Sunday, March 23, 2008

An Interesting Deal with the Wife

AQ8xx ♥AKxxxQx ♣A :Opener
♠J9xx ♥Qxxxx ♦Ax ♣xx :Responder

1♠-P-2♠ started our sequence. Because of agreements with my wife, Leah, I cuebid 3♣ next, and she cue'd 3♦ (Ace or King and possibly a hedge). I cue'd 3♥, and she made a fine raise to 4♥. At this point, I have to admit that I made an idiot bid of 6♠. Obviously, I should bid 6♥. Judgment was just, as the spade hook failed (2-2 split), and the diamond King was well-placed. 6♥ makes, using spades to ditch her losing diamond.

I thought about the auction that I would have if she was up on all the "weird stuff you and your friends play." Assuming a 2♠ raise:

3♥-P-3NT (super-accept of hearts)-P-
4♣(agrees hearts, asking)-P-4♥(two covers)-P-

I don't think I'd see the power of this hand yet. I need a cover in diamonds, and she will have the Ace of anything for this sequence. If the King is placed right, it seems fairly good odds that I can ditch her diamond losers on the spades, and I might even make seven if the spades cooperate. If she has two internal covers, however, a diamond lead will be fatal to the slam. I seem to have several options. I could blast and pray (good living?).

One option is 4♠, RKCB for spades in this sequence, but that leaves me scratching my head. I might make slam opposite the diamond Ace and heart Queen, but not opposite the spade King and heart Queen. Bad option.

Better is 4NT, RKCB for hearts. If she has the diamond Ace, I am happy. Interesting...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Even Better Michaels Thoughts

As is often the case, thinking through a problem from one perspective leads to a better mouse trap. However, thinking through the problem again, from an entirely different perspective, improves upon that mousetrap. Systems, conventions -- they all evolve and grow, if one constantly rethinks.

Consider the circumstance of a heart-based Michaels call. 1♠-2♠-P-? This is a much more cramped sequence, of course. Is there, then, a method for handling the "general invite" that is not so much fit-dependent? For, 3♥ might simply be a simple preference bid, which seems to force 2NT...3♥ as the invite, or does it?

What precisely is the meaning of 1♠-2♠-P-3♦? Long diamonds? If that is what Advancer has, could he not simply bid 2NT, expecting the likely 3♣ (happily surprised if not), and then convert 3♣ to 3♦? It seems, therefore, that the 3♦ call could be put to a better use. That use? A constructive heart raise, equivalent with the 1♥-2♥-P-3♠ sequence I described.

Of course, you may see the obvious now. If that option exists for a heart-based Michaels, then can we not restore the preemptive spade raise in spade-based Michaels sequences? Could not 1♥-2♥-P-3♠ be preemptive and 1♥-2♥-P-3♦ be a bid to show a constructive spade raise? That actually is my preference.

Back to hearts. The same basic structure over 3♦ as a constructive raise as was proposed for after a constructive 3♠ makes sense to me, tweaked somewhat:

3♥ = ugly, ugly, ugly -- very passable
4♥ = acceptance
3NT = diamond fit-dependent
3♠ = ???

Now, notice that 3♠ can show the club fit-dependent hand. We end up, then, with a bid of the "other major" for the club fit-dependent hands and the bid of 3NT for the diamond fit-dependent hands.

As to spade-based, after 3♦?

3♠ = ugly
4♠ = acceptance
3♥ = other major for club fit-dependent
3NT = diamond fit-dependent

Notice how each saves space needed for cuebidding.

Also notice that 4♣ and 4♦ are available for showing something different. The stand-out option seems to be that bidding the minor directly shows a need for a heart control, as this will be the most jamming bid and the least powerful position.

What do you end up with, then, as a scheme?

After a major-based Michaels sequence (1♥-2♥-P or 1♠-2♠-P), Advancer can bid 3♣ to play, 2NT...3♦ to play, or 2NT...P to play the minor. With simple preference for the major, Advancer bids the major at the lowest possible level, or can jump to 3♠ as "preemptive." With game or better interest, but fit-dependent, Advancer can ask for the minor and then place the contract.

However, if Advancer has constructive or better values, he always bids 3♦. Partner is expected either to sign off in the major (garbage almost beyond belief) or to bid the game (minimum range, but acceptance values). With the high-end Michaels hands, a concept that is not all that "high end" as we have seen, partner can make a slam move on route to game. His options:

1. 4♣ or 4♦ identifies the minor but denies a control in Opener's major.
2. 3NT flags diamonds and allows cuebidding space, and partner has shown a control in Opener's major. This allows 4♥ to be LTTC when Opener's major is hearts.
3. Three of the other major flags diamonds and allows cuebidding space, and partner has shown a control in Opener's major.

Now, a couple of other points might be noted.

First, a 3♥ call flagging clubs (1♥-2♥-P-3♦-P-3♥) allows two additional bids of interest, namely a three-level cue of the major (3♠ by Advancer) and a Serious 3NT call by either side. This wildly enhances spade-based sequences.

Second, a 3♠ call flagging clubs (1♠-2♠-P-3♦-P-3♠) does allow at least a Serious 3NT bid by Advancer. As these heart-oriented sequences are not blessed by as much space, and as no LTTC call will be available, the ability to bid or not bid a Serious 3NT here seems to be very important.

I'll leave it to others to work out the finer details of the follow-up sequences. However, one point that I would add here is that this scheme seems to have similar application to any related sequences. Thus, for example, if you play Cappelletti as your defense to a Weak 1NT Opening, then this scheme, incorporating a constructive+ 3♦ call, makes sense after a 2♥ or 2♠ overcall.

So, how about Michaels sequences for both majors?


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Some Michaels Thoughts

A sequence from a recent deal reminded me of some thoughts that I have had concerning Michaels sequences and gave me some new ideas as well.

Consider a simple start of 1♥-2♥-P, where partner has shown spades and a minor. The classic approach is for 2NT to ask for partner's minor, perhaps to sign off, but perhaps to gain more information for a game try. However, this leaves a strange problem. If you bid 2NT and then 3♠, partner will assume, correctly, that his minor was not interesting to you. Thus, this approach forces Responder to place the contract on the mere information of the suit alone. The problem is that there are many holdings where the minor is immaterial, such as when Advancer has Qxx/Qxx in the minors, but where the overall hand is still invitational.

Alternatively, Advancer might bid 3♥, but this seems to be a GF bid, especially (obviously) if the majors are reversed (1♠-2♠-P-3♠). So, this does not handle GI hands at all.

What about a simple 3♠ call? Well, the apparent usual meaning is "preemptive." This structure, however, seems to leave an inability to make any general invite and only allows a fit-specific invite.

Consider a hand like ♠AxxxAxxxxxxx ♣x. You "know" that partner likely has clubs. OK, but what is his strength? If he has ♥x ♦xx on the outside, you expect two quick losers in that suit. If his spade holding is good (maybe KQxxx) and his club holding decent (maybe Axxxx), then you expect to take five spades on dummy, the heart Ace, the club Ace, and, if trumps split 2-2, two club ruffs in hand, for a net of nine tricks. A tenth will come from establishing a late club when clubs are 4-3. So, if partner has ♠KQxxx ♥x ♦xx ♠Axxxx, game seems to be a fair bet. But, that's a perfect six-loser hand. Can't partner have something less remarkable, like ♠KQxxx ♥x ♦xx ♣QJxxx? Or, ♠Qxxxx ♥xx ♦x ♣KJxxx?

I just don't get the basic approach of simply asking partner for his minor and then guessing. The simple solution, at least for me, is to give up on the wild preference for always preempting to the maximum limit. Preempts are great, but a Michaels call sometimes does the trick without the need for Advancer to add his "I can preempt too" touch to the thing.

Consider this problem, as well, from the standpoint of when Partner has the very strong Michaels hand. You bid 2NT, and partner flags his minor (3♥ for clubs, 3♠ for diamonds). The upside is that partner has shown extra values. The downside is that you have no easy way to force game and agree upon a suit. It seems that about the only way to agree the major is to perhaps bid 4♥, a very ugly call, or four of the other minor, which is almost as ugly. The problem with the latter is that you then lose ability to make any sort of positive supporting bid for the minor.

This very Advancer's hand came up in Detroit. Fortunately, my partner and I had a general agreement ditching preemptive jump raises for constructive jump raises. So, I was able to bid 3♠ with the correctly-interpreted meaning of "I want to bid 4♠, but you might have a P.O.C. 2♥ call, in which case passing is fine." That approach seemed perfect with this hand. I show the game interest with a hand that is really not fit-dependent. If partner has diamonds, I have a side shortness values and an amazing double-fit. If partner has the more likely club holding, I have two clear tricks and a fourth trump coupled with shortness, which is nice. Either way, I have a strongly invitational hand, and partner should do the right thing. He will know that I am not so much fit-dependent, or I would bid 2NT and then select the right contract (hopefully).

As a bonus, if partner has the strong hand, I have focused trumps without ambiguity, such that any further calls are understood as spade-slam approach (if that is our course, as it was).

So, next issue. What are partner's options with the strong hand? Well, to define options, one must first decide what partner needs to be in slam territory. I like to think about this concern from the standpoint of assessing what "worst possible hand" provides slam hope. If we can reach slam opposite that hand, then all others will be easy.

My thought of the "worst hand" was ♠KQxxx ♥x ♦Ax ♣KJ10xx. Wow! A five-loser hand? How is that possible? Well, how about if Advancer has a simple hand like ♠Axxx ♥xxx ♦xxx ♣Axx? Five spade tricks is easy. One diamond makes six tricks. If the club hook works, which may well be odds-on as against Opener, then we have five club tricks, for 11 so far. Two diamond pitches on the clubs allows a diamond ruff on the short side, and 12 tricks. This amazing result occurs because Advancer covers two losers with the two Aces, one cover comes from the probable club hook, and a fourth comes from Advancer having six or fewer clubs+hearts and a fourth trump. Note how moving either Ace to hearts makes this slam hopeless on a diamond lead.

How about a similar holding, changing ♣KJ10xx to AJ10xx? That works, but now Advancer can have the King or Queen of clubs and the spade Ace. ♠Axxx ♥xxx ♦xxx ♣Qxx probably works. Again, the switch of the either cover to the heart Ace, or even to the diamond King, makes this slam hopeless.

It appears to me, then, that Advancer's exact cards are critical. Note how spade Ace and club Ace was necessary on the first, but the club Queen is enough on the second. Exact cards are necessary.

So, how does one work all of this out?

I have thought about this for a few days, and I have a suggestion.

First, a 4♣ call by partner, after 3♠, should show a presumably fit-dependent hand with clubs and spades. This seems obvious. If Advancer has two of the four top club and spade honors (♠AK, ♠A/♣A, ♠A/♣K, ♠K/♣A, ♠K/♣K, or ♣AK), he has it. RKCB seems called for. If Responder has two or three tenuous cards, like perhaps one of these four cards (♠A, ♠K, ♣A, or ♣K), plus a secondary blacks-suit card (♠Q/♣Q), plus the diamond Ace or King, he cues 4♦; if two tenuous cards only, he declines a 4♥ LTTC bid. If Responder has two tenuous cards but no diamond control, he makes a "LTTC" call of 4♥. Note that Advancer has no way to show or deny a heart control, but the heart Ace might be a third tenuous card justifying acceptance of a LTTC call. In other words, Advancer will note cooperate in a fit-dependent sequence unless he has at least one clear key cover and one tenuous card, but the holding of these two PLUS the heart Ace will merit acceptance of a LTTC call. Note also that 4♣ clearly implies heart control.

Second, partner bids 3NT with a diamond-oriented fit-dependent hand. This is huge, in my opinion. Advancer needs to be given space to cue a control in the other minor, and 3NT gets below 4♣. If Advancer does cue 4♣, this shows the same tenuous holding as before. However, partner can cue 4♦, repeating his suit, to suggest a need for a heart control (Advancer can bid 4♥ to show the heart control but suggest a tenuous internal card), or 4♥ as LTTC with a heart control. Same stuff, then, but an ability to check on a heart control when tenuous. Advancer can also bypass 4♣ (no club card) to cue 4♦ with two tenuous cards, allowing 4♥ as LTTC, presumably needing also a heart control (heart Ace, spade King, and club Queen, for instance). Advancer's 4♥ would seem to show the heart Ace and one key card.

These two bids and follow-ups might very easily need tweaking and improvement, but the idea is to handle fit-dependent hands in a way that maximizes space for description.

What, then, do 4♦ and 4♥ cover? Well, the one gap is the club-fit-dependent without a heart control. It seems to me that these should be somewhat split between 4♥, 4♦ with a hand that would decline a 4♥ LTTC response, and 4♦ with a hand that would accept a 4♥ LTTC response. One should seek primes, one should seek a high tenuous count, and would should accept a relatively low tenuous count. Just to agree on something, then, it seems that 4♥ is strongest, 4♦...P weakest, and 4♦...OK middlish.

So, what about handling hands that are not fit-dependent? Simple. One option is RKCB directly, obviously. The other is to get whatever information you can from whatever call is most likely to lead to an intelligent sequence. In other words, treat hands that are not fit-dependent as if they were fit-dependent.

A recap:

1♥-2♥-P-3♠ = constructive invite

Partner then:

3NT = diamond slam try
4♣ = club slam try with hearts controlled
4♦ = mild to middling slam try with hearts not controlled
4♥ = strong slam try with hearts not controlled

Advancer then cues his values and value types.

So, what if hearts is the major? That's next...

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Empathetic Splinters -- Strange?

I find it humorous to hear back from people who are afraid of new things. Sometimes, "new things" are not all that new.

A case in point. On of the concepts that I have employed and developed is what I call the "empathetic splinter." Anyone reading this probably already knows that an "empathetic splinter" is a call, in simple form, that essentially shows interest in a slam if partner has this stiff. In other words, a jump to 4♥ might show slam interest if partner happens to have a stiff heart. You would use this typically when some constraint of the auction prohibited partner from splintering himself. So, you empathize a possible problem and answer it.

Some people have thought that this is a completely new and strange concept. Something extremely esoteric. However, I would suggest reading the definition of a conventional call known as a "Bluhmer." It seems that the "Bluhmer" and the "Empathetic Splinter" are essentially the same bid. What is different about an empathetic splinter, if there is a difference, is merely that I have noted certain sequences where a "Bluhmer" seems to make sense even though the existence of a short suit is not yet known.

In other words, a "Bluhmer 4♥" might be made opposite a known stiff heart or opposite a known stiff in either hearts or spades, for example. An "empathetic splinter" is a Bluhmer made when partner might have a stiff heart, might have a stiff spade, or might not even have a stiff. It is a call made in case Opener has a stiff.

Not much difference. It seems that all Bluhmers are empathetic splinters, but some empathetic splinters are used when a Bluhmer might not be available without assuming the existence of a stiff that might not be there. All of this is also explained with more theory, of course, than you will find in a mere definitions section of the Encyclopedia of Bridge or a bridge glossary.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Flag Empathetics?

Styles differ on how to hand various hand patterns. But, a possible scheme and possible solution recently occurred to me.

Suppose that you have agreed that a 3D response to a 1NT opening shows a GF hand with both minors. This is not my preferred approach, as I bid 2♠ first and then bid my stiff major at the three-level. But, suppose that this is your approach, such that showing the shortness is not easy.

One could flag the minor of preference (3♥ for clubs, 3♠ for diamonds) and then have Responder flag his short major (4♣ for hearts; 4D for spades). That works decently. However, Opener may want to have the ability to show a very strong acceptance immediately, reserving the 3M flags for hands not appropriate for the very strong acceptance.

When this occurs, I could imagine using an approach where Opener can show a hand suitable for slam acceptance in one of the minors, identifying the minor, and also indicating which splinter (which short minor) most interests him. In essence, an "empathetic splinter." The calls would then identify (1) the ideal short major empathized and (2) the minor of preference. To do this, it seems that one needs four calls.

My thought is to use 4♥ and 4♠ as empathetic splinters agreeing diamonds. Thus, either major flags diamonds and directly shows the location of the empathetic splinter. Thus, you might leap to 4♥ after 3D to show a hand with great minor cards and just small cards in hearts. You want partner to have a stiff heart to cover your lack of a heart control. 4♠ would show the same holding, but worthless spades.

To agree clubs, you flag clubs by bidding one of the minors (4♣ or 4D), flagging the "empathetic splinter" major (4♣ for hearts, 4D for spades). So, 4♣ would show club support and small cards in hearts; 4D would show club preference and small cards in spades.

The reason for this approach is to keep club agreement lower, because you need more space for RKCB when the agreed suit is clubs. 4NT after 4♠ (spade empathetic splinter, diamonds agreed) is still troubling, but at least two responses are at or below 5D.

This same type of approach might be used in other situations, where you have compound flagging going on. In a non-slam sequence, I have used a similar "compound flagging" in a sense. Imagine 1♣-P-1♥-1NT(sandwich)-P-? To me, it makes sense for Advancer to "compound flag." The two messages are "what suit to name as trumps" and "what suit to lead." For, you might have Kx-xxxx in the two suits, where you want a lead in the one suit but to declare the other. So, you bid the suit if you want the lead but flag the suit if you want the other lead. Thus, 2D would "flag" diamonds for lead and for declaring, whereas 2♣ would flag diamonds for declaring but flag spades for lead. 2♠ would flag spades for lead and for declaring, whereas 2♥ would flag spades for declaring but flag clubs for lead.

You might also look for splinter flag situations, where you use four bids to distinguish (1) what is the short suit and (2) what suit are you supporting.