Torture Bid

Sometimes partner makes a bid that I have never encountered before. In most of my partnerships, I try to make a few rules about undefined sequences, ``meta-treatments'' if you will. Some examples are ``ASBAF,'' (All Strange Bids are Forcing) or ``If you don't know what it is, it's natural.'' ...But what if I don't know what it is and I know it's not natural.... The best rule for at-the-table actions is to choose a safe action if possible unless the Torture Bid yields only one logical interpretation. Of course, what is logical to one partner is usually nonsense to the other.

Playing in a cash prize tournament in Las Vegas, we are vying for the top prize when partner decides to test me. With both vulnerable, I deal myself

 S:AKQJ63 H:AQ97 D:86 C:10
I open 1S: LHO overcalls 2H:, and partner makes a negative double. RHO passes and I happily bid 3NT. Partner thinks for a little while and emerges with 6H:. Clearly, this action does not fall under the aegis of partnership agreement, so I have to try to interpret his bid and do the best I can.

First off, is it natural revealing a psych? I have 16 HCP and partner is bidding a slam, so that overcall seems somewhat dubious. The action at the table does not seem right for this interpretation, though. RHO looks Yarborough-bored and everyone seems surprised by partner's last call. More importantly, if he really had enough to bid a slam in hearts, he would not choose to double on the last round. He'd either pass or bid notrump himself. He is not the type to double for penalties when the double is takeout. He is more the sandbagging sort.

If 6H: is not natural, then what is it? He must want me to make some choice between slams. From his perspective, it is possible that we should play any strain. We play that bids of 5NT in slam auctions are usually ``pick a slam,'' but that doesn't apply here, since I would assume that 5NT is a natural quantitative raise without express agreement otherwise. Can he be asking me to pick a minor suit grand? I doubt it; he'd try 4H: or four of a minor first. We play that four of a minor is forcing if 3NT is playable, which it obviously is, so he could start with 4D:. And if he really had a monster minor two-suiter, wouldn't he begin with 3D: over 2H:, rather than the ambiguous negative double that I might even pass? No, he cannot be looking for a minor suit grand.

How about a grand slam? Maybe he has a void heart and wants to know if I have stuff outside of hearts? 5H: should probably be Exclusion Roman Key Card Blackwood on this auction, but we have never considered it before, so he might well be afraid to try it. That's a possibility, but I doubt he'd risk a negative double with a good hand and a heart void.

Should 6H: here replace the 5NT ``pick a slam'' convention? Maybe, but without discussion, I cannot assume so. He must have some express meaning that he cannot communicate in any other way.

Oh, well, the round is ending and we have not even played the hand yet. I have to make a decision now. I have no idea what he is doing, so I'll try 6S: because that ought to be a making contract. I cannot imagine that it will be a bad score and I give up trying to get the best score.

Dummy appears with

 S:542 H:4 D:KQJ3 C:AKQJ7
They lead the D:A and continue the suit. When no ruff occurs, I claim and we end up finishing the round on time after all.

Looking at his hand, I am still puzzled as to the meaning of 6H:. He explains that he wanted me to make a choice between 6S: and 6NT by looking at my heart holding. If I had something like H:QJ10x, he wanted to play 6S:, but on the actual holding was hoping I'd bid 6NT. Maybe he is right, but I do not think I would ever have the confidence to bid 6NT at the table on this sequence. At least no harm was done.

A week later I'm still thinking about this hand. I think my action at the table was clear-cut because I knew that he didn't know that I'd know what his bid meant. Therefore, safety first. But what should 6H: really mean?

Let's consider his alternatives. 5NT is not ``pick a slam'' on this auction; I think that is clear. Since this is non-suit-agreement auction, a ``pick a slam'' bid is needed. I think that should be 5H:, or, in general, a jump cue or a jump to an impossible suit at the five level. To force a choice between spades and notrump, the 5H: bidder corrects six of a minor to 6H:. (Wrong choice, partner.) Correcting to 6S: would suggest that the choice was between the other minor and spades. Indicating the further choice must suggest notrump.

So should 6H: be an immediate choice of grands question? I don't know; partner can ask for a choice of smalls and raise. But sometimes the choice of which grand is different from the choice of smalls, in particular when partner has a heart void. With H:KQx, I'd pick 6NT, but not 7NT. So, 6H: must be a choice of grands with a heart void. Probably.

Copyright © 1994 Jeff Goldsmith