Friday, December 19, 2008

Quantitative DIamond Raise

BBF is a great forum. The talent there is quickly obvious, and it is a great place to bounce ideas out there. One recent discussion convinced me of the merits of a new idea.

The concept is simple. We are all familiar with a 5♥ or 5♠ call as a "quantitative" raise of the major, asking about trump quality, whether we use it much or not. The diamond suit, however, does not allow us to make that call, because 5♦ is game.

However, what if 5♣, in a diamond-focused sequence, served the function of the "quantitative" raise? I mean, if the alternative is Exclusion, that's lousy, rare, and possibly meaningless anyway.

An example. You hold AK-AK-AK in clubs-heart-spades, with a stiff diamond. Add in a Queen for good measure. Partner opens 2♦, weak. What now? If partner an play diamonds for one loser, you can count 12 tricks. However, nothing will really allow you to find out exactly how good partner's diamond are.

So, you bid 2NT, which you play as Ogust. Fine. Partner shows a good suit but bad hand, the latter being obvious. But, what is a "good suit?" If partner needs two of the top three honors and three of the top five honors, he could have KQ10xxx, and that's not good enough. With the new tool, however, you can bid 5♣ to show slam interest, with a small stiff in diamonds. If partner has KQ10xxx, he signs off. With KQJxxx, he signs off. With KQJ10xx, or AQJ10xx, or AKJ10xx, however, he has an easy 6♦ call.

Suppose that your stiff is the Queen. If partner's response to Ogust is 3♣ (bad suit also), then he could still have what you need. Now, however, 5♣ should show a stiff honor (because you are not allowed to be an idiot, by agreement). If partner has something like AJ10xxx or KJ10xxx, he can probably play this for one loser, and he accordingly bids the slam.

This same approach would work after a 3♦ or 4♦ opening, as well as others.

I'm not sure that there is an easy solution for when the focus suit is clubs. But, the diamond solution is so friggin' easy and obvious. A 5♣ call is so obviously strange looking at the table that it would be hard to forget. I cannot imagine 2♦-P-2NT-P-3♣-P-5♣ not triggering partner's mind to think hard.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Warning!!!

1♠-2♥-3♥-3♠-3NT-4♣-? (opponents passing throughout)

Opener has agreed hearts. Responder cues spades, yielding a serious 3NT from Opener. Responder now cues 4♣. What is the difference between Opener bidding 4♦ and 4♥?

On the one hand, you could interpret things along these lines. Opener's 4♦ sounds like a cuebid. If he needed a diamond control, he would not cuebid 4♦. Hence, 4♥ essentially asks for a diamond control. 4♦, in contrast, is a sort of "Last Train" bid but definitely shows a diamond control, seeking generally "more stuff."

On the other hand, you could interpret things another way. Opener's 4♦ sounds like and should be "Last Train." When control of a suit has not been showed yet, Last Train implies a lack of that missing-suit control. Hence, 4♦ "asks" for a diamond control. By process of elimination, then, 4♥ becomes a "general stuff" invite, showing a diamond control. The bypass of what is essentially an "asking" bid, or a "denial" cue, shows that which would otherwise be requested/denied.

The risk is that you interpret this auction under the first reasonable approach but partner interprets this auction under the second reasonable approach. Better to agree.

Personally, I see little merit to going one way or the other. I see a small technical advantage to the second line, in that I might want to "ask" about a diamond control even if I have one, and only the 4♦ as asking approach allows that. I also, for perhaps strange reasons, feel that the second theoretically is more consistent, not with cuebidding generally but with Last Train theory specifically. Hence, I lean toward option two. But, reasonable minds can differ.

Again, this is probably a very good discussion point. Save yourself from having a silly argument when it comes up.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Relay/Cue Idea

An auction got me thinking.

Your partner opens 1♥ and you bid 2♣, game-forcing. Partner rebids 2♥, and you bid 2NT. Partner repeats 3♥.

At this point, the contract will either be a notrump strain or a heart strain, right? So, any call except 3NT would be a cuebid in support of hearts. So far, so good.

However, what is partner's strength? This seems like a sequence where partner's strength is fairly unlimited. He might have a bare minimum opening. Or, he might have a powerhouse that is not right for an immediate 3♥ jump. This seems like a really good sequence for using Serious 3NT, but you just cannot do that.

Or, can you?

Suppose that you make a 3♠ call a relay to 3NT. If Responder wants to play in 3NT (or would have bid 3NT in this auction as "to play"), he bids 3♠, expecting that Opener will bid 3NT. If that was his intended contract, that's where we end up. Note that this relay would not risk a lead-directing double, because the person making the double would be on lead.

Using that approach, 3NT by Responder would instead be a cue of spades.

What this gains is that Responder can now relay to 3NT and then cue a minor if he has mere "cooperative" values. 3NT, 4♣, or 4♦ directly would be serious cues (3NT as a serious spade cue). With mere cooperative values any no minor control, Responder relays and then bids 4♥.

What if Opener rejects the relay? If Opener would not have passed 3NT, then he bids whatever he would have bid instead of 3NT. However, he should probably stretch to make a cue in support of himself if he would have bid 4♥, in case all was well in the world.

This same idea might work whenever hearts is agreed or is the sole focus suit and where the person bidding 3♠ over a trump-setting or focus-setting 3♥ call will be the declarer if the contract will be 3NT.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Flexible Inversion?

I have occasionally been asked if there is merit to inverting the meaning of a 3♠ cuebid and a serious 3NT call when hearts are trumps. I have thought this through a bit more and have a thought to share on this topic.

If hearts are set as trumps, after a natural spade call, then I believe that cuebidding spades naturally at the normal, "cheap" level of 3♠ is more important than the serious cue, largely because the existence of that spade cue is critical to partner deciding how serious he is.

As an easy example, consider a very basic auction. 1♠-P-2♥-P-3♥-P-3♠. If 3♠ is just a spade cue, then Opener can better decide how serious he is by reference to his spade holding. If 3♠ is "serious," then Responder is deciding how serious he is without reference to whether Responder does or does not have a spade card. It seems to me that the better course is for Responder to first tell that critical fact before the partnership decides seriousness.

Another example. 1♥-P-2minor-P-2♠-P-3♥. Here, again, it seems that Opener should define his spade suit quality as his primary function at this point, with Responder then showing seriousness in light of that fact. Arguably, however, this might be different, where Opener might want to show serious interest with a 3♠ call, to "get under" the ability for Responder to now cue the critical spade honor for him. I'm still undecided here.

So, perhaps the inversion should occur (if you like that idea) unless 3♠ is Responder's first chance to cue a spade suit opened by partner?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Three Diamonds as Stayman

A lot of people probably already know about the Muppet Stayman solution to Puppet Stayman's inability to handle Responder with 5♠/4♥. Opener bids 3♥ when he has no 4-card or five-card major (instead bidding 3NT with five hearts), to allow Responder to bid 3♠ with 5♠/4♥.

This same restructuring principle (3NT=hearts, 3♥=negative) can be used in other situations, to solve other, similar problems.

A classic problem example would be in formulating defenses to when your 1NT or 2NT opening faces a 3♦ intervention. Playing Responder's double as negative only goes so far. If you treat the double as "Stayman," and have Opener bid 3NT with four hearts, 3♠ with four spades, and 3♥ with no four-card major, then Responder can, again, better handle the hand with 5♠/4♥.

This same structure works if a strong 2♣ opener rebids 3♣. Responder can bid 3♦ as "Stayman," asking about the majors. If Opener does not have a four-card major, he bids 3♥ (3NT would show, again, four hearts), allowing Responder to better handle a hand with 5♠/4♥.

How about after 3♣ interference of a 1NT or 2NT opening. My usual defense is for a double to be Muppet Stayman, with transfers (3♠ showing diamonds). One could, however, decide that ditching transfers and an easy way to show diamonds allows a possible improvement of 3♦ as a modified (as discussed) Stayman bid "with a stopper," making the double of 3♣, Muppet, deny a stopper.

Another instance of this big principle might include the sequence 1♣-3♦-? If the double is negative, inversion of the 3♥/3NT meanings allows Responder to, again, better handle 5♠/4♥.

A more convoluted example carries this even further. Suppose that 2♣...3M shows a four-card major and longer diamonds (Belladonna?). There is still a problem when Opener has 4-3-6-0 or 4-3-5-1 shape if Responder has five hearts. The solution to that problem is to have Opener bid 3♦ with those problem shapes, reserving 3♠ for hands with four spades, five or more diamonds, and less than three hearts. When Opener does bid 3♦, this time Responder, if he is not about to raise diamonds, acts sort of like 3♦ was actually Muppet Stayman. If he has a 5-card major, he bid 3♠ (spades) or 3NT (hearts). If he does not, Responder bids 3♥, allowing Opener to now bid 3♠ if he has that 4-3-6-0 or 4-3-5-1 hand. Note the secondary benefit that Opener declares more of the 3NT contracts this way.

There may be many other instances where this may pay off. A very obscure one to consider is an inversion of 3♥ and 3NT as advances of a takeout double of a 3♦ opening. 3♥, in that situation, could grab onto and also include hands where Advancer might be struggling between a 3NT advance and a 4♣ advance. By putting these into 3♥, you allow Partner to, in a sense, make an insufficient bid of 3NT after your "4♣ call." If he wants you to tell him what you were thinking, he bids 3♠, and you end up at the same spot. The downside is that 3♥ is no longer a possible contract, but strain and not unnecessarily bypassing 3NT might be sufficient compensating benefits.