The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (April 2013)

10.  They allow their opponents to make mistakes. 

  LHO     Partner    RHO     You 
    3S         Pass         Pass        ?

Vulnerable vs. not at matchpoints, what's your call holding  Q43   KQ754   10   AQJ9 ?

There are two different approaches to solving this type of problem:

(1) When the opponents are being aggressive, we need to be aggressive, too, especially at this vulnerability. Letting them play 3S will surely be a bad result for us, so desperate measures are called for. If I pass, partner could have  [insert perfect hand for making a game ] and we'll get a zero.

(2) When the opponents are being aggressive, we need to be careful. Letting them play 3S will probably get us a small plus score, which could be a decent result. If I bid, partner could have [ insert weak misfit hand ] and we'll turn that small plus into a big minus and get a zero.

Those who agree with the logic in (1) feel they have no choice but to muster up a 4H or 3NT overcall. Those who follow the thinking in (2) will concede that the opponents might be stealing from them, but they refuse to be bullied into an overbid. Which approach rates to be more successful?

Bidding or passing could be right on any given deal, but in the long run, you'll hang onto more matchpoints and IMPs if you forego heroics in situations like this one. Good bridge players hate being forced into blind guesses. That's why you'll often hear them repeat the old adage "Get fixed, stay fixed" to explain why they made a conservative decision in a competitive auction.

This advice means that when the opponents "fix" you with a well-judged preempt or other obstructive bid, you sometimes have to accept that they have the advantage. In these situations, your goal is to salvage what you can by finding a reasonable contract, not necessarily the perfect one. With the hand above, passing 3S may not get you the optimal result, but it's a sensible action that will probably be chosen at other tables.

The concept of "staying fixed" doesn't always involve letting the opponents declare. It may take the form of an underbid.

  RHO      You      LHO    Partner 
    3D        Pass      Pass      DBL
    Pass        ?

None vulnerable at matchpoints, what's your call holding   Q103   J64   J3   AK764 ?

When this hand was dealt in a regional pairs game, the field came up with several creative advances. Some went for the big score by jumping to 5C or passing the double for penalties. A handful of 3H and 3S bidders were determined to play in a major, even if it was a 4-3 (perhaps a 3-3) fit. The most aggressive went for the game bonus, too, by cuebidding 4D (pick a major).

The winning action was the unexciting bid of 4C. That may seem an underbid with 11 points, but there are plenty of reasons to be cautious with this hand -- the balanced pattern, the soft honors outside clubs, the possibility that partner may be a bit light for his balance in the passout seat.

One of the strongest arguments for being conservative, though, is that when you have this much strength, you can't afford to be preempted into a minus score. Since you can't tell if partner has a 12-point stretch or a 16-point perfecto -- and you don't have room to show him your strength -- don't let the opponents pressure you into guessing. When in doubt, accept the "fix" and protect your plus score at matchpoints, even if it's +150.

   2013   Karen Walker