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With only us vulnerable at matchpoints, I opened one club in second seat with this powerhouse: ♠ Q52 ♡AQT5 ♢void ♣ AKQ852.

Left hand opponent passed, partner bid one diamond, right hand opponent bid one spade.

I made a negative double showing four hearts and zero to limited tolerance for diamonds and spades. Partner rebid three diamonds, which under our system showed seven diamonds and 12-13 high card points.

I froze at the misfit and passed. We got a bottom because all other pairs with our hands bid and made either five diamonds or 3 NT. The five diamond bidders got average minus, and the 3NT bidders shared tops on the board.

With the benefit of hindsight, five diamonds at least, was cold. I could count on partner for at least six diamond tricks and one side trick or five diamond tricks and two side tricks. I had at least four in my hand (the AKQ of clubs and the A of hearts), making a total of 11.

Can I reasonably venture 3NT with my shaky spade stopper? Or should I have gone for the "safe" game with five diamonds. And would my "pass" have been reasonable if my hand had been slightly weaker, say with hearts headed by the KJ rather than AQ? (I believe I had a reasonable fear of lack of "transportation" to my hand in the club suit, but should not have feared this lack to both the club and heart aces.)

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  • You still have the psychology that overbidding is worse than underbidding. That's not how duplicate bridge scoring works. If you don't go down half the time, you're not bidding enough. Aug 20, 2023 at 19:42
  • @AlexanderWoo: Yes,in the 1960s, I was taught to "bid to make" and to shun "50%" contracts (depending on a finesse or slightly better). Nowadays, the ethos seems to be "bid to go down one," on the theory that the penalty, unless doubled and vulnerable, is less than the value of the opposing part score.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 20, 2023 at 19:48
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    One more thing: I hold this more extremely than most - always prefer 3N to 5 of a minor at matchpoints, even when it's wrong and you're playing for the opponents to misdefend. The times you make 430/630 (sometimes because the opponents fail to cash the first 5 tricks when they could have) rather than 400/600 will more than make up for the times 3N goes down. Aug 21, 2023 at 0:58
  • @AlexanderWoo: I am somewhat on that page. When I bid NT, I (almost) always have at least a "half stopper" in every suit except the ones that partner bid. I expect same from my partners if they leave me in NT. Two "half stoppers" make a whole stopper (e.g. Qx opposite Jxx). If every suit is thus stopped, two hands that can make 11 minor suit tricks can make nine or more tricks at NT.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 27, 2023 at 5:09
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    At matchpoints, being +630 2/3 of the time and -100 1/3 of the time is better than being at +600 (or +620 - it's almost the same score in this situation) all the time. Even when you don't have a stopper, they might not find the right lead. IMPs is different of course. Aug 27, 2023 at 5:18

3 Answers 3

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There are a number of things to unpack here.

First, your double was not "negative." A negative double is a convention used by responder. Your double does not promise four hearts in standard bidding agreements. It suggests extra strength and no clear direction. Your second call should have been 2 hearts, not double. You have a textbook hand for that action: significant extras, four or more hearts, and longer clubs.

Second, you must not pass short of game. According to your rather specific agreement about partner's jump in diamonds, you have 29-30 high card points between your two hands. You must, must, must, must be in a game, not a partscore.

Third, your stopper is not shaky, given the auction. How could opponents possibly be able to cash five spades? It is unlikely in the extreme for LHO to hold Kxx or Axx in spades, and in my book impossible to hold four to an honor; after all, they didn't raise. I suppose you might find yourself guessing if RHO wins a small spade lead with a high honor and then continues with the J or ten; is your RHO the sort of player who would find that defense holding AKJT4 in spades? This is all assuming partner comes down without any help, like Jx(x).

Follow Hamman's rule: if you have a choice of bids and one of them is 3NT, bid 3NT.

That's still the case if you have KJxx in hearts instead of AQxx (where your double instead of 2H is justifiable, though I still think it's an underbid). In order for 3NT to go down, you need partner to have something like Jx Axx KQJxxxx x (their 3D bid precludes having less), with clubs breaking badly. It's still an OK contract across from partner's worst possible hand. More likely, partner will have two or more clubs, a spade card, the ace of diamonds, or other cards that make 3NT a virtual laydown. Just bid the game.

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  • Good answer. I think you should emphasize the final point more though: If Partner's worst possible hand still is playable - bid the contract. Aug 20, 2023 at 18:49
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    @ForgetIwaseverhere good suggestion, done.
    – ruds
    Aug 20, 2023 at 19:28
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    If you're worried about your spade stopper, you can bid 3S, which asks partner to bid 3N with a spade stopper. Aug 20, 2023 at 19:55
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    @TomAu - what's the likelihood that the opponents have that holding and find that defense? If it's less than 50%, then you should bid 3N (or you can bid 3S to try to find out). There are no weird matchpoint odds things going on here - the amount you lose by passing when 3N is right is exactly the same as what you lose by bidding 3N when passing is right - so you should do what is more likely. Aug 20, 2023 at 19:58
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    @TomAu that defense isn't fatal, it's a guess. If lho started with Kxx, you duck the jack. Opponents get three spades but can't get to rho's hand for any more. If lho started with eg Txx, then rho started with AKJxx and is attempting a swindle.
    – ruds
    Aug 20, 2023 at 20:25
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I'm going to add one further consideration to those already mentioned in the answer by ruds and comments by Alexander Woo: Your additional strength, beyond minimum, both interferes with defensive communication making the setting defenses more difficult, and gives you and partner additional threats that may allow a squeeze or endplay to exist. Don't discount those. They can be considerable (at least for sufficiently accomplished declarers), even if they are not identifiable during the auction.

Yes, pathological card-lies exist - but don't fear them when all evidence suggests they are unlikely to rare. Especially in match points, you wish to bid with the field; except when your particular system gives you information that the field lacks.

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Go for 3NT.

The obvious misfit is disconcerting, but the sheer high card strength makes up for it.(And this matters less in a no trump contract.) You have solid club strength, substantial heart strength, and a modicum to strength in spades, with weakness only in partner's diamond suit.

Partner has solid or near solid diamonds. Even so, to get to 12-13, partner would need either the king of hearts or the ace or king of spades. Any one of these three honors would establish communication between the two hands. Worst case: partner's side honor is the king of hearts. Your queen of spades is probably a stopper with the opening lead to your hand. Barring Forget's "pathological card lie" which could happen on any hand, the opponents will make two spade tricks and the rest are yours.

You asked what would happen if your hand were weaker,specifically in hearts. That would not be a problem. Only the absence of the spade queen would fatally weaken the hand for three no trump, and only if partner also had no spade stopper. Many people would take the chance of this happening.

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