The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (November 2012)

10.  They allow their opponents to make mistakes. 

There’s an old joke that's often repeated in auctions similar to this one (East-West vulnerable):

    West     North    East    South  
     1H        1S        4H

West alerts his partner’s 4H bid, and when asked, explains it as “Transfer to 4S”.  If South looks perplexed, West adds, “By you.”

The reference is to the widespread proclivity for taking "four-over-four" sacrifices. There's a natural tendency to exploit your advantage when you hold the master suit, so it's tempting to try 4S with
   ♠9743   63   K62   J874  

Some players believe it's virtually automatic to "complete the transfer" and bid 4S with this hand. They can cite several reasons: You have a spade fit that partner doesn't know about, the vulnerability is right, maybe you can push them to 5H, it's just downright cowardly to let them play 4H.

This all presumes that the opponents are making 4H and that they can't profitably double you in 4S, neither of which is a given. East showed a distributional raise with limited high-card values, not game-forcing strength. For all you know, partner has the best hand at the table and 4H was a sacrifice over your spade partscore. If your side can actually make 4S, partner will probably have enough to reopen with a double when 4H is passed back to him.

There's also a danger that your sacrifice will give the opponents a bigger plus score than their game is worth. Even if partner has a singleton heart (not guaranteed), 4S doubled could go down four (minus 800). Count your possible losers opposite a typical minimum overcall such as
   ♠AJ865    7   953   Q62 

Try to estimate the number of tricks you might take on defense, too. Note that you have chances to beat 4H if partner holds this hand.

It's true that you have to be willing to take some risks to keep your opponents from playing "easy" vulnerable games, but it's important to resist being stampeded into rash sacrifices. Here are some tips for making these decisions:

 ©  2012   Karen Walker