The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (July 2014)

11.  They visualize the play. 


     You         Partner
      1S             2H   (Forcing to game)
      3H            3S

What's your call holding   ♠AKQJ8  654  Q764   ♣6 ?

You've found what appears to be a 5-3 fit in each major. It's possible that partner has slam values, but for now, you should assume that he just wants to know which game you prefer.

When you hold equal fits, the typical way to make a choice-of-games decision is to evaluate your honor strength in the two suits. The disparity here is so great that raising to 4S may seem obvious. Before you bid, though, it's important to remember that your goal is to find the better contract, not just the stronger trump suit.

To assess your hand's trick-taking potential, consider how the play might go in each contract. If partner has good high-card strength, it may not matter which game you play. If you had more outside tricks and your main concern was trump losers, 4S would be safer. Your decision is more critical when partner has values as slim as yours. A game that's short on high-card strength may need to develop extra trump tricks, so focus your thinking on that scenario.

The opponents will usually lead their longer, stronger minor after this auction, making a club lead likely. If you declare and partner holds a minimum such as  ♠654  AK872  A3  ♣J105, a club continuation and a 4-1 trump break will doom 4S. Even with a 3-2 break, a diamond switch through your Q may do just as much damage.

In spite of -- and because of -- your weak hearts, 4H rates to be a better contract. In hearts, the club ruffs will be extra tricks since they're coming from the short-trump hand. Partner doesn't even need to run five spades to score ten tricks. With a 3-2 heart break, he can take four hearts, three spades, one diamond and two club ruffs in dummy. If trumps are 4-1, he may go down, but that heart division would also set 4S on many deals.

You can apply the same principle when your hand has equal length in two potential trump suits. Suppose partner shows 5-5 in the majors and you hold  ♠KQJ  652  6  ♣Q108643 . If he needs to ruff a diamond loser -- or if the opponents force dummy with diamond leads -- it may be important to play in hearts. If you choose spades and partner's suit is ♠A9765, every ruff could set up another trump trick for the defense.

With no shortness -- ♠KQJ  652  643  ♣Q1086 -- your trumps won't be scored separately, so you'll want to choose the suit with stronger support. 

The Vondracek Effect

It sounds like the title of a "Big Bang Theory" episode, but it's actually the name given to the theory about the advantages of playing in the weaker of two equal-length fits. It was advanced by Felix Vondracek in a 1956 Bridge World series titled "The Weaker Suit For Trumps". 

Vondracek proposed that even the hand with longer trumps should sometimes adopt this strategy. Suppose, for example, that you hold  ♠A8765  AKQJ10  AKQ  ♣Void  opposite  ♠432  432  432  ♣5432 . Assuming 3-2 breaks in both majors, which game do you want to play?

Repeated club leads will set 4H because you'll lose control of trumps before you can establish spades. In 4S, though, you'll make 11 tricks. All you have to do is duck a spade, cash the ♠A and then lead hearts.

Like most bidding advice, this doesn't apply to every decision of this type. To judge when it does, you have to make good guesses about how the play will develop. In general, if you foresee the need to use your trumps as ruffing tricks, think of the Vondracek Effect and consider playing in the suit where those tricks can be taken with small trumps, not honors.

   2014   Karen Walker