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Too strong to pre-empt: too weak to open.

8 Points 10 Tricks.

but not in the way you might expect. We feature a hand today that just does not fit into any traditional opening bid. If you were told that it had a 7-card spade suit and 8 high-card points, you would think there would be some Panel votes for a 3Spade-small opening. There is not one!  

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East Deals
Both Vul
W   E
A 10 9 8 7 6 5
A 10 3 2
West North East South


What if anything would you open with these East cards? You are playing Teams.

Time to be free and frisky? Differing views from these two Panellists:

Andy Braithwaite “4Spade-small: First in hand can be a bit frisky so I put pressure on with 4Spade-small.”

Michael Cornell “1Spade-small: Everything is flawed to some extent. Far too good for 2Spade-small and has an extra trump as well. I would not open 2Spade-small playing 8/11 weak 2’s.

Too good for 3Spade-small as well with an outside ace (and another suit) so the only possible pre-empt is really 4Spade-small but if partner has a decent hand, slam is easily possible. It only needs the right weak NT with Spade-smallKxx to be favourite: Spade-smallKxx Heart-smallJxx Diamond-smallAxxx Club-smallKQx will do the trick .

With spades it’s not necessary to pre-empt freely so opening 1 retains a lot of options – even a club slam is one of them with this 5-loser hand.”


Opening at the 1- level with an 8-count is unusual but receives a lot of support. With a little regret is:


Peter Newell “1Spade-small: I’m not a big fan on opening 8 counts generally, but the spade pips, Club-small10, 2 aces and shape all point to this hand being worth much more than 8 hcp.

 It is way too strong for 2Spade-small, and too strong for 3Spade-small and I don’t like having two aces for a first seat 3 level pre-empt. So, that only leaves 4Spade-small as an option.  I don’t mind too much but having 2 two aces would also surprise partner for a first seat 4Spade-small bid, and along with the singletons suggest that we have quite a few defensive tricks. So, we need to be careful not to overbid given the opponents may not be able to make much.

Of course, 4Spade-small may goad them into a 5-level adventure – so 4Spade-small second choice.  Would not consider pass as an option – too strong playing strength wise, and not good to squander the opportunity to getting into the bidding before the opponents.

We certainly want to start the ball rolling with our hand. Remember that Club-small10. It will have a mighty big roll to play in a few minutes.


Nigel Kearney “1Spade-small: It's too good for 3Spade-small. 4Spade-small is ok on strength but the aces make the hand too heavily weighted towards defence so not suitable for a pre-empt. Even in the worst-case scenario where partner insists on playing in a red suit, this is not that bad a dummy.”


Bruce Anderson “1Spade-small: 2Spade-small misrepresents this hand in a serious way; it is not a weak two.

4Spade-small risks going for a number if the hand is a misfit; or if partner is strong with club suit, we have just pre-empted ourselves. While 3Spade-small puts our opponents under pressure, that bid may make it very difficult for partner to judge whether or not to bid on.

Obviously, I am light on high card points but the hand has great playing strength and two aces.  Therefore, I am treating this hand as a sound opening bid. I can see no good reason to pre-empt and make life difficult for partner.


We are 1 shy of the Rule of 20 for a 1-level opening but that does not bother our Panel.


Stephen Blackstock “1Spade-small: Yes, light on hcp, but ample playing strength and controls. Partner won’t be deceived in any meaningful way. It’s difficult to see an alternative. 2Spade-small and 3Spade-small or pass are unimaginable; there may be the odd vote for 4Spade-small, but why?

We have the boss suit so are not too concerned about competition, and starting at the four level can only hinder our efforts to investigate the optimal contract. A 4Spade-small opening may silence partner when he has the right cards for slam and will eliminate any chance of playing clubs when West has length there and short spades.”

and Michael’s ever-pleading prediction nearly came true:

Michael Ware “1Spade-small : Too strong for anything else. Pre-empts with 2 aces are for losers. Unanimous surely?

The reality of what happened surely backs up the view that this is not the hand to start at the 4-level. No slam, but some interesting defence to follow:

East Deals
Both Vul
K 4 3
Q 8 5 4
K 8 5 4
K 9 6 4
J 9 7 3 2
Q J 7
W   E
A 10 9 8 7 6 5
A 10 3 2
J 2
A 10 7 5 3 2
A K 6
9 6
West North East South
    1  2 
Pass 2 NT 3  Pass
Pass 3 NT All pass  


4Heart-small would have been a much less unpleasant experience for the North-South partnership. Not a make but not so many tricks in the “out” box.

East led a low spade, giving North an immediate awkward choice. If East had led away from a seven-card suit headed by AQ, then putting up Spade-smallJ would gain a trick and momentum. Today was not that day.

Declarer ducked West’s Spade-smallQ (hoping East did have a 7-card suit) and that enabled West to find Club-smallQ switch. That was ducked and it was now important that West switched to Club-small7 to that all-important Club-smallT in East’s hand. East drove out Spade-smallK and waited, but not for long!

well beaten.jpg


Well beaten!

North took a losing heart finesse and a third round of clubs preceded 4 more spade winners… in all, 6 spade tricks, 3 clubs and Heart-smallK for the defence…-600, 6 down.

4Spade-small cannot/ should not make. The pre-emptive 1Spade-small opening worked out rather well!

We will feature a hand from this weekend’s Inter-Provincials on Monday.

Richard Solomon


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