The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (October 2009)

    8.  They consider partner’s potential problems. (Part 13)

Early in our bridge education, we’re told that one of the pluses of being dealt a six-card suit is that it offers an easy rebid. That’s true in many situations, but as our bidding becomes more sophisticated, we find more and more hands where that “easy” choice – bidding our suit twice – is not an appealing or even an acceptable option.

We’ve discussed several types of distributional hands that present rebid problems because they have an awkward combination of suit quality and high-card strength. Similar dilemmas can arise when you hold a long suit in a semi-balanced hand. You’ll want to be aware of the possibility that partner holds one of these hands during both the auction and the play, if you end up defending. It’s also helpful if you and partner develop agreements about how you’ll handle each type of problem.

Here are some common types of problem hands. What’s your strategy as opening bidder with each?

♠KJ   AKJ   Q9   ♣Q108654  

Thoughtful players always try to predict partner’s response and plan their rebid. If you open the “obvious” 1C and partner bids the expected one of a suit, you’ll have no way to show these values. The hand has the right high-card strength for an invitational jump to 3C, but that suggests a more distributional hand and a much stronger suit. The alternatives – a heavy 1NT or 2C, or an ultra-light 2NT rebid – are even more misleading.

If you anticipate these problems, you’ll see the value of opening 1NT. That may initially appear to be an eccentric choice, but it’s a much more accurate description than all the auctions that start with 1C.

♠KQ   QJ5   AQ8742   ♣AQ

The same idea applies to stronger balanced hands. The only reason you would open this hand 1D instead of 2NT is if you were planning to show a suit-oriented hand, and the only way to do that is to reverse or jump-shift into a short suit, then try to show extra diamond length later. These complicated auctions will obscure your hand’s suitability for notrump, and if you do eventually land in 3NT, they risk getting the contract played from the wrong side.

♠AQ7   AJ   K9   ♣KQ9874

Consider upgrading when you hold a long suit and a point-count just shy of your range for a 2NT opener. This hand has so much more trick-taking strength than a “normal” 19 points that it will be an underbid to open 1C and rebid 2NT. Evaluate it as 20 points and open 2NT.

♠AKQ   AQJ   KJ8642   ♣K

A six-card suit and 23 points is usually enough for a forcing 2C, but there are special considerations when the suit is a minor. If you open 2C and rebid 3D, you give partner a picture of a distributional hand that’s within one trick of game in diamonds, not in notrump. That’s an overbid with four losers and this thin suit, and it doesn’t leave much room to investigate games in hearts, spades or notrump.

Some might open 1D and pray that partner can respond. Although that gives you an extra level of bidding, it’s a big risk, and it doesn’t make this hand any easier to describe.

The safest and least misleading compromise is to open 2C and rebid 2NT. Partner will rarely insist on playing in clubs, but even if he does, your hand won’t be a disappointment.

If this strategy is unsuccessful, you can always try the “Sorry, I had a diamond in with my clubs” excuse. However, treating this as a notrump hand is a well-reasoned choice, and those judgments should never require apologies.

If you’re uncertain about the wisdom of “hiding” your six-card minor, think ahead to the next round of the auction. With all of these problem hands, a big benefit of opening 1NT or 2NT (or 2C and rebidding 2NT) is that it takes advantage of your notrump bidding structure. Partner knows your exact point range, and he has Stayman, transfers and other system tools available to explore all possible contracts.

If all it takes to create such an easy, familiar auction is a slight stretch in your definition of “balanced”, it’s worth considering.

   ©  2009   Karen Walker