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                                                      stolen bid!


The natural psych!

Something a little different today. We are going to look at all four hands in a recent deal, one where one pair missed out on what was their natural right. That was to play in a spade contract since they had 9 spades between the two hands and sufficient points to play in a part-score, maybe even in a “pushy” game.

Yet, they never got to bid spades at all! Let’s see what happened and hear from the Panel what perhaps should have happened.

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South Deals
E-W Vul

Q 9 8 3


A 10 8 6 3


A K 10 8 7 4 2


9 8 7 5 4








K 10 7 2

9 3

J 9 7 5

Q 6 3


A J 6 5 4

Q 6 5

Q 4 2

10 2












1 ♠

1 NT


2 NT

All pass


Let’s begin at the end as South did not enjoy playing 2NT. West led a high heart and switched to a club. South took Club-smallA in dummy and played Spade-smallQ covered and won Spade-smallA. They wanted to keep East off lead if possible. So, they led Diamond-smallQ and ducked when Diamond-smallK appeared. West continued clubs with declarer playing Club-smallK from dummy.

Once more, a high spade was played from dummy. Again East covered. South could take 3 spades, 1 diamond and 2 club tricks but once East gained the lead, the rest of the tricks went to the opposition. Had South started with a low diamond, South could have gone one less off but the contract could not quite be made.

It was good defence by West not to give South a heart trick but North-South missed out on their spade contract. How then could they have found spades after East’s 1Spade-small bid?
There is general agreement from our Panel that the trouble started with South’s 1NT bid.

Nigel Kearney “ South's 1NT is where it started to go wrong. I am going to suggest two principles that will help here:

Your side can only make a take-out double of one suit. If you have doubled a suit bid by them for take-out, a subsequent double of a different suit is penalty. That means South can double 1Spade-small to show spades, or bid 2Spade-small, or maybe even 3Spade-small.

If you have a choice of cue bids, bidding the suit bid by the opponent on your left is a cue bid, and bidding the suit bid by the opponent on your right is natural.”
A double of 1Spade-small therefore is not negative but shows spades as 1Spade-small was bid by East.


Wayne Burrows “This is a routine “baby psych” situation so you will be stolen blind if you cannot bid spades in response to a take-out double.

Even if 1Spade-small is “legit”, AJxxx and a nine count will play admirably almost always opposite a minimal take-out double. 


For me 2Spade-small is around 6-9 with five spades. With values, maybe 8+ or so, and four spades I double 1Spade-small.


So, South has a normal 2Spade-small bid here. I expect to get to 4Spade-small but the route might depend on what action West in particular takes with the 7-5 hand.”


The 1Spade-small bid is suspicious though as you can see above was this time natural. The concept of South doubling with 4 spades and bidding 2Spade-small with 5 spades seems good. After all, North’s double may only contain a 3-card spade suit and they need to be convinced that spades is a good contract even though they may only have three.


However, doubling or bidding spades was not the only approach taken. We asked the Panel how they would have found their spade contract.


Bruce Anderson “I don’t like South’s bid of 1NT; with length in an opponent’s suit, it is usually right to pass and await developments.

No doubt West would have bid 2Heart-small. That bid would have been passed back to South who should then bid 2Spade-small, which must be natural; North has guaranteed at least 3 spades by making a take- out double and failing to bid again.

With a good hand and looking to force, South might have bid 2Spade-small initially but did not do so. After 2Spade-small by South, North might invite game with 3Spade-small, an invitation that would be declined.”

I agree that it is not mandatory here to reach the spade game. We just need to find our fit. Also, pulling up short of game is:


Stephen Blackstock “ Failing to reach a spade contract arises mainly from South's decision to bid 1NT. More usual would be double, penalties and also showing a spade suit. The auction might then proceed (2Heart-small)-Pass-(Pass), and South can then bid 2Spade-small to play. North may then raise to 3Spade-small and South could take the push to 4Spade-small, but both these actions are marginal. Failing to get to game would be understandable and shouldn't be criticised; 4Spade-small is not a great contract but the layout is favourable. Pairs has a heavy emphasis on plus scores, and putting that in jeopardy to attempt a thin game is not a recommended strategy.”

Peter Newell " 1NT is clearly wrong. Partner has made a take-out double of 1Heart-small so is very likely to have 3+ spades unless strong. The 1Spade-small bid is a relatively common psych. So, clearly double of 1Spade-small shows spades which is the key asset of the hand, particularly with a thin heart stopper. After double showing 4+ spades , it is easy for North and with a 5th spade South to bid spades.”


Two approaches are offered by:

Steph Jacob: It is useful to have an agreement that 2Spade-small is natural over 1Spade-small. It is a well-known tactic that 1Spade-small can be a psyche and even when it is natural, you now know where those trumps are.

 Having not done that (due to perhaps being worried partner will think you have a good 2-suited hand), I think 3Spade-small over 2NT should get the message across that you have natural spades. Partner will likely raise to 4Spade-small now and careful play should see you bring it home. North could perhaps double 2Heart-small rather than bid 2NT but I do have some sympathy for their raise.

One point about the 1NT bid is that it does not have to show a good spade stop or maybe not a spade stop at all. After all, North implied spades by their double. The suit in which South should definitely have a hold is hearts..and here that South hand has a hold but not a great one...another reason to look for a possible spade contract. 

Leon Meier: “I play both double and 2Spade-small as natural(double usually 4 spades) in place of 1NT. I would bid 2Spade-small with this South hand.”

Accepting the auction to 2NT as given is:

Andy Braithwaite “ North’s double suggested 4 spades so South could have suggested playing in spades by bidding 3Spade-small over 2NT. North would have realised this was natural as South had bid 1NT in the first place so could not be asking for a stopper- so natural. North would be delighted to raise.”

and  following his own principles is:

Nigel Kearney “ I would have chosen 2Spade-small by South rather than 1NT. Then 4Spade-small by North.”

I like Nigel’s principles and approach with 2Spade-small showing here a limit bid with 5 spades. It does mean you have to find an alternative bid (2Heart-small perhaps) with both minor suits, the other possible hand type which you might choose to double 1Spade-small.

Playing the game

For those who reach 4Spade-small, there is a natural spade, heart and diamond loser. So, the fact that East can over-ruff the third round of hearts is not critical as that is their natural spade trick. However, it is not important to reach 4Spade-small in Pairs. The cards do lie favourably for South. Reaching a spade contract, though, is really important. The Panel’s use of double and 2Spade-small to show spades seems a great way to go.

Psyche or no psyche, the fit can be found.

Richard Solomon

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