The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (September 2007)

7. They strive to be sensible, not brilliant. (Part 2)

My old partner, Dean Robinson of Indianapolis, subscribes to a bidding philosophy he calls DCA (Direct Contract Attainment). The idea is that long auctions are sometimes counter-productive, and there are often big advantages in getting to your final contract in as few bids as possible, even if that contract isn't the perfect one.

Dean can construct a complex bidding sequence when the need arises, but he has a knack for sensing when it's time to give up on science and just end the auction. That point often comes when you find yourself considering brilliant but obscure ways to search for the best game or slam, but you aren't confident that partner will decode your meaning.

Many were tempted to improvise on this deal from the 2006 Worldwide Pairs:

  RHO   You    LHO   Partner
    2S      DBL    3S      DBL
   Pass       ?

Partner's double is responsive, showing length in the minors. What's your call holding   AK10982  A2  AK42 ?

Hearts or clubs? Game or slam? Some players delayed the decision with a 4S cuebid, perhaps in the faint hope that partner could bid 5H. Others tested partner with a murky 5H or 5NT bid.

Dean's DCA solution would be a straightforward 6C. If you decide this hand is worth a slam, you have to accept that there just isn't a clear way to show both suits. 6C won't be the perfect spot if partner holds Qx, but it rates to a reasonable one, and getting to it quickly comes with the bonus that there will be no possibility of a misunderstanding. Partners like that.

On some deals, the fast auction may be the most informative:

   You   Partner
    1H     1S
    2C     4D (splinter)

What's your call holding  Void  AKJ92  J65  QJ974 ?

You could be off two aces or you could be laydown for 7C, but you don't have a safe way to investigate. Blackwood is pointless, and cuebidding won't tell you about trump honors. A 4H or 4S "cuebid" also runs the risk that partner will take it as natural.

Dean knows it's futile -- and exhausting -- to spend time worrying about all the hands partner could hold. He'd choose a direct 6C, which is more than just a compromise between five and seven. The enthusiasm for slam suggests you have little diamond wastage, therefore good hearts, and your failure to Blackwood should pinpoint the spade void. With that picture of your hand, partner may be able to bid the grand slam.

Bidding misunderstandings aren't the only danger that can be averted with DCA bids:

  LHO   Partner   RHO    You
1H         1S         Pass       ?

What's your call holding  AQJ6  762  KJ1083 ?

There are several routes to game -- jump to 4S, 2H cuebid, 4D splinter, a fit-showing jump to 3C if that's part of your system. If you've already decided you won't settle for less than 4S, the only reason to choose one of the below-game advances is to investigate slam. 6S could make opposite a perfect 13-count, but even the most scientific auction probably won't locate all the cards you need, and it's possible to get too high while you're searching.

Dean's choice of 4S gives up on slam, but it rates to be more practical. Some would argue that with all that bidding space available, it costs nothing to check out the possibility of slam. However, every level you save for your auction is also available to the opponents, and that may be expensive if you allow them to find a big red-suit fit. If LHO wants to bid again, DCA believers make him pay full price by forcing him to the 5-level.

As with other fast vs. slow decisions, your approach will depend on whether you believe an exploratory auction will be more valuable to you or the opponents. Is it more likely that you'll find the cards in partner's hand to make a slam, or that the opponents will re-enter the auction and force you to make a 5-level decision?

Your choice probably won't matter on most deals, but the DCA approach can offer other benefits. The shorter your auction, the less information you give to the opponents and the fewer decisions you force on partner and yourself. When in doubt, opting for a simple, streamlined auction may help save your energy and your brain cells for tougher problems later in the session.

     2007 Karen Walker