Stephen Cooper

The Marvelous Toy

The Marvelous Toy

“When I was just a wee little lad full of health and joy

My father homeward came one night and gave to me a toy”

I’m a player. I like games, and I like toys. Bridge is one of my favorite games, and allows me to try out many toys.

I recently came across a convention, a great new toy. (In the Sept Bridge World, page 20, and elsewhere) It may have been around for some time, under one name or another. In that issue, the author, Bennion, describes “Raptor” as a convenient part of the infrastructure supporting Transfer overcalls. I just liked the way the light bounced off the toy itself…

“A wonder to behold, it was, with many colors bright

And the moment I laid eyes on it became my heart’s delight”

I unwrapped the toy, took it out of the box, and read the instructions (carefully translated from the original Chinese): In overcalling position, use 1NT to show a 4-card major and a longer minor. There is always one known suit, and one unknown. I guess we can use it in direct or sandwich, but is probably best to save the natural meaning of 1NT in the balancing seat, where it is difficult enough to navigate.

As the author suggests, Raptor lets us onto the playing field a little more often, because:

The Major is too short (and perhaps, too weak) to overcall;

Even if you might bid it, you would never be able to show a longer second suit;

The minor might be biddable (or not), but to do so might make finding the major difficult or impossible;

A takeout double might be unavailable due to the wrong shape in the other unbid suit.

And what is the price of this amusement? You must stop playing (with) the strong 1NT overcall. Well, that toy has had its day and can be stuffed in the back of the closet, available if the new one falters. Seriously though, when you have a strong hand, you often have other options. What would you have done with that hand, and that shape, but no stopper? You can do that! You may be able to double (The Italians seem to have had some success in the past with off-shape doubles), overcall in a 4+ card suit, or “trap” pass.

What I read sounded reasonable in theory, but I never really know how much fun a plaything might be unless I try it out for myself.

So I unpacked my toy, attached it to my convention card, and waited. But not too long. When I get a new toy, I am impatient. I don’t want to wait until the perfect occasion arises to try it out. I need to jump right on it and ride it as soon as I can!

“It went “zip” when it moved and “bop” when it stopped

And “whirr” when it stood still

I never knew just what it was and I guess I never will.”

For example, I soon held: KJ, Kxxxx, Txx, xxx. At IMP pairs, with both Vul., it went 1S on my left, 1NT from partner (Ecstasy! Our toy!) and 4S on my right. (Villain! Getting in my way!) I would not let them stop me from my first chance to wheel out my new toy, so I bid 5H. This was doubled on my left, and pulled on my right. My partner doubled, and we took our Ace-King of Spades and side ace to beat it one to win 11. Pard had: A, JT86, AQ98xx, QJ. I was going for 500 or 800 depending on whether I guessed to double hook the diamonds (KJx onside).

A few hands later, my partner picked up: ATxx, Axxx, AQx, Qx. At IMP pairs, both Red, he heard me pass, then 1D on his right. Darn. We could no longer overcall 1NT with this. So he risked a slightly off-shape double. We never bid again and defended 3H for +100. At a few tables, 1NT doubled went for 500 or 800.

I was hooked. I loved my new toy.

But my partner did not share my infatuation. He picked up: 9632, Axx, void, KQJTxx. In a team match, with both Vul., he heard a third seat 1D on his right. He left the toy on the shelf, and overcalled a pedestrian 2C, not wanting to admit to his 4-card spade suit. When LHO raised to 2D, and I made a responsive double, he bid just 2S; he could have chosen a more progressive call. We rested there, and, facing my AJxx, Kxxxx, xxxx, void, scored up 170 with reasonable but normal splits. (I did not want to push facing what should have been at most 3 spades). Surely, though, had he trotted out the toy, I would have driven to game.

The moral? If you have a new toy, don’t wait for a sunny day – trot it out!

On the previous hand, when 1NT was not bid, the inference was that overcaller did not have as many as four spades. Later, I held: A9xxx, K, x, AQTxxx. IMP’s, both Vul., and 1D on my right, I bid 2C. When 2D by LHO was passed around to me, I could confidently bid 2S, knowing that partner would not play me for as few as 4 spades.

In another case, partner had x, Axx, AQ987x, xxx. After I passed, RHO opened 1S and he bid 2D. He heard me responsively double a 2S raise; Since I know he does not have 4 hearts, I should be quite prepared to hear him bid 3H now with 3.

So not using the toy should tell partner something as well.

When used, the bid may also have lead value. Holding KJx, xxx, JTxx, Jxx, you hear 1C on your left; and a “whirring” noise from your partner (1NT). When 2H is bid on your right, you compete with 3D. In case there was any doubt as to which major your partner has, opener then raised to 3H, which was passed out. A spade lead stands out, which proves two defensive tricks better than a diamond lead. Partner had: Qxxx, x, KQxxx, Axx.

But should you prefer it if something else also fits? What if the hand is very strong, or also suits a takeout double?

We had this pair of hands:

West had Axxxx, T9xx, x, QJx facing East’s x, AJxx, AJx, Kxxxx. In a MP Game, red vs. white, North opened 1S, and East ignored the toy to make a fairly classic takeout double. When South bid 1NT, West bid 2H. Opener now bid 3D. Should East continue with 3H, or does that show game-invitational values? Should West bid again? We meekly sold out, paying out 110 into our own 140. Again, I am sure that West would have competed to 3H if he had been confident of an 8-card fit. If only the marvelous toy had made some noise! (Better judgment may have achieved the same thing).

Are there any upper limits on the bid? There need not be; it can hardly be possible to pass it, when one suit is unknown. So partner tried it with: Kxx, AKxx, AJxxx, A over a 3rd seat 1S. When I bounced to 4H (!), and Opener rebid 4S all on his own, this hand presents an interesting Master Solvers type problem. The 1NT bidder’s continuations are analogous to those of a Micheals cue-bidders’, with one suit unknown. Although double would have resulted in a small plus this time, partner tried a slam, which went down on the Ace of Spades lead and a defensive cross-ruff, which beats even FOUR hearts. However, slam would have made on any other lead. I had: xxx, JTxxx, K, KTxx.

1 All quoted sections are from “The Marvelous Toy”, by the folk singer, Tom Paxton


Piotr RadzikowskiNovember 2nd, 2010 at 12:52 pm

It’s not a new toy, in Poland this convention has been in a very frequent use since 1970’s…

I use it myself and like it very much, but only after a major suit openings.

ChrisNovember 2nd, 2010 at 3:00 pm

We use it as well. I think you’ll find that an upper limit is very useful. We play 10-15, sometimes light at favourable, and double with 15-17 balanced or more.

The only really sticky situations arise when pd forgets (accidentally or on purpose) that the double could be off shape, i.e. 15-17 balanced and don’t expect a lot of cards in the unbid major.

Jordan CohenNovember 3rd, 2010 at 3:10 pm

As the OHO who gets to play with all these toys, this one has proven to be one of the more enjoyable ones–playing online is a good place to test these out. The chicken one with ( fourth of spades and the good club suit was played in a “live” game in an IMP league match. Also, being from Toronto, these may be the only good Raptor results this year!

Jordan CohenNovember 3rd, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Correction to earlier post–9 fourth of spades

Mike WNovember 3rd, 2010 at 8:50 pm


A bridge player and a Tom Paxton fan!

DougJuly 26th, 2011 at 6:38 pm

I love toys this one turned into a collission wit a Mack Truck

holding Kxx xx ATxxx xxx the bidding went, all Vul LHO 1C-1NT-2H to me It seemed we had a double fit -3D says I -X says LHO -XX says

pard -P-P-P minus 2800 pard was 3-4-1-5 oh well ,on to the next,

Psychiatric ward, that is.

Stephen CooperJanuary 5th, 2012 at 3:19 pm

I just noticed this post, Doug; If they open a minor, 1NT shows THE OTHER MINOR and an unknown major; If they open a Major, it shows THE OTHER MAJOR and an unknown minor. Your partner was playing with his toys when he should have been doing his home-work!

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