The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (August 2012)

10.  They allow their opponents to make mistakes. 

One way to induce bidding errors by your opponents is to put the pressure on early, before they've exchanged  information. Opening preempts are the most common tactic, but opportunities also arise when partner opens, your RHO passes and you hold a weak, "non-responding" hand.

Last month, we looked at the types of hands where it can be good strategy to make a new-suit response with fewer than six points. Responding light is even more attractive when you hold support for opener's major because a raise consumes more space, with more safety. Here are tips for evaluating sub-minimum hands and deciding if, and how high, you should raise:   

Have at least six (or a "good" five) support points for a single raise. Use the standard method for counting distribution points (Void=3, Singleton=2, Doubleton=1). Add one point for a fourth trump. 

Don't stretch if your only ruffing value is one doubleton. Be conservative with 4333, 4432 and 5332 patterns, even if you have four or more trumps.

Don't over-value singletons and voids when you have only three trumps. A void isn't really worth three points -- and certainly not the five points advised by some counting schemes -- unless you have extra trump length.  

Check the vulnerability. Construct some possible hands for partner and count losers. Choose a pass if your raise is likely to result in minus 200 (undoubled) opposite a typical minimum opener.

With borderline hands, focus on your trump strength. With Qxx or better, evaluate "up". 

Be most aggressive when vulnerable at IMPs. At matchpoints, it's important to secure a plus score, even if it's 170. At IMPs, the big rewards come from bidding and making close (40-percent or better) games.

Always consider the possibility that you'll be misleading partner, not preempting the opponents. After one opponent has passed, there's a good chance partner has extra strength and the other opponent has no interest in entering the auction. Your hand should offer some hope for surviving partner's game try or jump to game.  

Consider adding methods that distinguish between weak and constructive single raises. A popular agreement is that a direct raise is constructive (8-10 support points). To show a weaker raise, start with a forcing 1NT, then "retreat" to partner's major at your next turn.

What's your call with these hands after partner opens 1S and your RHO passes?   

 ♠754   J8632   Q8   Q64 ?
   Pass if vulnerable at matchpoints. No matter how you count it, this is only five points with awful trumps. Opposite a 14-point opener -- AJ963  Q7 A76  K83 -- 2S rates to go down two. Not vulnerable at matchpoints, a 2S bid may be worth the risk for its obstructive value. Vulnerable at IMPs, consider making a "courtesy raise" to cater to partner holding a big hand that will make game.

 ♠J85   5   K10972   8765 ?
   Respond 2S. The singleton may not be worth a full two points, but this is a good 5-6 support points with decent trumps and a side suit that could take several tricks. If 2S goes down, the opponents can probably make a partscore or game, which may be difficult to find after your space-eating raise.   

 ♠KJ107   1098   753   654 ?
   Respond 2S. The strong trumps call for action and, if you need another excuse to bid, the heart spots could be helpful. Those who play Bergen raises might try a preemptive 3S, but the flat distribution is a big liability. This hand has more losers than most single raises, so call it three-card support and bid just 2S.   

 ♠J10765   854   K64   Q3 ?
   Respond 2S. Resist the temptation to preempt to game level with semi-balanced hands. Even with five-card support, this isn't worth more than seven support points, and the Q3 is a dubious value.

   2012   Karen Walker