The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (January 2010)

  9.  They analyze the auction from partner’s point of view.  (Part 1)

There aren’t many bridge players who love bidding game contracts more than my friend and teammate Don Stack of Kansas City. When comparing scores with Don after a match, I always wince if I have to report a plus 170 or plus 150 from my table, especially if the auction involved a game try that wasn’t accepted. These results invariably prompt Don to respond, “What were you trying to do? Stop on a dime?”

This is one of those deals:

   You         Partner
    1H           2C
    2H           3C *

    *  (Invitational – 6+ clubs, 9-11 pts.)

Not vulnerable at IMPs, what’s your call holding  ♠K654   AK10763   Void   ♣J102?

Although your hand has nothing extra in high-card points, it has so much playing strength that you have to be thinking about game possibilities. A club game or even a slam could be laydown if partner has the right honors in the black suits. If he doesn’t, 5C could be down off the top.

Your decision will be easier if you can locate spade honors in partner’s hand, so a help-suit game try of 3S seems to be the optimal solution. It’s such a perfect, even “obvious”, choice that it may be easy to forget that your intent won’t be clear to partner.

In this type of auction, the most likely game contract is 3NT, and a new-suit rebid is how you would search for a stopper in the other suit. Partner will picture your hand as more balanced, with spade values but no diamond stopper --  ♠AJ4   AK10753   102   ♣K3. He’ll rebid 3NT if he has a diamond honor or 4C without one, and you’ll still be guessing.

When I held this hand, I rejected 3S for just that reason and instead chose a raise to 4C. I thought that sounded like a fairly strong invitation, but I failed to consider the other inferences partner might draw. To him, the indecisive raise suggested that he needed an outside control to continue to 5C, so he passed with   ♠Q3   4   Q75   ♣AQ98643. He was also influenced by the fact that we were not vulnerable at IMPs, where the odds don’t favor bidding borderline games.

I was focused on finding the perfect description of my hand rather than on arriving at the best contract. Those two objectives are sometimes mutually exclusive. If I had accepted the futility of trying to pinpoint my exact playing strength – and if I had thought more about the problems partner would have in evaluating his hand – I would have concluded that the “right” answer was a direct jump to 5C. There are just too many of partner’s possible hands that will appear to him to be unsuitable minimums, but that will easily take 11 or 12 tricks with this dummy.

Another argument against 4C is that it violates the general guideline that “you can’t invite the inviter”. In situations where partner has already described his hand and issued his own invitation, there’s usually little to be gained by returning a vague “re-invite”. Here, the raise to 4C just passed the guess to partner and, as Don would remind me, amounted to an imprecise attempt to stop on a dime on the deals where 5C doesn’t happen to make.

Don’s philosophy is that you should use all the bidding tools available to investigate the right contract, but science has its limits. You have to recognize the situations where partner can’t provide further help and it’s up to you to choose the final contract. If it’s a close decision about bidding game, Don likes to skip the agonizing and just bid it. That may sound simplistic, but Don is a Grand Life Master who has won more team games than I’ll ever enter, so the strategy is working for him.

Do you put on the brakes or look for the dime on this deal?

  Partner      You
    1D             1H
    2H              ?

Vulnerable at IMPs, what’s your call holding  ♠AKQ   J1097   4    ♣87654 ?
Do you choose a different bid at matchpoints?

More about this problem in the next issue.

   ©  2010   Karen Walker