Just when you thought you were having a winning session, two experts arrive and steal a board by responding with a 2-point hand. You collect a small penalty, but their overbidding shuts you out of the auction and you miss your laydown game.
If you've ever been burned by this tactic, you may be wondering if it's become hopelessly old-fashioned to require six points for a response to an opening suit bid. Since bidding with no points and no fit seems to work so well against you, should you adopt the same strategy?
Sub-minimum responses are gaining popularity in part because they're so disruptive. They use up bidding space, which makes it more difficult for the opponents to find their best contract, and they often cause the opponents to misjudge their combined strength.
The downside is that ultra-weak responses can also mislead partner and
propel your auction too high. If partner opens 1C and you respond 1S with
♠J653 ♥Q74 ♦8763 ♣J2
the odds of a good result may depend on the opponents' bidding. If they pass, your best hope is that partner has four spades and raises only to 2S -- and that you don't go down more than two tricks (or one trick if vulnerable).
If you want to take advantage of the obstructive potential of light
responses, it's best to have a constructive purpose, too. One goal is to find a
better partscore. Another is to get to a short-point game. Either is a
possibility if partner opens 1C and you respond 1S with
♠K10932 ♥5 ♦8642 ♣743
If partner raises spades to any level, you expect to make your contract. Over a notrump rebid, you can get to a spade partscore. If he rebids anything else, your dummy won't be a total disappointment. And if it happens to be the opponents' hand for a heart partscore or game, your bold bid will force them to start looking for it at a higher level -- or perhaps silence them.
A weak response may also be justified when you're desperate to get partner
out of his suit. If he opens 1S, you might consider a forcing 1NT with
♠Void ♥1065 ♦Q1082 ♣986543
You've made a great decision if partner rebids 2C, 2D or 2H. On a bad day, he'll raise notrump or bid more spades and you've turned a bad contract into a terrible one, but that's a gamble you were willing to take.
When considering a new-suit or 1NT response with a sub-minimum, look for a good combination of these conditions:
Partner opened in first seat. A light response loses its preemptive value if both opponents have already passed.
You're short in the suit partner opened.
If partner makes a forcing-to-game rebid, you won't feel compelled to pass. Your hand should have some redeeming feature -- a 5+-card suit, two suits, a king.
At IMPs, you're vulnerable with length in one or both majors. A stretch may be worth the risk if there's a chance of making a vulnerable game. Even better is when the opponents are also vulnerable, as they'll be cautious about bidding over your response.
At matchpoints, you're not vulnerable. If you're red and don't find a fit (or even if you do), you may be destined for minus 200, which is a worse score at matchpoints than at IMPs.
Partner and the opponents know your style. If you routinely respond with 0 to 4 points, you should alert.
You have system tools to describe weak responses. Wolff signoffs (used after opener's jump rebid to 2NT) will allow you to stop at three of a suit.
Most important, there should be a possibility of getting a plus score -- ideally, a better one than if partner's one-bid is passed out. If your only intention is to hoodwink the opponents, responding with garbage will be a losing strategy in the long run.
© 2012 Karen Walker