Source: The Guardian,

Say what you like about London’s congestion charge, but at least the roadside signs give you plenty of warning that you are about to enter the charging zone, and you have the option to avoid it. Yet many bridge players in the course of an auction stray unheeding into a zone where they are liable to incur a charge in the region of 800 points.

Zia Mahmood
Zia Mahmood

Bidding soundly is the key to not losing at bridge – however well you play the cards as declarer, it will not help if you are in the wrong contract. In order to bid well, you need to evaluate your hand correctly. The traditional point-count method (four points for an ace, three for a king and so on) works best when considering a contract in no trumps; for suit contracts, you also need to take distribution into account. For the moment, then, we will focus on no-trump contracts – after all, the most common contract in bridge is 3NT.

As early as possible in the course of the auction, the partnership needs to decide in which of three zones their combined hands belong. A combined holding of fewer than 25 points means that the hands belong in the part-score zone. With around 25-32 points, the hands belong in the game zone; with more, they belong in the slam zone. I don’t guarantee that you’ll make three no trumps every time your side has 25 points, but experience shows that you will do so more often than not.

Suppose that your partner opens the bidding with 1NT. At once, you have a good idea of his strength. You may play the weak no trump, in which case you know that he has 12-14 high-card points; if you play the strong no trump, he has 15-17. You can add the number of points in your hand to the minimum partner has shown, and in most cases this will tell you at once in which of the three zones you belong. Suppose you play the weak no trump, and you have 14 points facing your partner’s 1NT opening. 14+12 is 26, and 26 points belong in the game zone. If you’re lucky enough to have 22 points, you know at once that with your combined count of 34-36, you are in the slam zone.

The golden rule is: once you know in which zone you belong, make the minimum bid in that zone. It is a compliment to a sportsman to say that he is “in the zone” – if you’re consistently in the right one, people will start to compliment you on your bridge.

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