The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders     (March 2006)

Bidding theory is evolving so rapidly that it seems there’s no limit to the number of gadgets you can add to your system. There’s a certain comfort in having agreements for every auction and hand type, but too much science can backfire. If you define your system bids in too much detail, your at-the-table decisions can become more a test of your memory than your analytic skills.

The most successful pairs build enough flexibility into their agreements to allow them to use their judgment. The habit they share is:

    5.  They are not slaves to their systems.

There’s a fine line between “too rigid” and “too loose” when defining your conventions. The more requirements you impose on a bid, the less often you’ll be able to use it, so it’s important to find a balance between accuracy and frequency.

Over-defining weak two-bids

The weak two-bid is a convention whose usefulness has improved through these tradeoffs.  The “old-school” definition of an acceptable weak two was exactly six cards with two of the top three honors, no void, no four-card major and no more than one ace or king outside. Some purists even specified no three-card major.

Today’s players aren’t willing to wait for that perfect hand. Most pairs retain a semi-constructive nature for their first- and second-seat two-bids, but they’ve loosened the requirements so more hands qualify. They evaluate their hands, the vulnerability, the position -- even their opponents – to decide when to stretch or ignore the old guidelines.

The modern approach is that a weak two can have a side void or major (or even both) if the rest of the hand and the conditions are right. Few experts would have any qualms about opening 2S with  QJ10963  10654  Void  K83 .

Split-range Michaels

Many pairs play a version of Michaels called “split-range”, where the cuebid is used only with weak or strong hands. With intermediate strength (around 10 to 16 points), they start with a suit overcall, planning to bid the other suit later.

The cuebid auctions offer a more accurate way to show your point count. The downside is that when you hold the mid-range hand, you won’t always be able to show your distribution. Playing split-range, if your RHO opens 1H, you would overcall 1S with  Q10865  K4  AKJ93 . 

If the opponents bid up to 3H or 4H, you can no longer safely show this two-suiter. Partner could have the right hand for a club sacrifice (even a game), but he doesn’t have a good picture of your playing strength, so he’s not involved in the decision.

In competitive auctions, your distribution will usually be more important information for partner than your high-card strength. If you like split-range Michaels, keep it as a guideline, but allow exceptions with awkward mid-range hands like the one above. Overcaller should have the flexibility to decide whether it’s wiser to make a natural overcall or show a two-suiter immediately.

Limited splinter bids

The splinter -- a double jump in a new suit -- is one of the most descriptive ways to raise partner. It shows slam-try values, strong trump support and a specific singleton or void, which allows partner to evaluate his holding in your short suit. 

Some pairs narrow this description to include only hands with 13 to 15 playing points. This restriction offers advantages in some situations, but it can also force you into clumsy, complex auctions when you hold the stronger raise. If you play limited splinters and partner opens 1S, you can’t bid 4C with  Q1042  AJ103  AKJ6  5  because it values to 17 or 18 support points.

If you instead start with 2D, it will be just about impossible to convince partner your trumps are this long and your clubs are this short. A Jacoby 2NT response may locate opener’s singleton, but that’s not much help. If partner shows diamond shortness, you still won’t know if his outside honors are in clubs or hearts.

The splinter is such a simple, valuable bidding tool that many partnerships hesitate to add any requirement that reduces opportunities to use it. Whether you play limited or unlimited splinters, consider building a little leeway into your definition. If you decide that showing a singleton is the clearest way to describe your values and playing strength – and if you have a plan for your follow-up bids – your system should give you the freedom to use your judgment and make the bid that gives partner the best information.

©  2006  Karen Walker