Dogs that Don't Bark: Evaluating Holdings Like xxx Based on the Bidding

Of course, if you have KJx of clubs, your hand becomes more valuable if the opponent in front of you shows a club suit, and it becomes less valuable if the opponent behind you shows a club suit. I don't know how much it changes in value, but it definitely changes.

You knew that. THE QUESTION IS THIS. Suppose you have xxx in clubs. How do you reevaluate this holding when one of the opponents bids clubs? Most people do not revaluate their hand. This is not correct.

Reevaluating No News

For the sake of discussion, suppose your partner opens 1S and you respond 2S showing 6 to 9 points. Then the opponent behind you bids 3C and your partner bids 3S, inviting you to game.

The club bid allows you to reevaluate your hand. You will subtract points for having club honors. At the extreme, KJx of clubs has substantially dropped in value. Yes, your partner might have Qx of clubs, or A10x. So the KJx of clubs is not worthless. But the overcaller is likely to have the AQ of clubs, and so your club holding has substantially dropped in value. Let's say it lost 1 1/2 points.

Without the 3C bid, this would be basically going to game with 8-9 points, the top of your range, and not going to game with 6-7 points, the bottom of your range. If you have KJx of clubs and 8 points, you have 6 1/2 points. You pass.

All easy so far. But what if you have xxx in clubs? Most people do not reevaluate this holding when the opponents bid clubs. But that isn't right. Think of it this way. Your opponent's club bid could have been bad news, if you had club honors. But you don't have club honors. So not having club honors is good news!

Hence you should be encouraged with a holding of xxx in clubs. (Of course, xx or xxxx would be better.) There are two different ways to think about the issue of points. One is that you don't give yourself any extra points for xxx of clubs. Your partner has invited to game. Originally, your range was 6 to 9 points. But you could have lost points. So your range is now more like 5 to 9 points. Before, 7 points was in the bottom of your range; now 7 points is the middle of your range and you could accept the invitation.

The other way to think of it is that you actually upgrade your hand when you hold xxx of clubs. I don't know how much the upgrade is, but suppose it is a point. Before you had 7 points and you were in the bottom of your range. Now you have 8 points. Your range is now 5 to 10, and you are slightly above the middle of your range.

Adding points for xxx is the better option, because it is more flexible. For example, suppose the opponent behind you opens 1H, your partner doubles, and you are considering if you have enough points to bid 2S. You should downgrade honors in hearts, which means you should upgrade for a lack of honors in hearts.

I know, this is a small effect. But it's there, and you will occasionally improve your bidding if you consider it.

Downgrading

This reevaluation of xxx cuts both ways. Suppose your partner opens 1S and the opponent in front of you bids two clubs. You would now upgrade club honors (like KJx or AQx of clubs). Therefore, xxx of clubs is bad news, and you should slightly downgrade your hand for a lack of club honors.

What if an Opponent Just Shows Points?

If your opponent just shows points, then all of your honors are either downgraded or upgraded, depending on whether you sit in front or behind your opponent. So if you are sitting behind the opponent, your AQx just got better, and if you are sitting in front of this opponent, your AQx just go worse.

However, some card combinations are better than others. In short, sequences like KQJ are ideal if you are in front of the person with points. In contrast AQx or KJx are ideal if you are behing the point-holder and bad if they are in front of the point holder. To complete the quiet dog story, KQJ behind the point-holder is not good new.

Less so, Axx is a relatively good holding in front of the point-holder and not as desirably behind the point-holder.

To give a real life example, the opponent behind me opened 1D, my partner doubled, and the opponent in front of me passed. I had xx, J10xxx, xxx, AKx. Perhaps 8 HCP and a 5 card-suit is enough to bid 2H. But if it is not, consider the honor structure of this hand -- none of your honors are finessable. Meanwhile, you have two entries to your hand in addition to trumps, so you can take whatever finesses you want to take. This is an ideal hand to hold in front of the opponent with the points. Partner actually had AQxx, K9x, Ax, QJxx. The spade finesse was onside, the AQ of hearts was onside, and I made an overtrick playing 4 hearts.

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