Come Alive. Part I

If you’ve not heard, “6-5: Come Alive,” time now. Grant Baze wrote this in 1986 to alert his readers that a hand with a 6-5 suit combination has greater trick-taking potential than its point count suggests. [I don’t find any link to Baze’s original 1986 article, but I did find this link to his 1996 summary of the article]. He said that after you’ve counted points, add for an extra Ace. (And, he went on:  if you have twelve cards in your two suits, add for a second Ace; and if thirteen cards in the two suits, add for a third.) In the same article, he wrote “with 6-4, bid more,” but until I recently looked at the article, I’d not heard that. I know to get excited, but I don’t have a disciplined way to get excited.  Do you?  This column explores getting the discipline.  The stimulus arose earlier today in an on-line all-human tournament where I opened 1♣, Vul vs. NV with:

and caught partner with

He used Blackwood, landed in 6NT, and received the helpful lead of the A. Even so, to make the slam required that clubs not break 5-0 (96%) and a diamond finesse (50%), about 48% chance after the favorable lead. Don’t want to be in that slam. Blame it on what I henceforth shall call 6-5 Exuberance.

I've searched the internet for articles on 6-5 distributions and can’t find any that specify minimum point or honor count to open in first position. Baze didn't speak to the wisdom, yea or nay, of opening 6-5 hands in first position with two or fewer honor tricks. 

Here’s the question I pose to all you who have opinions, informed with experience, or not.

Assume 5=1=1=6 or 6=1=1=5 distribution with the two long suits headed by the Ace. Will you open that hand in first position at equal vulnerability? Unfavorable? [If yes, change the A at head of 6-card suit to KJ; will you open that hand?] 

If not, suppose we add a J  to the 5-card suit. Now?

If not, add a J  to the 6-card suit. Now?

If not, add a J to both suits. Now? 

If not, add a Q to the 5-card suit. Now?

This is tedious. I want to get a clear statement of the minimum you (and ultimately, we) require to open a 6-5 hand. Don’t use high card points. If you think we should measure in terms of losing trick count, that’s OK. The hand with bare ace heads has a six losing trick count.  Adding jacks to the long suits doesn’t reduce the count, but adding queens does. I’d say ♠Axxxx  x x ♣AJ98xx  looks like an opening bid to me. 

Vocaljazz points out that many refer to a Rule of 20 for making opening bids:  if the sum of your two longest suit lengths plus high card point counts equals 20 or more, then you can open the bidding. Well, we don’t blindly apply that for 6-5 hands because the singleton or doubleton honors shouldn’t get counted or in the case of Aces, not their full four points. How do I know that? I just make it up, because I can’t find any authoritative expert saying addressing the subject.

Consider these hands:

Hand A:

Hand B:

Both A and B have 21 Rule-of-20 points. Are you happy to open A? I am. How about B? Not me. Both A and B have five LTC. A has 2.5 honor tricks, while B has only 2.0, so maybe we can infer from smaaaaall data that honor trick count might be a better adjunct than point count.  But even honor trick count isn’t infallible, because I’d be happy to open

Hand C:

C has only two honor tricks and six LTC.  [By the way, historically, Culbertson considered AJ10 to be only one honor trick, but my contemporary and long-ago co-worker, Danny Kleinman is given credit for urging that it be given its rightful due as being worth 1.5 honor tricks.]

Keep in mind that we’re grasping for the minimum requirements for 6-5 opening in first position with 5=1=1=6 or 6=1=1=5.  A rule-of-20 statement appears inadequate without exceptions and amendments to deal with short-suit honors.  Blanket honor trick count statements don’t work because we need to distinguish between Aces in the long suits and the short suits. 

I asked a knowledgeable group for their reactions using both my first hand above, ♠A8764  2  ♣KJ8764, and the specific questions about minimum requirements for openings with 6=1=1=5 and 5=1=1=6. I received a lively, diverse set of answers, not all directed to my questions. The dozen answers suggest to me there is no single right answer and that a partnership should get its own agreements.  Below, I suggest a rule you might follow in new partnerships where you’ve not had a chance to discuss.

How about this:   OK to open 6-5 if you have at least two defensive tricks, even if in the same suit, i.e. AK, and if the suit you bid is strong enough to stand as lead director.  That should take care of headless monsters such as Hand B.   If you want to argue that the two defensive tricks should be in different suits, then I won’t quarrel with that.   If you want to open with a weak two bid with AK10xxx in a major and Jxxxx or worse in a minor, then that’s OK.

I hand the discussion over to you….

No sooner had I completed a first pass of the preceding paragraphs than the following deal presented itself on-line in an in-person club game. By the time the discussion ends, you may judge it raises more questions than it answers.

The deal has elements of bidding, play, and defense.  I’ll end this column with two problems from the deal, one bidding and one defense.  Discussion of both in the next column. 

I’ll start with a bidding question for which I admit up front I have no good answer.  Then I’ll give a hard defensive problem. 

Here’s the first bidding problem.   You, North, hold:   ♠A KQ108 A3  ♣KJ10963, with EW Vul.

Here’s the auction:

What do you bid?   Experts teach us not to splinter with a singleton Ace.  No heart bid is forcing.  2 is forcing.  So is 2♠ but surely that’s dangerous beyond words.  3♣ is not forcing.  3 maybe, but does it hint at or suggest or command understanding of heart support.   As I said earlier, I have no advice.  What do you think?

Now, your defense problem, with answer next time.  What do you think after six tricks about how to handle the defense? You are West, for now. The auction given next differs from the one above. Here’s the auction, EW Vulnerable:

Click NEXT in the diagram to follow the play.

Now what?

To be continued.

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2 comments on “Come Alive. Part I”

  1. I used to play (and it used to be part of 2/1) that 1m-1M/4m = 4M-6+m strong.
    With respect to opening 6-5's, I like the requirement of 2QT not in the same suit and at least 8HCP in the two suits. I don't really see the need to strain to open, as many of those hands are best handled in competition after a pass.

  2. I think 4C should be reserved for a hand like this, slam going with heart fit and good clubs. Only with a bare minimum will partner bid 4H. On the second I would have led club ace, now all I can do is play low in the first round of clubs and hope partner has a stiff Q and leader gets it wrong

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