The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (March 2009)

    8.  They consider partner’s potential problems. (Part 6)

Most modern bidding systems rely on some version of the basic five-card major approach, which focuses on finding a 5-3 major-suit fit as early as possible in the auction. If the opening bid doesn’t suggest this possibility, the auction is designed to search for a 4-4 fit in a major, then a notrump contract and finally, a minor-suit fit.

The problem hands for finding 5-3 fits are those where responder has the greater length. If he has at least invitational values, he can often use a new-minor-forcing rebid to find opener’s 3-card support. It’s the auctions where responder is weaker – or a checkback bid isn’t available – that are most likely to conceal these fits and land you in inferior contracts.

This may be unavoidable when both opener and responder hold minimums. With extra values, though, a thoughtful opener will look for ways to uncover these “hidden” fits. Here are some situations that offer these opportunities: 

     You        Partner
      1C           1H
      1S           1NT

You’ll have to pass with many hands that have 3-card heart support, but with a little extra  – a hand such as  ♠AQJ5  1082  3  ♣AK762 -- you can bid 2H to cater to a possible 5-card suit in partner’s hand. This auction, which should promise around 16-17 support points, allows   partner to choose a game or partscore in hearts, clubs, spades or notrump.

     You        Partner
      1C           1H
      1S           2NT

Here, your judgment about partner’s possible problem hands will depend on your system. If you play that partner could have bid 2D as an invitational-or-better checkback for hearts (new minor forcing), then you can assume his 2NT rebid denies five hearts. However, if your agreement is that a 2D rebid would have promised game values (fourth-suit-force), partner doesn’t have a checkback bid available when he has only invitational values. With a hand such as   ♠K3   QJ763   A109   ♣J43, he has to rebid 2NT and hope you’ll volunteer information about your heart support without being asked.

     You        Partner
      1D           1H
      2C           2NT

You hold  ♠9   Q43  AQ1064   ♣AQJ7

A 2S rebid by partner would be game-forcing, so he’ll have to bid 2NT when he holds a limited hand such as  ♠K104  KJ965  52  ♣K43.  You have enough strength for game, but there’s no hurry to get to 3NT. Help partner out by bidding 3H on the way and let him decide which game to play.  

You may be able to uncover a fit in a suit partner hasn’t even bid: 

     You        Partner
      1S           1NT  (forcing)
      2D          2NT

You hold  ♠AJ962   KJ8   AK62   ♣5

Partner’s possible problem in this auction is a hand such as  ♠K4   Q9532   Q75   ♣A108. Over your 2D, a 2NT rebid is a much better description of his strength and stoppers than 2H, especially with such a weak suit.

You can accept partner’s invitation and explore all options by making the “picture bid” of 3H. This pinpoints your club shortness and shows exactly three hearts (with four hearts, you would have rebid 2H rather than 2D). On this deal, your extra effort was just what partner needed, and he’ll bid 4H. On deals where partner doesn’t hold five hearts, your description will help him make an informed decision about whether to play 3NT, 4S, 5D or perhaps even a 4-3 heart fit.

The principle that applies to all of these situations is that your “guess” about partner’s major-suit length isn’t final. Your third bid in each of the auctions above shows extra values and, in the cases where partner has invited game, they confirm your acceptance. Partner will know that you won’t propose what could be a poor (or non-existent) fit unless you have a strong enough hand to handle his escape to another contract.

   ©  2009   Karen Walker