Source: BBO By BBOer Shengabus (Yuan Shen)

For a long time, I’ve suspected that bridge has been misnamed. There’s only one suit, and it’s spades. So in the game of spades – wait you mean there’s another game called spades already? Never mind. In bridge, opening 1Spade Suit, 2Spade Suit, 3Spade Suit, 4Spade Suit are the most powerful bids. You block out the whole level for the opponents, and they in turn, should they overcall, do not prevent partner from raising spades. 1Spade Suit is more troublesome for the opposition than 1NT in many ways, since your 1NT is well defined, but 1Spade Suit just means that your side (likely) own the top suit.

Question: Flipping the question round, when was the last time you were happy that the opponents opened any-number-of spades? Or when they made a weak-jump-overcall of 2Spade Suit or 3Spade Suit? Or you were treated to (1Spade Suit) P (3Spade Suit*) by the time it got to you (* pre-emptive)?

So if like me, you have a happiness-quotient inversely proportional to the number of spades I hold, you might like the only “rule” in bridge I adhere to (well I suppose the rule-of-11 is ok).

Rule: Have-spades; must-bid.

If you have a sound approach to opening bids in-general, that’s fine. However, I would ask you keep an open mind, especially with regards to the spade suit. There will be no conventions or bidding quizzes this week, only judgement in two extended examples.

Remember the adage: “The five-level belongs to the opponents”?
There’s a reason for that: if we have spades, the four-level belongs to us.

Take the following example:

Example 1.

1st seat. Favorable.

If you only consider opening hands at the 1-level as a constructive bid, then I hope you are enjoying these articles. All bids are made in the context of the whole hand. Here, we are favorable. Our hand has no aces, barely 10 HCP, and only a tolerable suit. And yet, the heart shortness should be screaming at us that we need to block out that suit as soon as possible.

If you choose to pass, and remember it should be a choice, not a reflexive action because you lack 13 or 12 or even 11 HCP, the auction will proceed to your displeasure:

I would be very unhappy at this point. I would be guessing, and I hate guessing: I seem to only get it right about 50% of the time. Of course you ask yourself: how can you be unhappy, having picked up the spade suit? This is an automatic 1Spade Suitopening for me, at these colors.

The real auction:

And now the opponent has the last guess. Curiously, they seem to guess as badly as I do sometimes. Fancy that. The hand is:

On this hand, 5Heart Suit is on a hook through the opening bidder. 4Spade SuitX can be kept to -1, but will most likely be -2.

Example 2.

Now you have the misfortune of dealing with the opponents’ spade bid-and-raise.

4th seat. All red.

To tie in with last week’s lecture, suppose you have the two-way double available, where a DBL here shows either a take-out of spades (it may just be lots of high cards), or if shapely, could be Heart Suit+club suit. Do you choose to double?

It looks close, but again their spade pre-empt is making us guess. We could even be cold for a round-suit slam, and their vulnerable game is also making. I do not think there is a clear answer.

My guess is to DBL and not worry too much. 5Heart Suitis off 3 quick tricks. If you thought the lack of controls was a problem, you’re right.

The hand is:

But hold on a second. It’s tremendously difficult to beat 4Spade Suit. It involves an underlead of the Ace of hearts at trick 1. So maybe -100 wasn’t such a bad score after all.

But hold on a minute. North’s jump to game seems very normal as a two-way-shot. But south’s vulnerable 2Spade Suit pre-empt is only reasonable. 6322 shape, and only a fair trump suit. What if the auction had started with a Pass?

Well here’s my chance to some remarks on opening pre-empts. Don’t get too hung up about any of the following nays:

  • suit quality (vulnerable, it has to reasonable)
  • side 4cM
  • side void
  • high card strength

Look instead at

  • the pre-emptive nature (is the suit diamonds, hearts, or spades?)
  • the Offense-to-defense (ODR) ratio, which we will bump into over and over again
  • the unhappiness quotient

More precisely, the unhappiness quotient is the level of your unhappiness if the opponents bid their Major and you’ve never managed to mention your suit. When you are long in one Major and short in the other, and when the vulnerability and seat-position is sufficiently favorable, then this unhappiness quotient may trump all other negatives. Bid and be happy!

With this ODR, south’s pass should induce:

* Will soon be unhappy.
** Would rather not be unhappy.
*** Definitely unhappy now.

Needless-to-say, the double game swing of both 4Heart Suit and 4Spade Suitmaking (4Spade Suitin practice) would be disastrous.

Conclusion
Over the past few weeks, I’ve dwelled on different aspects of competitive bidding in basic major-suit-raise auctions, indeed on both sides of the auction.

In this lecture, I’ve introduced a first example of pressure bidding, although perhaps not as Robson-Segal envisioned it. Opening 1Spade Suitis the simplest example of a pressure-bid. We will discuss more light-initial actions in lecture 5 (two from this one).

I’ve given a jovial account of what I termed the unhappiness quotient. More seriously, in any auction, if you can express your hand now, albeit imperfectly, you will be surprised how often partner will help you out by using that information effectively. If you delay, well probably you (or worse, your partner, who always guesses wrong) will have the last guess.

Next time, I’m going to switch gears and move on to a quite different spot in competitive bidding: that is when we compete, but are doubled for blood. As always, comments are welcome at shenga@gmail.com

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