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You are vulnerable versus not, when your right hand opponent opens one heart. You are sitting on the following "powerhouse," but one that is "offshape" for the calls you want to make:

(s)AK54 (h) J43 (d) Q6 (c) AKJ8.

This hand is fine for a takeout double of one diamond, but not one heart. Even so, an expert (Frank Stewart) recommends doubling with this hand because the extra high card points (18 in total) may well compensate for the bad shape. The actual bidder opted for a 1 spade overcall with four cards in the suit, ended in a "Moysian" 4-3 fit when responder cue bid two hearts, and made it because of his "extra" strength.

Change the two black kings to tens (giving me only 12 high card points) and I would pass, and I might do so with 15 (only one black king). Do the extra points give the bidder "leeway" to either double or overcall with an otherwise unsuitable hand? If so, is either "double" or "overcall" or something else the better choice?

3 Answers 3

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I would downgrade a hcp and bluff a heart stopper and bid 1N. (Maybe partner has Qx or Txxx in hearts and wouldn't think it was a stopper.) I don't think double is wrong. I don't like pass or 1S, both of which are severe underbids.

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  • I agree whole heartedly. The modern approach is to bid the shape and strength with 1NT as often as possible, since Partner has many varied tools available for exploration if NT looks unsuitable from his side. Jan 6, 2023 at 3:24
  • I consider xxx a "stopper" for a 1NT bid (Jxx is "gravy" if opposite Qx or Txxx). If partner has the same, the chances are 62% that opponents will have a 4-3 suit. Hopefully, with 24-25 hcps in 3 suits, there will be nine tricks.
    – Tom Au
    Jan 6, 2023 at 3:43
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    @TomAu - Not if they opened 1H promising 5 of them! Jan 6, 2023 at 3:46
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When the hand belongs to your side, it's important that you're in the auction. You should either declare a contract or get enough equity from defending a contract declared by opponents. When you have a balanced 12 count and RHO has opened, it's slightly less likely for the hand to belong to your side than theirs. When you have a balanced 18 count and RHO has opened, it's very likely that the hand belongs to your side. That means that you can afford to stay out of the auction on a balanced 12-count if you don't have a clear action. With 18 HCP, you have to get into the auction so that you don't just get stolen from.

With AKxx Jxx Qx AKJx, you don't have an appropriate overcall, so you have to double. So the main question is how you plan to deal with partner's potential actions. Let's consider various auctions that start (1H)-X-(P)-??-(P).

  • After 1S, I think 3S is the right call. You can't insist on game but I think game is still possible.
  • 1NT should give you the confidence to raise to 3.
  • 2C is interesting. I think there are a range of options here, in part depending on scoring. I'll abstain from recommending an action.
  • 2D: There's no game here. Pass and keep the contract low.

Any other action by your partner is stronger and should lead to some sort of game.

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All the reasonable actions (double, 1S, 1NT) have their pros and cons, and can work out.

  • I would likely double here. The extra strength does give you some protection, Stewart's argument is not without merit. The worst that can happen is that partner bids 2D and is left there, when you belong in 1NT. Can't win them all.
  • 1S also has merit. Partner will often raise with 3 card support, particularly with short hearts, but any heart ruff will then be in the short trump hand, and that is good. Those AK of trumps leave you a great degree of control when declaring. The danger is that the opps trumps may split 51 making game level problematic.
  • 1NT is also a possibility. Partner will not be happy when they raise to 3NT with AKJxxx in diamonds, a singleton heart and out, and the opps cash five or six heart tricks (5D looks good and six has some play with another black quack). But that is just one hand. On many others you can explore game possibilities, and may locate a 44 spade fit.

One reason I prefer double (or 1S) to 1NT is that the hand may play better from partner's side (give them KTx in hearts for example). Bidding 1NT more or less guarantees that I will declare the hand. That may be better in some cases (defence is more difficult with the weaker hand displayed as the dummy), this is just another concern.

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    Let's say you overcalled 1S. Would your partner make a bid with S: xx H: QTx D: KJxx C: Qxxx? Jan 15, 2023 at 21:20
  • Point taken @AlexanderWoo. Playing in a Moysian is NOT the chief problem with 1S. Some players might bid 1NT over 1S with your example hand, I think it's close but might pass. Many would bid 1NT over my double, and the example hand would surely act. But many would also invite over 1NT with that hand. Depends on the exact range of your 1NT overcalls, I suppose. Goren had 16-19, my partner and I play 15-18. Jan 16, 2023 at 5:50

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