Master Solvers Panel

By John Swanson
Lancaster, California

Thanks to panel members Bart Bramley, Dallas, Paul Ivaska, Las Vegas, Mike Lawrence, Brentwood, Tennessee, Jill Meyers, Santa Monica, Alan Mould, United Kingdom, Rick Roeder, San Diego, Jim Tritt, Anaheim, and David Weiss, Fullerton. The problems are from various sources.

Problem 1.

East-West vulnerable, IMP scoring
You are South holding:

♠AQ876 ♥A ♦KJ32 ♣A106

South    West     North     East
                         Pass       Pass
1♠        Pass      2♣*       Pass
*Drury (three or four spades)

Tritt: 2♦. This shows a full opener. I will obviously continue bidding to invite slam. This does not seem a good hand for a heart splinter, both because the ♥K (with or without the queen) could be slam-useful, and because a heart splinter takes up space which may be needed to explore other aspects of the fit for slam purposes.

Ivaska: 2♦. (Artificial Reverse Drury inquiry.) If partner just shows a minimum with three spades, I’ll sign off in 4♠. If she/he has a maximum three-card limit raise, I’ll make a slam try but won’t venture beyond 4♠ by myself. However, if North has a four-card limit raise, I’ll bid slam unless we’re off two keycards. This approach is a bit crude, I admit.

Roeder: 2♦. The vast majority of experts play Reverse Drury. Need to go slow because either 6♠ or 3NT could be best. While I intend this naturally, a good treatment is for 2♦ to ask about pard’s number of spades. A 3♥ splinter is out as pard will not value the ♥K correctly. Not to mention the possibility of pard having both heart royals (bye, bye, possible club loser).

Weiss: 2♦. There are two hand types on which a slam is worthwhile. One is where partner has a good four-plus card holding in diamonds (♠Jxx ♥xxx ♦AQxxx ♣Kx where 6♦ is our best contract; the other is where partner has the ♠K and can cover most of the minor-suit losers. For example, he could have the ♦AQ and a doubleton club, or the ♦A and the ♣K with the right mesh. In those cases, 6♠ would be desirable. In all of my slam-worthy constructions, partner has nothing wasted in hearts. It is tempting to splinter with 3♥. The deficiency in that approach is that partner cannot show his diamond length; 4♦ over 3♥ would show a control, not length. 2♦ merely suggests that I have a full opening bid. I am hoping that partner will make a further game try with 3♦ over it. At that point, I will leap to 4♥ to show shortness. I will pass if he bids 4♠ over that, but bid 6♦ over anything else. If partner bids something lower than 3♦ over my 2♦, I will make a further try over anything but 2♠, over which I will simply bid game. Lurking in this problem is the unvoiced question of whether partner could have shown a good minor by invoking a fit bid; either 3♣ or 3♦ would prompt a slam drive. Faithful readers know the moderator is generally not a fan of those, but even he might allow a passed hand to employ that toy.
J.S.: Actually, the moderator does approve of passed hand fit bids (flower bids, if you prefer). But please, before delving into the fit bid experience, discuss with partner how good a suit it shows, and if it is forcing.

Mould: 2♦. Depends on methods. 2♦ for me is initially any mild try, 2♥ would be natural, 2NT natural and forward going (I could live with that), 3♣ natural, 3♦/♥ splinters. Do not like the splinter with stiff ace. I will try 2♦ and see how pard reacts. If that gets 2♠ I will probably give up and just bid game. But you never know, I may get 3♣ or even 3♦. As you probably do not know and may not want to know, Drury is not much played over here. It is unplayable (IMHO) in Acol with weak notrump and four-card majors (but then those methods are unplayable anyway IMHO - a view for which I will doubtless be locked up in the Tower of London). The best players in the UK now almost all play strong notrump, 5 card majors, so they do play Drury.

Meyers: 2NT, asking partner to describe his or her hand. Partner’s first obligation is to tell me a source of tricks – so if I get a 3♣ bid or 3♦ I will bid keycard; if 3♥ I will subside in 4♠. If partner jumps to four of a new suit that would show a splinter; if partner is short in clubs I will cue bid 4♦ to see what partner does.

Bramley: 3♦. In my preferred methods 2NT is an inquiry with slam interest (responder bids a quality side suit at the three-level and shortness at the four-level, else shows trump length and quality). Three-level new suits are natural slam tries and four-level new suits are shortness slam tries. This hand doesn’t fit any of those categories perfectly. I’ll show my diamonds and hope that partner likes it. 6♦ could be the top spot. My second choice is 4♥ (shortness), but that’s awfully bulky with an imperfect hand.

Lawrence: 2♦. Lawrence Drury, asks for information. The basic bids (there are others) are:
• 2♥ Minimum hand with three cards. Might be very minimum hand with four cards
• 2♠ Maximum hand with three cards. But not game forcing
• 2NT Medium to good hand with four cards. Game forcing
• 3♣, 3♦, 3♥ Three cards with singleton, club, diamond, other major, respectively
• 3NT instead of 2♣ (Drury) shows a good four-card raise with an unknown singleton.
Mostly, the answers allow me to start bidding at a lower level having discovered a lot about partner’s hand while not giving away much of my own hand.

J.S.: The panel has provided a number of different ways to use Drury, and if we had more contributors we would likely get additional methods. No matter the details, Drury ranks with Stayman, “new minor forcing” (which is Stayman after a notrump rebid), and transfers as among the most useful conventions. They give up so little to gain bidding room to allow hand definition. Recognizing the drawback of using a splinter with a singleton ace, this time it should have strong appeal because only the married ♥KQ is likely to be useful opposite the South hand. Showing the diamond suit (Bart’s 3♦ call) could also be the route to success. Note how much more useful the ♦Q would be compared to the ♣Q (or ♥Q). This time North held: ♠K94 ♥732 ♦A108 ♣KJ72 so the key to bidding the good spade slam is finding that partner had nothing wasted in hearts.

Problem 2.

North-South vulnerable, IMP scoring
You are South holding:

♠7 ♥AQ10 ♦AQJ10 ♣K10542

South    West      North     East
Pass      Pass      4♠          Pass

Meyers: Pass. I think it is silly to bid. Partner is going to balance on a lot of hands; for all I know we could be going down in 4♠.

J.S.: You could be going down in 4♠ with six of a minor, even 6NT, making. (Say partner holds: ♠Kxxxxx ♥xx ♦Kx ♣AQx.) Bidding could be wrong, either because partner doesn’t know what 4NT means (if that’s what you bid), or because 4♠ is the one game which makes, but bidding isn’t silly. However, it is possible to make a silly bid:

Ivaska: 6♠. There doesn’t seem to be much left for partner beyond a long spade suit, especially given the vulnerability, so I’ll dispense with the formalities with a direct 6♠. (Come to think of it, I’m not sure what formalities I’m dispensing with.)

J.S.: I can hear the Kingston Trio singing “Tom Dooley.” What if poor Tom held ♠KQJ10xxx ♥x ♦Kx ♣Jxx?

Bramley: Pass. What else? I have no suit worth bidding. 4NT may or may not be a better contract. Besides, I would treat it as a key-card ask, and partner probably will as well. 5NT might describe this hand type, but that looks like a large overbid. My high cards may be just what partner needs to make his contract.

J.S.: I’m going to argue that 4NT should be natural, and invitational. Clearly, 4NT does not ask for a minor. We would have bid 4NT over 4♥ with that hand. I don’t believe 4NT should be key card either. With such a hand in support of spades we probably would have had a double of 4♥. Also, we could try for slam with a cue bid in any of three suits, even a raise to 5♠. There are a couple of drawbacks to my argument. Firstly, this is a positional interpretation. If we were not a passed hand or if partner had overcalled 4♠ in the immediate position, 4NT should not be natural. Secondly, and of critical importance, partner may not be such a logical thinker as I am.

Tritt: 5♥. Hoping to locate a minor suit fit. Over 5♠ will try 5NT to suggest partner pick a slam. Lacking great spades or a minor suit fit, I would hope partner could bid 6♥ to ask me to choose between spades and notrump. 6♥ should not be a grand slam suggestion where partner earlier signed off at 5♠ – plus the preempt has done its work.

J.S.: Why would partner look for another suit? He will think you are cue bidding for spades. If he bids a minor suit over 5♥ he will be looking for a grand in spades.

Mould: 5♠. Wow, what a problem! I did well if I managed to pass 4♥ in tempo. I did not have to look at the vulnerability to guess it. I really cannot see passing on this hand (though it could be right – pard has ♥AQJxxxxx and nothing maybe?). I cannot see how cue bidding helps when I have this much. What does 5♠ mean? Maybe it asks for trumps (probably should!), but will pard think it asks for a heart control? So I will bid 4NT and hope I can work it out from the responses. No, I have changed my mind – I will bid 5♠. It cannot ask for a heart control as I could bid 5♣ and/or 5♦ depending on agreements to ask for that. I suppose 5♥ is also a possibility which logically suggests controls in all the plain suits. Too tough. Stick me down for 5♠.

J.S.: My objection to 5♠ is that not only does it require a like-minded partner, it aims for a spade slam rather than a notrump contract.

Roeder: 4NT. A problem derived by Marquis de Sade. This should be to play, but pard may not be on the same wavelength. Which might turn out okay. Have grudging admiration for the kamikaze 6NT which, at least, puts the agony to a quicker end. Regardless, the looming bad splits strongly suggest both notrump and caution. A 5NT call does have merit as pard might bid 6♣. But there is no way I would pass 6♦ or 6♠ after I ventured 5NT.

Lawrence: Brutal. This hand requires an agreement and I don’t have one to offer. Passing is actually a sane choice. 4NT, natural would be best. 4NT, key card would not. But in my limited recent partnerships, 4NT would be key card. Pathetic? Perhaps. In fact, I’m not in love with any of the possible bids. Nor, do I imagine, was the player who faced this problem.

J.S.: Fortunately no one faced this problem – at least this time. When this hand was dealt, South bid 4NT immediately. That was an unlucky choice; partner held 5-3-3-2 with a jack and a queen. The defense slopped a trick so 5♦ doubled only went for -800.

Weiss: 4NT. This is a really awkward position. Partner could have as few as five spades, in which case we may have too many trump losers to survive. Or he could have lots of spades, in which case my removal may sabotage us. I wish I could have made a penalty double of 4♥, but that’s not what it means. Speaking of meanings, what is my 4NT? It should be natural; how could I have a Blackwood bid when I passed over 4♥? If partner thinks 4NT shows minors, that might be okay, even though I don’t think that is the logically correct meaning. I have cautioned against Improvisation in a Bridge World article (August 2017), so I may have to pretend we previously discussed this auction. I had a close decision over 4♥; 4NT, showing minors, would not be far off the mark. But I do prefer the pass, since I hate owing partner what might be a crucial trump.

J.S.: Because 4NT could lead to a worthwhile slam or simply get us out of a losing spade contract I would be willing to risk a partnership misunderstanding and give it a shot, fully prepared to have the bid called silly or even insane.

Problem 3.

Both sides vulnerable, IMP scoring
You are South holding:

♠AK97 ♥AKJ1062 ♦-- ♣986

South    West      North     East
             1♣         1♦          1♥

Meyers: Pass. Depending on how the auction progresses I may subsequently bid 3♥ natural (with a good hand but for now I don’t have a convenient bid).

Lawrence: Pass. Good problem with no visible solution.
Roeder: Pass. Listen and learn!

Bramley: Pass. They got me again. Neither 2♥ nor 3♥ would be natural. I’m not sure about 4♥, so I’m not going to risk it, particularly when I’m guaranteed another chance. Maybe I’ll have a better idea what to do next round.

J.S.: I suspect everyone on the panel would treat 2♥ as natural on the auction: 1♣ - Pass - 1♥ - 2♥, so why shouldn’t it also be natural after partner has overcalled? There are several ways to show a diamond fit without using a heart cue bid. I’ll answer my own question with another: how often have you wanted to make a natural 2♥ bid on this auction? And then there is the problem, at least on this deal, that, if natural, 2♥ would not be forcing, that maybe it is not a big enough bid. Here’s another question. If 2♥ is not natural, what does it show?

Mould: Pass. I cannot see what else to do at this juncture. The auction has taken a very weird turn, and doubtless it will not get easier later, but what can I bid now that will in any way help? I think it is clear to pass now and bid hearts later on. I really do not believe the auction is going to get out of hand for me.

J.S: I don’t think so either. You have too many high cards. But on the next round will your (presumed) heart bid let partner in on the secret that you hold four honor tricks?

Weiss: Pass. I am hoping things will be more clear on the next round. Of course, I could bid 2♥ here, and partner will interpret it as natural. But he doesn’t have support, so my upside is a tenuous partial. If partner happens to have four spades, we could easily have a game in that strain. Still, I cannot afford to bid spades with only four. Since 1♥ is forcing, I might learn something helpful about the distribution. If West rebids 2♣ and that comes around to me, I will bid 2♥. Perhaps partner will realize why I delayed that action.

J.S.: I don’t know why partner would think you had a better hand by passing initially. I don’t mind a 1♠ bid now, either. If you have a four-four spade fit, this is a good time to find it. But this is the call I prefer:

Ivaska: 2♣. I plan to jump to 4♥ next, hoping that partner will allow me to play there. If I just jump to 4♥ right now, I’m afraid that such a bid will create ambiguity for North, which could be disastrous for the partnership.

J.S.: I don’t think much of the blast to 4♥. After forcing with 2♣ you can (likely) bid 2♥ next and follow that with 3♠. Partner will get the idea.

Tritt: 2♥. What I bid when this hand came up on BBO. 2♥ is natural, with 2♣ reserved for a cue bid. This is a good hand, but the diamond void weakens it such that it is not too strong for a non-forcing 2♥ bid in my view.

J.S.: I was sitting North holding: ♠108654 ♥-- ♦AKQ6542 ♣10. It was easy to infer that 2♥ was natural (and presumed non-forcing) looking at my void, but what should I do? Rather than bidding 2♠, which I thought would sound like I had significant high-card values, I rebid 3♦. Jim rebid 3♥ and I then passed, certain that he had little but very good hearts. It was an inelegant contract with 6♠ needing only a two-two spade split.

Problem 4.

Neither side vul, IMP scoring
You are South holding:

♠AJ1093 ♥K ♦AQ10 ♣A763

South    West     North    East
1♠        Pass      2♥        Pass

Ivaska: 3♣. If partner rebids 3♥, I’ll just try a straightforward 6♥. I could try to locate various kings via keycard Blackwood (and follow-up inquiries), but there would still be the not-so-small matter of the ♥J to worry about, so I’ll limit my ambitions to a small slam.

Weiss: 3♣. That seems routine; partner is allowed to have hearts and clubs. Over 3♥, I have a difficult call (that’s characteristic of Forum problems, of course). A natural 4NT seems accurate, and I think that’s what it means. With a Blackwood hand, I would agree hearts via 4♦, then try 4NT over 4♥. It could be important to play from my side.

J.S.: I don’t like 3♣. Although the bid generally shows extra values, they are usually of a distributional nature. It doesn’t disclose the balanced nature of my hand, and I don’t want to play in clubs unless partner bids them.

Meyers: 2NT, then over 3♥ I would bid 4♣, a cue bid for hearts.

Mould: 2NT, which is either 12-14 or 18-19 balanced, which is only a small heart away from perfect. Over 3♥ I bid 3♠ if that would definitely be a cue (it ought to be!), or 4♣ otherwise. I could live with 4NT as well, which I think ought to show 18-19 balanced, but will pard think hearts are set and 4NT is Roman Key Card Blackwood? I will bid on over 4♥ from pard.

Bramley: 2NT. Then 4♣ if partner rebids hearts. 2NT is natural, forcing and cheap. Buying time. I don’t want to play in clubs (or diamonds) unless partner can introduce them. Leaves easy continuations over most of partner’s rebids, including 3♥. I much prefer 2NT to 2♠, which leaves partner guessing about both my spade length and my hand type. Having already shown the nature of my hand, I’ll cuebid in support of partner when he rebids his suit. 3♠ is available, but it is ambiguous; it might show a strong five-bagger and suggest an alternate strain. 4♣ is clearly a cuebid, then, if partner signs off I will give up, but over any sign of life I will drive to slam.

Lawrence: 2NT. Abhor rebidding 2NT with a stiff in partner’s suit. I expect to show 18-19 next. One thing 2NT does is it allows partner room for a mixture of natural bids that I might learn from. 2NT gets descriptive bids from partner that other rebids by me don’t do.

Tritt: 2NT. Planning to follow up over partner’s 3NT with 4NT to show this strength. However, when partner bids 3♥ over 2NT, I would bid 4♣ as a slam try in hearts or notrump. The ♥K is a good trump holding for the 3♥ rebid, and with partner holding long, good hearts, my hand may provide more flexibility playing a heart slam than a notrump slam. For example, partner might be able to set up my spade suit via ruffs if we play in hearts.

Roeder: 2NT. Over 3♥, I would bid a Kickback 4♠. Cannot be natural as I did not rebid 2♠. I have zero interest in introducing clubs as my spot cards are so good elsewhere. It is easy to envision hands where a four-four club slam does not fetch while 6NT is cold.

J.S.: The basic idea of bidding 2NT to be followed by 4NT over partner’s raise to 3NT to show a balanced hand, better than a strong notrump opening, is good. But partner sometimes fools us by rebidding a suit. If he rebids 3♥ or a minor, is 4NT (or a possibly misunderstood 4♠) keycard? And do we have enough to blast to slam? We certainly have too good a hand in support of a rebid heart suit to make one try and then let it go. I believe it is better to bid 3NT – show a balanced 18 or 19 immediately and let partner take over. Surely partner won’t be disappointed in the singleton ♥K rather than two small. This time partner held: ♠7 ♥AQJ987 ♦J93 ♣KJ10.

Problem 5.

East-West vul, IMP scoring
You are South holding:

♠AKQJ96 ♥AJ52 ♦-- ♣842

South    West     North    East
                          4♥        5♣

Roeder: 5♠. But if I was truly desperate in a match, 6♠. Fun to have PG-rated fantasies about the possibility of a club void in lefty’s mitt.

J.S.: This entire problem is a fantasy, suggested by Ed Davis. It can be considered a tribute to the deciding deal in the 2014 Vanderbilt. After a competitive auction, Steve Weinstein passed his right-hand opponent’s save at 7♦, ostensibly showing a void (he held a singleton), which invited partner, Bobby Levin, to bid a spade grand slam. Levin, holding a heart void (the opponents’ other long suit), bid the grand. The opening leader was fooled and led a heart, as we all would have, and the Weinstein bluff was successful.

Mould: 6♥. Who knows? If pard has a club void, a grand is cold; if pard has two, or even worse, three clubs we cannot make any slam. I guess to bid 6♥ as that seems the most likely. I can easily see a scenario when 6♥ doubled rolls in with a overtrick when we were off two clubs if East leads a perfectly reasonable diamond from say: ♦AKxx and ♣AKQxxx.

Ivaska: 6♥. I feel that the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of partner holding a club control, probably shortness, but I can’t think of a way to invite seven, so I’ll content myself (admittedly somewhat sheepishly) with 6♥.

Tritt: 6♥. Hoping to find club shortness or get a diamond lead. A fake cuebid of 6♣ may well backfire (depending on subsequent actions) and/or be viewed with skepticism by the opponents. The jump to the heart slam may actually be more likely to result in a diamond lead, if the opening leader believes you are “prepared” for a club lead.

Meyers: 6♥. Hope either that partner has a club control or that East doesn’t lead a club “knowing” that I have the suit controlled.

Lawrence: 6♥. A gamble. 6♠ might be better because West would be on lead and he might find more reasons to lead diamonds than the 5♣ bidder. Perhaps, though unlikely, West won’t even have a club to lead. But there will be a spade loser often enough to cause me to try hearts.

Weiss: 6♥. This is a poker problem. If I bid 7♥, I think the overcaller will play me to be bidding for a make, and will know I have a diamond void. So he will lead a club. When I bid only 6♥, he might think I am saving, and attempt to cash diamonds. The other advantage of this slow approach is that 6♥ will be good if partner has a singleton club.

Bramley: 7♥. Let’s play poker. Should be cold if they don’t cash a club (or two). The book lead is a diamond – I hope East has read that book. If East does lead a club, partner can still save the day. In contrast, 7♠ (1) could have a trump loser, (2) risks a heart ruff, and (3) is less likely to induce a diamond lead. I hope East is looking at the ♦A.

J.S.: The winner of the Weinstein Poker-Bridge award for biggest bluff is Bart Bramley!