The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (January 2012)

10.  They allow their opponents to make mistakes. 

My friend and partner Colby Vernay of Lacon IL is fond of telling bridge stories that feature the Last Buffoon. I donít know the origin of the term, but Colby uses it to describe a player who makes the final costly mistake in a competitive auction. He admits that he sometimes risks assuming that title, but always with a reasonable expectation that an opponent will wrest it away from him.

The idea is that an aggressive, potentially dangerous bid can be a good gamble if gets you to your best contract or pushes the opponents into a bad one. Ideally, your bid will be bold enough to give the opponents a legitimate problem, but not so reckless that they have no choice but to go for a penalty. 

That's the strategy you use every time you preempt. You bid the full limit of your hand at once and try to force the opponents to make the last guess. The Rule of 2, 3 & 4 and the Losing Trick Count (discussed in the last issue) can help you determine the bold-but-not-reckless level for your bid, but they're not foolproof. If you don't want to be "caught speeding", you need to recognize the situations where it's wise to pull in a notch.

One is when the opponents bid notrump. After a strong 1NT on your right, what's your call at favorable vulnerability (white vs. red) holding 
    J   Void   9843   AQJ109876 ?

The Rule of 4 suggests that it's safe to overbid by four tricks at this vulnerability. With seven (perhaps eight) playing tricks, you might choose a 5C overcall.

The classic way to make the last -- and only -- mistake in an auction is to preempt so high that the opponents won't even consider taking your bait. Here, 5C doubled will almost always be the final contract. Your LHO already knows his partner has defensive strength, so unless he has a long suit and slam values, he won't be motivated to do anything other than take the money.

A 4C overcall will create more of a dilemma for your opponents. Bidding will be more attractive to your LHO if the 4-level is available, and sometimes, he'll stretch too far or choose the wrong suit. If 5C is a good sacrifice, partner may be able to bid it. And sometimes, you'll be doubled at 4C and save 200 points.

Discretion is also advised when you have the right suit length and playing tricks for a preempt, but not the right suit quality. What's your call in first seat, vulnerable vs. not, holding
    K986543   2   72   KQ4 ?

Using the Losing Trick Count, this is technically six losers and seven playing tricks, which qualifies for a 3S bid. That level should make you nervous, especially since you know your opponents will look for any excuse to penalize a red-vs.-not preempt. Trust your instincts and open 2S. There's no rule that a weak two has to be exactly six cards, nor that you can't have extra playing strength when vulnerable.

The trademark strategy of the Last Buffoon is to pass up an early opportunity to give the opponents a problem, then try to play catch-up later. What's your call in first seat, both vulnerable, holding
    8632   KJ10643   QJ2   Void ?  

Purists object to a weak two-bid with a side void or 4-card major and would consider it heretical to have both. For many players, though, this hand is a 2H opener in any seat, at any vulnerability.

If it's not your style to open 2H, you have to accept that you may be muzzled for the rest of the auction. If you do get a later chance to bid, it could be awkward. After 1C by partner, 1S by RHO, is this the hand partner will expect for a 2H freebid?

What you cannot do is let the opponents exchange information, then barge in at a high level. If you pass and the auction goes 1C-Pass-3C, a vulnerable overcall with this hand rates to earn you a starring role in one of Colby's stories.


 ©  2012   Karen Walker