The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders (June 2008)

They strive to be sensible, not brilliant. (Part 11)

All of us occasionally alter our bidding styles to conform to the type of event or opposition we’re facing. We also do it in response to the state of our score. We have a tendency to be careful when we’re winning and more daring (or sloppy) when we’re losing.

If you’ve fallen behind in a matchpoint event, you may feel that your only hope of catching up is to “loosen up” – bid aggressively, take chances and hope for luck. Risk-taking can pay off at matchpoints, but you have to choose your battles. The key is to evaluate each decision on its merits, not to make a blanket change in your bidding style.

These decisions often involve playing different contracts than the rest of the field. When considering a deviation from “normal” bidding, be realistic about its chance of success. If other pairs are bidding game, you’re hoping for too much if you push to a 25-percent slam.

The best prospect for a top is a contract that may score higher than the field’s choice if it makes and whose odds of making are not appreciably worse than the field contract. Here’s the type of situation that offers this opportunity:

   You      Partner
     1C          1S
     2S         3NT

KQ7   53   762   AKQ105

With partner holding only four spades, almost every table should end in 3NT. Your red-suit weakness could be a problem, though, and there are some layouts where a trump contract will be superior. If you aren’t willing to settle for average (or even average-plus), bid 4S.

If partner holds a hand such as  J1063 A108  AK5  J72, you’re in position for a near-top. On the likely heart lead, the field’s 3NT contract will either go down or score 630 at best while you’re making 650 in 4S.

Lower-level decisions aren’t always as final, but they can send auctions in different directions. Suppose you open 1H with  94  KQ653  AQJ5  Q10  and partner responds 1S. The field will rebid 2D, and that would probably be your choice if you weren’t desperate for matchpoints. A 1NT rebid, though, is a reasonable alternative with this semi-balanced hand.

You don’t yet know if or how this rebid will impact the final contract, but it has good potential. It may keep you out of a weak 5-2 heart fit or 4-3 diamond fit. Or, if 1NT or 3NT becomes the final contract, you could score an extra trick by playing it from your side.

The big reward

Ideally, you’d like to avoid blind guesses. If you face one, though – and if there’s no evidence to support one action over another -- then go for the big reward. Make the bid that the field will consider too risky, but that rates to be a top if it’s right.

You open 1S with  KJ1064  K7  AKJ64  A  and partner makes a forcing raise. Keycard Blackwood shows he holds two aces without the spade queen. The field should find it easy to bid this slam, but the missing trump honor, plus the possibility of a diamond loser, will talk most pairs into stopping at 6S.

A successful comeback requires some luck, so try the grand slam. The opponents may lead a trump and partner could have the diamond queen, which will make it virtually laydown. If not, you’ll still have chances to guess and finesse your way to 13 tricks. 

What’s your choice in this auction, both vulnerable?

   Partner    RHO      You        LHO
     1D           DBL      RDBL     Pass s
     Pass         1S           ?

10942  AQ10  54   KJ92

The safe rebid is 1NT (or a non-committal pass), which may or may not lead to a game that may or may not make. With all those maybes in the mix, try for the big score by doubling. If you can’t make 3NT, down one may collect all the matchpoints. Even if your game makes, an 800-point set isn’t inconceivable.

The double is bold but not unilateral, since partner still has a bid. His pass suggested a balanced hand or extra values, but if he holds a singleton spade, he’ll usually pull the double. If that happens, you’ll be willing to settle for the mainstream contract and resume your search for tops on later boards.

©  2008   Karen Walker