District 6
Jane Farthing, President
American Contract Bridge League
Mid-Atlantic Bridge Conference
District 7
Zero Tolerance, D6 policy
Jun/JulArticle by Steve RobinsonOct/Nov
What’s needed to bid a game after a limit raise? (Aug/Sep 2006)

I asked my expert panel the following question:  “You open 1 with AQxxxKxQxxJxx. Your partner bids 3 which is a standard four-card limit raise. [You would probably pass] What are minimum upgrades you would need to make in order to bid 4 non-vulnerable? What about vulnerable at IMPs?”


Generally a major-suit limit raise is played as game-invitational. Most experts feel that as opener they need at least 14 HCPs to accept the invitation to go on to game. Notice that even if you have AQxxxKxQxxAxx, (15 HCPs), opposite a minimum limit raise such as KxxxAxxKxxxxx, you make game only if an opponent leads the ace of diamonds or you find an opponent with a doubleton ace of diamonds.


John Sutherlin: Let’s give partner an average limit-raise hand: KxxxQxxxAxQ10x. If we add one more point to our hand, most changes will lead to the conclusion that we are still below 50% chance to make game. AQxxxAxQxxJxx opposite KxxxQxxxAxQ10x has four losers. Less than 50% is not enough non-vulnerable. Only, an additional point in the diamond suit seems to help enough to bid the vulnerable game. Somewhat surprisingly changing the shape to 5-4-2-2 doesn't seem to matter much. So one more point is not enough to bid game either vulnerable or non-vulnerable. When we increase the value of our hand by two points, either by change or addition, the game potential seems good. Conclusion: We need two more points in our hand before 4 becomes the correct bid.


Jon Wittes: I hate 5-3-3-2 hands, especially with lots of secondary cards, so I would need significant improvement to accept over a limit raise at any vulnerability. Giving partner a typical limit raise with the king of spades and an outside ace and king, I would still need a lot more to make game a reasonable proposition. For example, even substituting the ace of clubs for the jack, AQxxxKxQxxAxx, would make game only a slight favorite, depending on partner's distribution. I would accept with that change, but wouldn't be super-confident about making game. I would also like more texture in the hand, to make some of those two-loser suits into one-and-a-half losers, to at least give us a fighting chance, for example the Q109 of diamonds, AQxxxKxQ109Jxx, would be much better opposite Kxx of diamonds in the dummy. 


Obviously, keeping the same high card structure with better distribution would also make game a better proposition. For example, I would be more inclined to accept, especially vulnerable, with AQxxxxQxxKJxx. Opposite this hand, give partner something like the king of spades and the AK of diamonds, and game is probably a favorite, whereas those cards opposite the original hand, would still make game a decided underdog. 


David Bird: Non-vulnerable I would need Kxx in clubs. Vulnerable, it’s worth a go with Q10x in clubs.


Bobby Lipsitz: Change Jxx in clubs to Kxx.


Billy Eisenberg: Beware of 5-3-3-2 hands. With that distribution, I’d want four prime cards: non-vulnerable, two aces and two kings for instance. Vulnerable, I’d want one ace and three kings.


Marty Bergen : Assuming 5-2-3-3 does not change, non-vulnerable I’d want AQxxxKxAJxxxx; vulnerable, AQxxxKxAxxxxx.


Dan Morse: At a minimum, change the queen of diamonds or the jack of clubs to a king or queen and add a ten. Would like to have more.


Dick Freeman: Ace of diamonds instead of queen of diamonds or king of clubs instead of jack of clubs at either vulnerability.


Aces and kings are worth more than queens and jacks especially Jx or Qx.


Grant Baze: Any 5-3-3-2 13-count I would pass. All 5-3-3-2 15-counts I would accept. The tougher decisions occur when holding 14-counts. Any 5-3-3-2 14 count with Jx or Qx I would pass, unless all my other points are in just two suits. Holding AQxxxAQxxxxQx, I would accept [note the “grouped” heart honors]; holding AQxxxAxxQxxQx, I would pass.


Vulnerable at IMPs I would accept with all 5-3-3-2 13-counts that did not include Qx, Qxx, Jx, or Jxx, (unless neither of two suits contained an ace or king). Holding AQxxxKJxKxxxx, I would accept; Holding AQxxxKJxQJxxx, I would pass.


Grouped honors (two or more honors together in a suit) are worth more than suit-scattered honors. KQx of diamonds is worth more than the Kxx of diamonds and the Qxx of clubs.


Billy Pollack: Non-vulnerable, move the club jack to diamonds: AQxxxKxQJxxxx, and I'd go. Vulnerable at IMPs, we're much hungrier: AQxxxKxQJxJ10x would be enough. Partner's fourth spade mitigates some of the sterility of our 5-2-3-3 pattern.


Gary Cohler: If jack of clubs becomes the jack of diamonds, I would bid game at all vulnerabilities. For example: AQxxxKxQJxxxx. [Diamond honors are “married”.]


Jill Myers: Minimum change would be to AQxxxKQxxxxJx. If I were going to bid a game with so few high cards I would need some distribution and to have "married" honors.


Brad Moss: Vulnerable at IMPs: AQxxxxxKQxJxx would do for me. Non-vulnerable: Make the jack of clubs the king or I would want some variation of a 5-4-3-1 distribution.


Henry Bethe: I confess that opposite my limit raises, which are either seven Losing Tricks or four working cards, I might bid game on the actual hand. I certainly would bid game if the minor suit points were a king rather than a queen and a jack.


5-4-2-2 hands are worth more than 5-3-3-2 hands.


Kerry Sanborn: If I were to move the jack of clubs to diamonds and make my hand AQxxxKxQJxxxx, this would be minimum for accepting a game at any form of scoring. [Note the “married” diamonds.] This gives me approximately a six-loser hand, and I can expect three cover [working] cards from a limit raise.


A sixth spade is valuable. So are singletons or voids.


Ralph Katz: Turn the queen of diamonds into an ace or the jack of clubs into a king. If we turn the hand into a 5-4-2-2 you would still need to change a little something, especially if your four-card suit was Jxxx. AQxxxKxQJxxxx would absolutely be a 4 bid. A sixth spade, something like AxxxxxKQx,Qxxx would make it close.


Bid game any time you have shortness. On bad days partner will have KQ opposite your shortness, on good days he will have xxxxx. No way to tell. The only exception to the bid game with shortness rule might be AKJxxKxxxxxxx, which opposite QxxxAQJJxxJxx makes only one spade.


Larry Cohen: Too many possibilities to cover, but let me just briefly say that ANY hand, no matter how minimum, with a singleton (or void, of course) I would bid game at any form of scoring.


Eddie Kantar: I bid game with most every hand that has a singleton or void. I lean towards game with a 5-4-2-2 hand pattern unless I have stretched to open. It's only with a balanced 12-14 HCP hand like this one that I have no qualms about passing. Same at IMPs vulnerable.


Barry Rigal: So many “small” changes are possible! The smallest changes I would make would be to move the heart king into either diamonds or clubs. Any 5-4-3-1 with a working singleton might be enough; or 3 might be hopeless. The advice I was given about always accepting this invitation when I have shortness makes sense. Alternatively, with AQxxxKxQJxxxx I'd be tempted but would decline. Change either red-suit honor up a pip and I'd go to game. With 5-2-3-3 shape I'd need 14; 13 is just not enough. Move a small card into a trump on our sample hand and I go to game, even if the heart king is now singleton.


Mike Passell: I always accept on almost any 5-4-3-1 hand since we might catch a good-fitter at any time. Also, near-minimum 5-4-2-2 with points in two suits, such as AKxxxAxxxxxxx I’d bid game, because once again many good fitters arrive in dummy. Avoid accepting on the 5-3-3-2 hands even with a little extra as they never seem to make AxxxxAxxAxxQx is about as low as I would go as far when accepting; great controls and my queen may be working.


David Berkowitz: One of my pet theories is that any opening hand with a singleton accepts a limit raise, so we can start there, at all colors. The sample hand has no body. Move the spade queen to clubs and add the three non-heart tens and I would bid game vulnerable: A10xxxKxQ10xQJ10. I’d need about 10% more non-vulnerable.


Fred Hamilton: My minimum change would be to put the heart king in either minor so as to have AQxxxxKQxxJxx or AQxxxx QxxKJxx. I always go to game when I have a singleton somewhere. In our constructive auction I bid the same vulnerable or not, as partner has also seen the color. Although the vulnerable game bonus is bigger so are the penalties when things sit badly! 


Marinesa Letizia: I certainly would not go to game when holding the sample hand. To accept, I’d want some shape for starters. I would try a game with 5-4 shape when vulnerable, or with just about any hope of game when vulnerable at IMPs.


Steve Bloom: Picture partner with a typical nice limit raise, say a sample hand of KxxxAxxxxKxxx. Opposite AQxxxKx QxxJxx, obviously bidding game would be awful, and we’d be lucky to win nine tricks. Improve my honor location a bit, to say AQxxxxxKQxJxx, oppositeKxxxAxxxxKxxx, and game chances are still quite poor.


How about AxxxxxxKQxQJx opposite KxxxAxxxxKxxx?  Now game is marginal, and worth bidding vulnerable [“married” honors may help]. Here, the four-trump limit raise has improved your hand and the spade queen would not have been worth as much opposite partner’s 4+ spade length. This is close, but I would still pass. Partner rates to have more in trumps, and so fewer working points.


Add a bit of distribution, say: AQxxxxxKQxxJx and game is now acceptable. Opposite our sample hand of KxxxAxxxxKxxx, you will need some luck in clubs, and a way to handle the two long diamonds, so you’d need a 2-2 split in trumps or the diamond ace onside or diamond length onside. That’s a game to bid, particularly vulnerable. Finally, AxxxxxxKQJxQx is a clear game bid, at any vulnerability.


Zeke Jabbour I would go with: AQJxxxKxQxxxx I usually go with a singleton; a sixth spade tends to increase my optimism. AQxxxK10xKJ10xx, texture counts. If I go with 5-3-3-2 I like married honors I bid game with any 5-5 hand I considered worth opening. So, like everyone else, I would be influenced by: 1). High cards. 2). Texture (especially married honors; and 10s are good) 3). Extra length (trump- and side-suits).  4). Shortness.


Vulnerability makes little difference since partner has already taken that into account.


Jeff Rubens: The simplest adjustment that would change Pass to 4 is the king of clubs instead of the jack. At IMPs, in deciding whether to bid ‘one more’ for game (as opposed to, say, whether to risk a game-try from a safer haven), I don't distinguish significantly between non-vulnerable and vulnerable. True, the surface odds are ten to six rather than six to five, but there are other factors: an extra down trick costs three IMPs instead of two IMPs; a penalty double is more likely; partner is more likely to have taken the aggressive view. All added up, the difference between non-vulnerable to vulnerable is too little to worry about.


Chris Willenken: My standards would be virtually the same at all scorings and vulnerabilities, as I'd expect partner to take those factors into account in deciding whether or not to make a limit raise. The advantage of this approach is that on the hands where we decide to be conservative, we stay at the two-level where a plus score is virtually assured.

I'd accept a limit raise with any hand that includes a small singleton, virtually any balanced hand with 14 HCP, or balanced hands with 13 completely prime HCP such as AQxxxKxxxxAxx. So, I'd need to add a working queen to your example hand in order to accept. If you added the heart queen, I'd still pass, because that queen doesn't rate to be fully working.


There are many bad holdings that should cause you to go conservative. KQ doubleton is not a good holding. Kx is about 55% to be a winner (ace onsides or LHO leads the ace) and the queen could be more useful elsewhere. AQxxx is not a good holding. The queen could be wasted. AQxxx opposite Kxxx is five tricks but is nine HCP. A10xxx opposite Kxxx could still be five tricks but that is only seven HCP and the extra two HCP could be more useful elsewhere.


Kit Woolsey: Just about any improvement would be enough: add the jack of spades; ace of hearts instead of king; king of diamonds instead of queen; add the jack of diamonds, etc. Vulnerability doesn't matter much. Partner saw the vulnerability when he made his limit raise. My general guideline for accepting game invitations is: I accept unless I think we are possibly too high where we already are. With the actual hand, I would think that’s possible. If there were any improvement I would be confident about taking nine tricks, so I would bid game.


Bobby Wolff: Minimum changes necessary would be: 1). Make the king of hearts either the king of diamonds or the king of clubs, leaving us with a singleton heart. Way back in the early seventies the Aces ran a 1000-hand simulation on this subject and concluded that any 5-4-3-1 should accept game. If there were an exception it would be a 12 HCP opener that included a singleton king. The percentage making for a vulnerable acceptance at IMPs should be in the 38-39% range, while the minimum acceptance for non-vulnerable at IMPs should be 45-46%. I would pass the example hand 100% of the time. Any sixth spade would cause me to accept close to 100% of the time with the exception, non-vulnerable, being exchanging a low diamond for the sixth spade  (AQxxxxKxQxJxx) or possibly a low club for a sixth spade (AQxxxxKxQxxJx).


Putting it all together.


Mel Colchamiro: When non-vulnerable. I’d want as minimum changes: 1.) Switch king of hearts to diamonds (AQxxxx KQxxJxx). Any hand with a singleton opposite a four-card limit raise bids four. 2). Change jack of clubs to the king, so we have 14 HCP with 5-3-3-2 and then I’d bid 3NT for a choice of contracts. 3.) Switch the deuce of clubs into a sixth spade (AQxxxxKxQxxJx). 4.). Make jack of clubs a diamond (AQxxxKxQJxxxx).


Any of the following are features you look for when deciding whether or not to bid game over partner’s limit raise: Distribution; 10’s and 9’s; married honors; a singleton; strength outside the trump suit, or a sixth trump.
Don Berman, Web Master.