Source: Partnership Bidding at Bridge by Robson & Segal (Full Version)

Introduction

Partnership Bidding at Bridge by Robson & Segal
Partnership Bidding at Bridge by Robson & Segal

Up to this point, all your cooperative competing has been on the basis of a fit with partner. Perhaps you feel we have been over-optimistic! After all, a lot of time you and your partner won’t have a fit – at least, you won’t know immediately of such a fit.

So why have we spent over three chapters on how to bid competitively with a fit, yet intended devoting only one chapter to the problems of competing without a known fit? The answer may be summarized thus:
(1) You should do a lot more bidding with a fit for partner than on a possible misfit hand. Indeed, unless you are quite strong, it is far better to let the opponents monopolize the auction if the indications suggest a misfit.

(2) You need a lot more bids to express hands with a fit. It is then that you must try to describe your hand accurately and immediately – that is to say, in one bid (see chapter 1).

(3) Conversely, if you must compete on a hand with no fit for partner, your choice need only be limited. Usually you will bid your own good suit at the lowest level, or make a take-out double. Occasionally you will want to make a natural bid in no trumps.

In short, it is not that (potentially) misfit hands turn up less frequently. On the contrary. It is simply that you won’t (or shouldn’t) want to take a bid on them nearly so often. Moreover, if you do bid when you have no known fit for partner, you will generally want to do so conservatively and flexibly.

Nonetheless, there are certain important areas for discussion; and there are many sequences where ‘partnership’ bidding is essential. One final word of introduction. We shall, generally in this chapter, be avoiding any investigation of what might be termed ‘artificial conventions’ – two-suited overcalls, defenses to 1NT, defenses to a strong club, transfer responses to overcalls and/or doubles, and the like.

It is not that we find such inventions distasteful. The best of them can be useful if you don’t mind the memory work. Rather, we have no space for a discussion of them here. Moreover, they are far less important than a general ‘feel’ for how to compete effectively – which means flexibly – when conditions are treacherous; when the bidding is getting higher, you have no sure fit with partner, but you are too strong to pass. This  crucial ability cannot be gained through the use of bids of ‘system’ designed for specific sequences.

When not to bid at all

Often the most critical decision you have in a ‘non-fit’ contested auction is whether to bid or to pass. This book is not really designed to improve your basic judgement of how good a hand is. Nevertheless, certain important strategic considerations overlap with hand-evaluation in this area. Analysis of some examples, then, may be helpful even to those whose basic judgement is reliable – or, at least who are not looking to this book for its improvement.

We wish to impress upon you two fundamental considerations when you are deciding whether to take a bid competitively in a situation may be a misfit.

The first is: does your hand look DEFENSIVE, or OFFENSIVE?

The second is: do you need to bid NOW?

Consider your ODR offence to defence ratio

The first point is fairly straightforward, yet its application in practice often seems a problem. Consider your actions on this hand:

You are not yet sure in which suit West has a weak two opening (East will usually have more than two hearts on this auction). Should you bid? And would it matter if your spades and hearts were reversed? The answers, we suggest, are ‘no’ and ‘yes’, respectively.

If you are sitting under a weak two in hearts, your hand has ‘defense’ written all over it. You might well get this contract two down with a little or nothing on your way. If 2Heart Suitis making and partner cannot protect (see below), you are risking a large penalty by bidding. Here’s just one nightmare hand partner might hold:

Q 9 7 4 6 4  Q 6 4 3  K 7 5

2 going down at least one, while you are conceding anything from -200 to -800 if you bid. Now imagine you held:

K J 5 3 A 6 4  A 10 7  Q J 4

Can you see that your hand is much more offensive in the context of a 2opening on your left? If partner is fairly short in hearts (as is very likely, if West has a weak two in that suit), you have six good offensive cards for him – about two tricks better than on the previous hand. Your defensive potential against a heart contract, however, is markedly less. It is therefore right to bid. Double (take-out) is best, though 2NT is not silly.

Opposite the ‘nightmare’ hand above,

Q 9 7 4 6 4  Q 6 4 3  K 7 5

you can make 2 or 3, while the opponents are solid for at least 2. Even opposite, say, Q 9 7 6 4  Q 6 4 3  K 7 5 3

you can probably scrape together eight tricks in a minor, while your opponents still rate to make 2. They’ll have to double you for one off to get a good score – unlikely.

Of course, if West turns out to have a weak two in spades (as will be the case about 30% of the time), that will suit you just as well. You will have described your hand without risk, and partner will be in a good position to judge his action overPerhaps he can make a responsive double? ‘That’ll do nicely!’
It is important that you understand why it is wrong to bid with the first hand

A J 6 4 K J 5 3 A 10 7  Q J 4

and right to bid with the second

K J 5 3 A  6 4 A 10 7  Q J 4

despite having the same sort of shape and the same number of HCP. It is simply a question of your ODR, on the assumption that West has hearts. (If he has spades, you will get another chance.) You should be much more willing to pass when your ODR is low – even with fairly good high-card strength. By bidding on these hands you achieve little, except to rescue your opponents.

Remember also, that if partner has any sort of hand without heart length, he can protect the auctionMore anon.
Let’s stick for a little longer with the sequence, Game all

Less obvious – and therefore more interesting – is a slightly different hand:

A 6 4  K J 5   A 10 7 5   Q J 4

Again it is right to pass. This time your defense to 2 is not so great, but by bidding you run the very real risk of going -300 or -800! against -110/-140 for defending 2. And what’s partner supposed to do holding, say …?

 K 9 5 3   6 4   K J 4   K 10 5 3;  over

You’re almost certain to end up in 3NT going two off on a heart lead, with 2 destined to fail by at least one trick. Swap the majors again, however, giving yourself

 K J 5   A 6 4   A 10 7 5   Q J 4

and it is right to bid. Again, we would double, though 2NT is a very reasonable alternative. Opposite this better offensive hand partner will often make 2 or three-minor, with 2 cold. Perhaps he has

 Q 9 7 6   7 5   K 6 4   K 7 5 3

or

 Q 7 6   7 5   K J 6   K 10 7 5 3

And if he forces to game, even with as little as

 Q 9 7 6   7 5   K J 6   K 10 7 3

you will often score +600, when both black aces are on your right (as likely).
How about this? The auction starts; Love all

and you hold either
(a)  7 5                              (b)  7 5
K 6 4                                  6 4 2
A J 9 8 7 3                          K Q 10 9 7 3
Q 4                                    A 4

Would you bid 2? The first example is the sort of hand where players frequently make what looks like a ‘no-cost’ bid, only to find that things get ugly quickly. Your ODR is very low for your shape and HCP-count. There is a very real chance your RHO has a fair diamond holding and will be able to double you. Your opponents have about the same number of points as you do. In short, your hand should be telling you: ‘defend’.

At the table the full deal was: 2 doubled went for -300, with quite a few East-West pairs struggling in 1NT. Of course, if the auction continues 

you might think again. Though even now protection is not guaranteed safe.
With hand (b) however,

 7 5   6 4 2   K Q 10 9 7 3   A 4

your ODR is far higher. Even if the full deal is

and if East doubles, you will still only go -100, against a very likely +120 for East-West in 1NT. Even over RHO’s pass, do not be too quick to speak. Say you hold

 Q 6 3   7 4   A K J 5   10 7 6 2

Vulnerable against not, on the auction In our experience, the best action is to pass – without delay or interest. You may have a better spot in 1NT, 2 – even 3NT! But it is just as likely you will make things worse if you bid. Meanwhile, how do you feel about defending? There’s a pretty good chance at this vulnerability that West will reopen. If he does, you will be able to do what your hand suggests – defend, maybe doubled.

Do you need to bid NOW?

Often, when deciding whether to bid, you must consider how likely it is that an immediate pass might leave your side stymied. Consider a simple illustration. You hold

 7 4   K J 6   A 10 7 5 2   Q 10 3

and the auction begins either

Or

We trust you would not bid on this hand in the first auction. Yet a protective double is right on the second. This may seem a rather basic example, but it is worth delving a little deeper into the logic behind the distinction. Do not be too quick to dismiss the issue as being one of safety – ‘it’s much safer to bid once responder to the 2 opening has passed’ – or as one of point-count – ‘you need more points to bid directly than in the protective seat’. These are the results, not the causes of the distinction.

The real reason that you do not bid directly on this hand is that if it is right for your side to bid, your partner will probably protect (unless it is right to defend 2 doubled). That is to say, if partner has at least a ten-count and fewer than three spades – even xxx in spades and a fair hand – he will protect. If his hand is more defensive, or weaker than that, you will do best to take a lead.

In the protective seat, however, you are in a ‘now-or-never’ situation. Thus you should reopen whenever your hand is offensive (within reason). Now, consider in the light of this logic your actions on the following hands, vulnerable against not, on the auction

Let us look at the first pair of hands together. Should you bid 3♥? You are obviously very minimum in either case – in fact, you haven’t really got the bid to make. Now the point is, you can probably afford to pass on the first hand. For your spade length makes it likely partner is short, so that with any sort of hand he will be in a position to protect. A likely continuation would be 

showing this type of hand. With the second hand, however, it is quite dangerous to pass. Partner could easily be fairly balanced with three spades or so and about 10-12 HCP. It will be right for him to pass with such a hand (generally speaking). Yet is that what you want? You might well miss a game opposite as little as

 K 10 5 3   6 5 2   A 4   K Q 10 5

or

A 5 3   6 5 2   Q 4 3   K Q 10 5

and will often under-compete the partscore. On balance, it is more dangerous to pass with the second hand than to bid 3. And partner will be making allowances for you being a little light, if it seems as though you have short spades (see below). How about the third hand…?

 6   K J 7 4  J 9 5 3   Q 10 6

Can you see that it is right to double for the same reasons as it was right to bid 3 on hand (b)? If you do not bid now, will partner be able to bid later? Certainly you will play the odd 21-, or even 20-point game, but these games may well make. If partner bids 4, for instance, he will not have much less than

 A 5 3   Q 10 6 5 2   10 4  ♣ K 9 5

More to the point: if you pass, partner will often be unable to reopen through having too many spades. How do you fancy defending 2 undoubled, holding

 6   K J 7 4   A J 9 5 3   Q 10 6

opposite, say …?

It comes to this: on borderline hands, the shorter you are in the opponents’ suit, the more you should want to take some positive action. We mentioned the same sort of consideration when we were looking at FNJs in chapter 2. Do you recall such sequences as …?

What were you to do if you held something like…?

 K 6 4   4   Q 7 2   K Q 10 7 5 2

The answer is: wait. If it’s right for your side to do more bidding, then for sure partner will reopen. In this sequence you have no real option playing the methods we recommended, for 3 would be a FNJ. But you must be no less cautious in a sequence like; E/W vuln.

holding something like

 6 3   A J 7 4 3   Q 5 3   K J 6

Not many players would pass this hand at green. Yet we are convinced that pass is the right action. If partner cannot reopen, you will do much better defending (on balance). If partner does reopen with a double (say), you should just bid a simple 2, and be prepared to miss a game one time in ten. Remember, partner is unlikely to have more than an 11-count on this auction, and is much more likely to be 5-3-2-3 or 5-3-1-4 than 5-4 in the majors.

if you hold

 A Q 7 2   6 3   Q 5 4 2   J 7 5

Partly because you can stand a 2 response, but more importantly because if the auction continues

you will have no idea what the best strain is. We shall investigate this particular consideration more fully later in this chapter. Let’s look at a clearer example. You hold

 Q 7 2   A J 9 6 3   5 2   K 7 5

at Game all, on the auctionClearly wrong to bid now, unless you try 2NT!! If partner doesn’t reopen, be happy to defend. If, on the other hand, the auction continues 

you can bid 3 to show your long suit and fair values (!) – see below. The same reasoning applies even when you are more one-suited. Say you hold

 Q J 9 8 5 2   Q 4 2   K 3   7 5

at Game all on the auction

Assuming a bid of 2 would be forcing, it is best to pass on this hand. Again the key feature is your heart holding. If partner cannot reopen, the hand is probably something of a misfit, and a direct 2 will push you too high. Change the red suits, however, so that you hold

 Q J 9 8 5 2   K 3   Q 4 2   7 5

and you must bid 2 on this auction. 2 is not much of an overbid with this better offensive hand, but the real difference is that it is too dangerous now to pass with only K3. If partner has, say

 K 10 3   10 4 3   A J 3   K Q J 6

and you pass, you will end up defending 2 (which might make) when you had a good play for 4. Of course, there is a ‘flip-side’ to all this. First you must be ever prepared to keep the auction alive with shortage in the opponents’ suit, if partner could still have quite good hand. Thus, on the auction; N/S vuln.

for instance, holding hand (a) would be a minimum to reopen with 3. But with hand (b) a pass is safer and correct. Similarly, hand (c) is a clear reopening double (though obviously minimum).
The second corollary is that you must proceed with caution if partner appears to be short in the opponents’ suit. Thus overand you hold

With the first hand, partner’s heart holding rates to be a small singleton or doubleton. On the second, he probably has three hearts (note East’s failure to compete to 3). All this means that partner is far more likely to have ‘stretched’ to bid opposite the first hand than the second. Thus, we believe that while a raise to game is the most common-sense bid holding hand (b), it is safer and more correct simply to invite with 3 holding hand (a). (Note: 3 is invitational not preemptive in this auction, since the opening bidder may be safely ignored.)