The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (June 2012)

10.  They allow their opponents to make mistakes. 

In most bridge auctions, the opener has an advantage because his bids have clear meanings and are made at a low level. An opening bid can also impede the opponents' ability to describe their hands and may even silence them when they have most of the strength.

These benefits have induced modern players to shade down the old point-count requirements, especially for distributional hands. Some 10-point hands now qualify if you use the popular "Rule of 20", which advises that you can open if your high-card points plus the number of cards in your two longest suits add up to at least 20.

Like most bridge "rules", this is a guideline, not a command. Your success with light openers will depend more on good judgment and your partnership's bidding style. If you're a Rule of 20 disciple, you would open 1H in first seat with
   A   K10754   65   K8743

If your partner expects a sound opener, you might choose to pass. Either strategy could work. The pass won't create a problem for your opponents, but it's also less likely to get your side into trouble.

A common misconception is that close decisions should be resolved by passing when you're vulnerable. If you think this hand is worth a bid, it's safer to open at the one-level than to pass and act later, especially vulnerable. A 1H opening is a better description of your suit and playing strength than a 2H overcall or (worse) a Michaels cuebid.

The real danger in opening light is not that you'll be penalized at a low level, but that you'll mislead partner. Even if you've agreed to open Rule of 20 hands, it's important to use discretion with a hand such ass
   Q97543   K   Q6   K1082

A 1S opening in first or second seat could effectively preempt the opponents -- or your partner. Even if he allows for the possibility that you have a light, distributional opener, he'll expect better suits. The worst case is when he has game-forcing values (or so he believes) but no spade fit. You won't enjoy tabling this dummy after he bids 3NT.

Partner will also have a dilemma when he has a decent hand and the opponents try to outbid you. If he can't trust you to have defensive tricks, he won't be confident about doubling. The result may be that instead of you stealing from the opponents, you'll allow them to steal from you.

These problems have caused many players to switch to the Rule of 22, which adds quick tricks to the equation. If your hand barely qualifies as a Rule of 20 opener, open only if it also has at least two quick tricks (making the total 22). The first hand above is an acceptable 1H opening because it has two quick tricks (each king = half a quick trick). The second example has only half a quick trick (the singleton king doesn't count) and adds up to only 20.5.

Some pairs consider even the Rule of 20 too restrictive and will open virtually any 10-point hand. They're essentially gambling that they'll find a fit or obstruct their opponents' auction -- or land on their feet when neither of those occur. The irony is these aggressive openings can lead to very conservative contracts. Responder can't safely invite with less than 13 points, so he may settle for a partscore when game is laydown.

It can be difficult to play against these "Light Initial Action" pairs, but in the long run, systems that generate unusual results are seldom effective. You'll be more successful with agreements that are designed to avoid zeros rather than collect tops.

If you want your opening bids to create headaches for the opponents but not for partner, aim for a style that's aggressive but constructive. You can apply the Rule of 22 or, better, you can trust your judgment. If you believe your hand has as much playing strength as a typical 13-count -- and if it has defensive tricks -- open the bidding. If it's so soft that you expect to be apologizing later, pass.

   2012   Karen Walker