In previous issues, we've discussed how to make the best use of preempts to force your opponents into uncomfortable (and, you hope, wrong) guesses. Success with these tactics requires good judgment, a willingness to take reasonable risks and sometimes a bit of luck.
The same applies when you're on the receiving end of your opponents' preempts. There's always some danger in entering the auction over an opponent's bid, even if you're just making a one-level overcall. At higher levels, you have to make more careful decisions with borderline hands.
"Careful" doesn't necessarily mean conservative, as being too timid can cost just as many matchpoints or IMPs as being too aggressive. You don't want to let their preempt bully you into a rash bid, but you don't want to be a pushover, either.
After 2H on your right, what's your call holding
♠AQ86 ♥3 ♦J1043 ♣KJ72 ?
When holding light values, a deciding factor should be your holding in their trump suit. The hand with shortness is the one that should stretch to enter the auction, and if that's you, don't be afraid to value your hand "up".
Even with only 11 points, the perfect distribution makes this worth a takeout double. If you don't act now, you could be shut out of a good partscore or even a game. Partner rates to have moderate heart length, which means he's unlikely to act if 2H is passed around to him.
You don't need great strength for overcalls,
either, but if you're light in high cards, you should have a good suit. The
corollary is that when you do have a good hand, you may have to overcall a suit
of marginal quality. Over a weak 2H by RHO, bid 2S with
♠K8754 ♥A2 ♦J83 ♣KQJ
Although this isn't the suit you'd like for a two-level overcall, showing a five-card major is usually preferable to doubling, even when you have support for unbid suits. A takeout double risks losing a spade fit and landing in 3C or 3D in a 4-3 fit.
One test for a potential overcall is to imagine an ordinary (not perfect) 7 points in partner's hand. If that would give you a play for your contract, your hand is probably worth a bid.
When considering an aggressive action over a preempt, it's helpful to focus on not just what type of hand the bidder holds, but what the level tells you about his intent. In general:
Weak two-bids tend to be more structured and constructive than other preempts. If the bidder is in first or second seat, he's usually just as interested in describing his hand for partner as he is in interfering with your bidding.
Weak three-bids are "pure" preempts with a wider range of strengths and suit qualities. The bidder's goal is to obstruct your auction. He doesn't expect to make his contract and may hope he isn't left there.
4H and 4S openings are the least defined because they're based on freakish distributions. These may be two-way bids -- they're preemptive, but the bidder is often happy with his contract and hopeful that you'll pass. If he's vulnerable, he probably expects to make it.
These differences suggest that the least favorable conditions for stretching are after three-bids. If you have a good but not great hand, passing is likely to net you a small plus score. Bidding puts you at or near game level, so a "pushy" action is essentially a gamble that partner has helpful values.
Preempts at other levels offer more chances for successful competition. The lower level of a weak two provides some safety for a borderline bid or double and gives you room to explore for a game or partscore. The two-way nature of a four-bid also offers an extra way to win -- a bold action might get you to a making contract or a good sacrifice.
© 2013 Karen Walker