Master Solvers Panel

By John Swanson
Lancaster, California

This month we complete the finals of the Senior Knockout Teams held last fall in San Diego. The Nickell team with Katz, Meckstroth, Rodwell, Levin, Rosenberg was 28 IMPs in front of Levine, with Wold, Jacobus, Passell, and a pair of Clerkins. There were 30 deals to go, several providing difficult bidding decisions, some of them rather obscure. In such cases a partnership must trust their general bidding agreements.
Our panel, Leo Bell, Kitty and Steve Cooper, Mitch Dunitz, Jerry Gaer, Fred Hamilton, Eddie Kantar, Mike Savage, Lew Stansby, and Kit Woolsey, will provide insight and discuss various possible bids. A special shout-out is in order for Lew, who was recently named by the ACBL as recipient of the 2018 Sidney H. Lazard, Jr. Sportsmanship Award. There could not be a more suitable winner.

Problem 1.

Both sides vulnerable, IMP scoring
You are South holding:

 ♠J9 ♥K742 ♦K1074 ♣K72

South    West      North     East
Pass      1♠          Dbl
Rdbl     2♣        Pass       Pass

Dunitz: Double. Only promises three trumps in this position and my kings are well positioned behind the takeout doubler. This could work out poorly but I’m influenced by the fact there is no game bonus involved if the contract makes.

Hamilton: 2♠. Now I wish I had just passed:) I cannot double 2♣ as this is not pullable after redouble. What would it mean if I had passed and now doubled 2♣? We need to discuss this, but I think it should mean do something; I have some cards. Having redoubled I guess I would bid 2♠, but with an understanding pard I would probably just violate agreements and pass 2♣.

J.S.: Note the disparity in the systemic treatment of a double by a redoubler in the above comments. Mitch plays it as somewhat cooperative; he would like to have four trumps, but three is acceptable. Whereas Fred plays the double as absolutely penalty; the opponents are in the soup. I can neither suggest which treatment is best nor state which is the prevalent expert style. I can only say, with some uncertainty, that my partnerships use the cooperative style. Thus I agree with Mitch and the following group:

Woolsey: Double. Partner will be passing with a doubleton club, but a club will be hitting the table on opening lead and 2♣ simply figures to go down while we probably don’t have a game. Plus 500 is quite possible, particularly since partner is allowed to have three clubs. In the worst case where they make, it still isn’t game. The odds are simply in favor of the double.

Stansby: Double. We’re in a force so I can’t pass, and no other bid makes sense. I’m hoping for a trump lead, which should be the best start for the defense.

Kantar: Double. My kings look well placed and it’s not the end of the world if they come home with eight tricks.

Bell: Double. In the balancing seat, this should be cooperative. Partner should pass with a balanced minimum or bid with club shortness or game interest.

Savage: Double, expecting partner to lead a trump (sure hope he has a couple, if he doesn’t, he could pull). 2♣ doubled making in IMPs isn’t much of a disaster and +200-+500 sure would be nice. Might have bid 1NT instead of redoubling – close call.
J.S.: Bidding 2NT might lose an occasional penalty – provided the partnership is on firm ground regarding later doubles – but it narrowly defines your hand and avoids any possible confusion, always a good position in which to be.

Gaer: 2NT. Only because my redouble promised another bid. I wouldn’t have redoubled. We play that a redouble in these circumstances shows one of two types of hands: either we have enough for game, or the opponents erred by getting into the bidding. This hand doesn’t qualify for either. The problem with a redouble to “show 10 points” is when the bidding gets back to you and you may already be too high and you really haven’t said anything useful.

J.S.: Knowing that you have 10+ points and not a significant fit can be important to partner. However, a redouble is sometimes viewed by opponents as an invitation to preempt.

Coopers: 2♦. If we were in a gambling mood we would double, since pard has denied having a weak hand with club shortness.

J.S.: Marc Jacobus bid 2♦ in the Seniors. Partner Mike Passell held: ♠AK1052 ♥J ♦QJ532 ♣Q6, and raised to 3♦, closing the auction. Evidently that pair was together on the absolute penalty nature of a double. Rosenberg - Levin were not. Rosenberg doubled, as South, and Levin passed, expecting a better defensive hand. 2♣ doubled made an overtrick and cost -10 IMPs. I am not in agreement with the initial pass by North over 2♣ instead of a straight-forward 2♦. It seems a distortion of natural, constructive bidding in an effort to maximize the chance of nailing the opponents in a low-level contract.

Problem 2.

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

♠A ♥AKQJ95 ♦8 ♣A5432

South    West      North     East
3♠          Pass

Gaer: 5♠. How good is your suit?

J.S.: There is a more modern method of asking about a preemptor’s suit quality that enjoys the strong advantage of keeping the auction lower:

Woolsey: 4♣. Preempt keycard. If partner has one keycard and the queen of trumps, I’ll take my chances at 6♠. The contract might depend upon partner having an entry such as the ♣K, the ♥10, or a singleton club, but there is no way I can find these things out.

J.S.: There is also a more flexible slam inquiry:

Hamilton: 4♣, slam try, not keycard as most experts play. If pard bids just 4♠ would give up as club lead or high diamond and club switch likely to prevent use of heart suit. The hand almost certainly plays better in spades, as we have a much better dummy for pard than he is likely to have for us.

J.S.: I prefer Fred’s 4♣ slam try but, as usual, the key is to have partnership agreement. Neither 4♣ bid is going to come up frequently.

Stansby: 4♠. After visualizing: ♠KQJxxxx ♥xx ♦xx ♣xx, I decided that 4♠ would be a better contract than 4♥. At the table, I would probably bid 4♥.

Dunitz: 4♠. My vulnerable 3♠ openers are stodgy, old-fashioned take’m-to-the-bank type hands. 4♠ will probably make opposite one of them. I would bid 4♥ opposite one of my non-vulnerable 3♠ bids.
Savage: 4♠. Even presuming partner, being vulnerable versus not, has the ♠KQJxxxx, can’t see a probable way to make a slam (unless he has a stiff club), so I’ll raise to 4♠ and hope it makes.

J.S.: What has happened to the rule of “Two, Three, and Four,” which implies that North should have seven winners for his red-versus-white three-level preempt? Surely we wouldn’t be surprised if partner had an outside king to go along with his good seven-card suit.

Kantar: 4♥. No heroics ... yet.

J.S.: Either Eddie’s partners are a bit lax with preempt requirements or maybe he suspects he will play the cards better. North did have a lot of losers, but the hands fit well: ♠QJ107643 ♥762 ♦K72 ♣--. In the Seniors, Dennis Clerkin, North, contented himself with a 2♠ opening and brother Jerry bid 4♥. But the auction was not over. East, holding: ♠985 ♥-- ♦AJ1095 ♣KQ976, balanced with 4NT. North naturally took the push to 5♥ over West’s 5♦ bid. That came home when West failed to lead a trump.
At the other table Rodwell did open 3♠, as in our problem auction, and Meckstroth bid 4♣ as keycard. Rodwell’s 4♦ reply showed zero (steps are zero, one, one with queen, two, etc.). Again, West came in with 4NT and North, unaware of the heart fit, doubled 5♦. Rodwell, looking for a club ruff, led the ♠10 (the deuce would have been more clear). South won his singleton ace and did not find the club switch (which would have resulted in a three-trick set). He tried a high heart. Dummy ruffed and led a spade. When South failed to ruff with his singleton trump, declarer was able to pick up trumps and make his contract, a startling +15 IMP win and the lead for the Levine team. That pickup was returned, with interest, on this next deal.

Problem 3.

Both sides vulnerable, IMP scoring
You are South holding:

♠A9875 ♥10843 ♦Q7 ♣J6

South    West      North     East
3♠         Dbl        Rdbl*
*Shows clubs

Coopers: Pass. Penalty, as we play it (a good pro once opened 1♥ followed by two passes and a takeout double; he cleverly redoubled, which was passed out). Since I (Steve) didn’t see the redouble, I was very surprised when Kitty passed after my LHO passed. The pro explained that he hoped we didn’t have an agreement as to what my pass might have meant after his redouble (we do, now at least). Down -1600.

Stansby: Pass. I normally play that pass of redouble is for penalty at this level, but I doubt that anyone has an agreement when the redouble is artificial (shows clubs).

J.S.: There always seems to be another unlikely auction to discuss. Not only do you have to agree that pass is penalties, but what happens if West bids 4♣ and it is passed back to you? Must you bid?

Gaer: Pass. The real problem is coming on our next turn.

Savage: Pass. If I declare 4♥, the expectation is that a club will be led, decreasing my chances to make. Think I’ll pass and if it goes 4♣ - Pass - Pass, decide whether to bid 4♥ or not. I’d lean towards bidding 4♥ (which I would have bid if East had passed) as I don’t want to be responsible for missing a vulnerable game that makes. As long as it isn’t doubled, down one or two isn’t that bad. If they wind up in 4♠ however, I’ll double that.

Bell: Pass. Even with four hearts, this doesn’t look very promising to make game. Partner still will have a chance to bid again.

Hamilton: Pass, what else? I doubt we can make anything if pard doesn’t bid again. A problem may come later if pard doubles again. Should I pass again or bid 4♥? I would guess to bid 4♥.

J.S.: But is 4♥ going to play well? As Mike points out, a club is going to be led and you won’t be able to ruff spades in dummy or clubs in your hand without being overruffed.

Dunitz: Pass and hope partner accidentally passes. I’ll later correct 4♦ to 4♥.

Kantar: 4♥, what I would have bid without the redouble.

J.S.: That’s what Mike Passell did. He didn’t catch well. Partner had a doubtful takeout double of 3♠: ♠4 ♥AK9 ♦A10632 ♣9543. It was just enough to defeat 3♠ or 4♣, but 4♥ doubled was down -1100. At the other table Dennis Clerkin rejected the venturous 3♠ opening holding: ♠KQJ1032 ♥Q76 ♦J964 ♣--, in favor of a shaded 1♠ bid. (2♠ anyone?) Jerry, in an all-out effort to reach 3NT pushed his side into 4♠, which was doubled. 17 IMPs to the Nickell team.

Woolsey: Pass. Penalties. The same bid I would have made if East had passed. If the opponents stay here, I collect a bigger number.

J.S.: Yes, and if they run, they are a level higher.

Problem 4.

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

♠AK ♥AJ4 ♦83 ♣K76432

South    West      North     East
2♠         3♦          3♠

J.S.: You hold an unexpectedly good hand on the auction. The vul versus not opponents have bid to the three-level and partner entered the auction at a high level. Most of the panel was willing to settle for 3NT.

Coopers: 3NT. Hamman’s rule.

Kantar: 3NT. A good partner will have something decent in clubs.

Stansby: 3NT. Either minor could produce the necessary tricks. 4♣ on this broken suit is too much of an adventure for me.

Woolsey: 3NT. We could have a slam, but I can see no way to make an intelligent investigation, and most likely 3NT is where we belong.

J.S.: That’s the crux of the problem: Is there any way to make a forward-going move without committing to a minor suit game or slam?

Hamilton: 4♣. We should be able to make something between 3NT and seven of a minor so I feel it is best to get clubs in the picture. My suit is under strength but my hand sure is not! I expect my next bid will be 5♠.

Gaer: 4♣. Forcing, I hope. If partner raises clubs we can cuebid. If partner rebids diamonds we will raise.

Dunitz: 4♣, natural and forcing. If partner bids 4♦, I’ll try 4♠. If he raises 4♣ to 5♣, I’ll bid more. Do I belong in 3NT? Oh well.

J.S.: The 4♣ bidders have not convinced me that they can stop in a winning contract if partner has a minimum hand or fails to fit clubs. But not to worry, this time partner has not only a good hand: ♠9 ♥Q6 ♦AQ7652 ♣AQJ5, but also has great clubs. After 4♣ the problem will be to stop short of seven. In the Seniors, Jacobus did bid 3NT in our problem auction. At the other table, Levin - Rosenberg bid to 7♣ in an uncontested auction. That proved to be a really poor idea when the diamond finesse lost.

Bell: 6NT. Science marches on. There are so many hand variations in which partner will have their bid, but we are short a trick for seven, such as: ♠x ♥xxx ♦AKQJxxx ♣Ax, or: ♠xx ♥KQx ♦KQJ10xx ♣Ax. If partner has made a weakish lead directing call with: ♠x ♥xxx ♦AKJ10xx ♣Qxx, I still have a remote chance to make with a spade lead.

J.S.: If you’re going to blast to slam, surely it’s better to bid 4♣, then 5NT, giving partner a choice.

Savage: Double. I’ll take the money and run, expecting to get a decent plus against 3♠ doubled. 3NT might not be successful if partner doesn’t have great diamonds or a good club fit.

J.S.: But will a double suggest penalties, or does it show the rounded suits? Other partnerships use a double here as asking for a stopper. Maybe double is a good idea almost regardless of what partner will initially expect. When you follow on the next round with 4NT you will surely have shown a slam try. There is a tiny part of me which believes that ‘surely’ is an overstatement. Sometimes partners are remarkably dense when it comes to inferring your “obvious” interpretation of the auction.

Problem 5.

Neither side vulnerable, IMPs
You are South holding:

♠A109865 ♥J762 ♦6 ♣97

South    West     North    East
Pass      1NT*    Dbl       2♣
Pass      2♦        Pass      2♥
Note: Screens are in use. You are on the same side as West.

Savage: I have very little experience playing when screens are in use so don’t know the inferences of your note about screens.

J.S.: Using screens, you see only one opponent (and no partner). North and East are on one side; South and West on the other. Thus you can see that West did not alert 2♦, but you don’t know if East alerted his 2♥. He surely did, believing partner’s 2♦ showed hearts – the BART convention. It is difficult to find any other reason for East to have bid 2♥. The fly-in-the-ointment was North’s double. Is BART still on after the double? East thought yes, West no. This scenario is impossible to infer if you have no experience with screens or BART.

Savage (continued): Anyway I double 2♥ as I expect partner to have three or four good ones. Something strange in their bidding though. It sounds like West doesn’t like clubs, East doesn’t like diamonds and only has three hearts (or is it a pre-cuebid, trying for 3NT with a diamond fit?). I didn’t bid 2♥ on my first chance so my hand figures to not be that strong (weak hearts?).
Kantar: Double. I smell a rat.

Coopers: Double. Partner didn’t promise a huge hand, but the enemy seems as if they don’t have a fit anywhere (except maybe clubs), and partner will be over ruffing spades quickly. We lead our stiff diamond. Steve does not see why screens matter; Kitty believes it could be a BART auction that West forgot about. Kitty would have been tempted to bid 2♥ over 2♣.

J.S.: Kitty is right about BART. But did West forget or simply believes, as I do, that BART does not apply after the takeout double?

Gaer: Pass. East is likely 5-3-1-4, and West likely to be 1-2-7-3. This mess doesn’t look good for either side.

J.S.: Close. East is 5-2-1-5.

Woolsey: Pass. I have no idea what East is doing, or what is going on. Fortunately I’m weak enough that we don’t have a game and might not have anything, so I’ll just keep quiet and let the opponents struggle with this strange auction.

Stansby: Pass. Given the conditions, it sounds as if West has diamonds and East thinks 2♦ shows hearts. I’m not going to double and tempt partner to double 3♦. I would have bid 2♥ over 2♣ on the previous round.

Bell: Pass. It’s possible that East thought that 2♦ was a relay to 2♥. Since my screen mate didn’t alert his 2♦ bid, I’m guessing the opponents are not on the same wavelength. West may be constrained to pass, so I’ll pass and await developments.

Dunitz: Double. I’m on the same side as Obama.

J.S.: Not this time. You’re on the same side as Marc Jacobus.

Hamilton: Double. Seeing West’s reaction to the 2♥ bid might help, but it seems it is time to bring out the whip. They may be in big trouble and surely they cannot make 2♥ with a trump lead. If pard now doubles 3♦, I will sit. Are we being set up? If East runs to 3♦ I am going to wish I had passed 2♥. I hope pard will be on the same wavelength and not make a close double of 3♦ if West bids it.

J.S.: Having limited your hand with a pass of 2♣, I don’t think partner should make a doubtful double of 3♦ if West pulls your double. This time, holding ♦AKQJ and a few other high cards, partner’s double would be quite secure. A heart lead defending 2♥ is a good idea also. It defeats the contract five tricks. (3♦ doubled would have been down three.) Meckstroth elected to pass 2♥ and lead a diamond. That should have been worth a four-trick set but another trick got away later. Even so, +150 would frequently be a wash because North-South, in theory, make just nine tricks declaring a heart contract. But the defense is difficult and was not found at the other table after Jerry Clerkin bid 2♥ over 2♣ and Dennis raised to game. This was an unusual +7 IMP pickup for Levine, declaring heart contracts at both tables, putting them into a 2 IMP lead. The last three boards were unavailing for the Nickell squad.
Congratulation to the Levine team for an exciting come-from-behind win on a set of difficult boards.