Go for Blood?

IMPs, short matches. No one vulnerable, you hold:

 S:A10842 H:10x D:Ax C:AQJ8

1D: 1S: ?

Today's panelists: Alan LeBendig, Brian Oxley, Bob Thomson, Bobby Bodenheimer, Dan Molochko, Ed Davis, Kent Hartman, Mike Shuster, Roberto Scaramuzzi
2C:. 3NT is too final and could be very wrong.
What a fun problem! Why I pass and pray that partner doubles. Oh the fun we'll have -- I even have a decent lead for a change (D:A). Might even beat the slam bonus.
I pass, planning to pass partner's double. Yes, there are hands where we have a slam and the penalty against 1 spade is only 500 but there are also hands where we score 800 and we only have game. There are also hands where we score +1100 at the one level and we no longer care that we had a cold slam.

The problem with not taking the penalty is that we won't necessarily get to the right spot. This will be a difficult hand to describe to partner after the overcall. I'll just take my sure plus. [I don't see why. If you start with 2C:, what's the problem? If partner doesn't raise clubs or jump in diamonds, bid 3NT next and reach the obvious spot. We won't reach all our minor suit slams, but we surely have good play for 3NT. --Jeff]

3NT seems right.
2C:, clearcut. If I Pass and it goes P-DBL-END I'm not sure I'm getting a good score vs. game or slam our way. If I Pass and it doesn't go P-DBL-END, we'll just be guessing for the rest of the auction. My plan is to bid 2S: on the next round and then aim at 3NT unless partner raises 2C: to 3C:, in which case she'll have to work pretty hard to stop me short of slam (maybe I should just bid 6C: directly to avoid the danger of partner cuebidding hearts). If partner surprises with 2S: over 2C: I'll bid 2NT, then 3NT over 3H: and 3S: over 3C:/3D:.
2C:. It doesn't take a lot in partner's hand to have a good shot at a slam when partner holds a stiff spade, e.g.,  S:x H:Axx D:KQJxx C:Kxxx or  S:x H:AKx D:KQJxxx C:xxx. Since I expect to make at least game by bidding on and doubt that I will get 800 by defending 1S:x, I much prefer 2C: to the alternative of passing for penalties.

[Will we reach a slam on the second example? We will if partner has the C:K in addition. (In fact, we'll probably reach the grand.) But he'll just bid 2D: over 2C: and I don't see any choice now but to bid 3NT. If we cue 2S: then bid 3NT, partner will pull too many times when it's wrong, since that sequence should show doubt about our spade stoppers. The lack of a natural 4NT may be a problem. --Jeff]

3N. Not good, but I like anything else less. [Wow. I thought Kent answered all bidding problems "pass." --Jeff]
Slightly complicated by the lack of the heart stopper. It may be right to go for blood here, but my experience has taught me that I may have problems catching up on this hand, particularly if the opponents remove themselves to hearts (or worse, get to play 1S: undoubled). So I'll be a scientist and start with 2C:. 3NT would be an error, both preventing a slam investigation (look at all those aces) and potentially wrongsiding it. (imagine:  S:x H:Ax D:KQxxx C:KTxxx or  S:xx H:Kx D:KQJxxx C:Kxx)
I was tempted to pass, but the chances for slam are just too good. If we do have a slam, it's likely to be in clubs. I'll bid 2C:. If partner bids anything but 3S: I'll bid 3N next. If he does bid 3S:, I'm off to the races.

I'd rather pass and play for penalties than bid 3N at my first turn, by the way.

As I did not pass in time I am going to bid 2C: aiming for 3NT. But let's hear first what partner has got to say. Maybe we have to uncover a psych. [Good point. A slow pass might be unpleasant. On the other hand, how often is it a logical alternative for partner to pass 1S: with xxx or less? --Jeff]
2C:. I figured that my chances of making 4S: (800) were slim enough that the upside to passing was win 2 or 3. The upside of bidding 2C: is huge; there's no reason we can't be cold for a club grand ( S:x H:Ax D:KQJxx C:Kxxxx, say). I think we will reach the correct contract; bidding over 2C: should be easy. I pretty much expect to bid 3NT unless partner bids 3S:. (He could bid 3D: or something else interesting, I suppose.) In practice, he bid 2D:, so 3NT was pretty obvious. And cold.
2C:: 8, Pass: 2, 3NT: 2
Pass. Partner had  S:xx H:AQxx D:QJxxx C:Kx. Assuming you don't lead the D:A, you'll probably get 500 vs. 1S:. In practice, Jeff Meckstroth held my cards at the other table and passed. He was about to win 3 when his LHO tried to improve the contract and went for 800. This isn't all that surprising, really, since LHO rates to be very short in spades.
I still like 2C:, but I think passing is probably right. Meckstroth chose that and was right at the table, which is a good suggestion that his experience is to go for blood. I suspect that RHO's overcall style should factor into the question. Meckstroth was playing with a client, so he probably thought the choice was clearcut as he chose to defend with a weak partner at the one-level rather than bid 2C: or 3NT, either of which should produce very easy auctions for partner. If the S:A were the S:K, I'd pass, since my offense to defense ratio is decreased. As far as what to bid goes, I don't see any reason to bid 3NT. We are surely getting 300 against 1S:. I think it's vastly more likely that we'll not make 3NT than we'll get only 100 on defense, but that neither is a realistic possibility. So, if we are going to bid, we should be going for a higher upside potential than 3NT.

Upon further reflection, the 3NT rebid was probably premature, although I can't think of anything else to do. Partner's actual hand is very close to a slam. Make a small spade a small diamond and 6D: is on a 3-2 diamond break. (RHO will end up being squeezed in the majors unless he finds a club lead and continuation when he's in with the D:K. And doesn't have S:KQJ. Yeah, right.)

To my mind: 2S: followed by 3NT should show doubt about 3NT as a contract (i.e. "I have other things in mind") not doubt about our spade stopper. This is akin to 1S:-(2H:)-3NT vs. 1S:-(2H:)-DBL followed by 3NT.

Jeff: I think those sequences are different. The latter one focusses on the minors, because the double shows the minors, thus the sequence focusses on strain decision. There are 3NT-delayed- by-a-negative-double auctions that are less clear, however; I agree. Yes, the general idea is that the slow 3NT suggests other contracts. When they just bid one suit, however, the most likely doubt is that one's spade stop isn't good enough. Typically, that's a holding like Axx.

Dan: I think that he would never bid 2C: with a client, because I don't think that it necessarily produces an easy auction for partner, and client might hang him for only having 4 trumps. And between Pass and 3NT, Pass is a much better bid, winning when you get 500+ or when 3NT doesn't make.

Jeff: That could be true, but I think that the auctions starting with 2C: are easy enough. So if partner hangs us with Kxx, what's the problem? 6C: on the 4-3 could be the double-dummy perfect spot. I don't know, however, if Meckstroth agrees with my feelings on that, so you might be right.

Dan: [...partner's actual hand is very close to a slam...] I believe that this is precisely why the cue/3NT sequence should be more flexible. These hands come up more often than the doubtful spade stop hands.

Jeff: I disagree with this. I could have cued on the first round to suggest diamonds. I could have bid 3C: fitted to focus on both minors. I could have started with a negative double to show hearts. No, I think the cue should focus on spades alone in this auction. I think the most common doubt about strain is the inadequate spade stopper issue, so that's the most useful use of the flexible sequence, and I don't think it really can be used for both---how is partner to judge?

Dan: If I were at the table, and I passed at my first turn, I know in my heart it's 100 to 1 that partner reopens with 2D:. What the heck am I supposed to do then?

And why does that never seem to happen to anybody but me?

Jeff: Could be worse. My partners always seem to have semi-psyched 1D: and we get to defend 1S: undoubled!

I wonder: if partner reopens with 2D:, would 3S: be a Bluhmer showing about this hand? I don't think I'd pull it on a partner in real life, but since I'd bid 2D: last time with a stiff spade and four diamonds and a little something, I don't think it can be a splinter now.

Both: Good hand---lots of theory and some interesting judgment.

Jeff Goldsmith, jeff@tintin.jpl.nasa.gov, June 17, 1998