High Level Bridge: Answer

You hold  S:Kxx H:Q10xx D:xx C:Axxx.

1S: 3D: 3S: 4D:
4H: Pass?

a) what are your options?
b) what do you do now?

This is from Marshall Miles' MSC-like column in the ALACBU Bridge news. I think the panel missed the point of this problem (as did the moderator), and since it's a pretty good panel, I was wondering if I am up a tree

Today's Panelists: Barry Rigal, Chris Willenken, Ed Davis, Kent Hartman, Lynn Johannsen, Mike Shuster, Roberto Scaramuzzi, Walter Hamilton, Web Ewell, Jeff Blond

This hand is very similar if not identical to one also used by Roth in his At the table column. [It is indeed. That's where Marshall got it. --Jeff]

He advocates a pass, but I felt I had enough to bid on to the five level, which caters for disasters en route, e.g. 4H: being a cue bid. If I am going to do that surely 5C: gets the club control across and may be important to a man not looking at a club control (is  S:AQxxx H:AKxxx D:--- C:Qxx possible?)

So 5C: it is.

Pass is 100%. Anyone who thinks 4H: is a slam try should take up another game. Where do you want to play opposite  S:Axxxx H:AKxxx D:x C:xx?
There are three different meanings that you are likely to want for 4H:. They are:
  1. non-forcing, looking for best fit, partner is not expected to bid 5H: or 5S: if they compete, e.g.,  S:AQJxx H:AKxx D:xx C:Qx
  2. non-forcing, distributional, informative, allowing partner to bid at the five-level if they compete, e.g.,  S:AQxxx H:AKxxx D:x C:xx
  3. forcing, slam try, e.g.,  S:AQxxxx H:AK D:x C:KQxx

My guess is that most players would play #1 or #2, maybe without much distinction between them. I think the most practical is #2 because it comes up most often and the principle is the same one that is applied to other suits, i.e., our suit is spades or hearts and they are competing in one of the other suits and we bid a new suit on the way to game after a raise.

It would seem to me that my options are:
  1. pass (and have partner castrate me on the spot) [Doesn't sound like an option to me! --Jeff]
  2. 4S: (and return my Canadian passport)
  3. 4NT (check for aces just because, you know, you can)
  4. 5C: (hmm, show partner your control in clubs and inform him you are interested)

Obviously, from my comments, I choose d. All I did was bid a simple 3S: and partner is looking for slam. I can't imagine my hand could be much better so I'm certainly game. About the only thing missing is a fourth trump, but I never really promised one anyway. Blackwood seems silly, bidding 4S: way too wimpy. I guess I could make an esoteric jump to 5S:, but I don't think that bid descibes this hand.

Over my 5C:, If partner cues 5D:, I guess I have a bit of a problem. Do I lie with 5H: or bid a gentle 5S: and leave it to him. I think I'd bid 5S: since I don't believe in deceiving partner if I can help it.

a) I think that 4H: should be a cuebid, not a suit, as the opponents have jammed the auction. We can no longer look for strain; we are trying to determine a level. My diamond holding is gross, but I have a max with primes. Options are 4S: (aagh) 4N (huh?) 5C: (cue) and 5S:, which I think is "I have two key cards, probably one of them in trumps which makes cuebidding it tough, something extra, and two diamond losers. Bid what's right!"

b) I bid 5S:. [Hey, waitasec...that's two in a row in which pass was an option and Kent chose something else. --Jeff]

In Dale's and my opinion, your only options here are pass or 4S:. The 4H: bid is natural and nonforcing because it is a game bid in a major suit. If partner bid 4C: or 4D: (obviously on some other auction), that would also be natural, but forcing. In competitive auctions, these bids show suits, in an effort to involve responder in the decision over 5D:. You have to give up something, and I think it's right to give up slam tries other than a cue bid of the opponents' suit.

On the given hand, Dale thinks you should pass 4H:. I am not so sure. Your hand is good enough to expect to make whatever you bid, so I might bid 4S: as a safety bid if I weren't sure what partner was doing. If the opponents compete to 5D:, then I can bid 5H:. [In this forum, you should bid what you think is right in general. --Jeff]

Obviously, if 4H: is defined as a slam try, then you should bid 5C:. As usual, you need an agreement. [Of course. The whole point of this exercise is, "which is the best agreement?" --Jeff]

My impression is that the experts who are good friends of mine (Stansby-Martel, Woolsey-Manfield) agree with Dale's and my interpretation of the bid. I don't think that gives me enough evidence to guess at what an unknown expert partner would be doing; that's why I might bid 4S: at the table as a safety bid. If suits are breaking badly, it could easily matter a lot whether we play our 5-4 hearts fit or our 5-3 spade fit, but I think on this hand, it's only likely to matter for an overtrick, so I'll try to prevent the huge disaster that I might have if I pass 4H: and partner thought he was making a slam try on some hand like  S:AQxxxx H:Axx D:x C:KQx.

Another possibility is to raise 4H: to 5H:, again as a safety bid. If partner doesn't have hearts, he can retreat to spades. Still, sometimes you will go down in 5H: or 5S: when the opponents weren't even going to bid 5D:, so that appeals to me less. If I bid 4S: now, I might be able to bid 5H: over 5D:, but partner will have a chance to X in front of me then, so I can pass.

Preempts work, don't they?

(a) This auction probably needs an agreement. 4H: is either (1) Last Train or (2) Trying to help you out with a 5-level decision. I think (2) is more valuable... and even if it was intended as Last train, I don't think this hand is so wonderful for slam... even if partner does have a stiff diamond, we may well be looking at a late club or heart loser. Only 3 trump and no long suit to set up does not encourage me (I know what I do have is working, it just isn't enough).

I believe you aren't being asked to do anything other than bid 4S:, but a force has been created at the 5-level and you will almost certainly have captaincy in that force.

(b) 4S:. Nothing else is even remotely reasonable.

Wouldn't you bid 4H: holding:  S:AQJxxx H:AKx D:x C:Qxx... I don't think it can be passed, so I guess I already don't think that it promises 4 or 5, although having 4 is likely. All roads to playing in hearts would have started by responder making a negative double or bidding hearts rather than showing primary support for openers 5+ card major.

Jeff: No, I wouldn't. I'd bid 4S: and hope that partner did something over 5D:; when he didn't, I'd guess. I'd probably guess to bid on in this case. I'd figure they had ten trumps and we had 9-10. If there are 20 trumps, 5 over 5 is reasonable. If there are 19, 5 over 5 is slightly below par.

But this means Mike is playing "last train captaincy transfers." I think it is a good idea, if the last train bid is a minor. If not, the vig of being able to strain correct is too valuable. So, I propose 1H:-(3C:)-3H:-(4C:)-4D:! to be artificial and captiancy transferring, setting up a force, but the actual sequence to be natural.

I don't think Mike's last sentence is right. 3S: shows a sound single raise to a bad limit raise. To start with a negative double, then bid 3S: shows a slightly better hand. The reason is that if advancer bids 4D:, you have to be prepared to bid 4S:, since partner has been left in the dark about your fit and can't make an intelligent choice. So you need at least sufficient values for game to have a shot if you get blown out trying for the better strain. Make the H:Q the H:K and I might try that approach on this hand.

Mike: It is impractical to play that you are now searching for strain in a competitive auction after you've already found a fit that is known to be playable. 4H: needs to be forcing, because although it may initially just be to help partner out if the opponents bid more (and isn't suggesting that partner can bid past game), it may also be made on a hand such as  S:AQJxxx H:AKx D:Ax C:Qx which was always planing on driving to the 5-level but was making an advance cuebid. So 4H: must be forcing.

Jeff: I'd bid 5D: with that hand. I think the bonus for playing 4H: NF is bigger than the bonus for playing it forcing. In fact, that's one of the theory questions given you are playing shape-showing bids that I was asking with this problem; i.e. is 4H: forcing?

Partner may be doing one of two things: a) with most of my partners I would play 4H:as a strong raise to 4S: (setting up forcing passes - a 4S: bid normally wouldn't, but after they preempt maybe it should?). [I don't think so. After preempts, when both sides have found a fit, it's often the case that both sides can make lots of tricks. Only when the space is totally gone and we are very likely to have the vast majority of the power should a force be on in such auctions. Or if we set one. --Jeff] He is generally supposed to have heart values/length for this bid, but he only had one bid available below 4S:, so he may have shaded it somewhat to be able to get me into the later auction. (he certainly does not have a spade-club 2-suiter, however)

b) with an old-fashioned partner, 4H: is probably some sort of slam try. If partner has a true major 2-suiter I have a great hand, but once again partner had only one slam try below 4S:, so 4H: may be last-trainish. In that case I don't have such a great hand: no ruffing value (it sounds like partner is short in diamonds too), only four trumps, average high-card values. My honor location is pretty good, I guess.

Everything considered, I am inclined to bid just 4S:, then compete if they bid 5D: (if playing a), partner is supposed to bid again over 4S: with a real slam try - the idea is similar to choice-of-games cuebids: just recognize that your slam bidding in competition will suck and use the available bids to clarify decisions at the game level).

Note that in both cases, the fact that 4H: was the only available bid below 4S: was significant.

a) what are your options? 5C:, 5H:, 5S:, and 4S:
b) what do you do now? This is tough. You want to be in slam in hearts if partner is 6412 or 5503 but not 5512 without the C:K. If partner has 11 cards in the majors there is no problem. 5H: would probably show the above hand with a 5th heart. 5C: should show these high cards, but doesn't show the 4th heart. I vote for 5H: 100; 5C: 80
I don't think I have any options. I must bid 5C:.

I'm not entirely sure what standard methods says the 3S: bid is here, but I think I have a better than average hand for the call. (Presumably 3H: would have been a limit raise/generic game try, with a forcing heart hand starting with a double - if I'm wrong about methods, please correct me and I'll take another whack at the problem.) I dont' think 4H: can be anything other than a cuebid. My 3S: set trump, 4H: can't be choice of games in a jammed auction, nor do I think it can be choice of strain for a slam.

(With Kent I would bid 4NT showing either the A or K of trump but not both).

I think the options are pass and 4S:. I'd choose pass.

I posted this as a problem because 2/3 of Marshall's panel thought that 4H: was a cue bid. A couple of members (Eddie Kantar said that he "had been convinced") thought that 4H: was natural, choice of games, to reach the 5-4 fit instead of the 5-3. Miles supported the majority. As Barry noticed, this was originally an Al Roth problem in which the point was to find the right strain; 4H: made and 4S: went down.

I think 4H: shows shape, sets up a force, and allows partner to act at the five-level, preferably intelligently.

The natural/fit-showingish camp outvotes the cue-bidders 6-4, but within each camp, there's considerable variety about what to do.


5C:: Barry, JeffB
5S:: Kent
5H:: Walter


NF: Chris, Ed, Lynn, Jeff
F: Mike, Roberto
Pass. Partner was 5-5 in the majors and spades broke badly, so 4H: made and 4S: went down.
I think there are more ways to play this than Ed does.
  1. Natural, choice of games.
  2. Natural, helping partner at the 5-level
  3. cue bid
  4. Last train cue
  5. artificial force creation

(1) is what Roth had in mind and what Kantar was swayed to.
(2) is what I and the plurality of the panel think.
(3) is what Marshall Miles, 2/3 of his panel and 40% of this panel think it is.
(4) is an improvement over (3); a general slam try.
(5) is what Mike and Roberto play, and is a possibly good idea. It entends the idea of (2) so that one can transfer captaincy and set up a force below game before knowing that they are going to bid beyond your game.

I think that (1) and (2) can combine, producing the most valuable use of the bid. If that weren't so, then either (5) or (4) would seem more useful to me. I'd play (5) because it fits with the rest of my normal competitive agreements better. Indeed, I think that if our only bid below game in this sort of sequence were a minor, I'd be quite willing to play (5); if it's a playable major, I'd rather play (1)/(2). Unlike Mike, I don't think you can combine (3) and (2). Partner will bid 4S in that scenario and you won't be much better off than if you'd made a clear slam try earlier. Worse, however, if LHO bids 5D:, you are now nailed. Partner will have to decide without knowing what your intent was.

In Miles' article, he and 2/3 of his panel think that 4H: is a cue bid. The other two think that it's a choice of games. I still think they are all wrong, although the choice of games minority isn't far off, and there was surprisingly large support for the cue bid here.

The name of the problem, by the way (High-Level Bridge), is that of a series of articles by Ed Manfield. In those articles, he wrote that bids like 4H: here should be shape showing. He also described fit-showing jumps and several other helpful competitive methods. He convinced me.

A final note: no one thought it mattered what the vulnerability or scoring was. That surprises me.

Jeff Goldsmith, jeff@tintin.jpl.nasa.gov, June 29, 1997