Welcome to Basement Bridge

Weekly updates from Kit Jackson offering hints and tips for the modern Bridge player. Enjoy!

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Two-Suited Overcalls Part 2: The Michaels Cue Bid – 18 Feb 2010

The use of 2NT as an overcall saying that you have the 2 lowest unbid suits (cf last week) is fine if that is what you have, but if you don’t you're going to need another very popular convention –the MICHAELS CUE-BID.


After an opening bid of 1H on your right, 2NT would say you had both minors. With this hand you have the other major (Spades) and a minor. To tell partner this divine, glorious, helpful news you simply bid 2H! In this situation a direct cue-bid of the opponent’s suit says “I’ve 5 of the other major, and a 5 card minor as well. Any ideas?”

The point count will be in the 5-10 range, depending on things like suit quality, vulnerability, whether partner’s passed already and how much you’ve had to drink. Apart from telling partner useful stuff, the bid also attacks the opponent’s space and crucially makes it absolutely impossible for your left hand opponent to bid 2H! Great. You tell partner about two suits AND you get in their way as well.

Michaels works just as well over a minor suit opening. If opponents open 1C then Michaels (1C - 2C!) says you hold both majors. How useful is that!

The basic hand shape for these bids is two suits each at least 5-cards long. They can be longer (6 - 5, 6 - 6) but never shorter.

Both the Unusual 2NT and Michaels are pre-emptive weakness bids, so if you have a genuine opening hand you must bids your suits naturally. The point is you don't want to eat up your own space when you need a dialogue.

Responding To Michaels

What about responses? Let’s assume partner has gone 2H over the opponent’s 1H. This was the hand remember:


With 3 card support or better for spades, partner of the Michaels bidder can bid 2, 3 or even 4S before it gets back to the opener’s turn. By which time it's all got too high for them to do anything safely.

Without 3 card support for Spades, but a tolerance for either minor, partner bids 2NT. This says “Tell me your minor.”

1H - 2H! - P - 2NT
P - 3D

Sometimes the inevitable happens and it is partner, not the opponents who has the big hand. No problem, partner can force by cue-bidding again!

1H - 2H! - P - 3H!

Now with a heart stop (A, or Kx) you could bid 3NT and see what partner does next. If not, just bid your minor.

Both the Unusual No Trump and The Michaels Cue Bid conventions are so popular and widespread that they are almost assumed to be “standard”, so you’ll come across them again and again.

Have a jolly time!

Two-Suited Overcalls Part 1: The Unusual No Trump – 10 Feb 2010

Two suited hands are stronger than their point count initially indicates. The result of this is a whole family of bids, both opening bids and overcalls, that specifically tell partner about two suits in your hand. Normally, most of these concern weakish hands with 2 places to play. A hand like


is short on points but a bit handy in playing strength. Luckily, common conventions exist to deal with these fairly frequent hands.

The first one to learn is the UNUSUAL NO TRUMP. This is an overcall of 2NT that you make when you have a weakish hand and the two lowest ranking unbid suits and they are 5 - 5.

The player on your right deals and opens 1S. What do you do with the above hand.

2D? 2C? PASS?

Oh no very much no no no. What you do bid is : - 2NT!!

Fabulous. You just ripped the heart out of their bidding sequence. The whole 2-level just went flashing by. Plus you gave partner an option of two suits in which to play.

2NT as a direct overcall says : “I have about 6 - 9 points and am 5-5 in the two lowest unbid suits – in this case the minors. Choose your favourite.”

Even better is the sequence: 1C - 2NT!!! Now you just wiped out the whole of the 1 AND the 2 level and showed H’s & D’s into the bargain because the UNUSUAL 2NT BID says you hold the 2 lowest unbid suits 5-5.

So after 1C you show H’s and D’s. After 1D you show H’s & C’s. After either major you show both minors.

Some of you will have spotted that, good as it is, it doesn’t quite cover all the possibilities which is why … NEXT WEEK, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN — THE MICHAELS CUE BID!!!!

Have fun now, y'hear?


A Digression on Transfers – Weakness Take-Outs With A 6-Card Minor – 10 Feb 2010

The Red Suit Transfers we know all about. 2D & 2H are transfers to the suit above after a 1NT opening. So what does 2S mean?


Partner opens 1NT and it’s passed to you. 1NT doesn’t look like a good contract, does it. Big hole in hearts, which, if you pass, may well be filled by your left hand opponent bidding the suit. So you need to do something. But what? You can’t bid 2D as that’s a transfer to hearts. 3D is a mild slam invitation in that suit, which you certainly don’t have, so you’re a bit stuck … unless we can use 2S as a “minor suit transfer.”

The bidding goes:
1NT - PASS - 2S - PASS

Now partner must “complete” the transfer and bid 3C. With the given hand you have other plans, so it continues:

3C - PASS - 3D.

Obviously, had your suit been clubs you would have passed. This a weak manoeuvre, designed to be obstructive and/or guide partner to the best place to play the part-score.

Let’s just summarise that:

A 2S repsonse to a 1NT opening bid forces opener to bid 3C. The 2S bidder passes with a 6-card club suit, or “corrects” with a 6-card diamond suit.

Don’t use this manoeuvre with a 5-card only minor suit, just pass 1NT.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Responses in Competition – The Opponents Attack – 4 Feb 2010

Last week we looked at limit bids and how useful they are at quickly letting partner know the safety of the path towards Eternal Bridge Happiness. This week we’ll look at what happens when the opponents attack our leisurely stroll through the bidding box towards our ultimate goal.

Once the opponents overcall our opening bid – do not despair. While it is true that they will try to deprive you of space, disrupt your communications and generally be unpleasant, it’s crucial to
understand that they also, as a result of the overcall, gift you a whole TWO extra bids you wouldn’t otherwise have at your command. These wonderful explanatory bids they dump
freely in your lap are:

1) Double
2) Cue-Bid

Let’s take an example:


Partner opens 1D and your hand hovers over 1H, but out of the corner of your eye you notice the opponent on your right putting down 1S! This is annoying, but at least not as annoying as if they’d put down 2S! (Weak Jump Overcall) But all the same, your intended bid – 1H – is now unbiddable. You have a reasonable responding hand, 8HCP, no immediate fit for partner’s suit but you want to bid with any hand worth more than 6HCP. What are your options?

With 6 - 9 HCP you might think: that’s what I’ll tell partner, so - 1NT. Yes but, no but but but but … 1NT in this sequence, where opponents bid, should promise a stop in their suit. I’m not saying you should always have AK in their suit, but four to the J at the very least. Here you have nothing like that at all. So 1NT is OUT. Have another think.

What about 2C? It's true you have 4 clubs and the bid of 2C doesn’t promise any more than that, but what it would promise is 10 HCP (Possibly 9 with a decent 5 card suit.) You have 8HCP. So both 1NT & 2C would be lies, would set partner off on the wrong track and might get you into the proverbial mire, ending up 3 down doubled and partner getting all tight-lipped. So should you just quietly PASS?

Nooooooo!!! The answer is clear-cut. Instead of casting about for a bid you don’t have – DOUBLE!

In these low-level auctions Double is for “take-out”, i.e. it asks partner pretty please to bid. It doesn’t promise masses of HCP or anything, nor any great holding in the opponents’ suit but what it does promise is : interest in the two so far unbid suits – hearts and clubs in our example and about 7+ HCP. So, far from being a nuisance, the opponents bid has given you a chance to tell partner much much more than without the overcall. Before, you were going to bid 1H. Now, you have, effectively, bid 1H & 2C all at the same time. That’ll teach ’em to interfere!

Cue-Bid To Show A Fit!

As the piece last week tried to point out, if you have a fit for partner you must convey the news as soon as possible about it and at the right level so partner may judge any further course of action.

This is fine in unopposed auctions, but in real life you bid, they overcall. They want to make life difficult, steal the auction, disrupt your partnership harmony and watch you fret. Well, frankly m’ dear, two can play at that game.

You have:


The bidding goes: 1H(partner) - 1S(Overcall) - ???? Now what do you do?

2H is the “correct”, by the book bid. 6HCP plus some shortage extras make the hand worth about 9. If there were only 3 hearts in the hand then 2H would (probably) be right. But 2H does absolutely no damage to THEM. Overcaller’s partner can now freely bid 2S and your partner is now deep in the land of GUESSWORK.

Almost anything poor partner does now could be wrong. PASS, 2NT, 3H all fraught with danger. And it’s no good watching partner squirm and feeling smug – you sink or swim together. So take that guess away from partner and do it yourself. Bid 3H!

This says: “I have a 4-card fit, a few points and not much else, so I’m getting in their faces before they have a chance to take over.”

This bid, variously known as a “stretch raise” or “bidding to the level of the fit”, applies only when they overcall. Otherwise stick with what we did last week.

But then what happens when you have this sort of hand?


On the evidence of last week, after 1H from partner and NO overcall, you should bid 3H – limit bid: 10 -12 HCP. But, after the overcall situation above, we just used 3H to be a bit of a difficult, lousy, obstructive, petulant obfuscator. So now, when they have overcalled, we can’t use 3H. That bid would tell partner we are bidding defensively, while what we actually want to do is tell partner we are attacking with the goal of bidding game still very much in view. Damn. Damn. Damn.

Luckily, all is not lost, and a torch is lit in the gathering gloom. The auction has gone 1H - (1S) - ??? You now, as I said earlier, have 2 extra bids. Well we used one of them already – the double, so now it’s time for the other – the CUE BID.

In a “competitive” auction – after they bid – a cue bid is a bid of THEIR suit and says “I like your bid partner. Ignore these upstarts. I have good support and good points – anything from 10 +HCP upwards.”

So the bidding goes: 1H - (1S) - 2S!

In this case the cue bid says nothing about the spade suit but is used as a stepping stone to help partner cross the lake to the next level knowing they won’t sink. The overcall HASN’T made life difficult at all. It meant you were able to distinguish between a hand with “real” support for partner (cue bid) and a hand with nuisance value (jump raise).

Don’t be put off by overcalls. They are designed to shove you off the path. Shove back. Help your partner. Partner needs you. Above all, if you do PASS partner will know you don’t have a fit or any points or the other suits. This is incredibly valuable information. What responder DOESN'T do is just as important as what he does do.

A Digression on Points – Adding Points for Length and Shortage – 4 Feb 2010

The basic system is The Milton Work Count taught to all beginners. As we all know it’s A=4, K=3, Q=2, J=1. These are High Card Points (HCP). But this does not take account of distribution or ‘shape’ which might turn a dull, flat 10 hcp hand into an alluring one with a great deal of playing strength. So we can also add points for length and for shortage.

You should know that there are other systems of hand evaluation that take more account of distribution or side-suit high cards, or “losers” but for now we’ll stick with good old fashioned points.

A suit such as AKxxxx is worth 7HCP. But to this we can add + 2 LP (Length Points) , 1 LP per card above 4 in a suit. This is how you evaluate the hand before you first bid.

During the course of the bidding your hand can either increase or decrease in value as the auction progresses, mainly as a result of you and your partner discovering a fit or not. When you have discovered a fit you forget the LP you had initially and now instead add in your Shortage Points (SP) . With you and partner enjoying an 8-card or longer fit that will give a good trump suit, a void in a side suit is worth 5SP, a singleton = 3SP, and even a doubleton is worth a humble 1SP. So …


12 HCP's + 2 LP's = 14 — a reasonable opening hand.

A couple of rounds of bidding later, however, you find that you have a spade fit opposite and that partner has about 8 - 9 HCP. So now you re-evaluate your own hand in light of this information. The original 14+9 opposite is not quite enough for game, but let’s see what happens when we can add in the SP in place of the LP.

12 HCP + 4 SP = 16! Now 16 + 9 = 25 — enough to bid game easily.

The SP for the singleton heart and the doubleton club have increased the HCP of the hand by 33%.

There are other features of a hand that can make it worth more or less, but hopefully you will learn to trust your instinct on this, rather than hard math, as you play more.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Back to Basics – The Legend of The Fit – 27 Jan 2010

’ello ’ello. It’s good to see you all getting so confident. Well done.

Game (3NT, 4H,4S,5C,5D) will normally be made on a combined 25 count between the two hands. When partner opens the bidding they start a Quest and you become their helper. Your job is now to help partner in the never-ending quest for the right contract. Accordingly, there are all sorts of bidding gadgets, understandings and conventions to light your path to the mythical mount of Everlasting Bridge Happiness.

On a simpler level though it is important to start on the right path and make sure your first bid is accurate as can be. There’s no point in plucking a bid from thin air and then er, wondering what er, to do next. So …

Responses to 1 of a Suit: The Limit Bids

Assuming no opposition bidding, Limit Bids tell your partner your support - or lack - and your point count in accurate well defined limits. Opener’s bid has promised at least 4 cards in the suit bid: so support from you normally means another 4 cards. If you make a support bid, do it at the right level and hopefully this quickly gives all the ammunition partner needs to make further decisions.

MAJORS: (Hearts & Spades):

1H - 1NT .... = .... 6 - 9 hcp, any shape, no immediate support (less than 4).
1H - 2H ..... = .... 6 - 9 hcp, 4 card support.*
1H - 3H ..... = .... 10 - 12 hcp, 4 card support.
1H - 4H ..... = .... weak at least 5 card support. (This is a pre-empt.)

*1H - 2H can be made on only 3 card support if 1NT looks silly because you have a short suit somewhere else.

These limit bids are pretty absolute. If your hand doesn’t fit these parameters you just have to do something else (more anon). These bids allow you to express support and values simply, quickly and accurately in one bid. As a general rule if one bid says it all – make it.

MINORS: (Clubs & Diamonds)

1C - 1NT .... = .... not a possible bid. You either have 4-card support or a 4-card suit of your own.
1D - 1NT .... = .... 6 - 9 hcp, no 4-card major, no immediate support (less than 4).
1C - 3C ..... = .... 10 - 12 hcp, no 4-card major, 4 card support.
1C - 5C ..... = .... weak pre-empt.

This looks the same as for majors BUT BUT BUT BUT … even if you have 4-card support for partner’s minor if you also have a 4 card major BID IT! All the above minor suit limit bids expressly deny a 4 card – or better – major. Never ever bypass a 4 card major – even if it’s 2345. I don’t care. Bid it.

Keeper of the runes he say:
Ne’er wilt nor waver,
Always bid your 4 card major.

Poetry pedant he say:
Never gamble, never wager,
Always bid the 4 card major

Take your pick …

New Suit Responses

All 1 level responses in a new suit can be made on 6+ hcp. But if the order of the suits obliges you to bid your suit at the 2-level you are pushing the boat out a bit and need 10+ hcp
If you have between 6 and 9 hcp and can’t bid your long suit at the 1-level then bid 1NT as above.

Now together you have set off on your Quest, along the path of Righteous Bidding. But like all Great Quests, lo! there comes an adversary. With crooked beaks and bloodshot eyes they tear their talons into your delicate constructive conversation – they OVERCALL!! Now what? O wise wizard of whist, now what? Are we … doomed?

More next week folks…


Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Get Yer Retaliation in First – The Case For Playing Weak Twos – 21 Jan 2010

Hi All
Great to see you all back in the swing of things. And welcome to the new faces – hope you enjoyed yourselves.

As you know last week the POW’s played their first ever teams match in the Newcomers Division of the London Metrpolitan Bridge Association’s London League. The opposition were the Slammers from the Robson club, who sadly won, but everyone enjoyed themselves, which is the main aim. Next match in two weeks, so watch this space …

A basic tenet of what I teach is that it - usually - pays to be aggressive. Get yer retaliation in first. This is the reason I like Weak Two’s as an opening bid.

Weak Two’s

In the far far distant past, many many aeons ago, in a stone age of bridge, a bid oozed from the mire and was sledgehammer to smash a raspberry - ACOL (or STRONG) TWOS. This forcing bid was defined as a hand worth around eight or more tricks by itself. Typically this would be around 16-22 HCP with a 6-card+ suit or two strong suits of 5+. The reason for opening with a strong and forcing Two Bid is that you didn’t quite have a game by yourself – you’d open 2C if you did – but you were worried that if partner passed with less than 6 points, you’d miss a game together. So you forced partner to make at least one response, and then next time round partner could pass if they had to with a really bad hand – I mean really bad.

Using Acol Twos, 2 Spades could be something like:


Apart from the fact that such a hand might reasonably be opened 2C anyway, and that without the Queen of hearts (18HCP) you could show that hand by opening 1S and rebidding 3S there is also the matter of frequency to consider. How often do these Acol Two hands occur? And can’t be handled by opening 1, or upgrading to 2C? The answer is: not much, old bean.

Accordingly, about 60 years ago, someone had the bright idea of extending the nuisance value of the weak 3 pre-empt (7 card suits 6-9 HCP) to weak 2 pre-empts with 6-card suits and 6 - 9 HCP. Now 2 Spades looks something like:


It rapidly became apparent these hands occur hugely more often than strong 2 hands. This is, therefore, a much better use of 2 level opening bids. You get in the auction more often and you create much more nuisance value to the opponents who are going to be squeezed out of more auctions than before. All this is a GOOD THING. (These are also the hands that make weak jump overcalls)

3 x WEAK 2’s

In the system we teach 2D, 2H & 2S are all weak openings: 6 card suits with about 6 - 9 points. They happen often. Use them freely and without fear. “Aha,” you mutter conspiratorially, “but what about partner? What does partner do with a good hand? It’s all very well mucking up the opponents, but it’s no good mucking up us as well, is it?” But the funny thing is, that it doesn’t. You have given partner so much information about your hand and such accurate information, that partner can decide where the combined hands belong. So:

Responses to Weak Two’s

All raises are designed to continue being obstructive and difficult. 2S - 3S is just getting in the way promising nothing. OTOH 2S - 4S is a two way bid. It could be either more of the same with 4 card support OR it can say: “I am bidding this to make, but if we don’t we may have talked them out of a making contract into the bargain.”

A problem only really arises with responding hands - with a fit - where game MIGHT make if opener is maximum, but not otherwise. With a fit and say 14 -17 HCP responder asks opener to say if they’re minimum or maximum with : 2NT!

Opener now bids a feature in a side suit if maximum (8 or 9 HCP) OR signs off in 3 of their suit if not. So …

2H - 2NT

= Sorry, not much here.

2H - 2NT

= Yes, I’m maximum AND I have either the A or K of Clubs if that helps you decide what to do.

There are other more complicated systems of responses to 2NT you’ll find in books but this is the simplest and the least likely to get you into trouble. A key point to realise is that any change of suit response (2H - 3C, say) is unconditionally forcing for one round. You cannot rescue a partner who may have plumped for a suit you do not hold. The only weakness bid is PASS; only raises are not forcing.

Here now we stand on the precipice of the modern era: stone age bids banished to history. The system is: ACOL, WEAK NT, 3 WEAK 2'S, STAYMAN, TRANSFERS & BLACKWOOD. This is the basis of modern Bridge – no more grunting in muddy caves but “Silent, upon a peak in Darien.” (Keats)

All the best

PS: “Announcing”: When you use bids about which you have made an advance agreement with partner, the opponents are entitled to know what is going on. The idea is that they should have available the same inferences as your partner. It’s not poker: bridge is intellectual, don’t you know! So when partner opens with a Two Bid you are nowadays required by the rules of tournament bridge to “announce” the strength of the bid, so the undeserving opponents are fully in the picture. You just say “weak” when partner bids a Weak Two, just as when partner opens 1NT you say “12 to 14”.

To be even pickier you should also announce Stayman and transfers too!

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Part Scores At Rubber Bridge – A Few Words on Tactics - 14 Jan 2010

The basement was snug and warm after the Christmas break – as was the bridge. Lovely to see so many of you all again and look forward to seeing the rest of you over the coming weeks.

Tomorrow night sees the start of the Pow’s campaign in the Newcomers Division of the London League. They play the Slammers at the Young Chelsea. This is a bit of a step up but a really good way to get the hang of competitive bridge in a friendly environment so we wish them all the very best of luck - and good cards.

Tonight we played rubber bridge – as I didn’t have the Chicago scorecards – and an interesting point about rubber tactics came up. Rubber is unlike either Teams or Duplicate. In competition bridge each single hand stands alone as a separate entity. How well you do on a particular hand makes no difference to any other hand you play that night. But in rubber there is the added extra of the part score. This can radically alter your approach to bidding and it’s best to be aware of this.

At love all, no part scores, a sequence like this has its classic meaning:

1D - 1S

i.e. opener has 16 - 18 high card points (hcp) and 4-card support for partner. Responder will bid 4S with maybe only 8 points and some shape.

But … if the opening side has a part score of 60 then this same sequence can have a very different meaning. Obviously, now you only need a score of 40 or more to make the 100 you require for game. so this is enough:

1D - 1S

This will give you your game. Therefore the original sequence – at this score – must have a different meaning as it goes past what you need for game. Now

1D - 1S

is a mild slam try. Partner can freely pass with anything up to about 12 points.

Similarly, when you're 60 on and 3rd in hand playing a weak NT (12-14) you can bid 1NT with anything from about 10 - 20 points. You won’t have missed slam, you’ve deluded the opposition, and anyway it might make!

Cue Bids – A Touch of Savile Row – 10 Dec 2009

A cue-bid is a definition of when you make a bid in suit that you do not necessarily hold. Obviously, most of the time (95%) you’ll be bidding merrily away in suits you do hold, happily telling partner how many points you’ve got, how long the suit is, how suitable your hand is for a No Trump contract - ie all the usual good stuff we’ve been working on.


Sometimes there just aren’t enough suits. Quick, I say! Send out the Butler for more suits! Down to Saville Row with the chap immediately!

Partner opens One Heart and the devilish fiend on your right overcalls One Spade. In a sense, the problem now is not when you don’t have a fit, but when you DO. If you don’t have a fit the options are usually, PASS, 1NT or 2C or 2D. But what if you’ve got a fit and one of these hands?

xxx ............. xx ............... x
QJxx .......... QJxx ........... KQxx
xx ............... Kx .............. Axx
Qxxx .......... Jxxxx .......... xxxxx

With the first hand there’d be nothing wrong with dredging up a bid of 2H. Because of the 1S overcall we’re now in a competitive situation. The polite niceties of what we might/should do in an uncontested auction kind of no longer apply in quite the same rigid way. We have to be more flexible. Our job is now to assist partner in every way we can to find the right level for the contract. At the same time we also have to get in the opponent's way all we can. We might even – occasionally – tell little white lies.

The second hand has better shape and better points. 2H – probably right without the overcall – would now be an underbid in a contested auction, so we have to find another bid and just about all that is left is 3H!

So what about the third hand? 4H might be sound, but you’re relying on partner always having a good opening bid instead of the ghastly mess they usually open with, so what can we do? Bids in Clubs and Diamonds don’t look right and, importantly, would kind of deny the great Heart fit - which is the number one most crucial bit of information you want to get over. Aaagh. We’ve run out of suits! It’s time for that Saville Row moment - the cue-bid!

When the bidding goes 1H - 1S - 2S! the message is this: “I have good support in your suit AND points partner so if you’re rubbish, bid 3H, otherwise bid game.”

The cue bid is the Saville Row bid; it's the posh bid; it’s the extra suit in the wardrobe; it’s tailored; as the Butler says: “It’s all about the fit, sir!”