Hand of the Week, Vol. 2 No. 11

The first board of the night on Tuesday 09 June contained several good lessons about bidding:

Dealer North
None vul
S Q J 7 5 3
H A 4 2
D 3
C K Q 8 2
S 9 8 6
H K Q 8 7 3
D 4
C T 9 6 3
[table marker] S A K 4
H 6 5
D A 8 7 5 2
C A 7 4
S T 2
H J T 9
D K Q J T 9 6
C J 5

North has the only easy decision. He deals and opens 1S. 1) Should East overcall 1NT or 2D? 2) Should south bid on, or try to punish East, and if so, how? 3) If South opts to try to punish East, can West save him?

From East, I much prefer 1NT to 2D. A two-level overcall should promise a decent six-card suit or a very good 5-card suit. AQTxx is OK, Axxxx is asking for trouble. (If you play 16-18 notrump overcalls, there's no law against passing as East -- it's no fun to pass, but it's not nearly as risky as doubling is.)

South, facing an 1S opening from his partner, knows his side has at least half the face cards and a likely misfit. This is an ideal time to seek a penalty rather than bidding on. If East overcalls 1NT, South doubles for penalty and leads the DK if he gets the chance. If East overcalls 2D, a few old-fashioned Souths can double for penalty, but most duplicate players use negative doubles: the sequence 1S-2D-X shows hearts and clubs, or one of those two suits plus the ability to run to spades or notrump if opener picks the wrong one. If you play negative doubles, your auction goes like this:


South must pass at his first turn, since a double would show one or both of the unbid suits; North reopens the auction with a double; South will pass if he wanted to make a penalty double but couldn't, and will bid with a weak nondescript hand that can't beat 2D.

Five tricks is the limit for East in 1NT or 2D doubled against good defense, costing a 300- or 500-point penalty on a deal where N-S cannot make a game. Pretty stiff punishment for an only slightly imperfect overcall.

If East chooses a 1NT overcall, West will sign off in 2H just as he would over a 1NT opening. After a 2D overcall, a reopening double from North, and a penalty pass by South, West might risk running to 2H - but if he trusts his partner to have a proper diamond suit for his 2D bid, he might not. As it happens, this time the hearts break evenly, and E-W can take seven tricks in hearts, perhaps not even doubled. Escaping for down one in 2H would have been a top for E-W.

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This page last updated 11.06.09
©2009 Gordon Bower