Negative Freebids   

   Originally published in the ACBL Bridge Bulletin, January - May, 2005  (5 parts)

Part 1 – The basics

Here's a common situation that can create awkward auctions for standard bidders. Partner opens 1D, your RHO overcalls 1S, and you hold:

      5   K98632   764   A102

In standard methods, you can't bid 2H, as a new-suit bid at the two-level promises at least 10-11 points (perhaps a good 9). The usual but inelegant solution is to start with a negative double. Since you'll seldom be fortunate enough to hear partner bid hearts, you plan to bid a non-forcing 2H over his expected rebid of 1NT, 2C or 2D.

But what if your LHO raises to 2S? When this is passed back to you, you'll have another dilemma: Pass and lose a possible partscore (even a game), or risk a 3H bid, which could be a disaster if partner doesn't have a suitable trump holding.

You'll be in an even tougher guessing game with a hand like  743  Q52  J4  AQ1087 .

Here, the negative double isn't an option, so you're more or less stuck with passing. If LHO raises spades, you'll be effectively shut out. Even if LHO passes and partner reopens, you have no good way to describe this hand. If partner reopens with a double, a jump to 3C would show some values, but it suggests a 6-card suit. And 2C would be an underbid, since you have considerably more strength than partner might expect.

A popular solution

In the 1980s, I began playing a convention called the Negative Freebid, which allows responder to make natural two-level bids with weaker hands. Back then, my alert of one of these freebids would often be met with confused looks and lots of questions from my opponents. Some even asked if we offered a suggested defense for such an unusual competitive tactic.

In recent years, though, the convention seems to be creeping into the mainstream. Today, my opponents usually give a knowing nod when I alert the bid, and many of them have it listed on their convention cards, too. Whether or not your partnership uses Negative Freebids, it's likely you'll be playing pairs who do, so it's a good idea to become familiar with how they work.

Guidelines for responder

The purpose of the Negative Freebid (NFB) is sometimes misunderstood because of some confusing semantics. It's not an artificial convention, as all of responder's and opener's bids are natural. It's also not really "negative" because it is not an ultra-weak or signoff bid. A more appropriate name might be the Non-Forcing-But-Constructive Freebid.  Finally, it's not really "free", as it comes with some risks and tradeoffs.

A NFB is used when an opponent overcalls your partner's opening bid and you have a long suit you cannot show at the one-level. In these auctions, your freebid of a new suit is natural, limited and non-forcing. In the examples above, you would bid 2H with the first hand and 2C with the second.

Responder's NFB is always a non-jump, new-suit bid between 2C and 3D. It's an alertable bid that shows:

Note that responder's new-suit bid is not a NFB if it's:

Beyond the basics

These guidelines are simple enough, but since the NFB can be made with a fairly wide range of hand strengths and suit qualities, your initial decision won't always be an easy one. In future issues, we'll discuss tips for evaluating your marginal hands, weighing the vulnerability, making other system changes and interpreting the follow-up auctions.

Continued in Part 2

Copyright ©  2006   Karen Walker