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All comments by Kit Woolsey
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What South should do over the double is not clear and might depend on partnership agreements. Presumably 3 would be a signoff, and he clearly has too much playing strength for that. Passing can't be terrible, as it gives North the most room.

North's 3NT call looks automatic to me. What else can he do? He expects South to have a weak notrump type of hand. From North's point of view 3NT is the right game, and if he doesn't bid it South might not be able to do so.

It is South's final pass which is way off the mark. Distributional hands are not meant to be played in notrump, particularly when there is a good fit as South knows there is. 5 figures to be at least as good a contract as 3NT, probably better, and there could well be a diamond slam. A sensible continuation might be 4 by South, 4 by North, 4 by South, and after that North can hardly fail to reach 6 and might be able to work out to bid the grand if he can determine that South has a club void and the fourth heart.
April 18, 2011
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Jason …

That makes quite a difference. Now passing 5 is pretty clear I think, since South should definitely have longer hearts for the 5 call since 5 was available.

It does help to count to 13.
April 15, 2011
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On the first hand I agree that bidding 3 is too risky. That could (and probably should) mean just to play on a weak hand with long diamonds and spade shortness. But there was no need to commit to game. Either 3 or 3 would convey the message that you are interested in game, and partner can take a look and see what his 2 call was made of. I prefer 3, since that keeps 3NT more in the picture. If partner does bid 3NT over 3, it figures to be a better game than 4.

In situations like this, it is not so important to describe your hand perfectly. The important thing is to make sure your general message is understood. If partner knows what you are trying to do, he will usually get it right.

On the last hand, obviously South should have bid 5 – whether he then chooses to shoot out 6 over 5 is his business. Presumably his reason for not doing so was that he was afraid he would be seeing an empty bidding tray. If there was no danger of that, the 5 call is too obvious.

I think North should convert to 5. There must be at least as many spades as hearts, and if partner is 5-7 who knows which strain will be better. Once again, there may have been some doubt in North's mind about what was going on.
April 15, 2011
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Paul ..

With regard to declarer possibly being 8-4-1-0, I was referring to how things look to East. That would give West perhaps KQxx KQJ QJ9xx, which is completely consistent with everybody's bidding and the opening lead. If that is the hand declarer does not have the option of leading a heart from dummy, so he will be forced to make the heart play from his hand. Overtaking and returning the 9 of hearts would be a concession, but not overtaking and letting West continue diamonds would leave declarer with a guess in the heart suit.
April 13, 2011
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Adam …

You make a very good point. Come to think of it, declarer might play it as you suggest anyway. Suppose declarer has AJ8x of hearts and solid spades. If East has doubleton king or queen of hearts, both plays succeed, so the only relevant holdings are when West has both honors. That leaves 2 slots in each hand for the remaining hearts, so it is equally likely that East or West has the 9 of hearts. Thus, the plays appear to be equal. Since it appears more likely that East would overtake when he has 2 small hearts than when he has 9-doubleton, not overtaking gives the show away anyway. If this were all that was relevant, it would appear that East should have overtaken. However, there are two other points to consider.

1) Declarer might not be able to cross to dummy. He could be 8-4-1-0, which would be consistent with everything. In that case, overtaking and shifting to a heart gives away the contract when otherwise declarer would have a guess.

2) Declarer might not have the 8 of hearts. If declarer has, say, AJxx of hearts, he has to guess whether to play West for both honors or East for a doubleton honor. Starting with a heart to the jack won't help him. If East shifts to a heart, that gives away the suit.

Upon looking at these possibilities, I'm starting to wonder if it might be wrong to overtake and shift to a heart even when East has a doubleton heart with at most the 8. While of course there are holdings where this is necessary, the possibility that not overtaking and shifting will cause declarer to play East for a heart card and get the suit wrong might be sufficient compensation.

This is really a fascinating problem. The more one looks at it, the more possibilities unfold.
April 13, 2011
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Martin ….

If East has Q9x or J9x of hearts and overtakes, he most certainly won't shift to a heart. He will lead back a diamond or a trump. A trump is probably slightly better, as that will clarify to West that East doesn't have a trump trick.

It is true that if West shifts to a heart and East has J9x or Q9x the defense can still survive by East putting in the 9 of hearts – provided West knows what is going on. But having embarked on this defense, West will surely win the ace of spades and play ace and a heart, going after the ruff. Perhaps at a very high level it can be worked out, if East would know to not play the 9 of hearts from 9-doubleton. But we are all human, and I wouldn't have too much confidence in the inference that the 9 of hearts should show a higher honor.

If East does have Q9x or J9x of hearts, I do believe his correct defense is to overtake the diamond and come back a diamond or a trump, preventing West from going for the heart ruff. When East doesn't do this West should work out that a heart shift from his hand must be the winning defense.
April 12, 2011
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Victor …

I agree that West might make an offshape double with 2-4-2-5 (but much less likely with 2-5-2-4 wouldn't you say?). However, as I mentioned in my initial posting, if West had QJ9xx of clubs and KJ doubleton of diamonds he surely would have led a club rather than a diamond.

I'm not claiming that it is totally impossible for West to have KJ doubleton of diamonds. However, if you assume that East has Q9x or J9x of hearts along with his A109x of diamonds, I believe you will find it very difficult to construct a full 52-card deal giving West KJ doubleton of diamonds where:

1) You would make a takeout double with the West hand.
2) You would bid 4 with the South hand.
3) You would lead the king of diamonds from the West hand.

Give it a try.
April 12, 2011
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Victor …

Let's suppose that East does have 1083 Q95 A1095 1073. If declarer has your constuction of KQJxxxx KJ Qx Kx, what does that leave for West? Ax Axxxx KJ QJxx. Would West have made a takeout double with that shape? Not likely. Would he have led the king of diamonds? Not likely. Would South have bid 4 on that garbage? Not likely.

The point is that from the auction and the opening lead East can work out that it is virtually impossible for West to have KJ doubleton of diamonds, so the overtake is safe. West can see that East can work this out, and that if East has a heart holding such as Q9x East should overtake to prevent West from doing the wrong thing. When East doesn't overtake the conclusion is that he doesn't have such a heart holding, hence the heart shift is safe.
April 12, 2011
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Barry …

You are correct – 2C, followed by 2NT shows 4-4 majors invitational.

We do not combine inviting with looking for a 5-3 major-suit fit. The assumption is that when partner opens 1NT, he doesn't have a 5-card major. If we happen to fall into a 5-3 fit via Puppet, fine, but that isn't the reason we play Puppet. It is just a byproduct. It might surprise you to know that I don't like opening 1NT with a 5-card major even though I play Puppet. I will only open 1NT with a 5-card major when the rebid problem is impossible if I open 1 of a major or when the hand has notrump written on it.

The main reasons we play Puppet are:

1) Concealment of opener's hand when responder has one major. For example, suppose responder has 4 spades but not 4 hearts with a game-forcing hand. Playing Standard, the auction goes: 1NT-2;2-3NT or 1NT-2;2-3NT, and the defense knows whether or not declarer has 4 hearts. Playing Puppet, the auction goes 1NT-2;2-2;2NT/3C-3NT, and only opener knows how many hearts he holds.

2) Choosing between 3NT and a 4-4 major-suit fit. Suppose you have a 4-3-3-3 11-count with 4 spades, and partner opens 1NT. You have to guess whether to just bid 3NT (when 4 might be better), or bid Stayman and play a 4-4 spade fit if you have one (when 3NT might be better). Playing Puppet, you can bring partner into the loop. Suppose there is a 4-4 spade fit with opener having a minimum. The auction goes: 1NT-2;2-2;2-3NT, and now opener knows responder has 4 spades but is interested in 3NT even with a 4-4 spade fit, and opener can make the final decision. If opener has a non-minimum with 4 spades but interest in playing in notrump, he bids 3 over 2, which shows that, and responder can make the final decision.

3) Ability to avoid 3NT and get to a sensible 4-3 major-suit fit or 5 of a minor when there is a weak suit, since responder can describe his shape. The actual hand shown here is a perfect illustration.

The theme of these auctions is that it is responder (the weaker hand) who is doing the describing and the strong hand makes the final decision. In Standard Stayman, the weak hand pretty much has to make all the decisions. It should be obvious that the player who holds the most high cards is better placed to choose the contract when he knows about his partner's hand.

Yes, we can show 5-4-2-2 hands with 4-card major and 5-card minor. We use 2 response (which is initially assumed to be a size ask) for that. Opener can only bid 2NT (minimum) or 3 (non-minimum). Then, responder bids 3 with 4 hearts and a 5-card minor (opener can ask the minor with 3). 3 shows 4 spades and 5 clubs, 3 shows 4 spades and 5 diamonds. These sequences are very valuable for avoiding 3NT when 2-2 in a suit.

You may be right that the South hand should be considered a minimum. I guess it is a matter of philosophy. I hate playing 2NT. Consequently, I will reject an invitation only if my hand is so minimal that I think we might be too high already. That is not the case here.
April 11, 2011
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Greg …

I'm afraid I must disagree with your counting.

For starters, overtaking loses when West started with KQ doubleton of diamonds (I'll grant he is very unlikely to have KJ doubleton), Qx or Jx of spades, and any of the many heart holdings where the defense has only 1 heart trick.

I do not agree that with AQ8x or KQ8x of hearts declarer is 50-50 to get it right. Declarer will reason that with 9x of hearts East might well have overtaken and shifted to a heart (it is hard for you to argue with that since you think that is what he should do), while with Jx or Qx of hearts East certainly won't overtake and shift to a heart. Consequently, I think declarer is 100% to get it wrong on these holdings and play a heart to the 7.

Overtaking shows a clear gain when West has specifically Kxxx of hearts (4 holdings – K843, K842, K832, K432) – COMBINED with West holding ace-doubleton or king-doubleton of spades (13 holdings). Combined 52 holdings.

Overtaking also gains when West has AQxxx of hearts (4 holdings) COMBINED with West holding a singleton small spade (7 holdings). Also when West has K8432 of hearts and a stiff ace of spades. Combined 29 holdings. Total gain for overtaking – 81 holdings

Not overtaking gains when declarer has AJ8x or KQ8x (6 holdings) – COMBINED with West holding a doubleton spade not including ace or king (21 holdings). Total gain for ducking – 126 holdings

Note that I haven't even taken into account the possibility that South has AJxx of hearts (West KQ8x), and South chooses to play East for doubleton honor rather than playing West for both honors (probably the percentage play). Or South might hold KQxx of hearts (West AJ8x), and South chooses to play East for doubleton jack (probably not the percentage play). Or South has AQxx (or AQ8x) of hearts and misguesses the position. On any of these layouts, overtaking and returning a heart gives declarer a sure thing. Note that on any of these, declarer may place East with a heart honor from East's failure to overtake and shift.

Looking at these numbers, it doesn't appear remotely close to me. Even without taking into account the possibility that West has KQ doubleton of diamonds, not overtaking seems to come out well ahead.

April 11, 2011
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Greg …

If West has Axxxx of hearts and a trump trick, he has a trivial heart shift at trick 2 – that can never lose. Kxxxx of hearts is possible. Declarer's hand would have to be exactly KQJxxxxx AQJ x x. That is a very specific hand.

I don't see how Rusinow leads solve the problem. If West had QJ doubleton of diamonds he would lead the queen, and you could be faced with the same sort of dilemma. On this hand it works out okay to win the ace since you have the 10, but if dummy has the 10 overtaking the queen would not be safe.

The gain from Rusinow leads comes from avoiding the AK ambiguity with standard leads, which most pairs resolve by leading ace from AK – paying off to when they choose to lead an unsupported ace. If the lead might be from a doubleton honor, Rusinow leads involve potential ambiguity. I think if you play Rusinow it should apply only when the opening leader is known to have at least 3 cards in the suit. Then there is no ambiguity.
April 11, 2011
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There are several interesting issues here:

1) Can East afford to overtake the king of diamonds? That would be disastrous if West has KJ doubleton, and might cost a key trump promotion if West has KQ doubleton. This construction would give West 2-4-2-5 shape. Not everybody would make a takeout double with that, but some might. However, with KJ doubleton of diamonds and QJ9xx of clubs, it is 100% that West would lead the queen of clubs rather than the king of diamonds. This eliminates the big disaster from the overtake, so if East judges it best to overtake and do something he can do so in reasonable safety.

2) Assuming East isn't overtaking, what should his signal mean? Attitude is the default signal for most pairs. However, when third hand has extra length and the opening leader will know it, then 3-way signals should apply. That is the case here. Assuming West has KQJ of diamonds (if West has a doubleton diamond he will continue diamonds regardless, and if West has 4 diamonds it won't matter what signal East gives), West will know that East had a choice of 3 spots to play, and East will know that West will know this. My agreements under these circumstances, playing upside-down signals, are that low is encouraging, middle is suit-preference low, and high is suit-preference high. The reason for this is that in case of ambiguity as to whether attitude or suit-preference applies, the deuce means the same thing regardless of the interpretation.

3) Should East overtake and shift to a heart? Without the 9 of hearts this defense would be very clear. But the 9 of hearts is a fat card. While it isn't a lock that declarer has 4 hearts (West's shape could be 1-5-3-4), most likely that is the case. As pointed out, if declarer has solid spades and something like AJ8x of hearts, declarer may well (in fact, probably should) lead a heart to the 7 as his best chance to take a second heart trick. So overtaking and shifting to a heart is far from risk-free.

When does the overtake and heart shift gain? There are 3 possible cases:

a) West has AQ of hearts and declarer has solid spades. Who has the 8 of hearts? If West has AQ8x, defending passively will suffice – the defense will always come to 3 heart tricks. If declarer has the 8 of hearts the heart shift probably won't be necessary, since declarer will finesse West for the 9 of hearts. Of course if West has AQxxx of hearts, then the overtake and heart shift is necessary, but with a decent 5-card heart suit West might have preferred to overcall.

b) West has Kxxx of hearts and a trump trick. Here the overtake and heart shift is clearly necessary.

c) West has Axxx of hearts and a trump trick. The overtake will simplify the defense, but West is still allowed to find the heart shift on his own.

On balance it looks like overtaking and shifting to a heart loses more often than it gains, keeping in mind that West might also have KQ doubleton of diamonds and a promotable trump holding.

4) If East isn't overtaking, which diamond should he play? I think he should play the 9 of diamonds, which by my agreements would be suit-preference for clubs. Even without prior discussion, I think West would come to that conclusion. It is clear that a club shift can't be necessary, since if the defense has a club trick coming it isn't going anywhere. This signal simply tells West where the king of clubs is, and it is up to West to work out the best defense in light of that knowledge.

5) Should West find the heart shift? I think so. He can see instant defeat if East has a doubleton heart, and if East has Qx or Jx of hearts East certainly wouldn't have overtaken and shifted to a heart. The heart shift will cost when East Qxx, Q9x, or J9x of hearts (yes, East can insert the 9, but West will be committed to winning the ace of spades and continuing hearts going for the ruff). But with these heart holdings East can see that a heart shift is wrong, so he should overtake and lead back a diamond or a trump in order to prevent West from wrongly breaking hearts.

So, my conclusion is that West gets the lion's share of the blame. Sorry about that Kevin.
April 11, 2011
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Andy …

My agreements are that in a constructive auction artificial calls above 3NT are never choice of strains unless slam is totally out of the question. Does the fact that both hands are limited make slam out of the question? I don't think so.

Suppose you held AQJ Ax AKxxx xxx. The bidding would have gone as it did. What would you bid now, knowing that partner has 4 spades, 5+ diamonds, and at most one club, along with enough strength to invite game opposite your 17-19. You wouldn't just make a slam try. You would bid 6. If partner has the king of spades slam is virtually cold, and if he doesn't it will be on a spade finesse.

The above is an extreme example. But it illustrates that even with both hands limited slam may still be in play if the mesh is right. Furthermore, the strong hand knows whether or not the mesh is right. If it is possible to construct a hand where the you would just bid a slam, there are certainly many hands where you would want to invite a slam. That's what 4 should mean. Clearly the invite must be in diamonds, as that is the only good fit.

Even if 4 were choice of strains, I don't think it is the right idea. 4 could be the right contract even if partner has 3 small hearts. Partner will not be in position to make an intelligent decision. It is up to the strong hand to make the choice here.
April 10, 2011
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Mike ….

You sum it up very well. I think upon close analysis you will find that we aren't as far apart as it may seem.

It can be assumed from the enemy bidding that North has a diamond void as part of his 4 call, and because of that void North might be stretching a bit. We need only look at North hands which would not be accepting an invite, since if North is accepting it won't make any difference whether we invite or just bid the grand.

An important issue is just what set of hands North will consider an acceptance. This appears to be where our real disagreement lies. I think North should be accepting on a wider set of hands than you do, and our respective choices of inviting vs. bidding the grand are consistent with our individual concepts about which hands North should be accepting.

It is perhaps instructive to examine what might be considered worst case scenarios for both of us.

For your action, the worst case scenario looks like Axxx KQJ KJ10xxx. The grand has no play, and North probably has his 4 call (this hand certainly is at least as good as the actual North hand).

For my action, the worst case scenario looks like AQ10x Kxx Kxxxxx. North won't quite have an acceptance by my lights, and the grand is very good.

My approach does have one final factor in its favor. Partner gets to make the last mistake!
April 9, 2011
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Regarding Mike's points:

Can South make a grand slam try with K9xx, AQJ, xxx, QJx?

Of course South is interested in a grand with that hand. However, off AQ of spades and AK of clubs, it would make a lot more sense for South to bid 5 instead of 5NT, and if North doesn't come back with 6 South can forget about a grand as North would surely bid 6 with AQ of spades, AK of clubs, and first round diamond control. While I don't care for the 5NT call anyway, If South follows it up with a 6-level Q-bid I think he must have the missing controls when North is looking at what is needed for a grand.

Is it not reasonable for North to say to himself “SK, HA, CA, CQ - surely he'd bid a grand himself with that?”

No, I don't think that is reasonable. The key is that North is looking at the queen and jack of spades, and these are cards he does not need for his bidding. If South has SK, HA, CA, CQ North could still hold !AJxx KQ A KJxxxx or the like and have a real 4 bid. So I do not think that South should be driving to a grand by himself with those cards.
April 8, 2011
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Mike ..

Let's suppose that North accepts an invite with AQJx Kxx Kxxxxx, and is “unlucky” enough to find South with only a doubleton club. What is South's shape? Not 4-4 in the majors, since he would have responded 1. Not likely 4 diamonds considering the enemy bidding. Therefore South is a big favorite to have 5+ spades, turning the no play grand into an excellent grand.

We could go on and on with hand constructions, proving nothing. Sure, if North accepts the invite on the sort of hand I think he should accept, sometimes he will get to an inferior grand. Bidding isn't a perfect science.

It is simply my judgment from constructing various hands which North might have and how I believe North should react to an invite with these hands that on balance South does better by inviting than by blasting out the grand himself. One can certainly disagree with this assessment.
April 8, 2011
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Nice hand Adam. It is interesting that it is almost a double-dummy problem. You probably have no chance on a 4-1 trump split, and if East has a singleton in either minor it is hard to see how you can legitimately survive. East figures to have a club honor since West didn't lead a high club. So the hand pretty much has to be what it is.

While in theory it doesn't matter, it feels better to me to attack clubs first East may win the first round of clubs, and he won't be able to put a heart through. This may give you a chance to survive some of the bad splits. Of course if you are hell-bent on discarding dummy's third heart :)
April 7, 2011
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It would be nice to know for sure the meaning of 5NT and 6. But for the sake of argument, let's assume that 5NT is pick-a-slam, and 6 is choosing clubs.

Suppose South bids 6 over 6. If North has the sixth club that will be huge and North won't need more than AQ of spades, king of clubs, king of hearts, and diamond void to make the grand good. But North will recognize the value of the sixth club and bid the grand with those cards, expecting it to be at worst on a 2-2 club split and quite possibly cold or much better.

What if North has only 5 clubs? As discussed, he pretty much needs AQJx KQxx KJxxx to make the grand good. Suppose he does hold these cards. He can work out that South must have king of spades, ace of hearts, and ace of clubs to justify the grand slam try. There may be a third round club problem. But maybe not. South might have the queen of clubs. South might have a doubleton club. South might be able to discard his losing club on the hearts (remember, North doesn't know that South has only 4 spades). The worst the grand can be is on a club finesse, and it might be much better, so North will bid the grand.

That is why I think South should make a 6-level Q-bid. North will probably react properly. If North has the hand South needs, North will probably know that South must have the necessary cards to make the grand a good bet. If North doesn't have what South needs, North will not be confident enough to bid the grand. It isn't 100% that North will do the right thing, but by looking at South's hand and constructing various hands North might hold and how North will react with them it appears to me that North will get it right most of the time. Thus, a 6-level Q-bid is better than blasting out the grand.
April 7, 2011
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My preference is that after an overcall of a strong 1, responder's jump to a suit show a long suit but less than a positive response. This is exactly what South has. I can't think of any other worthwhile use for the bid. An immediate 3 call describes South's hand while there is a chance to do so (before West jams in a 3 bid), puts the strong 1 opener in the driver's seat, and leaves the opponents with the last guess as it should be.
April 7, 2011
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Martin's idea is interesting, but it isn't tax-free. There are two quite reasonable interpretations for this sort of jump, depending on the partnership's general agreements.

Let's look at the actual auction 1-(1)-1-(3);? as an example. The other illustrations he gives are similar and follow the same pattern.

One reasonable use for 4 would be a splinter. This would be the same meaning that would exist if there had been no interference. The logic would be that 3 must be forcing to the 4-level since a preference to 4 might be necessary, so the unnecessary jump above 3 of partner's suit is a splinter.

If the 4 call would not be a splinter by the partnership agreements, then it could quite reasonably show a 5-6 hand. It is true that the 5-6 hand can be shown by bidding 3 and then following with 4, but that assumes the opponents will be polite and not be at 5 by the time the auction comes around to you next.

If Martin's idea is to be adopted, it is necessary to spell out very carefully the conditions under which it applies. If there is any ambiguity in these rules, there is danger of a big accident. From looking at his examples, it appears that the concept applies if and only if the following two conditions exist:

1) RHO has just done something other than double or pass
2) The bid is a single jump reverse into a new suit.

There might be other sequences where one would want to use it, but trying to spell out every possible sequence is impossible and hoping that partner is on the same page for undiscussed sequences is very dangerous.
April 6, 2011

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