Monday, July 2, 2007

Forensic analysis

An interesting deal for me, on the topic of bidding judgement, was this one. It's from the first half (bd 6) of the Open Team semi-final against the Indian team Texan Aces and it was a disaster for us.

What would be your action (vul/nonv) after 1C (16+ unbal / 17+ bal) from partner, negative 1D reply from you (any 0-8) and your LHO preempts with 3C which is followed by two passes?


I thought this was difficult. The choices are pass, X and 3D. Let's break it down.

Pass: Kind of feeble since partner may have passed with a decent hand. The vulnerability favors action in the sense that the award for a making game is premium compared to defending, but negative in the sense that an opposing penalty double risks a larger minus score. Our values are very defensive oriented and the lack of controls (no ace or king) makes it less likely that we'll make a game, either off in top tricks, defensive ruffs or a losing finesse into the non-preempter. We do have internal fillers in hearts to help overcome a bad break in that suit should it become our trump suit.

3D: Pathetic suit and risks losing the heart suit on a 4-4 fit. Also makes it impossible to defend 3C X if partner is loaded behind declarer. Does make it easier to reach 3NT if that's our best spot. Lack of aces/kings suggest that 3NT may make more often than 4H.

X: Most flexible call as we can defend right there, play a suit contract at the 3-level and it brings in several suits in the equation. Big downside is that you suggest/promise length in a suit which you don't have. If partner bids spades, we have to pass. With spades and another suit, we're probably ok if it's the majors as partner will bids hearts at 3-level and use the cue-bid at the 4-level to locate the best fit. Partner's pass however makes it less likely to find both majors unless minimum with short diamonds (which would be ok btw as we won't have much wasted then). If partner has 4-4 in spades and diamonds, he's going to bid 3S if not interested in game which's a con.

What should it be?

Eric Kokish has written "when in doubt, choose the most flexible action". There's a lot to that piece of advice and I X'ed.

Let's look at this auction from the other end of the table. You have:


What would be your call over 3C ? I think most would pass, as would probably I. If you'd gotten a 3C-opening on your right, I think you should overcall 3NT.

After 3D from partner, you should bid 3NT, burying spades. The semi-flat shape and lack of aces is worrying for 4S and the biggest warning sign of all: Kxx in the suit your RHO has preempted in.

What to do if partner X's ? Your choices are 3S, 4S and 3NT. What are the factors on this hand?

Let's give partner a semi-suitable hand:


What contract do you want to play? Well, as long as the preempter doesn't hold two aces, 3NT is going to make. How about 4S? That's going down whenever there's a ruff available. If partner has 4 card spades, 4S if better if he has an ace (by my estimations). Whenever partner has 3 card spades, you want to play 3NT. Give partner:


4S has no chance, 3NT makes with spade queen onside. We can go on like this, but my money is on 3NT. The Kxx of clubs is worthless in 4S. Either partner is short or he's got length and then there's a ruff and the lack of aces will kill us.

Sometimes partner also X's with less attractive shape. Say you've got:


You don't really want to sell out to 3C, do you? If partner has one of these, we must play in 3NT. So, for my money, I believe 3NT is a clear winner after X. And it's all in that Kxx of clubs.

At the table, I chose X, Freddan responded 4S and opp's X'ed for -500. Freddan suggested that I should have bid 3D and that he should have bid 3S.


At the other table, Craig overcalled 4C after (1S) - pass - (1NT) - ? and got out for -300. Teammates expected a pick-up from that one with 3NT on for +600.

So what happened in the other match? Since that was on BBO viewgraph, I've pulled the details from the archive. Let me tell you, this was not an easy deal to cope with.

Ramondt-Westra (Dutch Orange 2 team) opened 1NT and sold out after 1NT - pass - pass - 3C for +50 our/their way. Pachtman-Ginossar for the event winners Bessis (France/Israel) ran into the same 4C-overcall after 1S-1NT as the Texans did against our teammates, but after X then Ginossar tried 4H on my hand and also lost -500.

Teammates turned out, in practise, to have the worst result of all tables in play, losing imps to all the others in spite of getting it absolutely right to the extent that they could. Had Craig settled for 3C, I'm sure opener would've tried 3NT and the loss would have even greater. It's not a fair game in that sense; sometimes you can't win, just minimize the loss.

The bulletin provided their usual insight (duh!) reporting that "Wrang/Nilsson's strong club methods proved unable to cope with high-level club interference." As I've demonstrated this had very little to do with methods (after the 1C-opening) and everything to do with bidding judgement. Judgement that was not as fine-tuned at this point as it had been most of the week so far.

Time to close this casket.


David Morgan said...

As you note, the issue is not methods but judgement. It's in situations like this where STD players have a significant advantage over big-clubbers. Why? because difficult problems are written up in match reports and bidding competitions, and discussed in bidding forums. There's no equivalent for big-clubbers, at least not since the demise of the Precision-sponsored forum of the early 70s. We need more discussion of problems like these so as to develop some kind of expert views instead of having to revert to first principles every time they arise at the table.

As to the actual problem: I agree with double: possible downside if partner responds in spades but otherwise clearly the most flexible. Partnerships need to discuss continuations: does R's 3S over O's 3H show 5S and a flexible hand or 4S and <3H? (I vote the latter.) With 5=4=x=y does O bid suits up the line or longest first? (I vote longest first.)

I admit that, as O, I'd have bid spades (maybe only 3S as the CK looks wasted). However, I think your analysis is sound -- but we need more experience; and simulation might also be useful. If I had more time . . .


ulven said...

Thanks for your comment, David. I agree with you.

If you have any contested big club auctions you want me to disect here, pls send them.

shevek said...

Ulf & David,

Agree with most except the prospects of 3NT opposite that weak 4-4-4-1.

Ulf said 3NT will make unless the preempter has 2 aces. That assumes a 7-card suit but a 6-carder is more likely at the vulnerability.

In choosing whether to pass the double or bid, opener shouldn't look at the vul. With
AKxx, Kxx, KJx, Kxx
I think opener should pass. Moving a diamond to spades makes a big difference but pass is still at least an option.


ulven said...

Hi Nick

I agree that you should pass with 4333 and that a 6-c suit is rather likely. But I stand by my choice of 3NT and I don't think I'm that biased of what was correct this time.