S Q932
H 7632
D A62
C K2
S 104
D Q953
C AJ8754
S 86
H J109854
D 1084
C 96
C Q103

Dealer: North
Neither side vulnerable

North East South West
Pass Pass 2 C 3 C

This was Board 17 of the May 26 game. North-South can make an easy 5 spades,* and the game is easy to bid after South opens 2C.

At one table, however, one smartass West came up with a 3C bid over 2C. If North-South find a way to double that, they'll score up 1100, but that's hard to do, and West took advantage of that.

It's important for North-South to have agreements in this situation. Those agreements start with the assumption that the partnership is in a forcing pass situation. My college dean, a determined but mediocre bridge player, thought the notion of a pass that was forcing was amusing. But it is in fact an important bidding concept. It can get tricky in some situations -- in fact Eddie Kantar wrote a whole book, albeit a small one, on forcing passes. But everyone agrees that when one partner has opened 2C, the opponents cannot play a contract undoubled. So either partner is free to pass when his RHO bids something, secure in the knowledge that if it comes around to partner, he will bid something or double.

North at this table, however, felt he had to do something. Probing for a major suit fit, he started by bidding his hearts, his lower ranking 4-card major, as if he were responding to an opening bid of a minor. This was not a success. South, interpreting the bid as most standard players would in an uncontested auction, decided North must have a good 6-card suit and raised 2H to four. There North played, doing the best he could in that contract: down 3.

The agreement most players play here is that North's double of 3C would have shown a terrible hand. In my partnerships, that means no ace, no king, and at most 3 HCP in queens and jacks. A pass -- which, to repeat is forcing -- shows more than that, with nothing special to show (i.e., no great 5-card or good 6-card suit). If North-South had that agreement, South has an easy bid of 3S after North's pass, after which North would cue-bid a minor suit (which minor suit depends on their agreements about cue-bidding first- and second-round controls). North's minor suit bid now has to be a cue-bid in support of spades even if the bid is 4D, a new suit, since North would have bid diamonds over 3C if he had a real diamond suit. Whatever North does, North-South are certain to reach their spade game, and might even bid the slam, giving South a chance to play the dummy like a champ (see the footnote).

The smartass West here -- okay, I confess, it was me -- was lucky not to be playing in one of his regular partnerships. I normally play non-jump overcalls of 2C as DONT-style. They show a two suiter in the suit bid and in a harder-to-bid suit. Partner then either passes or bids the next suit up the line to ask the overcaller to bid his second suit (or pass if that's it). So, unless I wanted to treat my 6-4 minors as a two-suiter (yuck), I'd have to bid 4C to show long clubs. Too smartassed even for me.

*In fact, South can make 6 spades, although the play is tricky, requiring a dummy reversal and an endplay:

A minor suit lead gives South his 12th trick, so assume a neutral lead, perhaps a trump. South draws trumps, then plays the two top hearts and a low club to the king. West must duck that, else South will pitch a diamond from dummy on his club queen. Assuming West ducks, South now ruffs a heart high, plays a diamond to the ace and ruffs another heart high. Then South plays his remaining trump to dummy and leads dummy's last trump, pitching a club from hand. West must come down to Qx of diamonds and the stiff club ace. A club now throws him in to lead from his diamond Qx.

Too hard? Don't worry. If I'm the opening leader, I think I'm almost sure to lead a low diamond, and you've got a claimer.