The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (October 2008)

    8.  They consider partnerís potential problems (Part 1).

Bare beginners are usually timid bidders, in part because they tend to focus on just their own hands. A common comment from my students is, ďI canít bid 1H with this hand. I donít have seven tricks!Ē It takes time for learners to see past their own cards and imagine all the possibilities in partnerís hand.

Experienced players sometimes wear the same blinders. Hereís a quiz to test your vision:

  Partner    RHO    You      LHO
      1C         1H        DBL    Pass
      1S         Pass         ?

   ♠QJ75   AQ83    J862    ♣10

When this problem was posed to a group of experts, they debated the merits of three different raises Ė 2S, 3S and a 2H cuebid. Most finally settled on what they called a ďsomewhat pushyĒ 3S. Not one even considered the bid that would cater to all of partnerís possible hands. Did you?

Itís such a simple auction that itís easy to overlook the potential hazard. The experts took the auction at face value (partner bid spades, so he must have four). They didnít stop to consider that he might have had an awkward rebid with

   ♠K86   92    Q74    ♣AK932 .

The most successful players believe their partners, but they donít jump to conclusions without full information. They recognize the situations where partner may have been forced to make an imperfect bid, and they try to offer him options whenever possible. The habit they share is:

    8.  They consider partnerís potential problems.

In the problem above, the bid that allows for partnerís problem hand Ė and covers all other bases Ė is 1NT. That doesnít cancel the message that you hold four spades, but it describes other features of your hand and gives partner choices. 1NT also implies decent values, since you could have passed 1S with a dead minimum.

And speaking of minimums, you already know partner has one, since he would have jumped to 2S with ďrealĒ spades and 15 or so support points. That makes 3S more than just a mild overbid.

Negative-double auctions are a frequent source of these ďall may not be as it seemsĒ situations. How do you handle these decisions?

  Partner    RHO     You     LHO
     Pass       Pass        1D       2C      
     DBL       Pass      Pass       ?

   ♠Q6   A1092    AKQ92    ♣K9

The kneejerk rebid is 4H, which works when partner has four hearts, but thatís not guaranteed. Itís impractical to require both majors for a two-level negative double, so take it slow with a 3C cuebid. Your purpose is not to investigate slam (partner is a passed hand), but to find the right game.

Over 3C, partner will bid 3S (his cheaper major) with

   ♠AK82   84    J43    ♣7432 .

That will confirm thereís no heart fit and steer you into 3NT. If you had instead bid 4H, partner would have had to bail you out in 5D, which could go down on a club ruff.  

  Partner     RHO     You      LHO
      1C           1S        DBL       2S
      3H          Pass        ?

   ♠K953   KJ96    Q82    ♣J4

Partnerís 3H sounds like a game invitation, and without the 2S bid, it would be. In competition, though, opener will stretch to show support with a minimum such as 

   ♠4   Q1083    A74    ♣AQ875 .

Some pairs use a double or the Good-Bad 2NT convention to differentiate between this hand and a full invitation. Without those gadgets, you should give partner some rope and pass with this soft 10-count.

     You     LHO     Partner    RHO   
      1C       4H         DBL        Pass
        ?

    ♠K865   762    A3    ♣KQ86

The modern trend is to play negative doubles through the four-level, but the higher the auction, the more flexible you should be about promising four cards in the other major. What alternative does partner have holding

    ♠A92   53    K87642    ♣A5 ?

He canít bid that feeble diamond suit at the 5-level, and a pass lets the opponents steal the contract. He has to double to show these values and hope youíll do the right thing.

At this level, the right thing with a balanced minimum is usually a pass. Even if partner has four spades, you can expect bad suit breaks, so take your plus score. Donít let yourself be bullied into an optimistic guess when thereís a good possibility that partnerís hand wonít be a perfect match for his bidding.

   ©  2008  Karen Walker