The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (February 2014)

11.  They visualize the play. 


What type of hand do you expect partner to hold in this auction? 

   Partner      You    
     1D             1H
     1S              1NT
     2H               ? 

Even if you haven't discussed this sequence, you can make some logical assumptions about partner's distribution and general strength. He should have exactly 3-card heart support and an unbalanced hand, which means he has a singleton (possibly a void) in clubs. His most likely distribution 4-3-5-1. With a more balanced hand, he would pass or raise your 1NT rebid.

Partner's 2H is commonly called a "pattern bid". It's a rebid that identifies length in the bid suit and therefore confirms shortness in another suit.

This bidding strategy comes with some risk, as there's no guarantee you have a good fit, so the pattern bid should promise some extra values. Partner needs enough strength to handle your escape to another contract or to survive what could be a weak 4-3 fit. Count on him to hold a good 14 to around 16 high-card points for this auction -- a hand such as  ♠AJ65   K82   AK987   ♣3.

Partner was willing to push a bit with this hand because it offers a good chance of finding a better partscore or even a game. By "patterning out", he's put you in a good position to evaluate those contracts. Your near-perfect picture of partner's distribution tells you where your fits are, which of your honors are working and where your tricks might come from. It also gives you clues about how the opponents will defend and how the play may develop. 

Partner's pattern bid in the auction above is encouraging but not forcing, so you're free to pass 2H. You may be inclined to do that with a weak hand such as  ♠K2   J765   J63   ♣Q865. Playing a 4-3 fit isn't ideal, but you hope  to manufacture extra tricks by ruffing your small clubs with partner's trumps.

The problem with that plan is that the opponents listened to the auction, too, and can predict the same line of play. If you pass 2H, expect them to lead trumps to cut down on dummy's ruffing power. After the first three tricks, you could be left with no trumps in dummy and four club losers in your hand.

The other liability is your weak trump suit. Even if partner has strong support -- KQ10, for example -- ruffing with honors will create extra trump tricks for the opponents. If you instead try to pull trumps, the opponents can hold off their ace until dummy's trumps are gone, then take their club tricks.

A better choice with this hand is a retreat to 3D, which partner will pass. There's more safety in diamonds, where you know you have at least an 8-card fit and a potentially helpful ruffing value. A possible line of play will be for partner to ruff a spade or two in your hand, pull trumps and then work on building a heart trick.

Partner's 2H rebid will pay the biggest dividends when he catches you with a "maximum minimum" such as  ♠K2   A9765   Q4   ♣10865. This hand is worth a jump to 4H because it has extra heart length, no wasted club honors and -- perhaps most important -- honors in partner's suits.

With this hand, you're ready for trump leads because you don't need to rely on club ruffs as a source of tricks. Dummy's singleton may provide a ruffing trick or two, but its main value is that it limits your club losers early in the play. Your expected line of play will be to draw some or all of the trumps, then set up tricks in spades and diamonds to provide club pitches from your hand.

There are many other situations where pattern bids can provide good clues about how the play will develop in various contracts you're considering. More about these in the next issue.

   2014   Karen Walker