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District 6
Shawn Stringer, President
American Contract Bridge League
Mid-Atlantic Bridge Conference
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Oct/NovArticle by Steve RobinsonFeb/Mar
ArticlesBalancing (Dec/Jan 2007/8)

The auction goes 1 - pass - pass to you. Assuming you pass with JxxxJxxx xJxxx (or do you), what additions would you need to balance with a double? Assuming you pass with JxxJxxx xxxJxx, how much extra strength would you need to double? If you were dealt a singleton spade, how much strength would you need to balance? What is your preferred strength for a 1NT- balance? Any other balancing thoughts would be welcome.

In balancing seat you can show various notrump ranges. The weakest range, which is around 11-14 HCPs is 1NT. As you will see, the experts all play this range or somewhere close to this. Some play a wider range 10-16. 15-18 balanced HCPs is shown by doubling and then bidding the cheapest notrump. 19-21 balanced, is shown by jumping directly to 2NT. This is different than a direct jump to 2NT over a 1 opener, which shows the two lower unbid suits at least 5-5. It’s good for you and your partner to have a balancing notrump range. However, there are some hands that will fall outside the range, either weaker or stronger, where a balancing 1NT will be the best call. If you have a 15 or 16-point hand you might not like the prospect of doubling and bidding notrump especially if the notrump rebid will be at the two-level.

The jump overcall is another bid which changes its meaning in passout seat. In direct seat, a jump overcall is usually played as weak. After1, bid 2 with KQJxxxxx xxxxx. In balancing seat a jump is intermediate showing an opening bid and a good six-card suit. After 1 - Pass – Pass bid 2 with KQJ10xxAxx xAxx.


Larry Cohen: In general, I practice what I teach -- which is "in balancing seat, you can have a king less than in direct seat." So, since I would double 1 with a 4-4-1-4 11-count in direct seat, I'd do so with that shape and an eight-count in balancing seat. I'd like to balance with less, but I’m afraid partner will bury me and get us too high. With 3-4-3-3 I would double with a decent 13-count in direct, so ten in balancing seat. However, I would prefer 1NT if I had a stopper. 1NT has an even wider range in balancing seat, I'd say about 10-15. All of this is greatly affected by vulnerability. At favorable, I can have much less than if unfavorable. After a preempt is passed to me, I strain to double with a singleton. I am reluctant to do so with voids (makes it hard to defend) even though I know my partner is desperate for me to double.

In balancing seat, bids promise a king less than bids in direct seat.

Ralph Katz: 4-4-1-4 I need an Ace and a King or at least 8 HCPs. 3-4-3-3 I’d need a decent 12-count. Knowing the vulnerability would be helpful. But with a singleton spade I need about 16 working points. My preferred 1NT balancing strength is 12-14 HCPs. There are many thoughts that should go through one's mind. Here are some of them: Opponents’ systems, how light does partner get in with, vulnerability, quality of opponents, how aggressive are the opponents, tempo of the opponents, and matchpoints or IMPs.

If your RHO thinks for a long time and then passes, you might go conservative. If the opponents are playing a forcing club, you won’t have to worry about LHO having 19 HCPs. If the opponents are vulnerable and you’re not, you can opt to try for 100 a trick. +300 will lose very little if you can make a game and will be a big gain if you can’t make a game. If you’re vulnerable, you can’t afford to miss a game. If partner overcalls very lightly, you don’t have to protect partner. At IMPs any plus score is good. At matchpoints the size of the plus score makes a difference.

Jon Wittes: With perfect distribution (4-4-1-4), I would go out of my way to reopen with a double with, say, seven or eight points. Of course a lot of things enter into the decision - matchpoints or IMPs, vulnerability, state of the match. For example, if I were in a Swiss or KO match, and up by a lot, I wouldn't reopen with a lot of hands I might under different circumstances. If I were down a lot, I would stretch to reopen. The more balanced my hand, the more I would need to have to reopen. If I have three or more of their trumps, chances are partner was not in a situation where he was unable to bid because of length in opener's suit. With something like 4-3-3-3 distribution, I probably wouldn't think about reopening with much less than an opening bid. If I have a stiff spade, I would be even less likely to reopen, especially if 1-4-4-4. If I had a decent five- card suit, however, I might balance with that suit on as few as 9 or 10 HCPs, once again taking vulnerability and other conditions into account. For a balance of 1NT, I would like somewhere around 10-14 balanced points to reopen. Once again, if I were in a team match and up a lot, I would tend to pass rather than reopen. As a general rule, the shorter I am in opener's suit, the more I would stretch to reopen, to protect partner, who may have a penalty pass or another hand where he is unable to bid because of length and/or strength in opener's suit.

When you are long in the opponent’s suit, the chances are that partner is short. If partner is short in the opponent’s suit, chances are he does not have much strength.

Dave Berkowitz: 4-4-1-4, I would need a king and a queen, preferably with some spots vulnerable. I would need two queens non-vulnerable. If I were 3-4-3-3 and my diamonds were xxx, I’d need about 10-11 HCPs. With a singleton spade, I would need lots, and it would depend on my diamonds. With 1-4-4-4, I would probably need 13 HCPs with bad diamonds. With good diamonds I would need more, as I would be more apt to pass. But if I had five decent hearts, I would bid with most ten-counts xAQJxx xxxQJxx. My preferred strength for a 1NT balance is 10+-14. If the opponents were playing precision I would pass more often. When they are vulnerable, I favor passing over bidding in close situations

David Bird: A total of 8 HCPs with this ideal 4-4-1-4 shape. I would not double with this 3-4-3-3-shape. I would prefer to bid 1NT even without a stopper. For such a 1NT bid I would need around 11-16 points. With a singleton spade, I would need about three points more than when I held two or three spades and the same general hand outside... say about 11-12 points to protect with 1. My preferred strength for a 1NT balance is 11-16, with 2 as checkback.

Over the balancing notrump, it’s important to know what various bids mean. Simplest is to play as if opened.

Jill Meyers: With a singleton diamond I would have to have nine decent points to double. With 3-4-3-3 I would reopen with a good eleven-count. Over a 1 -opener, I’d need 12-15 to bid 1NT.

Kit Woolsey: With 4-4-1-4 I’d need maybe an ace or so. Conditions, matchpoints, vulnerability, and table feel would make a big difference here. With 3-4-3-3 I’d need about 7 or 8 HCPs. My 1NT balance is 10-14 against a minor opener, 10-16 against a major opener. You don't win bridge tournaments by defending at the one-level undoubled.

You don't win bridge tournaments by defending at the one-level undoubled.

Bobby Wolff: With 4-4-1-4 I would double with three kings in my suits and nothing else, but if one of the kings was a queen I probably wouldn't since my defense is not good enough to provide for partner's expected penalty pass. With 3-4-3-3 I would need perhaps two kings and an ace and if all possible I would prefer 1NT to making a reopening double. I probably am not tied to my spade holding as much as others e.g. With: xAQ10x KxxxKJxx I would bid 1 not 1NT and would not pass. With four or five diamonds I would pass even with as much as 18-20 points especially when the opponents are vulnerable. My logic would be that against competent players we will probably need as much as 28 HCPs to make game with an opening bid sitting over my hand. Balancing is about 80% art and 20% science. My 1NT balances range from about 10 points to 16. Sounds unsound, but I don't remember any disasters, although obviously I've had some. Key factors:
 1. Matchpoints or IMPs.
 2. How good are my opponents and what are their tendencies.
 3. The vulnerability.
 4. Their particular systems.
Johnny Gerber and his original teammates (all top level players) used to pass their partner’s major-suit opener holding 6-8 HCPs (usually queens and jacks and no aces or at most one king) but a singleton in partner's suit. On top of that four-card majors were the system of choice. Experience helped determine those tendencies so the experts of today shouldn't laugh since the players I am talking about (George Heath, Paul Hodge, Benny Fain, Bobby Nail, Curtis Smith etc) were all terrific card players.

Barry Rigal: I would balance with AJxxJxxx xKxxx with a double –wouldn’t we all. Change one of the jacks to a spot and it’s marginal.  

Marty Bergen: 4-4-1-4, I'd want at least 8 HCPs to double. 3-4-3-3 with no diamond stopper I’d want at least 10 HCPs to double. A singleton spade would definitely concern me. I'd want a hand with a reason to bid. My preferred strength for a 1NT balance is 10-14 against one-of-a-minor.

Kerry Sanborn: 4-4-1-4 I would need a minimum of about three kings to balance, possibly two kings and a queen. Partner, with a trap pass or unbiddable hand, needs to be able to count on a modicum of defense and/or offense from me in order to make an intelligent decision. With a balanced hand with 4-3-3-3 shape, double takes on a different light. With minimums, we would usually bid 1NT, often without a stopper, so double should be a hand which is too good for a balancing 1NT, say 15+ HCPs or a good 14 with all cards outside of opener's suit. The singleton spade makes little difference, since partner didn’t overcall, and I don’t spend too much time worrying about balancing the opponents into game when they are passed out at the one-level. It can be awkward to balance then have to contend with a 1-bid from partner, so it would be good to have a rebid. But, in general, a five-card suit and a smattering of high cards should be enough. It is often our hand for a plus score, and necessary to push the opponents up to achieve one. I personally like to have 11-14 to balance with 1NT.

Jeff Rubens: 4-4-1-4 I’d need at least 8 working HCPs or a little more with poor defensive cards. With 3-4-3-3 I'd bid 1NT in range, so I'd need at least 15 HCPs or the equivalent. With a singleton spade, and with spread out values, I'd pass marginal cases; with strong hearts and clubs I might bid 1, but normally I'd pass with length in opener's suit unless I was worried about missing game; even then, might have nothing convenient to do. My preferred strength for a 1NT balance is 10-14 HCPs, though I'd probably make adjustments for IMPs, maybe not bidding quite so light.

Drew Casen: I would have to have at least ten HCPs with 4-4-1-4 to balance with a double. I would need at least 12 HCPs with 3-4-3-3 to balance, but I think it is better to balance with 1NT rather a double with that shape, even with no diamond stopper. I would need to have 10+ HCPs to balance if I had a stiff spade.

My range for a 1NT balance is 12-17, and then we use a 2 gadget over that to find out about strength and majors.

Modern experts don't play a trappers game, so there is just about no hand that won't act in direct position with 15+ HCPs. So, my thinking is that since there is little chance for game our way if I have less than ten HCPs in the passout position, I go quietly. In this year’s semifinals of the team trials, a weak 2 bid was passed around to me and I held KQJxxxxx Q10xxx. I passed. My thinking was that if I can make 2, I won't be allowed to play there. If you balance with 2, partner will bid 3 with xKJx AxQ1098765 and go down 800 wherever we play. I really believe that the only time one should balance light is if one has already had a chance to open or overcall and already passed the first time around. My above comments are with respect to playing IMPS. My thoughts at matchpoints are much more liberal for obvious reasons.

One doesn’t need a stopper in opener’s suit to balance with 1NT, just a balanced hand. I would balance with 1NT holding xxAJxx 432AKxx after a 1 opener is passed to me. You don’t want to double holding a doubleton spade.  

Henry Bethe: I need enough so that when it goes double - Pass - Pass I can contribute to the defense: an ace and a king or two kings and a queen. 3-4-3-3 I need a lot: probably too much to balance with 1NT, e.g. around a 15-count With a singleton spade I would bid 1 if I had a good five-card heart suit, a hand that I would normally overcall 1 in direct seat. With fewer, I might if I could sensibly reopen with 1NT. My preferred strength for a 1NT balance is about 11-14 but it depends over what: over 1/1 10-14; over 1 about 11 to 16.

Marinesa Letizia: 4-4-1-4 I’d need at least 9 HCPs. Same 3-4-3-3. With a singleton spade I’d need at least 12 HCPs. My preferred strength for a 1NT balance is 11-14.

Zeke Jabbour: Tough question. I guess it's sometimes gut-guided. Conditions of contest could play at least a minor role. I tend to overcall light for lead-directing purposes. So, when the animals I partner fail to overcall a minor opening, I balance cautiously. With good distribution, I like to have a quarter of the deck, or thereabouts. Examples are KxxxKQxx xQxxx or KxxxK10xx xKxxx. With bad distribution, I like nearly a third of the deck with good major cards. A109AJxx xxxQJ10 would be a minimum.

You don't win bridge tournaments by defending at the one-level undoubled. There are hands where it’s correct not to reopen. Very weak hands and hands where you have length in the opening bid suit are two reasons to pass. When in doubt reopen.
Don Berman, Web Master.