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5 3 2
Q J 6
K J 5 4
K 8 3

After partner deals and opens 1, RHO passes and it's your turn. Should you make a simple raise to 2 or invite game with your 10 HCP hand?

Because hands with 4-3-3-3 shape are so flat they are sometimes called "pancake hands", having no singletons or doubletons. Hands with this shape are worth less than other shapes both in notrump and suit contracts. In notrump contracts, there is only one four card suit that may produce length tricks. In suit contracts, there is no singleton or doubleton to aid in obtaining ruffing tricks.

Because the playing strength of a 4-3-3-3 hand is reduced, several bridge authors advocate subracting one "point" when determining the value of the hand during the auction.

The hand above is about as bad a hand with 4-3-3-3 type shape with 10 HCP as you could construct because it has:

1. No aces
2. No tens (and not even a nine)
3. No honors in opener's suit

Therefore, this hand is a clear single raise to 2 and not even close to being good enough for a game invitation.

If the opponents decide to overcall or make a takeout double after your 2 raise, you should not take the push to 3. You should double any suit an opponent bids for penalty and redouble if your RHO's makes a balancing takeout double to show a maximum raise with only three spades and likely weak trumps. The more honor cards you hold outside partner's suit, the more defensive tricks you expect to take. If your spades were AQ9 instead of 532 so less than half of your HCP are outside spades, doubling for penalty would be clearly riskier and it may be correct to bid 3.

Because this hand has all the honors outside spades, would a 1NT bid be reasonable, despite holding three cards in partner's opening major suit? The strength of the hand is acceptable for a 1NT bid whether you play 1NT as passable as in Standard American or 1NT forcing in a two over one game forcing system. After a 2, 2, or 2 rebid by opener, an invitational jump to 3 is a clear overbid as was discussed earlier. But since the preference rebid of 2 could be made with a doubleton and 6 HCP, opener will never expect responder to hold 10 HCP and three spades, no matter how bad the 10 HCP looks!

Opener's rebid of 2, 2, or 2 could be made with a good looking 11 HCP or with a 17 HCP hand not quite strong enough for a game forcing jump shift. When opener has a hand with 15 to 16 HCP, he won't expect 4 will be a good contract if responder rebids 2. After a few seconds thought, and with you praying that he won't pass, he'll reach for a green pass card thinking ten tricks is very unlikely - until you put your hand down in dummy!

Since rebidding 2 is an underbid, and an invitational jump raise to 3 is an overbid, making the immediate single raise to 2 will be your best option in the long run. (This is especially true for those that play 1NT as a forcing response, since you can't stop in a 1NT contract.)

In the same session, another 4-3-3-3 hand with 10 HCP appeared. Partner opens 1 and you must decide if you will make a game invitation or if you will make a single raise to 2.

K 6 5 3
K 10 5
A 8 4
10 7 6

With aces and kings, and a few tens thrown in for good measure, this hand is far better than then the first 4-3-3-3 10 HCP hand. But due to no singletons and doubletons, this hand perhaps is just barely good enough for a game invitation and marginally too good for a 2 raise.

If the hand above with several aces, kings, and tens is only marginally worth a game invitation, then a very large majority of 4-3-3-3 10 HCP hands should simply make a single raise and not be considered invitational hands.

Both of these hands occurred at SBBC on Tuesday, October 8, 2013 on Boards 21 and 2, respectively.

Points To Remember

1. Hands with 4-3-3-3 type shape have less playing strength than other shapes for both notrump and suit contracts, and it's usually correct to downgrade the value of the hand. This is especially true if holding no honors in partner's bid suit(s).

2. A hand should be upgraded if (1) it includes several aces and tens, especially in your longer suits, or (2) most honors are combining together in the same suits instead of being spread amongst the four suits. (Examples: AQx xxx KJ10x xxx is better than Axx Qxx Kxxx J10x and xxx xxx AKxx xxx is better than xxx xxx Axxx Kxx .)

3. Holding a 4-3-3-3 hand with 10 HCP, if partner opens 1 or 1, your first instinct should be to only make a single raise. However, if the hand clearly should be upgraded (likely including several aces and tens and most honors combining together in the same suits), then it may be good enough to invite game.

4. Holding no honors in partner's suit and your honors in the other three suits makes your hand better for defense than offense. Holding a maximum for the bidding so far and with a short and weak holding in partner's suit and some length in the opponents' suit, your first instinct should be to double the opponents if they interfere, and not to let the opponents push you one level higher. But with a strong holding in partner's suit, doubling for penalty tends to be much riskier.

Bud Hinckley

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© 2012, 2013 South Bend Bridge Club
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© 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 South Bend Bridge Club