The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (February 2012)

10.  They allow their opponents to make mistakes. 

In the previous issue, we looked at the trials of the Last Buffoon, which is the player who makes the final costly mistake in a competitive auction.

The typical Last Buffoon gets caught trying to push the opponents into making a bad guess. Of all the ways to do this, arguably the most unforgivable is the Rebiddable Preempt. It's long been considered the ultimate violation of partnership trust to open a preempt, then unilaterally charge back into the auction.

Or so it was when I learned the game. I did it once as a novice at the campus club and my partner and opponents fell off their chairs laughing. A year passed before I finally lost my new nickname of "R.P." (and only then because a partner started calling me Minefield).

Evidently, I was ahead of my time, as this old "rule" is now routinely broken by many experts. Preempts are so lucrative that some players will open a weak two with just about any sub-opener that has a long suit -- or two. Some of these hands have considerably more playing strength than standard preempts, so the bidders feel compelled to continue describing their hands later.

Here are some popular gambits, all with a warning label: "Professional bidder: Do not attempt".

The reopening double: The Professional Bidder (PB) opens a non-vulnerable 2H with
   2   AQ10974   K73   1092
and hears 2S by LHO, Pass, Pass back to him. His hand is heavy for a white weak two and partner is marked with  some strength, so he reopens with a takeout double. His hope is that partner can bid a long minor or perhaps pass the double now that he knows PB has extra values. 

The "live-auction" double:  A riskier ploy is trying to send this message before the opponents have shown their full strength. If the PB opens 2H with the hand above and the auction goes Pass-Pass-2S, he'll double in direct seat. If RHO instead makes a takeout double, PB will redouble.

The "action" double:  This is used at higher levels, usually after partner has supported.

    PB       LHO    Partner    RHO
    3C        3H          4C           4H

The PB is tempted to bid 5C holding   2   2   10965   AQ109632, but he doesn't know what type of hand partner has. 4C might have been an attempt to push RHO into bidding 4H, which partner is waiting to double. So the PB trots out the "action double" -- also known as the "Do Something Intelligent, Partner" double -- to show serious interest in a sacrifice. Partner can pass with the heart stack or bid 5C with the weak raise.

The two-suiter: The PB wouldn't dream of passing a perfectly good 2H opener such as
      Void   KJ10643   63   QJ765 .

He won't be muzzled later, either. If the auction goes

    PB       LHO    Partner    RHO
    2H        2S          Pass         3S

the PB will bid 4C to give the opponents another crack at him. 

A few of these strategies have merit. In the last auction, if partner had raised to 3H instead of passing, opener could realistically consider a 5H sacrifice over the expected 4S bid. His 4C works as a "help-suit sacrifice try" that puts partner in charge of the decision.

However, all of these schemes have a major flaw: The follow-up actions are based on the assumption that your opponents have landed in -- or will find -- their perfect contract.

The biggest payoffs from preempts come when the opponents own the strength and feel forced into making  difficult guesses. Sometimes, they guess wrong, which is the idea behind the traditional "get-in-and-get-out" advice.  Even sound preempts have an element of risk. If you gamble twice with the same hand, you multiply your odds of a disaster and may allow the opponents to recover when they were having one.

Still, if you want to try any of these tactics, be sure to get your partner's consent and carefully evaluate your opponents. Soon, you might be choosing the same rebid I made at the campus club, but be regaled as a fearless, tough competitor. Or the Last Buffoon.

   2012   Karen Walker