The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (October 2007)

   7.  They strive to be sensible, not brilliant. (Part 3)

In the previous article in this series, we looked at situations where it can be advantageous to get to your final contract in as few bids as possible. Jumping to a reasonable game can be a good choice when you recognize that searching for the perfect game or slam is futile, especially if there's a danger that a slower advance will confuse partner or allow the opponents to compete.

Sensible strategies for weak freaks

Preemptive bidding is based on the same idea and can involve similar tradeoffs. In general, the wilder your distribution, the greater the benefits of getting in (and out) quickly. Your goal with weak "freaks" is to describe your trick-taking potential to partner and make it difficult for the opponents to find their best contract. If you impose too many rules on your preempts, though, you'll seldom do either.

What's your call in first seat, neither side vulnerable, holding  J1043  KQJ108654  Void ?

You might worry that a high-level opening could preempt partner. What if he has a good hand with spades? Or enough diamonds and stoppers to make 3NT? These "what-if" questions don't have answers, so you have to focus on more practical issues. How likely is it that the opponents have a game or slam? Is a preempt an accurate description of my playing strength? If I pass and partner opens, how would I ever describe this hand?

The answers to those questions should convince you that even though an opening preempt isn't ideal, it's reasonable. How high? Goren's old Rule of 2, 3 and 4 is still a handy guideline for these decisions:

White vs. red: Overbid by four tricks

Equal vulnerability: Overbid by three tricks

Red vs. white: Overbid by two tricks

The guidelines have some leeway, and aggressive bidders often inflate the trick margins when not vulnerable. This hand has five losers (eight potential winners), so opening 5D seems about right at equal vulnerability. Red vs. not, 4D would be the "safe" level.

And strong freaks

Your considerations are different with stronger distributional hands. Your first goal on these deals is to declare, and to improve your chances, you may have to give up on finding the highest-scoring contract.

  You    LHO   Partner  RHO
    1S     Pass      2S        2NT*

* Two-suiter (any two unbid suits)

What's your call holding  AKJ952  Void  KQ1065  Q5 ?

A slam is barely possible if partner has perfect values, and you might choose to investigate by bidding 3D or 4H (a "self-splinter" showing shortness). If partner has the wrong cards, though, even a 4S contract could be in jeopardy.

If you want to declare at a comfortable level, your best strategy is a direct jump to 4S. Any slam expedition will probably be a guessing game, and you don't want any guess forced on you at the five-level. At this point in the auction, your LHO doesn't know which two suits his partner has. If you give him room to search -- or tell him which suits you hold -- you'll make it easier for the opponents to find a profitable sacrifice or even a making game.

Higher-level decisions sometimes require you to make less-informed guesses. This hand from the Bridge Bulletin's "It's Your Call" column generated five solutions from the expert panel:

Matchpoints, vulnerable vs. not, your RHO opens 4H and you hold  AKQJ865  Void  A5  AQ93 .

Some panelists started with 5H, hoping to suggest a grand slam by bidding 6S over partner's 6C or 6D. Others bid 5S as a general slam try, inviting partner to bid 6S with help in the unbid suits. The plurality, however, thought there was no accurate way to locate the right cards in partner's hand, so they opted for what they called the "practical" jump to 6S.

All three approaches have merit, and each has risks. 6S is essentially a gamble that partner has a minor-suit king and a suitable club holding (jack, ten, length or shortness). The more scientific 5H and 5S bids gamble that partner will understand your message.

The best choice depends on your knowledge of how your partner thinks. A 5S bid won't work if he interprets it as asking for a heart control. The 5H-then-6S auction may be a disaster if he thinks one king is enough for him to bid 7S. If you have doubts about the outcome of those auctions, the "unbrilliant" jump to 6S rates to be a clear, sensible and potentially successful compromise.

     2007 Karen Walker