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Hearts and Spades

 Major Problems

David J. Weiss

     I wonder if anyone foresaw the fascinating challenges bidders would face because of the ranks of the suits in alphabetical order. Because spades outrank hearts, the search for a major-suit fit frequently calls for con­tortions in the auction. For example, when the opening bid is one heart and the response is one spade, a responder with game-going ambition may have to invoke an artificial third- or fourth-suit search for support. But locating secondary support is not always responder's primary goal, so the auction may get mired in ambiguity.
    Suppose opener has,
105 AJ764 AQ84
After an ordinary beginning, one heart--one spade--two diamonds--three clubs, ?, opener faces a nasty guess. His next call may well be one from which no recovery is possible.
    The major problems give rise to recurrent themes for the panels of bridge publications. Even opener's first rebid can be awkward when, with a powerful hand, he is forced to choose what may be a committal action. Consider this setup, characterized as a golden oldie by The Bridge World's panelists, who acknowledged there is no good answer in a natural system:
K97 AK8742 A8 Q10
     After one heart--one spade--?, there were expert votes for two hearts and three hearts, for two spades and three spades, and for eccentric calls of two notrump and two clubs. The dilemma, of course, is that as little as ace-queen-fifth of spades in partner's hand provides play for a spade game; but opposite assorted minimum hands with only four spades, the hand belongs in a heart or notrump contract with the correct level difficult to guess.
     The lone two-club bidder was hoping that temporizing would allow the next call to clarify matters. This principle may be taken a step further by defining an artificial temporizing bid. For example, the preceding hand is solved by the Cole convention, in which an artificial two-club rebid gets opener past the current difficulty. The price for that artificiality is that clubs become difficult to locate as a trump suit. This is a high price in an auction in which no fit has been found after two suits have been proposed.
    Part of the problem is that a space-consuming two-heart rebid has such a wide range of potential strength.  The Bridge World's Champs were challenged by this deal:
            West               East
10843           A6
AK               876432
Q7                AK4
87643           A2
    The unsuccessful sequence, one heart--one spade--two hearts--pass, was characterized as the standard auction. West could not bid again because opener might have a considerably weaker hand, whereas East could not suppress the extra length that made hearts likely to be the best strain.
    How are we going to solve these problems?  The proposed solution ex­tends the sacrifice made by most pairs who play modern five card major systems: when a major has been opened, one notrump is not a possible contract. In this context, my suggestion introduces two conventional elements.

    (1) With five or more spades and game-going values, responder first bids a forcing one notrump, then bids spades at the minimum level over any below-game rebid. Because two spades in this sequence is game-forcing, a round of bidding can often be saved. For example, with the minimum 2-5-4-2 pattern of the first example, opener's third bid can be two notrump. Then, if responder is still in doubt about the best strain, he can make a bid at the three level to elicit doubleton spade support. Thus, the benefits of a two-over-one strong auction are available with the awkward major-suit combination, Here, opener's third-round bid is simply a mark-time noise, denying the ability to make a natural bid to show three spades, or six hearts, or five diamonds, or four clubs. The only cost, for those already accustomed to using a one-notrump response as forcing, is that responder's two-spade rebid cannot be used for some (usually minor-suit related) artificial purpose.

   N.B. (Additional clarification not in BW article)
    With heart support, responder's rebid is a jump to 3S.  Hearts becomes the agreed suit for RKC purposes, although opener may place the contract in either suit. Natural bidding (not 4th suit artificial) ensues. Bidding 2S and rebidding 3S can be done with 6 spades. 1H-1NT-2x-4S can be reserved to show solid spades. If opener makes a strength-showing rebid over 1NT, such as 2NT, 3NT, or 3H, responder should indicate spades at the minimum level. This is a game force and shows spades. If opener jump shifts, responder should bid 3S (which shows spades) to show his power. (If responder's 1NT was based on a limit raise in hearts, he should jump to 4H.)

(2) After one heart--one spade--?, opener rebids under a transfer principle. Thus, one notrump indicates clubs, two clubs indicates diamonds. The indication may be rather mild, because the transfer shows what opener would have rebid had responder bid a forcing one notrump. For a one-notrump rebid (showing clubs), opener may have as few as three clubs. Of course, responder need not accept the transfer, but will make whatever call was appropriate over a natural sequence showing opener's two suits. Because responder cannot have game-going values if holding five spades, forcing auctions can be well defined with the fourth-suit bids (one heart--one spade--one notrump [=clubs]--three diamonds; one heart--one spade--two clubs [=diamonds]--three clubs). In the first sequence, two diamonds is not needed as fourth-suit forcing because responder cannot have game-going values with five spades. Bids in the suit opener has shown (such as one heart--one spade--one no-trump--three clubs) retain the usual, natural meanings. These follow-ups employ the usual style, so are easy to remember--if you remember the transfer itself.
    This method handles rather nicely a deal from the "Bidding Challenge" offered by Australian Bridge:
      West                 East
65                  KQ843
AQ643          --
KJ4                932
K73               J10842

The auction would be one heart--one spade--one notrump--two clubs--pass. The Australian moderator suggested that a five-card-major sequence could stop at two clubs. Perhaps that is possible down under, but no American pair that I know plays the final call in the proposed auction, one heart--one spade--one notrump--two clubs, as natural. Consequently, because this usual artificial inquiry is not available using the proposed methods, it is a good idea to raise the one-spade response rather liberally with three-card support and a potential ruffing value. Responder's two notrump after one heart--one spade--transfer to a minor--? is invitational and does not show five spades even though he may have them.
    A small but not insignificant bonus from the transfer principle is that a weak responding hand with a nightmarish pattern, such as 4=1=2=6, can not only explore spades but can get out in two clubs when opener has the expected red suits. Similarly, a responder with a weak 4=1=6=2 pattern, or even 4=1=5=3, can propose two diamonds as a contract when opener shows hearts and clubs (via one heart--one spade--one notrump--two diamonds), without fear of an unfortunate spade preference.
    The transfer principle, first proposed in this context by Forrester and Robson, also handles six-card heart suits effectively.  One heart--one spade--two diamonds shows, with one exception noted below, a minimum with six hearts, while one heart--one spade--two hearts shows a two-and-a-half heart bid.  The reward for this differentiation is that responder knows when to invite with a promising 9- or 10-point hand. So, the deal shown above that was too tough for the Champs--responder held 9 points including the doubleton ace-king of hearts--would be relatively routine.  Incidentally, the Editors lauded the Challengers' idiosyncratic sequence on this deal: one heart--one notrump--two diamonds--two hearts--three hearts--four hearts--pass, in which spades were deliberately suppressed (no mention of Flannery); the three-card diamond bid allowed West to evaluate his red values. Nuances aside, the purely quantitative bidding fostered by the transfer system gets to game whichever queen West happens to have been dealt. Even if West's queen is in a black suit, three notrump is excellent, and four hearts worthwhile.
    Have you guessed the exception? When opener has six hearts, extra val­ues and secondary spade support, he rebids two diamonds. Then, if responder signs off at two hearts, opener can continue with two spades. Note how this sequence allows full exploration of the golden oldie exemplar. (I admit that if opener's primary suit is diamonds rather than hearts, as it has been in some MSC renditions, I'm as stumped as anyone else who is not playing a strong-club system.)
    Although it is not integral to the proposed methods, I suggest that, assuming a pair can tolerate giving up the strong jump shift to two spades (with the one-notrump method of showing spades, the loss is not great), the invitational-strength hands with six spades and a heart misfit can be nicely handled with a direct two-spade response. The natural auction, one heart--one spade--two of a minor--three spades frequently leads to a bad result for me.  Opener passes and displays a singleton trump in a minimum hand. Or, with trump support or decent high cards, opener finds an excuse to raise.  Better to go down one less at the two level when opener has the unlucky hand.