March 29, 2015


Good hand evaluation goes a long way past counting one’s points at the start of each deal. As the auction develops, you have to be aware of how your cards and partner’s fit together, and estimate how many tricks your combined assets are worth. Sometimes this means jumping to game with a weak distributional hand and a good fit with partner; other times, as in this deal from Friday night’s game, it means watching a promising hand fizzle out and being willing to back off the gas when it does.

Vulnerable against not, your partner deals you a 19-point monster:

spade A K Q 8
heart suit J 8 2
diamond A J 9
club A 9 4

Partner passes and RHO opens 1heart suit. Despite the opposing opening, your side is often going to be able to make 4spade or 3NT. You need some input from partner what the best spot is. You start with a takeout double, hoping partner can tell you about a spade suit or a heart stopper.

The auction continues pass on your left, 2D from partner, pass on your right. Time to re-evaluate. Partner’s bid promises less than 10 points — possibly zero! — and says his longest suit is diamonds. He’s very unlikely to have four spades; most people would reply to a takeout double with 1spade holding a hand like Jxxx xx Qxxxx xx. If he has a heart stopper he’ll be very weak. If partner had xx KTx Kxxx Jxxx he could respond 1NT, 6-9. Either he has no heart stopper, or he has a hand like xxx QTx xxxxx xx, so weak that he expects to fail in even 1NT opposite a typical takeout double.

With game in spades or notrump out of reach, how are your chances in 5diamond? Probably not good — even if partner has a decent 8-point hand, it would be awfully easy to lose the first three tricks to high hearts and heart ruffs. Taking 11 tricks is a whole lot harder than taking 9 or 10.

Someone thinking only about his own hand might rebid 2spade or 2NT here. (Both of these are small distortions, as you have neither 5 spades nor a heart stopper, but that is the textbook way to show a 19-point hand after your opponent opens.) Someone who thinks about the whole hand should give up and spread his hand out as dummy for partner in 2diamond. (If the other side came back in with 2heart suit you could try 3diamond, but you don’t want to sound like you are inviting game.)

Dealer South
NS vul
spade A K Q 8
heart suit J 8 2
diamond A J 9
club A 9 4
spade 5 4 3
heart suit A K Q 6 4
diamond K 2
club Q 5 3
[table marker] spade T 6 2
heart suit 9 3
diamond Q 7 3
club K T 8 7 2
spade J 9 7
heart suit T 7 5
diamond T 8 6 5 4
club J 6
West North East South
1H Double Pass 2diamond
Pass Pass Pass

At the table Friday night, the cards were right where the odds said they were most likely to be. Two pairs stopped in 2diamond and shared a top for +90. Two pairs went down in 1NT (perhaps opting for an overweight 1NT overcall on North’s cards), and two pairs got a well-deserved bottom, going down even farther in 3NT and 4spade.