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Competing to 3 Spades - Apr/May 2003


The auction goes 1 - 2 - 2 - 3  (the opponents are bidding clubs).  You hold K5432A32K32Q2.  You have five spades and if partner has three spades you have an eight-card spade fit.  What does it take to bid 3 holding five spades in the previous auction neither vulnerable at matchpoints?  You are bidding at the three-level in a possible eight-card fit.  I don't think anyone would bid 3 with the above hand.  What is the minimum fix to the above hand, which would allow you to bid 3?  We’re talking about hands that are not worth making a game try.  Hands where the choices are bidding 3 or passing.  If you held a sixth spade, it would be criminal to pass 3.

What do experts look for when deciding to bid at the three-level with five spades?  The variables are trump strength, distribution, number of clubs and club honors.  HCPs seem to be irrelevant.  The main theme is no club wastage.   Pass with Qx of clubs, bid 3 with one or two little clubs.  Only two experts would bid 3 holding three clubs.

Four experts bid 3 with 5=3=3=2 distribution.  All it takes is moving the Q to another suit.  The author of  “To Bid or Not to Bid” and “Following the Law” gives his opinion.  If you read these books you’ll learn everything you’d want to know about competitive bidding.  

Larry Cohen---“The 13-count alone does not deter me from bidding.  It is the poor spades and the Q that would make 3 a poor Law bid.  Obviously, a sixth spade or singleton club would indicate enough trumps to bid three-over-three.  So, we have to deal with our side having only eight trumps (if partner has four spades, he will compete to 3) and their side having eight or nine clubs (if partner has only one club, he will compete to 3).  Changing the red suits isn't too relevant.  As they are, they are slightly better for offense than defense -- I'd consider QJx a little better for defense than offense.

If they have nine clubs (I.E. -- partner has only two), it will usually be right to bid 3 on close cases.   Unfortunately, there is no way to know if partner has two or three clubs.  So, we have to just look at our own black suits.  If you put the Q into spades  (KQ432AxxKxx32) that would probably be enough to get me to bid 3.  If there are 17 trumps, I'd be fine (one side can make nine tricks).  If I hit partner with three clubs (only 16 trumps), I hope there is enough purity (with me having the Q and nothing in clubs) to yield a 17th trick – making bidding right.  Also, of course, if there are only 16 tricks and they split 9=7 and nobody doubles, it is OK to bid 3-over-3.  With KJ432 in spades and two small clubs, I still think 3 is OK.”

The Law of Total Tricks looks at double dummy results.  The number of tricks each side would take if they were looking at the hand records.  Since pairs don’t always get all their tricks on defense, it pays to overbid a little.   The only bad situation is if there are 16 total tricks, they split 8=8 and the five defensive tricks are easy for both sides to take.  You would then be trading +50 in 3 to –50 in 3.

A few experts make minimal changes to the above hand.

Steve Weinstein---“If you change the Q to the jack of either red suit I would bid.”

Lynn Deas---“KxxxxAxxKQxxx.  I have been experimenting with bidding three over three with 5=3=3=2 distribution if my values are good and I have nothing wasted in their suit.  It seems to be right more often than not.”

John Sutherlin---“ If you make the Q the Q of either red suit, I would bid. Anything less probably not.“

The following experts need 5=4=2=2 or 5=4=3=1 distribution to bid 3.

Howard Weinstein---“The minimum number of cards moved would be the queen of clubs becoming the heart or diamond queen.   If I retain two little clubs I need to switch the club queen for one of the small spades, and add a red queen for a small one in the other suit.  In other words, with a stiff club, I will look for almost any excuse to bid again.  With two+ clubs I need a solid 5-4-2-2 to bid again.  Of course, vulnerability and form of scoring count, but not as much as most would believe.  Steve Garner and I play that a double in this situation would be two+ clubs and a very good balanced hand.  With 5=3=3=2, I would almost always pass unless strong enough to double.”

Mike Passell--- Points shmoints.  They do not enter into this equation.  At matchpoints I would bid 3 on almost any hand with a stiff club and decent spades regardless.  KQJxxAxxQxxxx is an easy one.  QJxxxAxxAxxxx is another easy one.  QxxxxKJxAJxxx is less obvious but I would certainly bid it except against a top pair where I lose a lot of equity by the possibility of getting doubled.  With two club losers I would need a better reason to bid, a reasonable expectancy of making 3.  I would bid 3 with all 5=5 hands and all 5=4 hands with all the cards in my suits.  AKxxxxxAQxxxx is a good example because partner would surely pass with QxxxxxKJxxJxx.  Always remember partner still has a bid coming on the in between hands so our pass does not end the auction.  AKxxxxxxAxxxx becomes an easy 4 while JxxxxKJAxQxxx becomes an easy pass since we know partner will compete for us with his singleton club and we do not want to do anything to encourage him to bid game.”

Jeff needs good spades to bid 3.

Jeff Meckstroth---“I wouldn't bid 3 on ANY 5=3=3=2 hand.  I would with KQ109xxxAKxxxx.”

Bobby Wolff---“A minimum re-raise to 3 which is not invitational, just a noise, hoping to make it more difficult for the opponents, with a chance at buying the contract might be: K5432xAKJxxxx or AKQxxxxQJ10xxx, or AKxxxQJxxxx(x)x(x) or JxxxxAK10xxQ10x- (Sometimes this hand is cold for 4).”

3 is NOT an invitation for partner to bid game.  Partner is not allowed to bid 4.  If you wanted to invite, you could bid three-of-either-red suit.

Eddie Kantor---“I would bid 3 over 3 with either: (a) A concentrated 5=4 AQJxxxxKQJxxx  (b) a weak 5=5 AKxxxxxQxxxxx  (c) Most weakish hands with 5=4=3=1 (stiff club) that had reasonable spades KQJxxKxxxQJxx

My reason for bidding 3 is twofold:  They may make 3 as I don't have all that much defense and I may make 3 if I catch a fitting dummy.   As for 5=3=3=2 hands, I can't see myself bidding 3, but I can see myself doubling if I have good defense.  AxxxxAKxAJxxx   (It's so much fun to make up hands to illustrate one's point.”

A singleton club is all the following experts need to bid 3.

Allan Falk---“K10932A102KQ102 2.  I need bulky spades, although on most 4=1 breaks they'll just tap me to death anyway, so I have a shot at drawing trump opposite Qxx or Jxx when they do break.  I need a stiff club or another singleton and no wastage in clubs.  The red tens mean that opposite a pretty junky raise I can hope to limp home, e.g., when partner produces stuff like J9x or Jxx, and even opposite 98x I have a shot for just one loser.  It's better for me to have length in a red suit where partner has length; although that exposes us to a potential ruff, it reduces our defensive prospects enough to warrant the "Law-breaking venture" to 3.  Alas, the auction does not give us any way to find out which red suit is useful in that way, other than that with some 2 bids partner might have made a negative double with significant heart values, so I lean toward adding a card in diamonds (on the other hand, RHO did not make a responsive double, so perhaps the heart inference, weak in any case, cancels out).”

Barnet Shenkin---“KJ98xA10xKJ10xx.  I would like the 10 but would probably chance the above.”

Jill Meyers---”In order for me to bid 3 I would need either 5=4=3=1 distribution, in some order, with the Q being switched to any of the other suits so that it would be a useful card.  I would probably also bid 3 with 5=4=2=2, the diamond and heart order irrelevant, distribution with the Queen being a useful card.” 

Barry Rigal---“ You would get close to an unanimous vote for 3 with K5432AQ32K322 and K5432A32KQ322.  The smallest change to get me to bid 3 is to make the hand 5=4=2=2.   AK43232KQ3252 is far closer to the original hand than anything with a singleton club.”

Jon Wittes---“There are very few 5=3=3=2 hands that I would bid 3 on, although the argument can certainly be made that 3 is right if you think the opponents are making 3, and we are going down no more than one in 3.  I would certainly never bid 3 on a bad suit, such as the one in the example hand.  I hate making a unilateral decision in direct seat with nothing extra in distribution, when partner always has the opportunity to bid 3 in the balancing seat, if he has four trumps, or three good ones, or some type of twist hand.   On the other hand, there are a lot of 5=4=3=1 hands that I might bid 3 on, particularly when I have club length but no honors, since that marks partner with shortness.  If I have short clubs, I would be more hesitant to bid 3, since partner may have a moderate stack, and may be preparing to double them for a plus 300 or more at matchpoints.”

Chip Martel---“Moving the Q elsewhere  (e.g. KQxxxAxxKxxxx or KxxxxAQxxKxxx) would be worth a 3 bid.  If 5=3=3=2, only if extreme honor distribution  (maybe KQJTxAxxQJTxx) also a pure 5=4=2=2 hand: AKQxxxxQJTxxx.”

Grant Baze---“To bid again with only five spades I would need excellent spades, extra values, and concentration in my side suit.  5=3=3=2 is the worst pattern, and I would need something like: AKQxxAQxxxxxx.  5=3=2=3 or 5=2=3=3 are better patterns (as I expect to be able to ruff a club on dummy) and I would bid with slightly less, perhaps AKJxxAQxxxxxx.   I would bid with any 5=4=2=2 13 count with all my high cards concentrated in my two suits as long as my spades were reasonable, some hand such as AQ10xxxxAKxxxx.  I would pass with AxxxxxxAKQxxx.  With 5=5 we would all bid, even with QJxxxxAKJxxxx.”

Mel Colchamiro---My minimum five-card spades suit 3 bid would be something like KQJ10xAQxxxxxx.  With that hand I could be down only one for –50 opposite as little as xxxJxxxxxxxxx, with my opponents' cold for as many as 5 if my LHO has Kx in hearts and cold for 4 if otherwise.  Obviously, I expect partner to be a smidge stronger to bid 2.”

Bobby Lipsitz---“I feel the most important factors are vulnerability and suit quality.  Holding KQJxx of trump is a plus on offense, but not on defense.  Almost any minimum 5-5 is worth competing on.” 

Marty Bergen---“I would want club shortness and/or purity or 5=5”

Ralph Katz---“To bid 3 you would need a singleton or 5=4 with very good suit quality.”

Holding a singleton or two little clubs is the biggest variable.  Good trumps, 5=5 and 5=4 distributions are secondary variables.  Notice that HCPs was rarely considered.

If you’re going to bid over 3, double is one of your options.  What does a double of 3 mean?  If your partner knows exactly how many clubs the double shows, he can pass for penalties with the appropriate hand.  I thought that I would get one or two different answers but I got everything from one to four clubs and from twelve to eighteen HCPs.  The expert community has not given the double of 3 a meaning.     

Lipsitz and Wittes think the double should show one club.

Bobby Lipsitz---“I've never heard this discussed, but propose that double here should be TAKEOUT with good defense: perfect hand would be AxxxxAJ10Axxxx.  Partner could then pass for penalty, retreat to 3, or bid a new suit possibly jumping to game e.g. KQxQxxxxxxxxx.”

Jon Wittes---I think a double of 3 would almost always show one club and somewhere between a good 14 to a bad 17 high card points.   You would probably double 3 on a 5=3=3=2 hand with maximum high card points as well.  Since you have room for two other game tries over 3, the double should probably imply a willingness for partner to convert with the right hand, so you should probably have fairly good trick taking potential as well.” 

The following experts think the double shows two clubs.

Lynn Deas---“I think the double of 3 should show a maximum with defense and two little in the club suit.   We have done some simulations on the computer as to what is the best way to play the double.  Partner can pass or bid on.”

Chip Martel---“Double would show a balanced defensive type hand.  Could have as few as two clubs if 5=3=3=2.”

Grant Baze---“One or two clubs and four defensive tricks, at most one in spades.  Most likely distributions are 5=3=3=2 and 5=3=4=1.  AxxxxAKxAxxxx would be possible, so would AxxxxAKxAxxxx and AxxxxAKxAKxxx.  So the range is AKAK (14) to AKAKA (18).   The emphasis is short clubs, at most one prime spade card, and defensive tricks.”

Jill Myers---“I would need a better hand than AxxxxAxxAxxxx.  I am not counting on my partner for two tricks when all he/she did was make a simple raise.”

The following experts think the double shows three clubs.

Kit Woolsey---“Probably three clubs, including a trump trick, and some extra values.  I would expect partner to pass the double unless he had a stiff club or four spades.  Wouldn't exactly put a point count on the bid – just a hand which I think 3 is going down.”

Kerry Sanborn---“Double of 3 could be only three clubs with a maximum defensive hand.”

Marty Bergen---“Not a game try with two or three clubs.  14+ HCP, not bad cards.”

Howard Weinstein---Unless you have a specific agreement, the double should show three+ good clubs and some extra defense--at least four probable tricks in your own hand.  With my regular partner we play this shows a balanced or semi-balanced game try.”

Mike Passell---I will double 3 on most hands with any four clubs if we have a sure tap suit KQJxxAxxxJxxx.  Three good ones will do with some SURE outside tricks QxxxxAKxxxKQx on the other side of the coin we know partner is short when we have four bad ones and can bid games on a lot more hands.” 

The following experts think the double should show a strong notrump.

Dave Berkowitz---Probably three and a good hand  (16+ plus, aces and kings), fewer HCPs if four clubs, more if two.”

Ralph Katz---“Double would be a balanced 17-19 with two or three clubs.”

Eddie Kanter---“ I think it depends upon whether you open one notrump with five spades.   If you don't, then I think it should show a one-notrump opener with two or three clubs.  If you do open one notrump with those hands, I think it should show three (strong) or four clubs.”

Barry Rigal---Since 3 and 3 are game tries, double is strong balanced, typically 17-19 with defense.  I could imagine doing it with two trumps, xxxxxAKxKJxAK but that would not be typical.”

Matt Granovetter---“I think the double should show three and a half to four defensive tricks, giving partner the chance to pass with a trick+ depending on vulnerability.  Not vulnerable, partner would need what looks like two tricks to pass.”

David Bird---“A double of 3 would show points, rather than clubs.  It would mean --- I don't want to sell out to 3.  You choose whether to bid on or defend ---.  The opener would indeed tend to hold only five spades, since otherwise he would be inclined to bid 3.  3/3 would be full-blooded game tries, of course.  Point-count would be something like 17 upwards, I suppose.”

Richard Freeman---“Balanced 16-18, no singleton club.”

Bobby Wolff---“I'd play double for penalties.  Probably at least two, preferably slow, club tricks.”

Since there is no consensus about the double, I will tell you what I think.  When most of the experts bid 3, they had club shortness with nothing wasted in clubs.  Double should show that hand.  Exactly two clubs with defensive prospects but could be a minimum hand.  Partner will know what you have and can do the right thing based on what he has in clubs.  If partner has three clubs and passes the double, the Law should protect you.  If you have three clubs, you don’t need as good a hand.  Double tells partner that you are not willing to sell out to 3 and tells partner to do something intelligent.  A hand where you want to bid at least 3, but want to give partner a chance to nail them.  You are bidding in front of partner and you could find him with length and or strength in clubs.  Make them pay when they bid 3 on only two.  On this auction, you’re far more likely to have two clubs than four clubs.  If the opponents are at the three-level in an eight-card fit, they could be too high.  If you doubled 3 with AJ10xxAxxAxxxx, you would get rich if partner held Kxx,xxxxxxKJx or KxxKxxxKxxxxx.  You could double with three clubs on a hand where you might want to bid only 3, AxxxxAxKQxxxx for instance.  This protects you just in case partner has three clubs.  You could double with game-going hands, AxxxxAKxAKxxx for instance.  If partner passes the double, it will be good.  You can double with game-try hands, AxxxxAKxKQxxx for instance.  Over the double, partner can’t bid higher than 3.  He accepts a possible game try by bidding a red suit.  This is called the two-card double.