The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (February 2013)

10.  They allow their opponents to make mistakes. 

One of the toughest problems you can give your opponents is a well-judged sacrifice bid. A "good" save (the doubled penalty will be less than their making game) will sometimes put them in a can't-win situation. In other cases, they may have a winning action but will guess wrong.

The "bad" varieties of sacrifices -- and there are many -- are a frequent source of gifts to opponents. Two of the most common were discussed in previous issues: the solo sacrifice, made with little or no information about partner's hand, and the phantom, made before or after the opponents bid a game they couldn't make. To increase the chances that it will be the them making errors instead of you, there are several other types of sacrifices you should try to avoid.

The delayed sacrifice:  When you judge that your hand is worth a sacrifice, it's important to raise to the maximum level right away. Suppose partner opens 3D, your RHO passes and you hold
  J83   10853   AJ1062 .    

Dwellers in Fantasyland will pass in the faint hope that partner will be allowed to play 3D. If not, they reason they can always bid 5D later.

What happens in real life is that LHO always bids, his partner responds, and they have a good idea of their combined strength and trump fit before the 5D bid finally hits the table. They're more likely to get the bid-or-double decision right because they didn't have to deal with the pressure of an immediate 5D.

The re-sacrifice: With the hand above, an advance sacrifice bid of 5D stands out at equal or favorable vulnerability. If the opponents now bid five of a major, though, you have to resist the temptation to push again.

There are some hands where they can make exactly 5S and you'll be down only two or three in 6D, but you can't be  certain of that layout. On most deals, your best strategy is to bid to the level you think is right, then bow out. Be satisfied that you made them start describing their hands at the five-level and hopeful that they landed in the wrong contract.

The turbo sacrifice:  At favorable vulnerability, 6D could be the optimum preempt with the hand above. Taking the auction that high, though, can defeat your purpose, which is to force the opponents into an uncomfortable guess. To get the ideal result (a plus score), you have to give them choices and room to make the wrong one.

Choosing the level for an advance sacrifice is part arithmetic (counting losers and trumps to determine what's "safe") and part psychology. You want to bid high enough to give the opponents a problem, but not so high that they'll just refuse to take your bait. In general, they may be willing to take a risk at the five-level to keep you from stealing the deal, but they'll seldom let themselves be bullied at the six-level. They're much more likely to decide that their only option is to double and take the sure plus.

Another concern is that 6D is one level higher than the field will bid with your cards. Even if your opponents can make 5H or 5S, the contract at most other tables may well be 5D doubled, so you're spotting the field an extra 200 points.

The self-sacrifice:  The original preempter should never make the sacrifice decision. If you open 3D and partner raises to 5D, you must pass for the rest of the auction, no matter how unusual your hand.

Once you push them, don't let them push you, especially when you don't know how much defense partner has. If the opponents bid 5S and you sacrifice higher with 6D, you've essentially allowed them to compete risk-free -- and probably earned an eye-roll from your partner.  

   2013   Karen Walker