The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (December 2012)

10.  They allow their opponents to make mistakes. 

  You     LHO    Partner    RHO
    1D      DBL      Pass        4S

Not vulnerable vs. vulnerable opponents, what's your call holding
   ♠Void   J5   K96534   AK1087  ?

In the previous issue, we looked at some of the types of auctions that can goad players into making rash sacrifice bids. The most common are when both partnerships have found trump fits, but the impulse can also strike when you hold a hand like the one above. The old adage "Six-five, come alive" may pop into your head and talk you into the idea that partner could have a fit.

A 5C bid here is a solo sacrifice, made without partner's input, and it's defensible only if it works. For that to happen, their game must be making and partner must have good support for one of your suits, ideally with a filler or two. If he holds a routine hand such as
   J1083  Q942   J2   654 
the doubled penalty could be huge. Even if you escape for minus 500, it will be a poor score because 4S was probably going down.

Another type of solo sacrifice can occur after you've already described your hand. It's widely regarded as a "bridge sin" to preempt, then make a sacrifice bid. Even if partner has raised your suit, he's in charge of all high-level decisions. Here's a similar offense:  

   Partner     RHO     You     LHO 
      1S           Pass        2S        3H
     Pass          4H           ?

You hold:  10654   62   J10853   KQ 

Some players will be tempted to bid again, arguing that the fourth spade is an undisclosed value and 4S "has to be" a good sacrifice.

The extra trump would justify stretching to compete at one level higher than your high-card values (3S), but not two levels. With partner showing a minimum opener, 4S will surely go down and you have no strong evidence that 4H will make. Your auction forced LHO to start describing his hand at the three-level, and he might have taken a risk with little more than a strong suit. When in doubt, go for the possible plus score instead of the sure minus. 

Psychological factors can sometimes cloud your bridge judgment in these situations. When the opponents seem happy with their contract, it's natural to want to push them out of it. Fast, confident auctions may convince you they've found the perfect spot and you're destined for a poor score no matter what you do. That idea can be reinforced by subtle clues you pick up from their tempo or body language. The bridge laws specify that any inferences you draw from the opponents' mannerisms are "at your own risk", but it's difficult to ignore them.

Solo sacrifices and other unilateral actions tend to erode partnership trust. Still, there will be situations where you have no choice. Suppose your RHO opens 4S and you hold
   ♠Void   AJ98642   KJ103   A3 

It's unlikely that partner will be able to bid in the passout seat, so the pressure is on you to make the best guess for the partnership. Whatever the vulnerability, a bold 5H overcall could be a disaster, as could defending 4S.

There are important differences between this situation and the first two examples. In those auctions, the sacrifice you were considering was an all-or-nothing proposition, depending largely on whether the opponents could make their game. Here, though, you have two ways to win: 5H could be a good sacrifice over their cold 4S, or it could make. With those odds -- along with the fear of feeling like a total pushover for passing -- it has to be right to bid the "unilateral" 5H.

   2012   Karen Walker