Exotic Conventions

My partner Christine and I don’t play a lot of complicated and arcane conventions. We like to keep things as simple as possible and use as few as possible artificial bids to avoid confusion. And we’ve rarely found ourselves lamenting not playing a certain convention because it was the only tool that could have gotten us to the promised land of finding the right contract.

Probably the most exotic things we do play are the snapdragon double, which comes up with amazing regularity (after all three suits have been bid, a double means at least a five-card holding in the unbid suit and tolerance for partner’s suit, which can be a three-card holding or a doubleton with an honor), and the Voidwood convention, also known as Exclusion Blackwood.

Voidwood is used to determine if a Small or Grand Slam is possible with the help of a void in the hand of one of the partners. Very often it is essential to know which Ace(s) a partner holds (rather than the mere number of Aces or key cards), because that can make the difference between making the Slam or not. In Voidwood, after the trump suit has been determined, the partner holding the void jumps one level and makes a bid in the suit in which he is void. That tells partner: “I’m void in this suit – tell me how many key cards you have, meaning Aces and the King of the trump suit, but do NOT count the Ace in the suit that I’m bidding.”

Even though snapdragon doubles and Voidwood aren’t that strange to us anymore, I call them “exotic” conventions because we always seem to get puzzled stares from our opponents when we use them. We always alert them (in the case of the snapdragon double) or provide detailed explanations upon request – no bids at Game level or above are alertable.

We had a textbook case for Voidwood on Tuesday night (10-13-2015) at the Grand Slam Bridge Club in Boynton Beach, FL, at the Torat synagogue which bills itself as the biggest duplicate bridge game in Florida. They may well be right. On Tuesday night they had five sections, which makes them bigger than most Sectional tournaments. The snowbirds are slowly returning, and at the height of the winter season you may not be able to get a seat at a table unless you have a permanent reservation; they put tables in the hallway but they simply can’t handle any more people some evenings.

Christine and I compete there as C players because neither one of us has surpassed the 1,000-point mark yet (soon for Christine, about a year away for me) but Tuesday night we came in first among the Bs with a game just over 51% that earned us .40 MasterPoints, and we were aided considerably by a Small Slam in 6 Hearts on just 24 combined high-card points between us that turned out to be an absolute top. With the help of Voidwood, we were the only pair in the whole room to find that Slam. Only one other pair bid it but went Down One.

That feat is worth a Bridge Burglar blog entry, and the East player whose Ace became worthless will become Flustered Flo, my column’s anti-hero. With the North hand that will become the dummy, I’ll be Flo’s nemesis, Smug Sam, who pushes to Slam, while Christine becomes Sam’s partner, Shy Shem, who plays the hand flawlessly.

East Dealer; East-West vulnerable

K 9 8 6 2
J 8 6
K J 9 7 5
West East
Q 5 3 J 10 7 4
K 3 2 9
10 8 6 4 3 2
K 7 6 5 3 A Q J 10
A Q 10 7 5 4
9 8 4 2
East South West North
Pass 1 Pass 1
Pass 3 Pass 5 *
Pass 5 NT Pass 6
All Pass

*Voidwood convention bid, indicating void in Clubs and asking for key cards, including Aces and if present, the King of the trump suit.

Opening lead: 10 of Diamonds

Flustered Flo has a tough enough time remembering the details of the 1430, 1340 or straight Blackwood conventions to determine Slam fits. When her nemesis, Smug Sam, threw the Voidwood convention at her on the diagrammed deal at a recent club duplicate game, Flo was totally lost.

Flo had the East hand with the Ace of Clubs and she was considering a double on the 6 Hearts Slam that had been bid by North, her nemesis, Smug Sam. Before making her final decision, she asked Sam’s South partner, Shy Shem, who would have to play the Slam, what Sam’s 5 Clubs bid meant.

“It’s Voidwood.” Said Shem, and when Flo continued to look puzzled, he added: “It’s also called Exclusion Blackwood. He’s void in Cubs and he wanted to know how many key cards I had, meaning Aces and the King of the trump suit.”

“Thank you,” said Flo, as she hastily changed her mind about that double – her Ace of Clubs wasn’t going to take a trick in view of Sam’s void – and put down the “Pass” card.

Now Flo’s West partner, Loyal Larry, wasn’t going to lead a Club, either, so he chose the top of his doubleton in Diamonds. Shem took the trick in his hand with the Ace to preserve an entry to dummy and turned his attention to the trumps. He decided he could afford to lose a trick to the King but he could not afford to waste dummy entries for an uncertain finesse or risk running out of trump in dummy when an opponent got in with the King – they’d lead Clubs to put him down.

So he solved his Club losers problem first, ruffing one in dummy, coming to his hand with the Spade Ace to ruff another one, dumping the third Club on the Spade King, and coming back to his hand with a Spade ruff to ruff his last Club in dummy. He got to his hand with the Queen of Diamonds, led the trump Ace, drove out Larry’s Heart King with his Queen, and took the rest of the tricks to claim his contract.

As it turned out, Sam and Shem were just one of two pairs to bid the Slam and the only one to make it, so they got an absolute top in a large game with several sections, relegating Flo to yet another bottom.

“Just out of curiosity,” Flo asked Sam, “how many points did you guys have between you?”

“Twenty-four,” said Sam, smug as always.

“And whatever gave you the idea you could go for Slam on that?” Flo asked. “Most of the time you can’t even make Game on 24 points.”

“Points-schmoints,” said Sam. “It’s all about distribution. I counted my eight-point hand as a legitimate opening with the void, and when my partner jumped on the second round to indicate he had a big hand with at least six Hearts, I knew we belonged in Slam, The answer to my Voidwood bid confirmed it. The Slam wasn’t a lay-down, but my partner played it carefully.”

“Would a trump or a Club to start taking your trumps off the board have been a better lead?” Flo asked.

“The Slam is unbeatable against any lead,” said Sam. “If you lead a trump, we drive out the missing King of trump first while we still have at least one trump in dummy to stop a Club lead.”

“When you pull one of these tricks out of your bag to get a top score, why does it seem like it always has to come against me?” Flo asked.

“Just think how much you learn from playing against us,” said Sam. “You learned a whole new convention today – Voidwood.”

“Seems like the more I learn, the more I finish dead last,” moaned Flo.

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