Column vetter Paul Laliberte has forwarded me an interesting bidding question from Dan Philip, director of the Berkshire South Bridge Club in Great Barrington. As dealer, with both sides vulnerable, how would you open this hand:
♥ Q J 9 8 7 4 2
♣ Q J 7 6 4 2
Rare, two-suited hands always present a challenge. Philip not only polled club members, but 10 experts. The dichotomy is staggering.
Here’s how club members broke down:
Bid Percent of Players
And now for the experts. “Every one of them commented that it’s a ‘freak hand,’ not subject to the usual rules of bidding,” Philip reports. “Hence, they said there was no ‘absolutely right’ answer. Almost all indicated their first choice would be to pass, at least on the first round, with the intention of participating later in the auction.
“Notice that the experts’ overwhelming choice was picked by only four per cent of the club players as their first choice. Among the pros who did choose a call other than pass, the most popular was 4♥.”
“Overwhelming” is a slight exaggeration. Here are their answers, some of which I’ve shortened:
Jerry Helms: “Personally, I would pass to confirm less than an opening bid. Depending on how the auction develops, and it will develop, I plan on bidding a lot. Perhaps partner will open, or perhaps the opponents will bid the other suits and I can make some type of an unusual two-suited bid. Pass is clear.”
Frank Stewart: “There is no correct action with a freakish hand such as this one, and anyone who says he is sure what to do is out to lunch. If I were playing in a typical one-session club game, I might open 4 ♥. At IMPs, with teammates to account to, I would pass and listen and hope to make an intelligent decision later.”
Karen Walker: “Like many other freak hands, this one is difficult to evaluate and almost impossible to describe accurately. It’s technically four losers, but the suit quality is so poor that I’d call it five losers, which is about right for a four-level pre-empt.
“I would open 4♥. In general, I think it’s best to preempt right away with a weak freak, even if you don’t have a perfect bid to describe it.
“Passing and then trying some sort of two-suited bid later could work, but that allows the opponents to exchange information and it doesn’t really help partner make any decisions (he’ll never see a 7-6 hand).”
Larry Cohen: “I would do one of two things:
“A) Preempt at once (2 ♥ or 3 ♥ ) or . . .
“B) Pass and plan to come in later — hopefully getting to show a two-suiter.”
Eddie Kantar: “In truth nobody has had enough experience with 7-6 hands to know the best way to handle them. They are difficult to evaluate because it doesn’t matter how many points partner has. What you need are points in hearts and/or clubs. My inclination would be to pass. My second choice would be 4♥.”
Marty Bergen: “I’d open 4♥. A hand with two voids has great potential. Try to become the declarer.”
Lynn Berg: “Not knowing if we have a fit, I don’t count the voids as assets. That leaves Pass, 1♥ and 3 ♥ as choices. And some would even say 2 ♥ — though I don’t like to use 2 ♥ with a seven-card suit. My personal inclination, vulnerable in the first seat, is to pass. If I were determined to bid, 3♥ would be my (reluctant) choice. Once partner has bid, I’ll have a much clearer idea of where to go on this hand. Bad luck to be in the first seat.”
Mike Lawrence: “No one knows what to do with these hands. The best you can do is make a guess based on reasonable assumptions. Being the declarer means that you have fewer assumptions than normal.
“I would bid 4♥. All I need to make 4 is a fitting honor in one of my suits.
“This can gain in many ways and it can cost in many ways, one of the losing ways being when 4♥ is down and 6 ♣ (or 7 ♣) is making.”
Billy Miller: “It is a freak hand with no set way to bid it. I would pass, expecting there will be an auction. I would hope to be able to make a two-suited bid later. Would love to hear partner support one of my suits and then I could have some fun.”
Pat Harrington: “As far as evaluating a hand with voids, the ACBL Bulletin published some tips from Eddie Kantar within the last year or so. One of them was ‘don’t count distribution until you have found a fit.’ Nowadays, most players do count high-card points plus length when opening, but even with all your length, you can only come to 11 points. I believe Eddie was more talking about shortness. Shortness is only good once you find a good fit.
“When I’m tempted to open a shapely hand that is weaker than my usual opening, I use a number of tests. This hand fails on the old-fashioned quick tricks. You needed two and half quick tricks in the old days to open. You have zero. Even the Rule of 20 that suggests opening many distributional hands fails. Your 6 HCP plus the 13 total cards in your two longest suits comes only to 19. And I prefer Jerry Helms’ version of that Rule — the Rule of 20 plus 2. That requires two quick tricks in addition to meeting the 20 requirement.”
To me, the issue isn’t whether the hand qualifies as a standard opener, but whether it’s worth a pre-empt. Even though I have only seven hearts, the number usually qualifying for a three bid, I’d open 4♥ because of the long side suit and two voids.
Paul Laliberte agrees with me: “Passing quietly with the idea of ‘making noise’ later on defeats the idea at the very core of pre-emption. To ‘strike the iron while hot’ makes much more sense than backing into the auction with great fanfare after the opponents have had the opportunity to exchange information.”
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