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Auckland Solvers - The Answers

Grant Jarvis.

It is about 6 years since we had a paper issue of New Zealand Bridge Magazine and in it a regular feature, Master Solvers Club, where a panel of expert players battled with some difficult bidding problems coming up with a variety of answers. (Such diversity, of course, is one reason why bridge is so interesting.)

Early this January, Grant Jarvis observed 10 rather difficult bidding problems from just one session of the Auckland New Year Pairs tournament and submitted them. Thus, it seemed very fitting that we throw them open to an expert panel and also to all on-line readers to see what they would bid. That is what we have here, in a two-part feature…5 questions in each part and we will feature the comments as well as answers of some of the panel.

In keeping with Master Solvers Club, we will mark the Panel’s scores with 100 being top mark for each question thus enabling a very low mark to be given if need be. Under 5 would not be a great score! At half way and at the end, we will see who is leading both Panel and Readers’ answers though the real aim is to let you into the mind of our top players and see not just how they tackle difficult problems but why.

In theory, the most popular answer will score 100 points each time. As with Master Solvers, the marker might occasionally risk the ire of the majority by deviating from that….for a very good reason, of course! So, onto our first problem:

  1. Vul N/S

Spade-small -

Heart-small AK732



West              North            East                South

                                                3Diamond-small                  ?

It does not happen that often but I do remember one time it did. The pre-emptor on your right opens with your 6-card suit. “Double” you might like to say but for most, that is for take-out. So, for that reason, double is not an option here.
It becomes a straight decision as to whether we wait for a re-opening double from our partner or just bid our own suit. 
For the” waiters”….and they seem to have different reasons for passing:

(Linda) Cartner: Pass “may be lucky enough to have partner double back in”

(Ken) Yule: Pass “expect a misfit.”

Lack of spades is another:

(Peter) Newell: Pass “This hand will play badly if partner doesn’t fit hearts and my diamond suit will not be useful. If I bid 3Heart-small, it is highly likely partner will bid 3Spade-small and that will leave me with a very ugly bid”
Peter also makes the point that with diamond shortage, his partner would likely bid if Peter passed at this stage. Of course, if his partner has minimal hcp, then staying silent now also seems a great idea.

Maybe the real reason Julie says nothing is because she was the one with a 7- card diamond suit when I once pre-empted as her opponent with the other 6!
(Julie) Atkinson: “Pass If I bid 3Heart-small, partner will expect a totally different hand with stronger values and definitely a different shape. “

Julie Atkinson 1.png 
Julie is waiting to catch another opponent
who thought pre-empting was a good idea!

Lack of tricks bothered some:

(Nigel) Kearney: Pass “Even if we catch partner with a good hand and heart support, we don’t have many tricks. “
The only other option is to bid 3Heart-small:

Stepping out into a decidedly chilly ocean…sorry, auction, is:

(Barry) Jones: 3Heart-small Some say that length in the opponents’ suit is a good reason to pass…others that it means partner is more likely to have some of our suit. The spade void is a worry, though. Let’s see which way the wind is blowing.”

(Jenny) Wilkinson: 3Heart-small I think this is an overbid but if I pass and partner bids spades, I’m stuffed.

Not half as stuffed as if you bid 3Heart-small and hear 3Spade-small from partner. You have already bid hearts and your next bid then is? Yet, why is it that partner is the one who is going to bid spades. Might it not be the “oppos”?

(Matt) Brown: 3Heart-small If I pass, I would expect partner to re-open with a double. I would not then know if we would be making 4Heart-small or 6Heart-small. I think it better to bid immediately as LHO might interfere and make it harder for partner. If I bid 3Heart-small and they double, c’est la vie.
We do not know which of the other two players will bid if we pass and if we have hearts and they spades, we will be in a better position if we bid first.

However, we do have a “one trick pony”. What you may ask is that? Wayne will explain:

(Wayne) Burrows: Pass “If we do not have a fit in hearts, then I have nowhere to go.”

Wayne is also worried that by bidding 3Heart-small, he will be asked to make an impossible bid after his partner’s forcing 3Spade-small bid. So, he will avoid the problem.
Whether it is because they look forward to a juicy penalty or are afraid of the consequences of bidding, it is the “waiters” who just win out

As all these problems came from a session of pairs, we will only say that passing may be cautious but there needed to be a double of the final non-making 4Spade-small opposition contract (and North did not have a spade stack) …necessary as North-South were cold for 10 tricks in hearts. In this scoring, however, the “waiters” who included most Readers win but not by much:

Pass                9                      100
3Heart-small                  6                        80
Double             0                        20


  1. Vul N/S

West              North            East                South

                        1Diamond-small                  Pass                ?


Heart-small 863

Diamond-small AJ86543

Note that 2Diamond-small is 10+ natural, 3Diamond-small and 4Diamond-small are pre-emptive and 3Club-small is a constructive diamond raise

So, you have got the system though Wayne Burrows wanted more.

Burrows: “It would be helpful to know the expected range for 3Diamond-small,4Diamond-small and 3Club-small. “Pre-emptive” and “Constructive” cover a multitude of sins for different pairs.”

Having found the descriptions inadequate, he does at least limit his options to just:

Burrows:3Club-smallThis hand has the distribution for 4Diamond-small but 3NT and 5Diamond-small are quite often possible with 7 diamond tricks. So, a constructive 3Club-small it is.”

Another with 3NT in mind was:

(Michael) Whibley:3Club-small “Don’t want to go past 3NT opposite 18-19 balanced.”

Yet, the majority looked to leaping in diamonds. There is more than one reference in their answers to a word which is not so nasty as many perceive “psyching”. Welcome, Nick:

(Nick) Jacob 4Diamond-small: The vulnerability makes psyching less appealing but also more believable.

(Pam) Livingston 5Diamond-small: “Call me old fashioned. And if it was imps, I probably could not resist a little psyche of 1Spade-small to muddy the waters.”

“Old fashioned” and” psyching”. No, I will not call you that, Pam. "Innovative" is a better word!Yet, Nick carries on to explain why he thinks 4Diamond-small is quite high enough:

Jacob: “LHO will usually double 5Diamond-small and RHO will often pass. -500 will be a rather common score.4Diamond-small at least involves partner in the decision- making.”

Nick does lament that he has by-passed a possible 3NT option, too. So, this is Pairs and only our side is vulnerable. Not worried are:

(Andy) Braithwaite: 5Diamond-small  “Clear-cut.”
Wilkinson: 5Diamond-small “Let’s cramp the bidding as West now has to guess at the 5-level.”
Jones: 5Diamond-small “If partner has a good hand, they’ll make it. If not, the opponents can make 4Spade-small.”

With that good hand (18-19 count), could partner resist bidding one more?

Atkinson: 5Diamond-small “If partner had the perfect hand, would slam be on? On the other hand, my opponents are likely to have both values and majors. Let them make the decision.”

These quadruple jumpers just outnumber the more cautious 4Diamond-small group who would surely be raised to game if partner was strong and who would not suffer if there were 4 losers in a diamond contract:

Brown: 4Diamond-small “Seems right. 5Diamond-small is too much when we are vulnerable and they are not.

Humphries, Newell and Kearney agree. So do I. Jumping to 5Diamond-small at this vulnerability could be so wrong. I am so very tempted on just the second problem to demote the majority vote. Although I would like a little more in high cards to make my constructive 3Club-small bid, it is Pairs which means I am still keeping one eye open on 3NT and if this end result did not work out, then I vaguely remember someone saying” it is only a bottom and not the whole match.” Damn it, I might just do it!

3Club-small                   4                      100
4Diamond-small                   5                        80
5Diamond-small                   6                        70 
3Diamond-small                   0                        40
3Spade-small                   0                        30
2Diamond-small                   0                        20

I “makes” the rules. I “breaks” them! I do think, as does the Panel, that we are too weak to splinter or raise to 2Diamond-small (“10+”). That’s 10+ high card points…not diamonds!

  1. Vul E/W

West              North            East                South

                                                1Diamond-small                  2Diamond-small1
3Diamond-small                  x 2                    Pass                ?         

1 both majors, Michaels style
2 values

Spade-small KT743

Diamond-small -

A decent hand, one we would all use a Michaels bid for whether we play split weak/strong or 9+ HCP ranges. So, whichever, we have a decent hand with a 6th heart.

Humphries: 4Heart-small “extra heart, assume 2Diamond-small was constructive.”
Newell: 4Heart-small “I’m close to 4Diamond-small but am making the assumption that 3Heart-small is non-forcing and 4Heart-small shows a good hand. Also, with a fit for both majors, partner could have bid 4Diamond-small.”

Indeed, what did that double say? Very much in the minority was
Atkinson: Pass “Surely the double is penalty? If partner wants me to play in the majors, they would have chosen one or bid 4Diamond-small to make me choose. I will take the money and pass." 

Values…I do not think that is the same as a penalty double.  Julie almost had support for her action:

Jacob: 4Heart-small “We can be very light to use Michaels at these colours and so have considerable extras. If we bid 4Heart-small, we get the suit lengths across but not the strength of the hand. However, I’m not too worried about slam because partner will not be too excited about the majors for this values’ double. Passing could be right but feels too dangerous.”

Unsure of what double meant but with a different solution was:

Kearney: 4Club-small "Not sure what “values” means but surely, I am too good for 3Heart-small (agreed) and 4C is descriptive."(shows the control)
Values would tend to be a flattish hand with honours spread… somewhere around 10hcp.

The majority forced with 4Diamond-small though what does this mean?

Whibley: 4Diamond-small “Will continue with 5Club-small over 4Heart-small.”
Yule: 4Diamond-smallHave extra strength to show”
Livingston: 4Diamond-small “Depending on agreements with partner, this could show either a general good hand (which I prefer) or control in diamonds. Either way, partner knows I’m keen.

Wilkinson: 4Diamond-small This is a 30-point pack. 4Diamond-small should help partner make the right decision. I have such good controls.

If partner does really have good major cards (Spade-small AQ and Heart-smallQ on the actual hand), they will bid more than 4 of a major after your 4Diamond-small and you should be on the way to slam. Also, on the way were:

Cartner: 4Club-small “cue bid, slam try.”

Brown: 5Diamond-small “showing a void and slam interest. Partner can now evaluate. The 5 level should be safe enough with partner’s values which rate to be outside diamonds.”

True but I am sure partner would appreciate knowing you had first round control in both minors and not just diamonds. Linda would certainly have reached slam had she followed up after 4Club-small with 5Diamond-small on the next round.
The panel either almost signed off or trod cautiously. I have seen worse bids than a direct 6Heart-small made at this juncture but I bow to the more cautious approach somewhat reluctantly.

4Diamond-small                   7                      100
4Club-small                   2                        80
5Diamond-small                   1                        70
4Heart-small                   4                        50
6Heart-small                   0                        40
Pass                 1                        20
3Heart-small                   0                        20

  1. All Vul
    West           North          East                South

                                                1Diamond-small                 Pass
          1Heart-small             1Spade-small             2Diamond-small                  ?


Whence cometh my help? Although I can find exceptions to this rule, when you have had an opportunity to make a take-out double and you fail to do so….and the opponents have not bid and supported a suit, then your double of Opener’s suit second time round is for penalties.
That surely is the case here. Four certain tricks and a partner who made a free one level vulnerable overcall. Let them have it! My help came from:
Braithwaite: x “I play double having passed the same suit originally as penalties. “

(Michael) Cornell x “I love my 200 at Pairs.” Only 200, Michael?

Burrows: x Penalties "on this auction. Partner is allowed to pull with distribution. Double does not rule out game if partner would rather play the hand than defend. “Though my support is a little offset as he continues….
If partner had passed, I would play double as take-out but when partner has bid, take-out is of limited use as there is only one unbid suit.”

And not in the “blood camp”:

Yule:x “keeps option open”.

The passers either do not think double is justified or do not view it as for penalties, like…

Jacob: Pass “This looks like a hand I held recently (wrong, Nick!) Some play this double as for penalties though not me. You may have a couple of spades, some values and an offensive hand. Had we 5+Diamond-small, partner would never pass out 2Diamond-small at match-points. There are no guarantees partner will balance. Nevertheless, 2 down undoubled might be a fine score. “
Atkinson: Pass “I bet I have the best hand at the table. Game seems unlikely with both opponents bidding. I have defence and they are vulnerable.”
Whibley: Pass “The hand is not good offensively with nothing in the blacks. I prefer to defend.”

Kearney: Pass “If partner cannot reopen, I doubt that 2NT will play well.”
2NT… who mentioned that? Not my choice, either, though it produced 120 at the table. Maybe neither of us expected 4 natural diamond tricks!”

Cartner: 2NT “Our overcalls at the 1 level can be aggressive. I do not want to punish partner by bidding 3NT.” Do not play with Denis, then…

Humphries: 3NT “Hope partner is not too poor.”

Taking a slower route to the contract none of us like playing is…

Newell. 2Heart-small. “I expect partner will bid 2Spade-small after which I will bid 2NT to show a good 2NT bid rather than a direct 2NT. Partner may be stretching to bid 1Spade-small. One assumes East has black honours sitting over partner’s given my diamond honours. So, we may not have many tricks.

Nothing the bidders say convinces me their action is right. If you are not sure or know that you cannot make a penalty double, then pass and await developments… but if you can, well, go for it!

(for the record, partner had Diamond-small97 and dummy Diamond-small8 singleton, thus promoting your Diamond-small6 for that 4th trick.)

Pass                7                      100

Double            4                        80

2NT                 2                       40

2Heart-small                 1                       40

3NT                1                       30

2Spade-small                0                       30

  1. E/W Vul.
    West    North            East                South

                                                                    1Club-small (3+ clubs)
         2Club-small 1     3Club-small                 3Spade-small                  3NT
         4Spade-small      Pass                Pass                ?


1 Michaels, Majors 5-5 + constructive

We have got a good hand. Our partner made a free bid of 3Club-small. Yet, both opponents are in the bidding and, at adverse vulnerability, have bid on to game. It’s the kind of situation when you check all four players are playing with the same coloured deck! Yes, they are!

So, what to do? Are three aces and two kings good enough for a penalty double?

Braithwaite: x “I bid 3NT to make and so have to double now.” 
Atkinson: x  “ Partner has nothing” (but something for that 3Club-small bid) “and I have shown a pretty good hand. It seems likely that 4Spade-small has been bid on extreme distribution rather than HCP, with North and East both making free bids. With such sharp cards and on lead, I am still going to double.”

Jacob: x “Partner could have made a stronger club bid but did not. I do not believe we are in a force at these colours. I do not think 4NT will make even if partner has Club-smallAQxxx. I’m not even sure 3NT was making. Doubling could be outrageously bad but we need to protect against possible part-scores or small penalties our way. I would pass at Imps not expecting to get rich at all. “

If you start to hear the prophets of impending doom there, then the following have already written their own death notices!

Jones: x “Someone said once “if everything you double goes down, you’re not doubling enough.” “Well, are you trying to put it into practice?

Cornell: x “I hope partner rips!”

I hope they know the script, Michael! Your international teammates are united in their action:

Brown: 5Club-small. “I trust my vulnerable opponents to have their bid. Partner is almost certain to have a void spade which gives him 6 or 7 clubs. Great, in 5Club-small, not so much for the defence. “

Whibley: 5Club-small. Anything could be right but I’m placing partner with something like 0346. Diamond-smallQ and Club-smallQJ is enough.”

 Disagreeing with Nick Jacob about North’s pass of 4Spade-small is

Humphries: 5Club-small “Partner’s pass of 4Spade-small should be forcing, I hope and so expect playing strength.”

An unusual treatment in that we are not the vulnerable side…meanwhile asking a question which will not be answered here:

Livingston: 5Club-small “My first instinct is to double. But West knows they are vulnerable against not. I would like to know who my opponents are! 4Spade-small could make or be 1 off when, with all our top controls, 5Club-small is making.”

Looking for 10 tricks are

Kearney: 4NT “Tough one. We won’t get rich defending and others may be allowed to play 3NT. “

Yule :4NT “3Club-small was a free bid.”

And finally, a little piece of fence sitting after an amazingly good initial prediction:

Burrows: Pass I do not seem to have 4 defensive tricks unless West is an incurable over-bidder. 4Spade-small will be close to making if not cold. I would expect something better than Spade-small KQJxxx  Heart-small KQJxx  Diamond-small x Club-small for the 4Spade-small bid.

Neither can I imagine 10 tricks in no-trumps or 11 in clubs. If partner was distributional, then I would have heard 4NT or 5Club-small. At this vulnerability, I would expect partner to double with a defensive trick. So, I am going to pass.

In fairness, Wayne’s imaginary (for this feature) partner did let him down as they did have sufficient clubs to bid over 4Spade-small. On the other hand, did they expect their partner to have so many controls?

Matthew Brown 1.png
reflective but right is Matt Brown

Barry Jones’ macabre wish did, of course, come true. West held Spade-small KQJT62 Heart-small KQJ98 Diamond-small 2 Club-small4 and 10 tricks were easy. North had the shape envisaged by Whibley and Brown and game was to be made in 5Club-small but not in 4NT after a spade lead. Oh dear, the justification for demoting the popular choice is that as many moved from 4Spade-small as doubled it..with Wayne’s pass providing an uncomfortable casting vote.

5Club-small                   5                      100

4NT                  2                        80

Pass                1                        60

Double            7                        50

I feel my in-box is being inundated with complaints already…and there are still 5 problems to go.

Not today, though. We will aim to answer the other 5 problems next week.   

My thanks to Grant Jarvis for stirring me into action and to the panel and on-line readers for answering. At the half-way point, the leading panellists and on-line readers are:

                 Panel                                     Readers


Michael Whibley




Hamish Brown



Pam Livingston




Richard Lapthorne



Ken Yule




Dean Sole



Nigel Kearney




Susan Steedman



Matt Brown




Colin Carryer



Michael Cornell




Anna Kalma



Barry Jones




Alister Stuck


 Richard Solomon


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