The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (November 2007) 

   7.  They strive to be sensible, not brilliant.  (Part 4)

In every bridge session, there seem to be a few deals where you’re faced with the dilemma of whether to settle for a middle-of-the-road action or go for a riskier, higher-scoring contract. The choice isn’t always between an overbid and an underbid. More often, it involves some intelligent guesswork about partner’s hand and the likely success of the more aggressive approach.

Two stories to tell

♠KJ8   92   J4   ♣AKQ1074

You have two stories you’d like to tell: you have spade stoppers for notrump, but also a good hand for a club slam. The problem is that there isn’t room to explore both contracts, so you have to decide now between the safety of 3NT and the lure of 6C.

If you imagine how a slam auction will develop, you’ll choose the cautious 3NT. Outside stoppers aren’t a concern, since partner, who has virtually nothing in the black suits, should have honors in diamonds and hearts.

The alternative is cuebidding 3S to show a strong club raise, which is essentially a commitment to 6C. With no spade stopper, partner will be forced to 4C and you’ll be on your own. There will be few matchpoints for languishing in 5C, so you’ll have to hope partner holds perfect red-suit controls (and that LHO won’t get a spade ruff) and shoot out 6C.

Simple or flexible?

Another difficult choice can be between a suit overcall and a takeout double. Which do you favor on this deal?

    LHO    Partner   RHO    You
     1S         Pass         2S         ?

♠Void    Q1032   A64   ♣KQ10965 

A 3C overcall emphasizes your hand’s main feature, but loses the heart suit. A double does the opposite. The double is more optimistic, since it’s the best way to find a possible game, but it’s also more dangerous.

One possibility after a double is that partner will bid 3D on a weak suit and go down when 3C was cold. Another is that he may opt for penalties, in which case your skinny defensive strength could be a disappointment.

The risks vs. rewards of a double climb when you consider that the opponents own the master suit. They’ll be able to outbid you no matter what your fit, so even if a double finds a heart game, you’ll seldom be allowed to play there.

An overcall focuses partner on one suit rather than three, but that can be beneficial in auctions where you expect more bidding from the opponents. Here, the “inflexible” 3C overcall offers the most accurate description of your strength, directs the lead and suggests the best suit for further competition or a possible sacrifice.

“Stay fixed”

On some hands, the question is not whether to choose the ambitious or the sensible bid, but whether you should bid at all. The old advice of “Get fixed, stay fixed” is worth considering when the auction leaves you no good option. Here’s a typical situation:

Your LHO opens 2S, passed around to you, and you hold   ♠643   J5   AJ104   ♣AKQ10

Yes, they could be stealing, and some will assume that passing will be an automatic bad result. They might try a flawed double, 2NT or 3C on the theory that heroics are needed to salvage the board.

Then again, this could be a misfit where the opponents have done you a favor by bidding first. The “stay fixed” believers take the view that even if passing doesn’t produce the optimal result, it probably won’t be a total loss, and it’s preferable to being forced into a low-percentage guess about what to bid.

On other deals where the opponents “fix” you with a preempt, the “stay fixed” advice translates to “take the sure thing”. What’s your call with this hand after LHO opens 3H, partner doubles and RHO passes?

♠103   A972   K10   ♣AJ862

Partner could have the cards you need for 6C, but with no accurate way to investigate, you’re reduced to a sheer guess. The only result that rates to be a disaster is a minus score, so your best  course is to just mutter to yourself, “Get fixed …”, settle for 3NT and look for the Big Score on the next board.

 © 2007   Karen Walker