Called "a modern solution to a common bidding problem" by the Encyclopedia of Bridge, the Negative Freebid (NFB) is a fairly simple convention that improves responder’s ability to bid naturally in competitive auctions.
The NFB is used when partner opens, your opponent overcalls, and you have a long suit you cannot show at the one-level. In these auctions, your non-jump bid of a new suit through 3D is natural and non-forcing. A jump in a new suit is invitational, promising a strong 6+-card suit.
These freebids are called "negative" because they're non-forcing. They are, however, intended as constructive, so you'll want to evaluate your hand carefully to be sure you're sending the right message. When deciding whether or not to make a NFB, consider:
Point count: The range for a non-jump NFB is typically a good 5 up to a "soft" 11 points, but playing strength is more important than high cards. The better your suit, the fewer points you need.
Suit quality: On average, partner will have two-card support for your suit. If your suit will play adequately opposite a small doubleton, it's good enough for a NFB.
Outside holdings: A NFB suggests a one-suited hand with concentrated playing strength. Think twice about the freebid if your overall distribution and outside honors would be more valuable in other contracts.
Vulnerability and form of scoring: You'll usually want to be more conservative when vulnerable, especially at IMPs, where competing for a partscore isn't as critical as at matchpoints.
Try your judgment with the following hands, both white at matchpoints:
1D 1S ?
Bid 2C. This is the “classic” NFB, with the strength and suit quality partner will expect. You won't always have this perfect hand, but it's a good benchmark to keep in mind when you’re considering a NFB response with other, not-so-perfect hands.
Bid 2H. This falls into the not-so-perfect category. You have minimum points and only five mediocre hearts, but your spade length (and partner's presumed shortness) make it more likely that dummy will have fair support. Your bid can also have some preemptive value because it prevents LHO from bidding a "cheap" 2C. Stretching with a marginal hand can be a good gamble at matchpoints. At IMPs, I would make a negative double.
Bid 2H. This appears foolhardy because your suit is so feeble, but it’s a calculated risk. The opponents, who have at least 8 spades, aren't likely to pass this out, so you're counting on another chance to bid. If the opponents bid on and partner doesn't raise hearts, your hand is strong enough to compete up to 4D.
Double. This isn't a good choice for a NFB at any vulnerability or form of scoring. Your suit is weak and your hand would be a good dummy for contracts of 1NT or 2D, so keep all options open with a negative double. If partner rebids 2C, take a preference to 2D.
1H 2C ?
Bid 2H. Even though you have a strong suit, resist the temptation to bid 2D, which denies 3-card heart support. Raising partner's major is more important than showing a new suit, especially with minimum values.
Bid 2NT. Your suit is good enough for a NFB of 2D, but your hand's most valuable feature may be the club stoppers. Bidding 2NT gives partner a better description of your high-card strength and your hand's suitability for the most likely game of 3NT.
Bid 2S. Hands with 10-11 points and ragged suits can be problems in the NFB structure. Here, the point-count is right for a jump to 3S, but your suit isn't strong enough. With no other invitational bids available, you have to decide whether to treat these in-between hands as forcing or non-forcing. The weak suit and lack of aces are liabilities, so I'd choose the mild underbid.
Add a point or two to the last hand above (or even rearrange the existing honors) and it qualifies as a game force. To bid these stronger hands in the NFB system, you have to start with a negative double, then show your suit and forcing-to-game values with your rebid. We'll discuss how to handle negative-double auctions in the next issue.
Continued in Part 3
Copyright © 2006 Karen Walker