Maritha Pottenger

So, I've encouraged you to make penalty doubles of no trump overcalls. Now a cautionary tale against weak NT openings. You want to have a penalty double available when defending against Weak NT openers, but must be sensible with its use. August 25, 2018 at Adventures, Hand #19, West (you) held: K42 A64 AQ753 Q9. On your right, South opened a 12-14 no trump. Our West chose to double. The double is penalty oriented—showing a hand with the top of notrump bidders range or more. This is technically correct (15 HCP), but I don't like the Q9. I like the five diamonds, but am lacking interior spots.

North passed, which systemically asks partner to redouble either to play 1NT redoubled, the intention here, or to show a weak hand with two non-touching suits with hope of escaping 1NT* to a eight card fit at the two level—a so-called “runout sequence”. East passed, though with East's hand, Q9853 10973 J4 72, I would have run to 2. I do NOT play Systems On when partner makes a penalty double of their NT, because I believe we need to be able to run from the double with a horrible hand, into ANY five card suit—including 2 and 2. South might find the double of 2, which can be set two tricks, or might not… However, East passed, South duly redoubled. West panicked and bid 2 and North brought out the red card. (If East does run to 2 now, South will definitely bring out the red card.)

North led the 10. South took the A and returned the 7 (suit preference for hearts—the higher side suit—the J is too valuable to signal with). North duly ruffed the spade and returned a heart. That went to South's Q and West's A. Poor West suffered greatly, losing two clubs tricks, two heart tricks, the A, two spade ruffs, and the K. That was down three, vulnerable, for −800 on a board where N/S will NOT be able to get to their game. Then again 1NT** collects two overtricks both double dummy and readily in practice, for +960 to N-S, also not a pretty score for E-W.

Incidentally, you better have a discussion with your partners about how much is enough to sit for a penalty oriented double of either a strong OR a weak NT bid! With balanced hands, I always sit. With a long suit, I run with 4 or fewer HCP.

Hand #9 was an interesting one. You've heard the mantra: slams are based on tricks (long suits) and controls (Aces and Kings). Ruth Ng had the control-rich North hand and opened 1 with Q7 AK653 K98 KQ8. She heard me bid 2—which usually shows a five card suit and is a game-forcing bid. She elected to bid 3 and await developments. I then bid 3, showing a spade stopper for NT which has to be Ace or King as she is looking at Qx. Ruth could have signed off with 3NT, but she knew we should have 30 HCP or more between us and that I cannot have more than two hearts, so no heart losers. She does not have more than one spade loser (since I have promised a high spade), so slam is still a possibility.

So, Ruth bypassed 3NT with 4—a “concentration of values” bid. It could be showing A or the K—or KQ as in this case. This is a clear slam try since she has gone past 3NT. I then bid 4. That should show more stuff in spades and a willingness to cooperate with her slam seeking. At that point, Ruth bid 6. [We don't play a lot, so 4NT could be ambiguous—possibly might be deciding to play NT after all. I don't think we've discussed whether 4 would be Minorwood in this situation. When in doubt, don't do anything that could confuse your partner! Our hands were:

Q7 AK653 K98 KQ8

AK10 72 AQ1062 1076

The lead was the A which made things easy. 6NT would be a very pushy slam, although one super-aggressive pair bid it. 6NT requires the A onside and favorable diamonds, either a 3-2 split or a singleton the J, altogether about a 43% chance (50% × 87%). The 6 slam has the extra chance that if the A is offside, it will be possible to pitch a club on the third round of spades and then ruff the third round of clubs in dummy. This requires spades to hold up three rounds (80% chance) and clubs to hold up either three rounds (62% chance) or twice (31%) so long as the defender short in clubs does not hold the J, an aggregate chance of about 60%.

I think the auction showed good analysis by my partner. The other 11 pairs in the room were playing 3NT, making either 5 or 6.

What is the probability of 6 making? This is tricky to calculate. If the opponents will let you combine the your chances, 50% when the A is onside with the 30% = (50% × 60%) extra chance when it is offside, the overall probability of success is about 80%, much better than the 6NT slam. But clever opponents can deny you this addition. Suppose you lead a club to dummy and an honor holds. If you know or strongly suspect the RHO is the sort to take their A, slavishly “covering an honor with an honor”, you will know which option to pursue next. But suppose LHO is clever enough to hold off, perhaps thinking to give you a guess in the suit when you lack the J and have three or more clubs. Now you must commit to one option, and the most probable one is the 50% chance that LHO has the A. So the chance are between 50% and 80%. In most fields, you'll have at least a 70% chance, significantly better than the 6NT slam.

Note: when the opponents have a lot of cards in a suit and their bidding does not indicate a bad break, favorable breaks are very likely. For example, an eight card suit splits 4-4 (32.7%) and 5-3 or 3-5 (2 × 23.6% = 47.2%) of the time for a total probability of 80% for a generally favorable break. Seven cards will split 4-3 or 3-4, 62% of the time and 5-2 or 2-5, 31% of the time.