Wednesday, February 14, 2018

2/1: THE TORTOISE OR THE HARE? A guest column by Paul Laliberte

French author Jean de La Fontaine wrote many fables. Each one teaches an important lesson. The fable of The Tortoise and the Hare is one of particular relevance to bridge players. As La Fontaine himself stated, “Rien ne sert de courir; il faut partir à point.” (Running serves no purpose; you have to leave on time.) The speedy hare got off to a quick start but ultimately lost the race to a much slower, yet deliberate tortoise.

In the realm of contract bridge, two different bidding systems approach the game in a radically different way. Standard American relies on the strategy of the hare. Early in the auction, skip bids may be required to show extra values so that partner will not pass below the level of game. On the other hand, 2/1 takes the approach of the tortoise. The more slowly one bids once it is clear that game must be reached, the more one has to offer to the partnership. Conversely, skip bids made by 2/1 players are “fast arrival” bids which send a clear message: I have the values for game but not for slam…bid on only if you have extra values of your own. The problem with Standard American is that valuable bidding space is consumed unnecessarily by skip bids in situations where slam possibilities are in the offing. But again, the approach that you choose is clearly a matter of partnership agreement.

After long discussion, my regular partner Jim Kaplan and I have opted for the philosophy of the tortoise, which we deem definitely superior to that of the hare. La Fontaine himself would have agreed. Our “slow and steady” approach paid great dividends back on December 26 while we were playing on the online site OK Bridge. West was dealing, with no one vulnerable:

                       NORTH (Jim)
                       S A K 10 7 4
                       H K Q 4 2
                       D 8 3
                       C 10 2
WEST                                             EAST
S Q 9 5 3                                        S J 8 2
H 10 8 7 5 3                                     H A 9 6
D 10                                             D Q 9 6 5 2
C 7 5 3                                          C 9 6
                       SOUTH (Paul)
                       S 6
                       H J
                       D A K J 7 4
                       C A K Q J 8 4

The bidding proceeded as follows:

West  North   East   South
Pass  1S      Pass   2C• 
Pass  2H      Pass   3D••
Pass  3S•••   Pass   4D••••
Pass  5C••••• Pass   6C
All Pass

•     Game Force
••    Forcing: no need to skip in diamonds despite 19 HCP
•••   A great bid!  Initially, mention of the fourth suit asks rather than tells. With no stopper in diamonds, 3S is quite sensible.
••••  Forcing (showing a 6-5 pattern in the minors)
••••• Suit preference

After partner’s retreat to 5C, I paused to assess the bidding situation. In order to justify an opener, partner rated to hold at least one ace. Consequently, a raise to 6C seemed justified. A 7C contract, although not out of the question, seemed too risky insomuch as 6C would stand to gain IMPs. Unwilling to go for broke on this deal, I opted for a relatively safe small slam (giving up on the chances of thirteen tricks). Was I glad when I learned we were missing the HA!

Opening lead: H8

Once dummy came down, it became obvious that the heart ace would be the only trick for the defenders. Twelve tricks were now available: two spades, two hearts, two diamonds and six clubs. Not a bad result: +920 and 5.45 IMPs our way.

Please note that Jim and I reached slam by means of an auction devoid of skip bids. Our slow, steady approach won the race because we left ourselves ample bidding space for exploration. La Fontaine and his tortoise would have been proud!

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