The 12 Habits of Highly Effective Bidders   (October 2010)

   9.  They analyze the auction from partner’s point of view.  (Part 10)

High-level competition creates some of the most difficult of all bidding dilemmas, especially when your side has the balance of power. Forcing-pass agreements can help you make these bid-or-double decisions, but their success requires clear definitions, good judgment and sometimes a bit of clairvoyance.

Last month, we looked at three popular approaches for defining when these agreements apply:

(1)  It’s our hand. A forcing pass is “on” if your auction has shown at least invitational strength (23+ points).

(2)  It’s our hand for game. You must have promised game-level strength.

(3)  The caddy would know this pass is forcing. Your auction has created such an obvious force that partner can’t possibly misunderstand your intent. 

The first two guidelines seem simple enough, but even practiced partnerships can disagree about which auctions meet the conditions. Many of today’s experts prefer Approach #3. In practice, this means that no matter how convinced you are that a pass should be forcing, if partner might have reason to interpret the auction differently, then it isn’t.

Here are some auctions where you might consider a forcing pass (in all, you’re vulnerable vs. not). Put yourself in partner’s seat and decide how obvious your meaning will be to him if you’ve agreed on Approach #3.

   Partner   RHO     You     LHO        
    1H           1S          2S        3S
    4H           4S           ?

If you aren’t sure whether to double or bid on, a forcing pass would solicit partner’s opinion. It would also allow you to make a slam try by passing, then pulling partner’s double to 5H. 

The problem is that your 2S cuebid showed a limit raise or better, and partner won’t know if you hold the “or better” hand. From his point of view, you might have a skinny invitation, and if his 4H bid was based on distributional values, he may fear 4S is making.   

Merely bidding game doesn’t create a forcing-pass auction. You must have freely bid game --  not just been pushed into it – or made a bid that promised game-level strength (Jacoby 2NT, for example, or a higher-level cuebid).

Be wary of 4S-over-4H auctions where it’s unclear if the 4S bidder is sacrificing or bidding to make. If you use the more liberal 23-point guideline for forcing passes, consider playing that it applies over interference at the three and five levels, but not the four level.

   You    LHO    Partner    RHO   
    1S       3H         4S           5H

Although partner made a free raise to game, it didn’t establish a force. He had a 4H cuebid available to show a good high-card raise, so he’s looking at modest (or zero) defensive strength. Partner will take your pass as a minimum with poor defense, and he may pass, too. If you have a good hand for defense or offense, you have to bid or double.

   LHO    Partner    RHO    You    
   3C        DBL         5C          ?

Pass is always forcing when the opponents are “obviously” sacrificing. Is that clear here? If you have some values, you may want pass to be forcing, but using Approach #3, partner will read it as weakness.

Some pairs define this pass as forcing if the opponents are white, but weak if they’re red. That can be dangerous, as it presumes the 5C bidder will never have a big hand and you’ll never be broke. Forcing-pass agreements shouldn’t make you choose between minus 550 and minus 500. As Edgar Kaplan once said, “Just because they’re non-vulnerable doesn’t mean they can’t make a 5-level contract.”

   Partner    RHO      You         LHO
    1D           DBL       RDBL      2S (preemptive)
    Pass         3S           ?

Your redouble set up a force, but is it still “on” at this level? If it is, a pass encourages partner to bid and double discourages. If not, pass shows weakness and double is penalty.

A good agreement for this redouble is that it creates a force through three of opener’s suit. If you haven’t discussed this, though, you should assume that partner will rely on your when-in-doubt guideline (pass is not forcing). If you don’t want to defend 3S undoubled, you have to bid or double.

   ©  2010   Karen Walker