Dan Romm

Test Your Play

You (South) hold A10, AJ82, AK107, K104.

West opens four hearts, P doubles, East passes and you, vul vs. non-vul, opt to bid 6NT.

West leads the King of hearts and East plays the 10.

Dummy tables K8763, 7, QJ4, AQJ5.

You win the Ace (necessary, since you have a sure spade loser). You see eleven tricks off the top and while you are thinking you cash Ace of diamonds and lead to dummy’s Queen, on which East discards a low club. Now what?  

Solution – West’s four heart opening and East’s play of the heart 10 (which is clearly a singleton or he’d have played a lower one) marks West with twelve red cards. Your only chance is to develop a third spade trick while only losing one in the process. How? You can do it if and only if the Ace of spades captures an honor. If so, you can cash two more diamonds pitching the three of spades from dummy. This forces East to discard another club since he must keep three spades or else you can play the King and another spade driving out his last honor. Now cash all your clubs, pitch the ten of spades on the fourth club and lead a low spade end-playing East. Note – if you don’t pitch the ten of spades then East will duck the low spade and you will be locked in your hand with two losing hearts.

So, what is your best chance to capture an honor with your Ace of spades? Cash the club Ace and lead a spade toward your A10. If West followed to the club Ace he is void in spades and East is forced to split his spade honors or you will win the 10. If West showed out on the Ace of clubs you have a dilemma if East follows low to the spade from dummy. If you play the 10 and West’s singleton is an honor you are down immediately. East is more than a two to one favorite to hold both honors so mathematically it is best to play the 10. But bridge is also a game of psychology. Holding a spade suit headed by the QJ9 East will be tempted to split his honors. If he plays low smoothly and you know enough about him to be more than 70% certain that holding both honors he would split or at least huddle to think about splitting, you should buck the mathematical odds and play the Ace. If you are wrong, c’est la vie – that’s what makes bridge so much fun.

Test Your Play (IMP’s)


Dummy (N)

Auction – S opens 2NT and arrives at 3NT, no adverse bidding.

Opening lead – 3 of spades (fourth best); east plays the J. How should you proceed?

Solution – win the spade and lead a spade! You have eight sure tricks and can get to nine if the club finesse wins or the Q of hearts is doubleton. In order to try both you must cash the AK of hearts before cashing your diamonds. If West started with AK103 of spades, the K of clubs and three or more hearts you will go down if the Q of hearts doesn’t drop (losing three spades, a heart and a club) whereas you would have made had you not cashed the AK of hearts (losing only three spades and a club). On the other hand, if west started with AK1032 of spades and the K of clubs you will go down if you don’t cash the AK of hearts even if the Q is doubleton. So, in order to decide which line to take you lead a spade at trick two. If west switches suits after winning the 10 then win his return and, if he hasn’t handed you your ninth trick, lead another spade. This will tell you how many spades west started with. If he had four, you have nine tricks even if the club finesse loses as long as you don’t cash a second heart. If he had five, pitch a heart and a club from dummy and two clubs from your hand as he cashes his remaining winners. Now cash a second heart and if the Q doesn’t drop you still have the club finesse available as a last resort.

The Magic Question

If you pick up a strong hand you should first evaluate how strong it really is and then plan the bidding accordingly. How is this done? Think about that for a minute, it is the key to successful slam (or game) bidding. If you don’t have a mental process that you routinely use, you need one. And if you do have a process, is it the right one? Is it overly complex? Before I tell you my recommendation, let’s look at two examples:

1. You hold AQx, AQx, AKxx, AKx.

2. You hold AKxxxx, void, x, AKxxxx.


Clearly, these are strong hands. The first one is easy; you have been taught how to bid it – open 2  and rebid 3NT unless you play a strong club system. The second one is tougher since you don’t have a ready-made solution. You would probably open 1  and, with no interference (unlikely), jump shift in clubs. But then what? And, what if there is interference? Why is it advisable to bid the first one the way you have been taught? What should you do with the second one? Which hand is stronger?

There is a magic question which must be asked with all strong hands and is the most likely way to solve these problems. It has little to do with point count, controls or other considerations that you most likely use. It is simply this:


What does partner need to make slam (or game) and, if he has it, will he know it? Once you answer this question, all you need to do is plan the bidding in the most effective way to find out whether or not he has it.


In example 1, this question will lead you to the same approach, even had you not already learned it. He needs about 7 scattered HCP for slam. You don’t really care which specific cards he holds, so if you show him a balanced hand with about 26 HCP, he will know it if he has what you need.

In example 2, if P is 4-2 in the black suits with no card higher than a five then you are odds-on to make slam! (Note that if this is his hand and you hold hand 1 you may be hard-pressed to make even a one-level part score, so hand 2 is stronger by far). Furthermore with hand 2, if you are unlucky and P is 3 – 2 in the black suits you are only slightly less than even money to make slam (you merely need trumps to spit 2 -2 and the other black suit to split 3 – 2). Worse yet, he may be only 3 – 3 in the black suits and slam still has play (you need a 2-2 split in both black suits). With any of these hands, P would certainly not suspect that he is a favorite to have what you need, so exploratory bidding may be useless. Without interference I would bid 1  and jump shift in  ’s, planning on bidding 6  unless you either have a clear indication from the bidding that P is likely to be at best 2 – 2 in the blacks, or if you have a way to find out which specific Ace P might hold (in which case you can probe for 7). With interference, I would merely bid 6  at my second turn. P will bid 7 with both Aces and reasonable support for one of your suits. He might also have the right Ace and not bid 7 or the wrong Ace and bid 7. But in the first case, you can’t find out anyway, and in the second case you will still be OK if the opening leader doesn’t lead a diamond.


With other strong hands, asking the magic question is still your best guide. Merely use whatever sequence in your arsenal is best geared to find out whether or not P has the card (or cards) you need. If you learn to routinely ask this question whenever you pick up a good hand your slam (or game) bidding should improve significantly.


Adding Mustard to Your Sandwich

The Sandwich NT has been around for quite awhile as an alternative to a takeout double immediately after opponents have bid two suits. Generally both bids are used, but the Sandwich NT shows different features than the takeout double depending upon partnership agreement – I. e, more (or less) defense, strength, distribution (at least 5-5), etc.

I propose the following version (esp. at MP’s): the ONLY difference should be that the Sandwich NT guarantees at least five of any unbid major. This allows partner to compete in a major when holding only a three card suit, which is unlikely to happen if not playing this version of Sandwich NT. In fact, the only time it will happen in current versions of Sandwich NT after the auction 1m – P – 1M is when the NT bidder happens to hold five of the other minor along with his five card major (since otherwise he will make a takeout double and partner will presume he has only a four card major); this seems to be an overly restrictive requirement.

Improving the Appeal Process

After giving the matter considerable reflection, I am ready to respond to Adam Wildavsky’s magnanimous request for feedback (in his comment to the 8/10/10 article on my BBO bridge blog). I propose the following revisions to the process. Some may already be included, but if so they need to be enforced since they were not followed at the appeal that I attended.

1. Any alleged fact that is in dispute must be disallowed unless corroborated by the ruling director or by a MAJORITY of the people present at the incident.

Agreed, this would permit dishonesty to prevail in some cases, but this is unavoidable. In the current process dishonesty prevails far more often than it would if my suggestion is adopted since at least two people would need to be dishonest rather than one as things now stand. It would also preclude the committee from having to decide issues of integrity (for which knowing how to play bridge is not a relevant qualification).

As an aside, I notice that in the overseeing panel’s review of my case a contention of my opponent (namely that I had made an inappropriate remark or gesture that gave UI to my P) was listed as a ‘fact’ although untrue, disputed by me (vehemently) and my partner, unsubstantiated by the director or any other party, and even partially recanted by the person making the false assertion.

2. The ruling director must be present at the hearing.

This may place a hardship on the director, but should be included as part of the duties for which he is being paid.

3. Any person who is a personal acquaintance of, or has had private dealings with, any of the disputants apart from being an occasional opponent at the bridge table must recuse himself or herself from the proceedings. Failure to do so should result in disciplinary action and an automatic nullification of the hearing should subsequent facts reveal that this wasn’t done. (Due to the vehemence with which one of the committee members grilled me, I suspect that he was far from impartial.)

4. A member of the rules committee (or an equivalent authority) must attend the proceedings to give guidance and explanation as to the interpretation and application of any relevant rule.

5. Inasmuch as the appeal committee is merely a first step beyond an individual’s ruling (the director), its decision should NOT be the final one.

Any party should have the right to further review by a standing board of committee members (i.e. – the committee currently headed by Adam Wildavsky) since the initial committee is nothing more than a makeshift collection of spontaneously assembled available bridge players who must decide without the benefit of an earlier committee’s opinion. In our judicial system, an initial court’s ruling is never deemed final and is subject to judicial review for procedural and/or substantive errors.

6. One should be allowed to submit a written account in lieu of attending the hearing. Furthermore, a disputant should be permitted to leave the hearing at any time. Either action should be allowed WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

7. The burden of proof should be on the party disputing the director’s ruling. Furthermore, if one side must be regarded as the defendant and the other the plaintiff, clearly it is fairer that the one disputing the ruling be deemed the de facto defendant. (The opposite was done in my case).

8. The appeal committee should receive a special instruction to avoid the appearance of bias toward the better known player or players.

For some reason that I don’t fathom, it seems to be natural to assume the better bridge player should get the benefit of any doubt. I glean this from the many (at least eight) occasions in which others have complained to me that this was the case and the additional fact that no well-known bridge player of my acquaintance has ever been unhappy with an outcome except when it was in favor of another equally well known player. Since committee members vary from tournament to tournament it is reasonable to assume that some bias might occasionally enter the proceedings. An explicit warning, although not a guarantee, would go a long way toward dispelling the current suspicion that bias is a regular occurrence. Along the same lines, I have twice been advised by well-meaning directors against paying to appeal rulings (a mandatory$50 charge was in effect) in favor of international stars regardless of the merits of my case since I “had no chance to win.”


9. No disputant is allowed to plead his or her case to any relevant party other than the ruling director before the hearing commences. Doing so will result in automatic rejection of the appeal (if the appellant) or automatic upholding of the appeal (if the appellee). This is the equivalent of jury tampering.


10 . Any player should be allowed only a limited number of appeals (as is done in pro football), both annually and over his or her lifetime.

This would prevent an abuse of the system by those who are constantly seeking an unfair advantage by learning how to “work the process.”

11 . If the intent to appeal is not made clear to the director while the outcome of the deal is still pending then it will be disallowed.

Otherwise, double jeopardy comes into play. In my case the opponent had a fifty-fifty chance to get an excellent result, in which case no appeal would have been filed. Only after it turned out otherwise did he proceed with his complaint.


I believe these suggestions are necessary, reasonable, practical, easily implementable, and a good beginning step toward tightening up a somewhat loose process. They are conscientiously offered for your consideration and I applaud your willingness to solicit and entertain ideas from the bridge playing population at large.



Dan Romm

Modifying Puppet Stayman

At MP’s, I find that playing 3NT is slightly better than playing in the 2NT opener’s major with a 5-3 fit provided that the major is concealed. For one thing, you have to make one more trick in the major. For another, it is surprising how often the opening lead is the concealed major, in which case they are stacked against you and you will do much better in 3NT. Finally, if opener has no losers in responder’s short suit then the ruffing value is negated. If your experience concurs with mine, I propose the following version of Puppet Stayman:

  1. It guarantees at least one four card major.
  2. If opener has a four or five card major, he bids 3 over 3  and the auction proceeds as in regular Puppet.
  3. Without a four or five card major, opener bids:
    1. 3  with a minimum,
    2. 3  with a maximum and a three card spade suit,
    3. 3NT with a maximum and a doubleton spade.
    4. Responder continues as follows:
      1. After 2NT – 3 – 3 or 3 or 3NT, or after 2NT – 3 – 3 – 3 of a major – 3NT:
        1. 4 is a slam try with clubs and a major (note, after 2NT – 3 – 3 this could be clubs with five spades).
        2. 4 is a transfer to hearts.
        3. 4 is a transfer to spades (with one exception, see iii).
        4. 4 is a slam try with diamonds and a major (note, after 2NT – 3 – 3 this could be diamonds with five ♠’s
      2. 2NT – 3 – 3 – 3 shows five spades and four hearts (this is not checkback with only a four card spade suit since responder has already guaranteed four spades).
      3. 2NT – 3 – 3 – 3 – 3NT – 4 is a weak 4-4 in the majors with a short minor. I also advocate this treatment playing regular Puppet.


Let’s explore the features of this approach.


  1. It allows responder to play in spades whenever he has five spades and four hearts and opener has three spades and fewer than four hearts. This won’t be possible in regular Puppet if opener bids 3NT over 3, but in modified Puppet responder merely bids 3 over 3 or transfers to 4 if opener bids 3.
  2. Knowing whether opener has a minimum or maximum has obvious advantages.
  3. Opener’s five card major, if he has one, remains concealed.
  4. The advantage of auction iii with a weak hand is that it gives responder a chance to pass if opener bids 3 over 3. With a better hand, as in regular Puppet responder would merely bid 4 over 3 to show 4-4 in the majors. Note – if opener doesn’t have spades then responder will be declarer rather than opener, but the lead is likely to be responder’s short suit so this disadvantage is minimized.

MP’s vs. IMP’s

How do you play the following hand at MP’s? At IMP’s?

North (Dummy)

♠ K 8 6 5 2

4 3 2

A K 10 6


South (You)


A K Q J 10 9


A K 6 4 2

Contract – 6

Opening Lead – Q

No adverse bidding.

This hand illustrates two points:

1. There are different strategies for MP’s and Imp’s.

2. It is frequently better to count winners than losers.

Solution at MP’s

Throw a spade on the K and hope clubs are no worse than 4-3 (about 50-50) in which case you can ruff two clubs and make 7.

Solution at IMP’s

Lead a club to your hand at trick 2 and lead a spade! If clubs split 4-3 you will always make 6, but if they split 5-2 you need the K for your 12th trick.

Playing Puppet Stayman

What should be the meaning of 2NT – 3♣ – 3 – 3 – 3NT – 4 ?

I propose that it be a weak hand with 4-4 in the majors and a singleton or void in one of the minors. Why? Let’s suppose you hold xxxx, QJxx, x, J10xx and partner opens 2NT showing 20-21 HCP. What do you bid?

You can pass, but you will certainly be in an inferior spot if partner has a 4 or 5-card major. Furthermore, even if he doesn’t he is likely to hold four cards opposite your singleton so that 3NT, although still an underdog to make, should have a reasonable chance.

You can bid 3♣. If partner bids 3NT then again you have a reasonable chance to make as explained above. If he bids anything else you are delighted that you chose to bid 3♣. If he bids 3 of a major you should raise to game in your 5-4 fit. The critical case for purposes of this article is when partner bids 3 . In standard puppet you would bid 4 and let partner choose. But, if you bid 3 then you will be able to stop in 3♠ if partner has four (this will happen about 2/3 of the times that he bids 3 since it includes the hands where he has both majors). In this case, 3♠ is quite likely to be the best spot, esp. at match points since you will beat all the pairs that play 2NT, tie all those who are able to stop at 3♠, and only lose to those few who get to 4♠ and are lucky enough to make. If partner bids 3NT over 3 then you will still have to play in 4 (which you can do using my suggested meaning of your 4 bid), as will all the other puppet players. The only difference is that the weak hand will be declarer, but this a small price to pay since the lead is likely to be your singleton in which case there is little or no disadvantage.

Bidding Against a Weak NT

I. The best defense is to fight fire with fire

  1. In the immediate seat: double with any balanced hand as strong as opener’s minimum (or the middle of his range if you prefer).

  3. In the pass out seat: you should have more strength (at least the middle of opener’s range or a source of tricks) since opener’s partner usually won’t pass 1NT if he is weak; he will transfer into a 5 card suit if he has one, use garbage Stayman with a singleton club, or use some other run mechanism (which most weak NT players have).

  5. Against a 10-12 HCP 1NT, doubler’s partner should sit with 9+ points or more unless he is strong enough to think game is likely and will produce a better result.

  7. Against a 12-14 HCP 1NT, doubler’s partner should sit with 7+ points or more unless he is strong enough to think game is likely and will produce a better result.

II. Analysis:

  1. This remedy puts the opponents at the same risk as you. Granted, you are usually in trouble whenever they hold the balance of strength. But, on the other hand, they are usually in trouble whenever your side holds the balance of strength. So, they will be in trouble more often than you for three reasons:


      a. The opener’s hand has an upper limit whereas the doubler’s doesn’t.

      b. If you end up defending 1NT your side has the advantage of the opening lead.

      c. If you end up playing the hand (much more likely than against a strong 1NT) you will have no problem locating the missing honors.


  2. Against weak NT’s, doubling with these hands levels the playing field and is far better than letting the opponents rob you blind if you don’t.

  4. If the doubler has more than opener’s range, how will his partner know? His opponent will tell him! The opener’s partner has the disadvantage of having to decide what to do first, thus revealing his hand. He will run after an immediate double (and also after an immediate pass as in I.2 above) if he thinks his side is in trouble. After he does so, the doubler can double again to show extra strength.

  6. Along the same lines, it is probably best that you merely need be in the same range as the 1NT opener to make the appropriate bid with unbalanced hands whatever system you use (Cappelletti, Suction, Astro, etc.).

Play Problem

What is the best way to play the following hand at MP’s?




8 5 2


A Q J 10 7 5 4 2

South (you)

A 9 8 7 6 4 3 2


J 10 7 2


Contract – 4 (no adverse bidding)

Opening lead – nine of clubs

Note that after pitching a heart on the Ace of clubs you have three diamond losers and perhaps also a trump trick or two.


The lead is obviously a singleton or doubleton. It appears that the best line is to take the free finesse and then lead a spade to the king, pitching a heart loser on clubs and also a diamond loser (if the lead is a doubleton) as West ruffs, maybe even with a natural trump trick if he started with three trumps. But this is an illusion. If West started with three trumps (which is likely given his club lead) you will lose TWO trump tricks via a subsequent uppercut when East gets in with a diamond (he must have the Ace or king since West didn’t lead one) and leads another club, so you will still go down. Thus this line is no better than winning the Ace at trick one pitching a heart, leading a spade to the king, ruffing a heart and leading the Ace of spades. Both lines make if trumps split and go down if they don’t (except in the unlikely case that West is 1-1 in the black suits and never bid).

But there is a slightly better line against weak (but not strong) opponents, especially if you think the lead is a doubleton. Win the Ace at trick one pitching a heart, cash the king of spades and lead the queen of diamonds even though this line (but not the others) will risk the contract if trumps split whenever East started with a singleton club and the opponents find the uppercut!

Why? To begin with, they may not find it – i.e. if East ducks with the diamond king. Also, a singleton club is less likely than a doubleton. But more importantly, leading a diamond has a big advantage against weak opponents (but gains nothing against strong ones) – you have not revealed that you are out of hearts and the secret will be kept for at least another trick if the opponent who wins the diamond does not lead a heart. This is quite likely whenever the club lead was a doubleton since either side can safely lead a club (the king if it is East). Furthermore, you needn’t fear a diamond ruff since then your remaining diamond will be a winner.

Now you ruff the club return, cash the Ace of spades hoping trumps split and then play the jack of diamonds. A lesser opponent will probably win the diamond and return one because this will seem safer to West than breaking hearts (since he didn’t lead one) and also to East unless he holds touching honors (note – he can’t have no honor since West didn’t lead hearts). Having never ruffed a heart your hand is not an open book, so when you run all your spades these opponents will probably pitch diamonds and save hearts to protect their honors (as did my opponents when I played the hand) and you will make five for a top board!