The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (August 2007)

7. They strive to be sensible, not brilliant.  (Part 1)

Here's an auction where you may -- or may not -- pick up subtle inferences from partner's calls. You hold:
    AJ1042  A75  52  Q63

   LHO  Partner  RHO   You
    1C      Pass       Pass     1S
   Pass     2D         Pass      ?

If you passed, as most would, you've landed in a 4-2 fit, as partner held  Q6  K1043  KQ102  J53 .

No, he didn't have a heart in with his diamonds. He chose 2D after indulging in some fairly complex reasoning:
    "Partner will know I have values to be advancing the auction, but that I don't have primary spade support. With a club stopper, I'd bid notrump, and with a 5-card diamond suit, I'd have overcalled 1D. Therefore, he should read me for a notrump-ish hand with 2 spades, 4 diamonds and probably 4 hearts."

His logic may make sense when he explains it later, but should you have gotten it right at the table? Or should partner have chosen a clearer, less "thoughtful" advance?

A good partner should realize that no matter insightful his analysis, it's unwise to act on it unless he expects you'll follow the same thought process. You won't normally be looking for deep inferences in such a simple auction, so partner shouldn't be surprised when you take 2D as exactly what it sounds like: a long suit.

That's the thinking that should have convinced partner to bid an imperfect but sensible 1NT. It's not nearly as clever as 2D, but it won't be misread and it rates to be a reasonable contract.

Brilliancies can backfire even when you believe you'll be able to clarify your strategy.

  South   West   North   East
    Pass     1H      DBL      2H

What's your call as South holding   QJ62  A10  763  K1043 ?

South evaluated his hand as a bit heavy for a 2S freebid, but too pushy for 3S. He was concerned that his passed-hand status may have encouraged partner to make a light double, perhaps with only three spades. Then again, partner could have a good hand with 4 spades or a heart stopper.

South decided to invent a "2 " spade bid by starting with a responsive double to show minor-suit length, with plans to change the message by bidding 3S over partner's 3C or 3D. He hoped partner would take this "delicate" auction as encouraging, but showing doubt about the trump suit and level. Perhaps it would even keep clubs and notrump in the picture.

Whether partner would have read this -- and which type of hand he held -- was never discovered, as West jumped to 4H. North passed (at least he didn't bid 5D) and our hero blindly guessed to double. His creativity took its final toll by getting partner off to a diamond lead, which allowed 4H to make.

South was guilty of treating competitive bidding as an exact science, where you can paint subtle shades of meaning into your bids without the opponents (or partner) thwarting your plan. He worried so much about catering to all of partner's possible spade holdings that he never showed his own. He had a tough choice between 2S and 3S, but he should have chosen one while he had the opportunity.

South's greater offense, though, was inventing a new bid at the table and pressuring his partner to figure it out. It can be fun to play with a partner who has such imagination, but only if he chooses his battles. If he over-thinks every auction -- and if you're constantly forced to field his gambits -- it exhausts both of you. That mental fatigue can be costly when you need to solve a problem that partner didn't manufacture.

This "freelancing" can also destroy partnership trust. If you're always wondering what partner is up to, you won't be able to bid normally. Should you decode an arcane meaning in his "penalty" double? Is it safe to bid the suit he showed, or should you wait for him to clarify what he really has?

If you're asking yourself those questions, your partner has crossed the line between genius and mastermind. He's also created an ethical dilemma, where you suspect he's innovating -- and perhaps you even alter your bidding to accommodate it -- but your opponents don't. Ask him to save his inventions for later discussion, and the multi-layered logic for auctions where you need -- and are ready to process -- the information.

     2007 Karen Walker