The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders    (April 2006)

5.  They are not slaves to their systems.  (Part 2)

One measure of a convention’s value is its potential frequency. The more flexibility you can build into your system bids, the more often they’ll occur – and the more freedom you’ll have to use your judgment about when they apply.

Judgment is just as important in your decision not to use a convention. The most successful partnerships avoid building too many “always” and “never” rules into their agreements, and they resist the temptation to trot out a convention just because it’s on the card.

Support doubles

One convention that suffers from overuse is the support double. This popular agreement  allows opener to show three cards in responder’s major, as in:

     You      LHO      Partner   RHO
      1C       Pass         1H          1S

If RHO doubles, Redouble carries the same meaning. Opener’s direct raise promises four-card support, and any other action shows two or fewer cards in partner’s suit.

Many players believe opener must double or redouble any time he holds three cards in partner’s suit, and they use the word “denies” when explaining opener’s other actions. A better approach is to give opener more discretion and agree that his failure to double or redouble tends to deny support.

One problem with the support double is that it communicates only one feature of your hand. With limited information, responder is sometimes forced to rebid his suit with only four-card length. That can make it difficult to evaluate other contracts, so if you have a more descriptive alternative, that should take priority over the double.

This can be especially important when opener has a strong hand. In the auction above, if you hold:

K103  AQJ4  AKQ87 -- Show your extra values with a reverse to 2D. You can continue by supporting hearts at your next turn and give partner a full picture of your strength and distribution.

AQ9  Q86  Q104  AKJ7 -- Jump to 2NT to show your point-count and balanced pattern. If partner has five hearts, he has room to check back for three-card support.

Even some minimum openers should reject the support double and choose a more natural call. In the auction above, if you hold

J102  KQ  AQ108765 -- Bid 2C. A support double hides the strongest feature of your hand and risks having partner pass for penalties.

AQ10  Q65  K92  QJ106 -- Bid 1NT. This hand is screaming notrump, and this may be your last chance to suggest that strain. This isn’t a good dummy for a 4-3 fit, but that’s where you may land if you double.

Michaels & Unusual 2NT

Over the years, countless declarers have benefited from their opponents’ indiscriminate use of these two-suited overcalls. They can be very effective when your hand the conditions are right, but they can also work against you.

Discretion is called for if you have weak suits, if it’s equal or unfavorable vulnerability, and if neither of your suits is spades. Here’s a typical “danger” hand:
    K9742   Q10   Q10543

With none vulnerable, your RHO opens 1S. You have the right strength and distribution for the weak variety of Michaels (a 2S overcall showing hearts and a minor), and that’s enough to talk many players into making a non-vul cuebid. If you consider all the reasons not to bid, though, you should find it easy to pass.

Suit quality is the most obvious flaw. Your suits are so weak that even a three-level contract may be a disaster, and about the last thing you want to hear from partner is a five-level sacrifice, especially at this vulnerability.

Probably the most compelling argument against bidding is that even when you do find a decent fit, you probably won’t buy the contract. If your opponents have a game, your interference won’t talk them out of it. If they don’t, they have the master suit and can easily outbid you (or take a penalty, if that’s their choice). Either way, all your overcall rates to do is tell declarer how to play the hand.

Law of Total Tricks

After an 800 set, how many times have you heard, “I had to bid it, partner. It was a ‘Law’ bid!”? More about this in the next issue.

©  2006 Karen Walker