The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (October 2012)

10.  They allow their opponents to make mistakes. 

    LHO    Partner    RHO     You    
     1C          1H          DBL         ?   

Not vulnerable at matchpoints, what's your call holding
   (1)  53   J1095   KQ72   1093  ?

Good advice for competitive auctions is to raise to the maximum level right away when you find a fit. The Law of Total Tricks suggests that the "safe" level is equal to your combined number of trumps. With a 9-card fit, you're usually willing to bid to the 9-trick level.

On this deal, you can be fairly certain you won't be allowed to play 2H. Since you expect to be pushed to the 3-level later, your strategy is to get there immediately, before the opponents can exchange more information about their strength and trump fit.

The most popular agreement here is that a jump raise is weak and a cuebid (2C) shows at least invitational values. That might convince you to bid 3H, which gives partner a fairly accurate picture of your trump length and point count. It's not, however, the best description of where your high cards are.

The problem is that you would also bid 3H with
   (2)  53   KJ95   J10743   93

Like the first hand, this has four trumps, nine losers and minimum point-count. The big difference is that Hand (1) has tricks outside the trump suit and is therefore not really a weak preempt. If you bid 3H with both of these hand types, partner will always be guessing about your defensive strength.

Suppose you raise to 3H and the opponents bid 4S. If partner holds a hand such as
   A64  AQ7643   65   K4 ,
he'll be wondering who can make what. Is their 4S a sacrifice over our making 4H? Or should we be sacrificing? If partner could be sure you had the weaker preempt (2), then 4S is probably making and a 5H sacrifice could be profitable, even at equal vulnerability. If you hold (1), though, he'd like his chances of beating 4S.   

You'll have the most success with jump raises if you reserve them for hands that are "classic" preempts -- extra trumps and good playing strength, but no outside ace or king (Hand 2). That agreement requires that you find a different way to describe Hand (1).

One alternative is to raise to 2H, then take the push to 3H. That will tell partner you have constructive values, but it gives LHO more room to describe his hand. Over 2H, he can bid a comfortable 2S or 3C with a minimum -- or cuebid 3H or jump to 3S to show extra values -- and leave his partner well-placed to make later decisions.

If you want to create opportunities for your opponents to make mistakes, you need to be able to bump the auction to the 3-level with both of these responding hands. One way to do that and still distinguish between the two hand types is to add a simple convention called the "mixed raise", which is a jump cuebid of opener's suit (3C in the auction above).

This jump shows more than a preempt but less than a limit raise -- a hand similar to (1) with four trumps and at least one outside trick. It's usually around 6-8 high-card points. As long as you can jump to the 3-level, the mixed raise can be used anytime your opponent opens and partner overcalls.

Many experts advise that you can't have too many ways to raise partner. The more specific the meaning of each bid, the better the chances that the opponents will be doing the guessing, not partner. By adding the mixed raise, you'll always be able to quickly take the auction to the 3-level when you have extra trumps, and your partner will find it easier to avoid taking "phantom" sacrifices.

   2012   Karen Walker