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H. Anthony Medley is an Attorney, an MPAA-accredited film critic, and author of Learn to Play Bridge Like A Boss,Sweaty Palms: The Neglected Art of Being Interviewed, and UCLA Basketball: The Real Story. He is a Silver Life Master and an ACBL-accredited Director and the author of a bridge column for a Los Angeles newspaper.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Evaluating HCP in determining whether to open 1NT

How would you open this hand?


With 15 HCP, it’s tempting to open in 1NT, which shows 15-17 HCP and a balanced hand. This is a balanced hand and it has 15 HCP. But two of the points are the doubleton diamond queen. Is that worth 2 HCP?

Here’s what happened when South, in second seat, opened the hand 1NT:

South             West   North             East
1NT                 P         2C                   P
2H                   P         4C*                 P
4S**                P         6H                   All Pass
*Gerber (asking for aces)
**Two aces
Here’s the layout:

                        ♠ AQJ
                        ♥ KJ103
                        ♦ 96
                        ♣ KJ109

West                                        East
♠ 9875                                     ♠ 632
♥ 965                                       ♥ 74
♦ AJ1042                                 ♦ K753
♣ Q                                         ♣ 8642

                        ♠ K104
                        ♥ AQ82
                        ♦ Q8
                        ♣ A753

West led the diamond ace and east signaled she had the king by playing the diamond 7, so south lost the first two tricks for down one. Lots of people don’t go to slam holding a worthless doubleton without confidence that partner has a first or second round stopper in the suit. But North was aggressive and should not have jumped to slam because she only has 15 HCP. If partner is at the bottom of his bid with 15 HCP, there should be no slam and that’s the situation here.

The question is, how to invite? The answer is not an ace-asking auction. After South bids 2H, North can cue bid her spade ace. That would not be showing a spade suit because if North had four spades but not four hearts, she would bid 2N, then if South has four spades as well as four hearts, he can bid 3S. And if North had five spades to go with her four hearts there is no reason to bid the spades after finding the 4-4 heart fit. So for her to bid the spade ace, that should be confirming a heart fit and showing slam interest and South could either accept the invitation by cue bidding an ace or just going directly to blackwood. In this instance, with a minimum, South would close out in four hearts.

However, South arguably erred by opening this hand 1NT. His doubleton diamond queen is not worth 2 HCP. A doubleton king would be worth 3 HCP because it is a trick unless the ace is behind him. The doubleton queen cannot be counted on as a trick or even a possible trick, so it is an illusory 2 HCP. The hand could (and probably should) have been downgraded to 13-14  HCP and opened 1C. When North bids 1H, South would then bid 2H showing a normal opening hand with seven losers. North would forget about slam and close out in four hearts. However, many players would still open this 1NT.

The hand was played 13 times in a club game. Five pairs were in slam, all going down. I don’t know how the bidding went elsewhere but I would bet that all slam players opened the hand 1NT and those that were in four hearts (five pairs; two others played in 3NT and one played in 5 hearts) opened it 1C because if it’s opened 1NT by South, any good player holding the north cards with 15 HCP opposite at least 15 HCP will look for slam.

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