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Dealing, and with only us vulnerable at matchpoints, and holding ♠ 84 ♡AK5 ♢AKQT96 ♣ A6,

I opened a timid one diamond, planning to bid 3NT if partner bid one spade or 1NT.

Partner passed with six high card points (and a 4-3-3-3 distribution), instead of bidding 1NT. His three relevant cards were ♠ QJ9. The rest of his hand could have been all "twos" and we would still have made 4NT. We were left in one diamond, made four, and got a bottom because others bid and made 3NT.

Can I open 2NT with such an unbalanced hand? Or was it incumbent on partner to bid 1NT which I would have raised to 3NT?

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  • Am I crazy or can you just open 3NT with this hand? You've got the AK of hearts (2 tricks), A of clubs (1 trick), and six diamonds including the top honours (6 tricks), giving you an uncontestable 3 NT against most hands.
    – Allure
    Oct 4, 2023 at 2:56
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    @Allure: A very good question. Actually, the so-called "gambling" 3NT describes a WEAKER hand than mine, something like ♠ 84 ♡765 ♢AKQT96 ♣ A6, That means, I have a seven trick hand with a long, strong, solid minor (six diamond tricks and one club trick). I need help in the two majors and maybe the other minor. Partner is supposed to leave the bid in 3NT with a hand like ♠ QJ9 ♡A93 ♢J52♣ Q985, If s/he doesn't have stoppers in three suits, s/he should remove the bid to four clubs, which I would pass if my suit were clubs. I would bid four diamonds with the actually hand.
    – Tom Au
    Oct 4, 2023 at 3:46
  • @Allure: I was playing "possum" with a strong hand. With 18-19 points, you're supposed to bid one of a suit, preferably a minor, wait for a response, and then bid 2nT. With my actual hand, I would bid 3NT. The danger is that I will go down at say, 3NT if partner has "nothing" and the opponents take, say, five spade tricks. I'm not entitled to assume that partner has a stopper in spades (which is all I need) until s/he says so.
    – Tom Au
    Oct 4, 2023 at 4:21
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    @Allure This depends on your agreements. Some partnerships play that 3NT is a strong, balanced opening, showing perhaps 25-27 HCP in a balanced hand. In the US, this is considered something of an old-fashioned agreement. The arguments against it are (a) it is difficult to find a 4-4 or 5-3 major suit fit, when it will often play better in four of the major instead of 3NT, especially across from a very weak dummy, and (b) it is more difficult to find slams, which are much more likely when you have a very strong hand. Most US pairs now play 3NT as "gambling" or as some other preemptive bid.
    – ruds
    Oct 4, 2023 at 10:20

4 Answers 4

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Your hand is by no means unbalanced. It may be described as semi balanced.

Your hand is difficult to bid, no doubt. I think there are 3 reasonable ways you may choose to bid the hand.

First, you can open 2NT, showing 20-21 balanced. I think your hand is fine on shape for this bid, but perhaps a bit too strong.

Second, you can open 2C, planning to rebid 2NT, showing 22-24 balanced. I think this is a pretty reasonable course of action. You'd be happy to play in 3NT, or 4H after a transfer. It gives up on 6D, but that would be difficult to bid. I think this is clearly the best course of action at matchpoints, and probably best at other forms of scoring as well without some agreements that would make it easier to find a diamond slam if it exists.

Third, open 1D, planning to "invent" a reverse into hearts or a jump shift into clubs. This is the traditional way of bidding a one suiter too strong to jump rebid and not strong enough to open 2C. I'd feel better about this course of action if my hearts and clubs were swapped, as it's more palatable to misrepresent minor suit length.

Opening 1D then rebidding 3NT is not appropriate. That should show a this hand with two fewer top cards outside of diamonds.

Opening 2C and then rebidding 3D requires considerably more strength; you should generally have game in hand to consider that sequence.

There is no 6 count that would convince me to pass partner's opening 1D.

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  • I don’t think I would be happy if partner opened 2C and rebid 2NT to show 22 HCP when they are short by two points and only semi-balanced.
    – AlDante
    Oct 7, 2023 at 2:24
  • @AlDante you're entitled to your preference but I can't believe you'd be happier to see xxx AKx AKQJx AJ
    – ruds
    Oct 8, 2023 at 0:32
  • I’m not sure I understand your comment. If you promise me 22 points I can put you in 3NT with only 3 points. If you are 2 points short of your bid, that’s not going to be a fun contract. Your example hand is cherry-picked, but as long as we have a spade stopper - say four small in my hand, any 3 points I may have are working, which is not the case without the two additional jacks.
    – AlDante
    Oct 8, 2023 at 20:51
  • The point that I'm making is that the original hand and the hand in my comment need a spade stopper and favorable diamonds to make game. If you hold xxx xxxx xx Kxxx, game is unlikely across from either hand; if you hold QJT xx xxxx xxxx, game is excellent across from either hand. Playing any system with forcing openings at the 2-level, it's impossible to find out whether responder has a spade stopper. The excellent controls and the extra trick from the sixth diamond make up for two jacks.
    – ruds
    Oct 9, 2023 at 13:24
  • I think what bothers me is that your way conceals two pieces of information from partner - your shape and your high-card strength. And obviously you and your partner should bid however you like. But let’s say partner raises you to 3NT. What do you do next?
    – AlDante
    Oct 9, 2023 at 23:17
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First off: Partner has no excuse for not responding to your 1 Diamond opener holding 6 HCP. That's inexcusable, and even more so with a good feature in ♠QJ9.

Presumably Partner passed because of subtracting a point for having a 4333 hand. This conflates two quite different combinations of evaluation and bidding structure. Goren choose 26 points as the standard for game - and designed a matching evaluation system combining points for short suits, where 6 HCP + distribution was the standard for a response. Modern treatment chooses 24 (evenly between partners) or 25 (unevenly between partners) as the game standard; subtracts one for the 4333; and sets 5 HCP + distribution points as the standard for a response. In other words: any 6 HCP, or any 5 HCP with a doubleton, or any ace, is worth a response.

Second: What is a fair evaluation of the hand. it has the 20 HCP of course, but is worth considerably more:

  • Goren suggests evaluating the shape power of the hand by counting the doubletons at 1 Point each. I would suggest also counting 1 for the diamond AT combination in this case for a 23 count, as the T in a long suit headed by the ace is definitely a countable asset.
  • Sheinwold suggests counting 1 point for the 5th card, and 2 for the 6th card, in the strong (relative to the hand) diamond suit. This again comes to 23 and, since already implying a good suit relative to the hand strength, counting the ♢T as well would be excessive.
  • In judging a minor-suit based 2♣ opener, Sheinwold suggests a standard of 9½ playing tricks and 4½ Quick Tricks. This hand counts at 9 and 5; which with the additional ♢T I would go up instead of down with. So this hand (just, barely) qualifies. (Note that for a major-suit based hand, the recommended standard is 8½ and 4½.)

Third: Deciding on the correct opening depends entirely on how you plan to rebid, and what structure you have in place:

  • 2 NT: You are both too strong, and too flawed, for this opening. Two doubletons, one empty, combined with a full count of 23+ is well beyond the 21 upper limit on that even before recognizing near 9 solid tricks in your own hand.

  • 1♢: This is the call you made, and should have received a response with. However you have no intention of playing below 3 NT even opposite a bust with Partner's hand. Why take a risk of missing the 3 NT attempt f partner has not quite enough to respond. This shouldn't have been an issue on this hand, but the risk was there. This opening does have the advantage of (likely) right-siding the 3NT contract if partner is a balanced minimum and responds 1NT.

  • 2♣: This call gives flexibility at the start; at the cost of less flexibility later. If partner makes a 2♢ waiting call you can rebid 3♢, intending to convert into 3NT unless partner shows diamond support with some values. If Partner rebids 2♠ I would jump to 3 NT and put the onus of discovering a slam on Partner; and on any other positive response I will show my diamond suit with a 3♢ call.
    After opening with 2♣ you must sacrifice some description of your hand. Upon making the choice between bidding as a diamond one suiter or as a NT hand you pretty much have to abandon attempting to describe the other. Opening 1♢ instead may give you more time, and information, before making the choice; and greater opportunity to switch.

If you have additional structures in place, perhaps there is reason to modify the above recommendations.

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  • IMHO, the Milton Work system undervalues aces and tens, so yes, I would count an AT combination as "five" rather than "four."
    – Tom Au
    Oct 5, 2023 at 12:31
  • @TomAu: It's not that simple. The Work Point Count is more accurate for no trump than for suits, and for balanced hands over unbalanced hands. The decision to count extra for a ten, or an ace-ten combination, should consider much more than just ann opinion on deficiencies of Milton Point Count. As I noted above, it also depends on the rest of your evaluation system. Oct 5, 2023 at 12:36
  • Re your reference to "right-siding" the NT contract. You want the opening lead to come to the QJ9 of spades, right? Because the opponents don't benefit from seeing my big hand as dummy.
    – Tom Au
    Oct 5, 2023 at 12:40
  • @TomAu: It's simply advantageous to have the spade situation, whatever Partner's holding, both uncertain to opponents when dummy comes down and with all values in fourth seat. Oct 5, 2023 at 13:06
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You don’t say what system you play, nor what a 2D opening would mean.

I think each of you undervalued your hand. Although your partner has enough to respond at the one level, it is incumbent on you, with a powerhouse of a hand, (only four losers!) to bid it to the full.

Open with a forcing bid; in Acol 2D would be perfect; and partner will then be better able to judge the value of their miserable hand.

PS: I’m not a fan of opening NT with semi-balanced hands, though I play regularly with someone who would consider it a valid alternative. 2NT in that case would show the points but undervalue the playing strength.

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Under the so-called "three and three" guideline, this hand qualifies for a 2 club opening. The "three and three rule is, can I make game if partner has three points and three cards of a key suit.

For a no trump game, the answer is clearly yes. The question noted that all that was necessary was the ♠ QJ9 of spades that was actually in partner's hand.

The hand can also make five diamonds if partner has three small diamonds and QJxx of hearts. Possibly the K of clubs will do as a side honor if you can ruff or get rid of the third heart in hand.

Your hand is worth more than "20" points because of the solid six card diamond holding, because the suit can usually be cleared in three rounds. Adding two points for the sixth diamond brings you up to 22.

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