X-Clubs Play 34

On Board 15 from last Friday's X-Clubs, I have never known so many of our players, of both lower and higher grades, to not know what to bid, nor so many different ideas about what the bidding sequences might mean.

Board 15 from Friday 14/10/22
Dealer South NS Vul


South opens 1NT, “12-14”. West passes. What should North do? Nobody seems to have any definite ideas. The best way to look at it is: “where are we heading? What is the potential of the North hand given that South has opened 1NT?”.

I asked a number of players to bid the North hand and, while the initial, instinctive, reaction was to bid 2H as a transfer to spades, that’s where the consistency in responses came to an end. Why? Because some Norths thought the hand was no better than a part score, others thought it was good enough for game, some thought it good enough to invite game (but how do you invite?) and even some supreme optimists thought there might be a slam in it! Of course if you give opener the dream hand, such a dream is not an impossible one, but let’s give up on the dream world and come back to earth. I believe that the North hand is good enough to investigate GAME, though I have some sympathy for anyone who signed off in either 2S or 3D (the latter via an immediate transfer of 2NT, but why ignore the spades?).

So, given that we are going to investigate game, the obvious game contract to look for is in spades, for which we will need at least three spades in opener’s hand. There are therefore two options: transfer to spades first, or start with Stayman. The only advantage I can see with Stayman is that, should opener have four spades, the big fit pretty well suggests bidding game. Of course opener is much more likely to have four hearts, and that was the case here, so after Stayman and 2H North is stuck with a bid now of 3D which would suggest six diamonds and only four spades.

But wait.......there’s more!

Have we by now agreed that looking for a) game and b) a 5-3 spade fit is worth while with the EW hands? If we have, then how can we best do that? Ever since we have been playing transfers, we have bid the minor suit at the three level after a transfer to a major as a TRIAL bid. In other words, not too different than in other situations. A ‘long suit’ trial bid is just that, so why should it be different after transfers? Not the way the ‘experts’ play it though, I’ve been told.

OK. The problem here is that SOME people play a sequence of 1NT-2H;2S-3D as not forcing, which totally negates the trial bid idea, and quite frankly is not very efficient, especially at match points. And then, there are some of the more expert players who would play such a sequence as a slam probe, which I suppose could fit in with the trial bids that we already play. The only downside is finding opener with a minimum and doubleton spade, but we’re prepared to face that if it happens (which it hasn’t yet) and play in 3S. As well as the transfer sequences and trial bids, we play jumps to the three level as strong with slam possibilities, so a jump to 3D followed by 4S (opener will no doubt bid 3NT) would show such more extreme distribution but a better hand than North has here.

So, you see, there are many ways the EW hands could be bid and many ways an unpracticed partnership could go wrong. Imagine East playing a bid of 3D as slam inviting and West as ‘to play’. That is why every serious partnership should discuss such situations and come to an agreement. We find the ‘trial bid’ sequences as most productive and happily ignore the expert advice, because it works for us. Of course we do need to play our games very carefully, as can be seen by the fact that of the few who were in 4S in this X-Clubs deal, not everyone succeeded in making what should have been a good spade game.

If YOU have any such deals that you have had problems with, I’m happy to advise. Not everything you do will work out but “two out of three ain’t bad”, and 75% on any one deal is even better!