding:

Hurd
KQ104
KJ108
A
Q832
Wooldridge
7
Q752
KQJ542
AJ
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
3
P
3
P
4
P
4
P
?

Hurd judged to sign off, but Wooldridge was concerned that he hadn't shown his full strength and went to the 5-level, down 1 on the club lead (lose 12).  Later:

Wooldridge
AJ7543
K52
KJ63
Hurd
KQ86
8
AK73
A985
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
3
P
3NT
P
4
P
4
P
?

Hurd had a super-max jump raise, which he was unable to communicate below game, and they missed a cold slam (lose 11).  In both cases they had judgment calls to make which perhaps they could have gotten right, but which would have been much easier with the help of that useful 4th-step response.

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