Whose fault is it?

By Alain Levy

North-South have reached a very poor contract. As so often, each of the two players considers that their partner is responsible. What do you think ?

Problem 1

The Facts

Ten tricks without any effort. One of the two players has underestimated or incorrectly bid their cards.


South: “This is the only trial bid that leads me to devaluate my hand and respond with a negative 3♠. 3♣ specifically asks me to look at how many Club losers I can cover. With your balanced distribution, the only sensible bid is 2NT – then I show in which suits I have values if I am not minimum. I answer 3 and you leap to game.”

North : “I consider this hand to be a two-suiter. 3♣ is simply natural and would be indisputable if I had had a singleton in Hearts or Diamonds and King-third in the other suit. I grant you that I could have said 2NT, but I don’t agree with your 3♠ bid, which is more than pessimistic.”


North spoke very well. Nevertheless, they could and even should have chosen the generalized trial bid at 2NT, not only to show a balanced hand, but also to avoid giving unnecessary information to the opponents which might help them for the opening lead or later defense. Remember that to bid 2NT you need 15+HCP while 3♣, 3 or 3 can be done from 14HCP on, thanks to re-evaluation of the hand due to the unbalanced distribution. 

On the other hand, contrary to popular belief, a natural trial bid doesn’t say anything about the quality of the suit. It can well hide ♣KQJ4, ♣AQ84, ♣K653 ou J943.

And this is where South made an error. They must not limit their evaluation to examining their Club holding and with three small cards deduct three losers and with no cover card (to use the vocabulary frequently associated with this analysis) refuse the invitation to game and rebid 3♠.

On the contrary, they must assess the quantity and quality of all of their high cards. The quality of their trump support, the presence of an Ace and the added value linked to the Heart doubleton often associated with three cards in partner’s hand are sufficient arguments to jump to 4♠. If you really don’t want to jump to game, 3, “neither fish nor fowl” may be acceptable.

And even opposite Jxxx in Clubs, 4 Spades will still be an excellent contract, because the rest of partner’s hand will be something like: ♠AQ1094 AK3 6 ♣J954. Here’s another example for better understanding. Imagine a South hand like this: ♠763 Q874 Q874 ♣A2, the same 8HCP and the Club Ace doubleton, an ideal cover! This time, you must answer 3♠. South is therefore 90% guilty. North 10%. The bid that was responsible for the accident: 3♠ over 3♣. ♣A2, the same 8HCP and the Club Ace doubleton, an ideal cover! This time, you must answer 3♠.

The right auction:


If you play that 2NT may hide slam interest, South must answer 3 over 2NT.

Editor’s note: This way of reasoning in the field of trial bids is interesting but not traditional.

Problem 2

The Facts

When a pair stops at the two-level with eleven tricks to take, both players certainly have a share of responsibility. Let’s listen to their arguments before condemning them.


North: “What’s gotten into you to pass 2♠ with 7HCP when I promise a hand with at least 18 points and often a six card suit in Spades? We have a total of at least 25HCP, you don’t have the right to pass! I even ask myself if a takeout Double followed by a bid at the two- level isn’t forcing one round.”

South: “As you noticed, I thought it over a lot before passing. I know we have 25HCP in our combined hands, thanks for reminding me. Your 2♠ bid definitely doesn’t show six Spades. I thought bidding 3 would lead to a bad contract when you don’t stop Hearts, which is likely, with only a small chance of getting nine tricks if you do stop them. Hence my decision to pass.”


Listening to them both, let’s bet that this pair doesn’t have a bright future ahead of them. Their arguments are tinged with aggressiveness and are unconvincing from a technical point of view. South’s reasons for passing 2♠ are purely inadmissible. Their reasoning must be the exact opposite of deciding that none of the available game contracts can give a good result. This reaction is the perfect example for what you must not do.

Contrary to what they did, they must bid game without asking themselves any questions because their side has at least 25HCP. The only “problem” is to find the best strain and to do so, South must indeed bid 3 over 2♠, planning to play 4 Spades if North then says 3♠ (either with six Spades or with five but no Heart stopper), 3NT if that’s what North bids over 3 and why not 5 Clubs if the reply should be 4♣. And, for sake of completeness, 4 Spades opposite a bid of 4. North is therefore right to criticize South’s Pass of 2♠ but their 2♠ bid doesn’t do justice to their hand, which would be a perfect example for an old-fashioned semi-forcing opening of 2♠. It’s true that 2♠ shows a hand with 18-20HCP, but most often with only five Spades or a mediocre six-card suit like ♠AJ8754 for example. The correct rebid with these cards is 3♠, showing the hand for a semi-forcing opening with six good cards. The correct sequence here:

The call at the origin of the accident is nevertheless South’s final Pass. Their share of responsibility for this poor result is 80%.

Problem 3

The Facts

Couting 14 top tricks is more than enough to consider stopping in the small slam with these two hands a big accident. And yet, our two players look very comfortable in slam bidding, at least in the first few rounds of the bidding. Let’s see what they say to defend themselves.


North: “My Spade void prevented me from taking the reins and using RKCB after your 4. Then, I’m not allowed to raise to the grand slam even though I am under the impression that no key card can be missing; 6 is a sign off. We have to work on the developments after a 5NT bid.”

South: “I admit that this 5NT response had me perplexed. I understood that you showed a void, but I wasn’t certain of the suit of the void – Spades or Clubs – and not even of the number of your key-cards either. It’s too late to ask for the Queen of trumps and I don’t want to play a 40% grand slam opposite Ace fifth of Hearts. You never showed this mountain, you could actually bid the grand over 6.” 


Let’s take a look at the bidding sequence step by step. 3 is the trigger bid to explore the slam, a forcing double raise after a new suit 2 over 1. However, it’s not mandatory for North to start showing controls. 4♣ shows not only a control in Clubs, but also a non-minimum opening hand. Opener has the right and the duty to slow things down with 4 with the same Club King in their hand, if the rest looks like for example: ♠Q5  A9532 K987 ♣K4.

But that’s not all! A control showing bid in responder’s suit promises a control by an honor, either Ace or King, never shortness. The King of Clubs opposite Ace-Queen-Jack fifth ensures five tricks, but you’d have to struggle in order to take three tricks without losing one opposite a singleton. The 5NT response to RKCB shows precisely two key-cards and a void, without specifying the suit of that void. South must realize that with the Spade Ace or King and a Club void, North naturally starts by bidding 3♠ over 3. The delayed control bid in Spades, 4♠ over 4, therefore shows shortness, which now turned out to be a void.

But how can you ask for the Queen of trumps after 5NT? This technique is not well known, the response of 5NT being relatively rare. The simplest and easiest to remember is to decide that the next level, 6♣ therefore, asks for the trump Queen just like after a classic answer to RKCB, for example 5 over 5♣. If South, lacking agreements, only not to sign off in 6, says 6♣ over 5NT, North bids the grand slam.

But is North’s bidding flawless? Broadly, yes. North is right not to use RKCB with a void, and bidding 7 over 6 may be very tempting but unruly – the Club Ace may be missing.

The right auction:

The bid that is responsible for the accident is South’s sign-off in 6.

This article was written by ALAIN LÉVY

and was originally published in Bridgerama+.

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4 comments on “Whose fault is it?”

  1. I'm confused. If North is "they" and South is also "they", are there four individuals in each of these partnerhips?

  2. In problem 2, 3S is a good bid only if playing with a palooka; otherwise it advertises liking for minus scores

  3. The Blackwood asker usually knows what he will do over every possible response. I do not understand the obsessiion with voids. Just answer the question asked. I've explained how to show voids many times, coupled with the advice that just because you know how to do it, doesn't mean that's what you should be doing. Showing the void skipped a bidding level and derailed what was going to be a fairly simple auction. I'm sure there are illustrative hands where the void is important, but most of us ahould leave complicated inferential auctions to the pros. The rest of us should be content to just not blow the easy ones.

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