Sleeping on the Sofa in the Garage

By Dave Caprera, Denver, Colorado

Provoked almost beyond endurance, my wife has moved the sofa, to which I am banished when our bridge discussions get out of hand, into the garage. I fear that, if things continue their downward trajectory, the next time it will be in the driveway. (When I was in high school I played guitar in a rock and roll band. We practiced in the lead singer’s garage and, as such, we were a "garage band." When we got better we would give neighborhood concerts in the driveway, moving up to being a "driveway band." But while playing in the driveway is good, sleeping in the driveway would be really bad.)

Our friend Gloria, who plays frequently with students, taught us about "Chicken Blackwood" ("CBW"). The sequence can occur when the partnership finds a fit in a slam try auction, one partner bids Keycard, the answer shows that the partnership is missing only one keycard, and the asker "signs off," afraid that they may be too high. Gloria’s lesson to her students is, "we don’t play Chicken Blackwood." The teaching principle is that Blackwood is not an effective tool for finding specific keycards, and that you therefore can’t be sure which cards you are missing; if you need a specific card(s) to make slam you should have bid something other than Blackwood.

You pick up S K9xx H x D KJxx C KJxx and hear your wife and partner open 1C, Precision. The auction that followed was a bit complicated but roughly equivalent to a standard auction of 1H-1S-3S-4C-4D-4H-4N-5D (one or four keycards)-5S-P except that Annie was not limited to 16-18 HCP and could be significantly stronger. The bids of 4C and 4D are control bids, and 4N is Keycard Blackwood.

If opener has S AQxx H xxxxx D AQ C AQ (hand "A") then responder’s hand is huge and 6S is an excellent contract. But there is a chance that responder’s hand is not going to be worth as much as it looks to be, and may have a wasted minor suit king.

Conversely, if responder has S Kxxx H Kx D xxxx C Axx (hand "B"), also a hand consistent with the bidding, then 6S is a good contract opposite Annie’s actual hand of S AQJx H Axxxxx D Ax C x.

If your partnership has the agreement, as does ours, that your control bids are "Italian style" (no priority of cuebidding an ace before a king, and cuebidding shortness after the first round) then after 1H-1S-3S-4C, responder is good opposite hand A and opener is good opposite hand B, but the partnership can’t tell whether it is looking at case A or at case B.

So, how did I end up on the sofa this month? Annie bid the hand as above and signed off in 5S. When I saw her hand I quoted Gloria’s admonition that "we don’t play Chicken Blackwood." The admonition was not well received.

I could lie and tell you that this was in the finals of a major event, but it actually occurred on BBO, in a bidding room, while seated at the living room table in my mother-in-law’s house. (I

will skip the mother-in-law jokes.) As responder, I had shown a good hand in context (11 HCP in the 8-11 box but with potentially wasted values), a club control, and a heart control. The club control had to be from length, the heart control did not have to be. After our auction through 4H, what was Annie to do? If I had S Kxxx H x D Kxxx C Axxx, a hand consistent with the auction, slam is percentage on a combined 25 HCP. But what about hands where I have only one keycard? How does S xxxx H Kx D Kxx C Axxx look? Very good. How about S xxxx H x D Kxxx C Kxx? Pretty bad, something short of 30% I guess. Perhaps this second hand shouldn’t bid 4C you say? Opener could hold S AKQx H AKQxx D Qx C xx. (Remember that in Precision the opening hand could be stronger still, possibly 22-23 HCP.) If you raise 3S to 4S, you may make it very difficult for opener to move on when she should.

So, Annie was on a guess. Can she do better than 4N? Not clear to me. Does that mean CBW is OK? Let’s just say that that is a harder question than most of Gloria’s students appreciate. Even though I would have bid differently ("in for a penny in for a pound"), I found myself sleeping between the bicycles and the WD-40

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