The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders    (November 2006) 

5.  They are not slaves to their systems.  (Part 9)

If there’s such a thing as a bidding “commandment”, near the top of the tablet – right after “Trust thy partner” – must be:

    Thou shalt not conceal thy four-card major.

Even those who dislike “always” and “never” rules seldom stray from this one. Finding major-suit fits is so important that showing four-card majors takes priority for low-level responses and opener’s rebids.

As with most bridge rules, though, this one isn’t written in stone. There are several situations where concealing a major rates to be the most successful strategy for responder. 

One-level responses

“Up-the-line” used to be the standard advice for responding four-card suits at the one-level. That gave way to a preference for skipping a diamond suit and bidding the cheaper major, especially with weaker responding hands.

With rare hands, it can be tempting to bypass a major, too. If partner opens 1C, you might judge to respond 1NT with  10654  KJ4  K103  J102 .

Is this good bridge or just hand hogging? The flat distribution, tenaces and weak spades argue for a notrump contract -- and 1NT is an easy response for partner to handle -- so there’s good logic behind the choice. Your decision probably won’t matter on those hands where partner doesn’t have four spades, but if his hand is  exactly 4-3-3-3, you’re a hero. If he has four spades and a ruffing value, you may be a goat, so consider the risks carefully.

On more than sixty percent of all deals, opener’s distribution will be 4432, 5332, 5431 or 5422. A priori, he’ll hold a 4333 pattern only about ten percent of the time. The 1C opening eliminates all those distributions where the 5-card suit is diamonds, hearts or spades (and some where the 4-card suit is diamonds), but the specific 4-3-3-3 hand still isn't a heavy favorite.

If it’s ever right to bypass a major in this situation, this is the perfect hand for it, but if it doesn’t work out, you can’t claim you were unlucky.

Stayman decisions

When partner opens 1NT, you have a do-you-or-don’t-you choice about using Stayman with flat hands like  AJ95  K105  Q76  1092 .

You’re 4333, but partner probably isn’t, so if you have a 4-4 spade fit, it’s likely he has a ruffing value. A good guideline for these decisions is to eschew Stayman only when you have extra values (a good 12 points or more). With this 10-point hand, it’s probably better to seek the safety of a trump suit, so bid 2C.

However, change the hand to  A954  KJ5  QJ7  Q109  and a direct raise to 3NT is more attractive. Your hand is stronger, your spades are weaker and you have honors in all suits.

Competitive decisions

Bypassing majors in competitive auctions is more common -- and often easier to justify -- because you have more information. After 1C by partner, 1Son your right, you could make a negative double with  KJ83  K654  1064 Q3 .

A better option, though, is 1NT. The spade stoppers are a more compelling feature of your hand than the 4-card heart suit. When in doubt, suggest a final contract.

The same logic applies when advancing partner’s takeout double. After 1D - DBL - Pass, you have a dilemma with  Q653  KJ7  QJ92  106 .  1S is a bit of an underbid with 9 points, but a jump to 2S seems too much with such weak spades and only six “working” points. 1NT is the only bid that accurately shows your strength, and it’s the only contract where the diamond honors rate to be of value.

The lure of notrump isn’t the only justification for bypassing a major. Suppose partner opens 1D, RHO overcalls 1H, and you hold
     9764  KJ864  Q102

A light negative double seems to be the “book” bid, but you probably have only one bid coming in this auction, so you want to make it as helpful as possible. An immediate, weak jump to 3D emphasizes the main feature of your hand, suggests a final contract, preempts the opponents and allows partner to make all further  decisions.

Next: Opener’s rebids with 4-card majors

©  2006 Karen Walker