Master Solvers Panel

By John Swanson
Lancaster, California

Thanks to problem solvers: Bart Bramley, Paul Ivaska, Jill Meyers, Alan Mould, Rick Roeder, Bill Rosen, Jim Tritt, and David Weiss. The problems this month are from the last few boards of the finals of the Bermuda Bowl contested earlier this year. France (Bessis, Combescure, Lorenzini, Quantin, Rombaut, Volcker) had just extended their lead over the United States (Fleisher, Grue, Martel, Moss, Pszczola, Rosenberg) to 33 IMPs when this situation arose:

Problem 1.

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

♠Q65  ♥10 ♦QJ62 ♣J8742

South    West      North     East
Pass      Pass      1♥         2♦
Pass      Pass      Dbl        Pass
?

Meyers: 2NT, Lebensohl, planning to pass 3♣ by partner. I don’t think I have enough to pass 2♦ doubled.

Roeder: 3♣. If 2NT was an application of Lebensohl in my partnership, that would be my choice. The theory is that if you had a constructive 2NT bid, often you would be just as well off to pass 2♦ doubled. Sometimes, it is right to pass 2♦ out of fright, but your hand is not frightful. Passing 2♦ doubled should be reserved for Kansas gunslingers in 1870. On a really, really good day, you might get a crack at 3♦.

J.S: 2NT would not be Lebensohl in my partnerships, but it is a reasonable way to go. One advantage of using 2NT as natural here is that you don’t have to decide if this is a good 3♣ bid or a bad one.

Weiss: Pass. This is a gamble, of course; there is no guarantee of a set. At least it’s not a game if they make it, though it won’t be a good result. The problem is that the alternative, 3♣, is not guaranteed to make. I will lead my singleton and hope for the best.

Mould: Pass. Not close IMHO. It is not as if any other bid is guaranteed to get a plus score – partner will routinely double on 4-5-2-2 shape for example. And 2♠ risks the double Moysian (three-three fit) which I suppose may make, but 2♦x is not game if it makes and has far and away the best chance for a big score - would it surprise us if this was 500 against nothing? If you gave this hand to me 100 times I would pass 100 times, which probably suggests I do not learn :-).

J.S.: I suspect that after the fifth time I sent you this problem you wouldn’t be answering my emails.

Rosen: Pass. I would expect to make 3♣, but it is not certain and it is possible that we have a big plus by defending.

Bramley: 3♣. I might pass at match points; it’s too speculative here. Bidding 2NT is too aggressive. I’m happy to have a five-bagger in one of the suits partner shows, so I bid it.
Ivaska: 3♣. I could be passing up a bonanza, but, after all, I only have two defensive tricks, even if both potential trump tricks materialize, which isn’t absolutely certain. 3♣ should be a decent contract, and, if I pass 2♦ doubled, I won’t get a shot at 3♦, which is possible since it seems that someone has some strength in reserve.

Tritt: 3♣. Down the middle. I prefer not to speculate on beating 2♦ and do not rate to make 2NT when partner could hold a minimum with short diamonds.
J.S.: To me, the choice between pass and 3♣ is a toss-up. 3♣ appears to offer a better chance at a plus; pass offers a chance at a big plus. But this time 3♣ provided the big plus when Joe Grue, sitting West, doubled 3♣ holding: ♠743 ♥A943 ♦105 ♣K1095 and couldn’t defeat the contract. At the other table Michael Rosenberg, South, bid 2NT, which I suppose he intended as Lebensohl, but Pepsi (Jacek Pszczola) raised to 3NT. The contract could have been defeated three with a spade lead, should have been defeated two with the normal diamond lead, but ultimately was only down one. France was up 46 with 28 boards to boards to go. The situation was grim for the U.S. team.
Against 2♦ doubled, you have to defend accurately. Your heart lead is won by declarer’s king, who then leads a low diamond towards dummy’s doubleton ten. Do you duck or play the jack? Partner will win his singleton ace (you ducked, of course) and return a heart honor, on which you must discard a club. Then, when declarer leads a spade from dummy North must rise with the king holding K102. There are only minor hurdles to overcome after those winning defensive plays.

Problem 2.

Neither side vulnerable, IMP scoring
You are South holding:

♠5 ♥K106543 ♦Q82 ♣K54

South    West      North     East
1♦*
1♥        2♥**     Pass       2♠
Pass      Pass      Dbl        Rdbl
?
*10-15, 2+ diamonds (Precision)
**6+ spades, any strength

Bramley: Pass. What else? I think partner’s double is penalty, but luckily I don’t have to make the final decision. If he intended his double as competitive (say, 3-2-4-4 and 12 HCP) then he ought to rescue himself with 2NT. East’s redouble is odd, since he is limited and didn’t raise spades. He may be trying to sow confusion, but I’m not confused – yet.

Weiss: Pass. Surely partner intends this as a penalty double. Though I am not proud of my overcall, I presume it is within the bounds of our partnership style (I mildly prefer 2♥ rather than 1♥).

Roeder: Pass. I have my overcall, albeit a weak one, and was not invited to this party. And if I was invited, I loudly hear “Nowhere to Run” from Motown’s great Martha & The Vandellas.

J.S.: And I hear my opponents singing along to The Vandellas “Dancing in the Street.”

Mould: Pass. This very much depends on methods. Is partner’s double for penalties? There is certainly an argument it should be (partner could have doubled 2♥ or bid 2♠ last time or bid 2NT now). Even if it is takeout, is my pass suggesting a penalty? I do not think so (three level yes, but not two level) so I am comfortable passing. If the opponents score +2 then we will have a note in the system file from now on.

J.S.: I apologize to the panel (and readers who try to find the correct call in these problems). Everyone sometimes has to bid in a fog, not knowing system agreements – and certainly not knowing partner’s tendencies. Few of us have discussed what a double of 2♥ would have been or exactly what the double of 2♠ is. I would assume penalties, but does that mean that North has to have six winners to double? How much defense does the 1♥ overcall guarantee? I will suggest that one should use a double of 2♥ to show a somewhat balanced ten count (or more) in a similar manner in which a redouble of a negative double of 1♥ should be used.

Ivaska: Pass. The general rule is that, if a pass over RHO’s pass would be for penalty, then a pass over RHO’s redouble is also for penalty. After all, East’s 2♠ doesn’t show any great enthusiasm for spades. As to whether I should pull, I don’t have a reasonable place to pull to, so I don’t really have any choice. (I assume that this overcall is permitted under the partnership’s methods.)

Meyers: Pass if my partner is Ed Davis, but with most partners I think double is “do something intelligent” so I would bid 2NT after the redouble, meaning “scramble.”

Tritt: 2NT. I hate pulling penalty doubles, but this is a 2♥ bid, not a 1♥ bid, for me. 2NT should depict this approximate shape.

Rosen: 2NT. I disagree with my first bid. I would have bid 2♥ initially, not 1♥. I have such little defense that I think they can make 2♠, so I’ll try 2NT to get to a better, or more likely, a less worse spot.

J.S.: This is a weak jump overcall for me also. And I don’t expect partner to hold five or six defensive tricks, especially after East redoubled. Maybe partner will run if he is not certain about the defensive prospects, but I would save him the trouble and get out of Dodge, where those Western gunslingers hang out.
Thomas Bessis for France was the 2♠ doubler, holding: ♠A1072 ♥ -- ♦106543 ♣AQ98. He and his partner both sat out the redouble and paid off 12 IMPs when declarer made an overtrick. On the same auction Pepsi judiciously passed 2♠. Among other lessons which might be drawn here, is: don’t redouble (giving the opponents a chance to reevaluate their judgment in doubling – also, they may know something about the deal that you don’t), even though Brad Moss was successful in this instance. This big swing to the U.S., along with a couple of previous boards, had reduced the deficit to 3 IMPs with 18 boards to go.

Problem 3.

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

♠--  ♥9764  ♦K1092  ♣KQJ63

South    West      North     East
Pass      1♠*       1NT       3♠
?
*10-15, 5+ spades (Precision)

Weiss: 3NT. Is there really any alternative? Game might make. Partner often has spades doubly stopped when he overcalls 1NT. Even if he doesn’t, maybe we have enough tricks in the minors. The only other possibilities are to double, which seems weird with a void, and 4♠, which sends us into the stratosphere.

J.S. You answered your own question. There are alternatives to 3NT, and at least one is excellent. Not this one, however:

Bramley: 4♠. Three notrump puts all my eggs in one basket. If partner has a double stop and bids four notrump, I hope he can make it. Otherwise we’ll play at the five level, where I expect reasonable chances of success. Picture: ♠Kxx ♥AKx ♦AQxx ♣xxx, or the like. Double would be ghastly.

J.S.: A double is takeout. If partner sits, why shouldn’t the contract be going down? Perhaps a good panel problem would be what to bid with your example hand if partner doubled.

Roeder: Double. Hoping pard will bid 3NT with a double stopper and bid a suit otherwise. No warranties here since hands exist where Pard has only a single stopper yet 3NT is the only making game. The double will bring pard’s judgment into play on some close hands, but that is why he is paid the big bucks.

J.S.: And on occasion (like this time), partner can’t go wrong. Holding: ♠AK10 ♥KQJ10 ♦A875 ♣54, he will probably pass and collect +500. His other reasonable choice, 4♥, is a winner also. The contract is cold for eleven tricks, for there is no minor suit ruff available.

Mould: Double. If partner passes it, let’s hope we can beat it! I cannot see any other rational call that keeps all games (3NT, 4♥, 5m) in the mix. We do, after all, have a load of values and partner should not be passing this unless s/he is very sure it is the right thing to do.

Tritt: Double. Negative. Partner should be able to tell I’m very short in spades. If he chooses 3NT I have a good source of tricks in clubs. If he chooses a suit, game should be fine, and there could even be a minor suit slam. If he bids 4♥ I will pass, and over four of a minor I will cue 4♠ on the way to the five level

Ivaska: 3NT. I realize that I’m risking commitment to the local state mental hospital (wherever it’s located these days), but partner probably has two spade stoppers, and she/he might well make it with only one stopper. My clubs are much more useful on offense than on defense, and my guess is that 3♠ doubled won’t come close to compensating us for a vulnerable game. Five of a minor risks having too many top losers, among other possible shortcomings.

Meyers: 3NT. Double would be takeout, but I am not enthusiastic doing that when they have a nine plus card fit and I think I am making 3NT.

Rosen: 3NT and hope.

J.S.: This time there is no hope, no glory, for 3NT. The French were unlucky to have to contend with the 1♠ opening bid by Grue, who held: ♠86432 ♥A3 ♦Q43 ♣A87. North, Jean-Christophe Quantin, surely should have bid 1NT rather than his actual double. Moss raised exuberantly to 4♠ and South, Cedric Lorenzini, faced a difficult decision. A responsive double (at the four level!) would have worked well. However, he reasonably bid 4NT and 5♦ was down one. At the other table Marty Fleisher - Chip Martel bid to 4♥ without opposition, never suspecting the difficult decisions their counterparts would face. This game swing put the U.S. up by 27, but France picked up 10 on the next board, to remain close with 10 boards to go. There were two more swings each way on the next seven deals, leaving France down 16 with three to go. On board 30 the U.S. bid to 2NT, down two. You and I would have bid easily to 2D or 2S, making. But the French did worse, playing 1NT from the wrong side of the table (after a ‘semi-forcing’ 1NT response), misguessed the diamond finesse and were off four, losing 3 IMPs. But even down 19, there were chances if they correctly solved the bidding problems on the last two boards.

Problem 4.

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

♠A ♥AJ10732 ♦Q83  ♣K85

South    West      North     East
Pass
1♥        Pass      2NT*     Pass
?
*4+ hearts, game-force (Jacoby)

Tritt: 3♠. Showing shortness as requested. I realize some prefer not to show a stiff ace as shortness, but I do not subscribe to that view (though I will play that way if partner insists). If partner invites slam via a minor control bid, I will accept and drive to slam provided we can establish that we have diamond control. If partner bids 3NT, which I play as a non-serious slam try (defined as a slam-useful minimum), I will invite slam with a 4♣ bid. If partner signs off at 4♥, I will (reluctantly) respect that decision.

Ivaska: 3♠. There are many minimum North hands which provide an excellent play for 6♥ (e. g., ♠64 ♥9865 ♦AKJ9 ♣A103), so I would be derelict if I didn’t make a slam try. However, there are also many that provide only a poor play (or even no play) for slam, so I can’t just blast. 3♠ is hardly an ideal slam try, because it isn’t a short suit in my system, and it may well cause partner to overvalue spade honors (and undervalue minor suit honors), but I can’t think of anything better at the moment.
Rosen: 3♠. This hand, IMHO, has great slam potential, let’s get the ball rolling.

Bramley: 3♦. In my current methods 3♣ shows all minimums and 3♦ shows a non-minimum with some shortness. I would bid 3♦, then show a spade singleton. (I can distinguish singletons and voids.) Sure, I’d rather my singleton not be the ace, but it’s still a singleton. If partner signs off I will respect that decision. I have a good hand, but not enough to drive it by myself.

Roeder: 3♥. Two questions to resolve: Is this hand a minimum? The sixth heart screams, “No!” Should I show my stiff if it is the ace? I would say no, but understand the flip side. Systemically, 90+% of the expert world play that 3♣ over a Jacoby 2NT is some type of minimum. In my methods, I either have to lie and show a non-minimum, semi-balanced hand, or show a non-minimum with an unspecified stiff. Under such constraints, I would show a stiff.

Mould: Oh come on! This question is unanswerable without at least a semblance of what our methods are! In some partnerships I bid shortage (not that I would here with stiff ace) and some partnerships I bid length, which would suggest 3♣ here.

J.S.: I’ve already apologized; just do the best you can.

Mould (continued): 3♦. My preferred methods are known as “Swedish Jacoby” over here, whereby 3♣ is any minimum, 3♦ extras with no shortage, and 3♥/♠/NT extras with shortage in ♣/♦/oM. I will treat this as extras with no shortage so 3♦ it is. Since this also works more or less as showing length that is fine!
Meyers: I am going make a bid to show a balanced hand with extras and six or more trumps, (for me that would be 3♠). I am lying about the singleton spade because I don’t like showing stiff aces.

J.S.: The reason for not liking it is that partner will discount a king (or king-queen) in the suit where you show a singleton. High spade honors in partner’s hand could be quite useful on this deal.

Weiss: I don’t know how to answer this, as I don’t use this convention and don’t know what my options are. If I were forced to guess something, I would try 3NT, which I would view as non-serious, meaning that I have a promising hand within the minimum range. I would not show a singleton spade at this point even if I knew how to.

J.S.: I agree that this is not the time to show the singleton ace. The important features of the hand are the extra heart and extra high cards. In the Bermuda Bowl Moss-Grue used six rounds of bidding but languished in 5♥. For France, Bessis responded 1♠ to the 1♥ opening bid holding: ♠K972 ♥K954 ♦K94 ♣AJ, then jumped to 4♥ when his partner rebid 2♥, and missed the excellent slam. No swing. There was one last shot for France:

Problem 5.

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

♠AJ43 ♥A2 ♦KQJ9 ♣J95

South    West      North     East
1NT     Pass      2♥*        Pass
2NT** Pass       4♥***    Pass
4♠        Pass      4NT       `Pass
5♥        Pass      6♣         Pass
?
*Transfer
**Any maximum for spades
***Short hearts

Rosen: 6♦. I can’t count thirteen tricks so will show my strength and grand slam interest.

Meyers: 6♠. I think partner is asking for third round control of clubs, which I don’t have, if partner is five-five in the blacks I can only count twelve tricks.

Ivaska: 6♠. Consider what partner needs for a grand slam; ♠KQ1092 ♥7 ♦A9 ♣AK873 isn’t enough!  North needs the ♣Q in addition, and if he had something like that, he would have bid seven some time ago. Partner is presumably looking for club help, and I have almost the worst holding I could have.

Tritt: 6♦. We have all the first round controls since partner is trying for a grand. If partner is looking for third round club control (he could have asked for specific kings if he needed the ♣K), I cannot supply that. However, I do have a maximal source of tricks in diamonds, so I will show that and leave the rest to partner. I should be limited to four diamonds because I opened 1NT and have suggested four spades. Even if I would open a hand with five diamonds and four spades with 1NT, I would have had third round club control, which I have ostensibly denied (because I didn’t bid 7♠). If partner has something like: ♠KQxxx ♥– ♦xx ♣AKxx or ♠KQxxx ♥x ♦Axxx ♣AKx, he might even work out to bid 7♦. Or perhaps he has: ♠Kxxxxx ♥x ♦Ax ♣AKxx, which results in an excellent 7♠ if he plays me (as I think he should) for ♦KQJx of diamonds.

Roeder: 6♦. In one sense, pard’s stiff heart is a disappointment because there is no heart ruff available in the hand with short trumps. Pard’s 6♣ bid guaranteed all the key cards and is asking my opinion about a grand, in general, and specifically about the ♣K (or third round club control in some partnerships). My diamonds are great and strongly suggest seven, but my club holding is a problem. If pard has: ♠KQxxxx ♥x ♦Ax ♣AQxx, the grand is 50%. If Pard has: ♠KQxxxxx ♥x ♦Ax ♣Axx, or other hands with seven spades, the grand is cold. Probably I should bid 7♠ on the theory that it is almost impossible to construct rational hands where the grand is less than 50%, but the worst hell in bridge is to go down one in a grand when our opponents have messed up and not bid any slam.

Weiss: 7♦. I am accepting partner’s grand slam try because I have extra tricks in diamonds. Informing him of that concentration may allow for a brilliant pass if he happens to have something like: ♠KQxxx ♥x ♦Axxx ♣AKx. Notice that there can’t be an extra trick if spades are trumps because there is nothing that can be ruffed in the hand with the shorter trump holding. If diamonds are trumps, however, there is an extra trick by virtue of the heart ruff. I recall a deal like this from a recent championship, where responder had an even more extreme example of a hand where playing in the shorter trump suit gains; in that case, responder had only three diamonds. In fact, I think this is that deal.

Bramley: 7♦. This hand is famous already for the Gold-Robson triumph and the Grue-Moss disaster. With partner having shown heart shortness, bidding 7♦ is clear, as we can envision the heart ruff for the thirteenth trick. Even in a four-two fit, diamonds is the best chance for a grand.
J.S.: Robson-Gold were playing in the Transnational Teams, an open event for those who did not qualify for the Bermuda Bowl or who were eliminated in the round-robin. The World Bridge Federation duplicates boards over all the team events. In the Bermuda Bowl the French had a slightly different auction, but after Bessis asked for keycards and then tried for the grand by bidding 6♣, Volcker signed off at 6♠. For the U.S., Grue tried for the grand by bidding 5NT rather than 6♣ and Moss jumped to 7♠. The North hand was: ♠KQ1082 ♥9 ♦A76 ♣AK87. Diamonds were not five-one and the ♣Q was three long so 7♠ failed a trick while 7♦ was cold. France picked up 17 to lose the match by 2 IMPs. If they had bid the grand it would have been tied.

Mould: 7♦. Easy, because I know the hand! I think the English, more or less, scratch pair, of David Gold and Andrew Robson were the only pair to reach the cold 7♦. Yet from here, all you have to do is think of it to realize it must be right. Partner has shown: ♠KQxxx ♥x ♦A?? ♣A?? and must have something else to justify a grand try. This will be either the ♣K or a sixth spade. Either way we can count twelve top tricks in a spade contract, but not thirteen. The heart ruff, useless in spades, is the thirteenth trick with diamonds as trump. Even ♦Ax with partner would make the grand good. So 7♦ it is. I would like to think I would have found this at the table. But then I would like to be as good a player as either Gold or Robson.

J.S.: I’ll bet Gold-Robson would have liked to be playing in the Bermuda Bowl finals rather than the Transnationals. Congratulations to those who were ... and especially to the winning U.S. team.