The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (June 2014)

11.  They visualize the play. 


In past issues, we've looked at how to take advantage of "pattern bidding" to give partner an almost-perfect picture of your distribution.  There are many uses, but the most common is by an opener who has the opportunity to make natural bids in three suits. A typical auction:

    Partner       You        
      1D              1H 
      2C              2D
      2H                ?

As responder, you now have to communicate your preference for strain and level of the final contract. You can start with the assumptions that partner has 1-3-5-4 distribution -- possibly 0-3-5-5 or 0-3-6-4 -- and extra values (a good 14 to 16 high-card points). From there, your thinking should focus not just on your fits and combined strength, but on your expectations of how the play might develop in various contracts. 

Here are some tips for evaluating your options after partner makes a pattern bid:

With a minimum response (6-8 points), choose the safest partscore.  Partner's pattern bid is not forcing, so you can pass in the auction above if you judge 2H to be a reasonable spot. With 3+ diamonds and four weak hearts, though, you'll probably do better in partner's long suit, especially if you have a ruffing value. Your retreat to 3D will end the auction. All other bids, including 2NT, show interest in game.

Try to predict the opening lead. By "patterning out", partner has provided valuable information to you and your opponents, and they'll put it to good use. If you play in partner's suit, they may try a forcing defense by leading spades to shorten his trumps. If you declare a heart contract, a spade lead will be their last choice. Most often, they'll lead trumps to cut down on spade ruffs in dummy.

Be wary of notrump. You won't have to think too long about what opening lead is coming when you choose a notrump contract. Unless you have good fillers in partner's long suits, you'll seldom want to suggest notrump with just one stopper in his short suit. You can't count on two stoppers from ♠QJxx or even ♠KQxx, so don't stretch too far to bid 2NT. Assume that partner's singleton is a small card, not an honor.

Don't overvalue partner's shortness. Partner's bidding should give you a good idea of what line of play might be successful in different contracts. If you declare hearts, be conservative in estimating how many ruffing tricks you can score with dummy's three trumps. The expected trump lead will remove one potential spade ruff (or more, if they win and continue) and you'll have to give up the lead again if you don't have the ♠A.

When planning on ruffs, look at your entries. After you trump a spade in dummy, you'll need to cross to your hand -- usually with an ace or king -- to negotiate a second ruff. Quick entries will also be required if you envision a full or partial cross-ruff.

Focus on your holding in partner's first two suits. Partner's singleton limits your immediate losers in that suit, but it doesn't offer many winners. The more important features of his hand are his two long suits, and developing tricks in one or both will be critical if you hope to make a game. Upgrade your hand when you have honors, high or low, in partner's suits. Downgrade with low honors in his short suit.

If you're considering a 4-3 fit:  A "Moysian" partscore can be a good spot when you have decent trumps and opener has some quick tricks. Even with a weak hand, you may scramble to a plus score by cashing outside tricks, taking a few ruffs in each hand and then a natural trump trick or two.

At the game level, though, you need more tricks from the side suits, so your success often depends on trump control and perfect timing. A common line of play is to establish a side suit first, draw some but not all of the trumps, then run the long suit and pitch losers while the opponents ruff in.

You may want to consider a Moysian game when you have solid values, honors in partner's long suits and the "right" trump fit. You'd like to have strong trumps in the 4-card hand, but holding the top honors, especially the ace, is more important for controlling when and how often trumps are led. A trump fit of A432 opposite K65 may be all you need to score up +620 when the field is going down in 3NT. 

   2014   Karen Walker