The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (April 2010)

   9.  They analyze the auction from partner’s point of view.  (Part 4)

One of the most frequently used words in bidding forums is “flexible”. In features such as the Bridge Bulletin “It’s Your Call”, panelists use this term to describe a choice that will explore all possible contracts and give partner the greatest number of options.

That’s a worthwhile goal in real-life auctions, too, but there are important differences between these  quizzes and at-the-table decisions. One is that forum panelists have an unknown expert partner. Another is that they don’t have to deal with the rest of the auction. Even the panelists sometimes admit they would choose a different action in an actual game with a human partner.

A “flexible” choice is often based on the hope that if you can give partner a perfect picture of your hand – or force him to give you a perfect picture of his – you’ll find the perfect contract. These attempts can save bidding space, but they also create more complicated auctions. In a real game with a real partner, you have to be more concerned with practical matters (will partner read my message?) than with theory (would this bid get the high score in a bidding contest?).

Do you need flexibility on these deals, or do you already know the final contract?

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

  ♠A10743   J654   A3   ♣K5

The most frequently used phrase in bidding forums is “when in doubt, cuebid”. You have a good hand for a clubs, and a 4H cuebid would make that clear. Although partner may appreciate the good news, you can be fairly certain he won’t be able to do anything about it. He has nothing to cuebid other than his presumed heart void, but he’ll be unwilling to bid past 5C with a hand missing so many keycards.

This problem generated six different solutions in an expert bidding forum. As expected, 4H was a popular choice, as was 4D, intended as a cuebid confirming clubs (or would partner read 4D as natural?). Others tried Blackwood, which isn’t really a search, as a one-ace response forces you to 6C.

Most of these bidders admitted they were heading for 6C, no matter what information they dragged out of partner. Hypothetical forum partners don’t mind the futile extra round of bidding and they never misinterpret a subtle or undiscussed call. Real-life partners, however, prefer that when you know the final contract, you get to it quickly.

  RHO    You      LHO    Partner
   1H        DBL     Pass        2S

  ♠AK6   3   AQ1076   ♣QJ72

A flexible strategy may be necessary in situations where you aren’t sure you’ve found the best trump suit. If that’s your concern here, you might try the ubiquitous cuebid (3H) or a natural 3D, which were the second and third most popular choices in a bidding forum.

The 3D and 3H bidders weren’t looking for 3NT. They planned to support spades next, hoping to show a game acceptance with three trumps. Some even had visions of slam if partner had the magic hand.

The flaw in this optimism is that there’s no accurate way for you or partner to determine if he has that hand. There’s also a risk that partner will read more into these auctions than you intended. Put yourself in his seat and imagine how you would interpret the delayed spade raise. A 3H cuebid followed by 4S is how you would show a slam try with four-card support. The 3D-then-4S auction suggests a big hand with longer diamonds and weaker spades.

The panel plurality saw no reason to talk partner out of spades, even if it happened to be a 4-3 fit, so they bid a direct 4S. They considered more creative approaches, but recognized the possible pitfalls of trying to tell partner too much.

When faced with a practical vs. flexible choice, take an objective view of the auction from partner’s perspective. Weigh the chances of finding a better contract against the potential for a misunderstanding, and if you don’t like the odds, consider settling for the sure thing.

   ©  2010   Karen Walker