The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (March 2008)

7.  They strive to be sensible, not brilliant.  (Part 8)

To the average player, it may seem that bridge champions have a sixth sense for finding brilliant bids. Some probably do have a natural talent for the game, but they don’t win by relying solely on their instincts.

The most successful players discipline themselves to think objectively, play the odds and justify every decision. They try never to make a blind guess or act on a hunch. What may appear to be an inspired guess is usually the result of a logical thought process.

The longer you play, the more strategies you pick up for making these decisions. Which would you use on this deal?

A84   753   Q752   ♣Q104

Partner opens 1S, you raise to 2S, and he rebids 3H. You have the worst possible holding in partner’s game‑try suit, and one or both your queens may be worthless. The pluses are good trumps, 8 points instead of the minimum (6), and perhaps even the club 10.

Vulnerable at IMPs, most would bid 4S because it has a fair chance and the other team will probably bid it. At matchpoints, there are more comparisons and a greater incentive for securing a plus score, so you have more to think about. Your analysis might include some or all of these evaluation tests:

Support points: A good start is the simple calculation of distribution plus high‑card points. A single raise shows 6 to 10 support points, so you accept invitations with 9 or 10 and decline with 6 or 7. If you hold 8, as here, you can flip a coin, “round up” to 9 or (best) try other valuation methods.

Losing Trick Count (LTC): Another test is determining where your hand falls in the LTC range for your bid. A single raise is typically 9 or 10 losers (count one loser for each missing ace, king and queen). An unsupported queen should be adjusted to 2.5 losers, so this hand has 10 losers.

Aces vs. queens: Accept if your hand has more aces than queens. This is a good method to use with the LTC, which can undervalue aces.

In‑and‑out valuation: Jeff Rubens’s theory is that a hand values up if its lower honors are in “important” suits (longer fits) and its primary honors are outside. This hand would be stronger if its club and spade holdings were switched, since that would turn the queen into a sure asset.

“Perfect minimum” test: Originally proposed for slam decisions, Ely Culbertson’s idea was that your hand is worth an invitation if a perfect minimum from partner will make it laydown. The same guideline can work in other situations, but there are pitfalls. Since we tend to want to accept invitations, it’s easy to be too optimistic when visualizing hands and deciding what constitutes a “laydown” contract.

For example, if you imagine opener holds  ♠KQJ96   AJ109   3  ♣KJ2 , you’ll see good chances for game, but the hand isn’t really a minimum (partner would bid the same with one fewer jack) and 10 tricks aren’t certain, since there could be two heart losers.

Trump quality: All other factors being equal, look at your trumps. It can be argued that A–8–4 isn’t strong enough to sway your decision, but the hand falls on the low end of the other tests, so the evidence supports a retreat to 3S.

Here’s a tougher problem that may test your objectivity:

9765   Void   A72   ♣AKJ1094

You open 1C and partner responds 1S. This is the type of hand that will prompt many to think “who knows?” and go with their first impulse, which could range from a simple raise to a slam try.

A more logical analysis offers some support for a game‑forcing rebid: more aces than queens, good in‑and‑out values, the almost‑running (but difficult to quantify) club suit. It’s also easy to visualize minimum responses that will take 10 tricks.

The argument for a more conservative raise is the meager 15 support points, which is in the range for a 2S rebid. The LTC, however, totals 6 losers, which is worth an invitational 3S (a typical minimum opener has 7 or 8 losers; a game force has 5).

A 3S rebid seems a sensible compromise, but if you need a tiebreaker, use the trump‑quality test. If you were leaning toward a 4C, 4H or 4S rebid, this trump holding should convince you to pull back a level. If partner can peep out a slam try over 3S, you’ll have full justification for an enthusiastic acceptance, without apologizing for an earlier overbid.

©  2008   Karen Walker