Here is a Frank Stewart hand.

You, South hold, ♠K986 ♥KT7 ♦875 ♣KQ9

Both vulnerable, North dealt and opened 1C.

North  East  South  West
1C     Pass  1S     Pass
2S     Pass  3C     Pass
3D     Pass  3NT    All Pass

Stewart characterized South's 3 clubs bid as "a bit bold," and 3NT as "living on the edge--or beyond."

I do consider South's bidding "bold" but not "edgy." I was taught to "bid to make," to freely bid contracts with a better than even chance of making.* (More to the point, I believe that Stewart was trained in that school as well.) Even so, South had 11 hcps opposite an opening hand. In subsequent bids, North had shown support for South's spades and a stopper in diamonds, and more than a bare minimum hand.

Dummy had (among other things) ♠AJx, ♥A, ♦A, enough make the contract if a spade finesse works. Given that the Q was "offside," Stewart showed a "hairaising" winning line that involved using the A of diamonds as "transportation" for a (successful) second club finesse.

Under IMP scoring, you will come out ahead if you bid and make contracts with a 40% chance of success when vulnerable, and a 50% chance when not vulnerable. Given this fact,

Is Stewart among only a few experts who would condemn South's bidding?

*This does not include sacrifice bids, where I have enough trumps to reasonably expect to lose less going down than allowing the opponents to have the contract.

2 Answers 2



While the South hand has 11 HCP it should deduct one for the 4333 distribution. That's just a given. After that the spots are good but the Q is in the wrong suit - it will usually help the hand much more in Spades than in in Clubs. That's a wash so call it 10 Points even.

With this flat 10 and partner denying a 15-17 balanced hand or 4 spades with an upgrading distributional feature in the red suite, I am happy to pass 2S. To push twice more in hopes of finding partner with a magic 14 count is going to end up badly much more often than it will end well.

  • Passing 2S is what I would have certainly done in the old days. But I'm a bit confused by the "new math," specifically the IMP scoring that rewards bidding "40%" contracts. While I wouldn't jump to "advance" beyond 2S, I might venture it on a day when I was feeling lucky. And are you telling me that if the D5 became H5 or C5 so that distribution was 4-4-2-3. or 4-3-2-4 that you might advance beyond 2S?
    – Tom Au
    Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 4:44
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    12 balanced opposite 12 balanced is less than a 40% chance to make 3N (on perfect double dummy play) - and every other 24 hcp combined holding is worse. With balanced hands in a NT contract, odds of making go down very quickly with every hcp. Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 7:39
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    @TomAu - tables at rpbridge.net/8j25.htm Commented Feb 11, 2020 at 19:06
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    @AlexanderWoo: Thanks for the tables. Yes, the chances of making 3NT are only about 37% with 24 hcps balanced between the two hands, and with balanced distribution. But if you throw out the 4-3-3-3 hands as Forget suggests, then the (Bayesian) chances rise to almost 50%.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Feb 12, 2020 at 4:16
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    @TomAu: That's under the assumption that 0 of the 4333 hands make 3N, which is certainly not true. There will be some effect from filtering out 4333 hands which will put the probability somewhere between 37% and almost 50%, depending on how much worse the 4333 hands actually are. Commented Feb 12, 2020 at 18:14

Given that newspaper bridge columns tend even today to be old-fashioned both in bidding and in evaluation, I would agree with Mr. Stewart. Partner could have a very good 14, I guess, but she could also have a flat 12; and the "double fit" (an 8-card and an expected 7-card) doesn't help all that much, even though the cards are in the right suits. For 3NT that means that we need a diamond stopper or two, a helper in hearts, decent spades and at least Jxxx clubs to be able to scramble enough tricks in the blacks to make, while stopping the opponents from cashing their red suit.

Given the kind of bridge I see in flight A in a strong, but not national championship field, Stewart is being generous. There, 1NT is either 14-16 explicitly, or at least all good 14s are being upgraded. 24-point games are okay, but not something you want to be in (barring shape, and this doesn't sound like a shape auction - if it is, 4=3=1=5 is going to be a disaster, 4=1=3=5 is still scary). Also, in this world, 3C is 100% forcing, and do I want to do that? (Answer, I did, with better 11s than this, on the weekend and partner went 1-for-4. No).

Yes, vulnerable games should be bid if you can "sniff it making" at IMPs. This one could easily require a dog's nose.

Having said all that, MeckWell (who play Precision, so would have a different auction) have spent the last 40 years bidding every single 24-point game and forcing the opponents to defend perfectly to set them, and winning when they fail under pressure. Many many experts have learned this style from them, and play it to advantage. I am not a good enough card player to do that.

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    Welcome to the site. I look forward to reading more of your answers to Bridge questions here. Commented Jun 2, 2020 at 2:33

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