Justin LALL

Preempting is a very important part of the modern game. Bidding is so accurate these days that if you allow your opponents to have a free run they will almost always go right. By preempting you sometimes force them to guess, and the more they have to guess the more they will go wrong.

If that were the whole story, people would be preempting randomly with all types of hands. Unfortunately there are also dangers in preempting, the main one being your pesky partner. Since partner may wake up with a good hand or want to further the preempt, they must maintain some constructive element. Also, if they are too wild you are going to risk getting doubled and going for a number every now and then. Such is life, but you don’t want it to happen too often. The other big risk is that you are going to help the opponents play the hand. Remember, when you are preempting it is probably the opponent’s hand and you are volunteering information to them.

The key is to find a balance between the constructive and destructive elements of preempting and between the risks and rewards associated with it. This can be very difficult and require good judgment and a lot of experience.

The main thing a preempt should say is that the hand is offensively oriented. If partner wants to save, that’s great, if he wants to bid game, that’s great. If the opponents want to double me that’s not a complete disaster because I can take some tricks and they’ll probably make something. If partner wants to double them… well he’s on his own. A hand that screams a certain suit is a good candidate for a preempt.

To determine whether a hand fits with my definition of what a preempt should look like, I look at these 3 factors:

  • Purity. Are my honors located in my long suits or my short suits? Do I have a lot of stray values? QJTxxx x Qxxx xx is an excellent preempt. However, Axxxxx K Jxx Qxx is awful. The purer the hand is, the better it is for a preempt.
  • Suit Texture. Let’s say the auction were to go 2-p-p-X-p-p-p. Would you rather have KQ5432 of spades, or QJT876? I would definitely prefer the latter. The texture of a suit is what makes it playable with a bad split, or when partner raises you to game with a lot of controls and a stiff trump.
  • Shape. 6322 and 7222 are the kiss of death. If you are 6-4 or 7-4 your trick taking potential increases and so does the opponents. This is a very overlooked factor by most people.

Let me dispel some myths while I’m at it. Voids are not a bad thing when preempting. They add to the offensive potential of your hand. Preempt MORE aggressively with a void, not less. Side aces are also not a bad thing. They’re much better than say, side queens. They serve offensive purposes as well as defensive ones.

Note that high cards were never mentioned. High cards are irrelevant when it comes to preempting if the hand is less than opening bid strength.

Does this mean I would preempt with 0 points? Yes, I would consider:

T98765 2 T932 52 white/red in first seat to be a 2opener. I wouldn’t do this red since the playing strength of the hand is just too low, but you will note it does well on purity, suit quality(!!) and shape.

Regarding 5 card weak 2’s, I will rarely do it unless in 3rd seat. If I have an extraordinary suit and 5431 or 55 then I might, but 5332 preempts are losing bridge in my opinion. The hand is balanced, not a 1 suited offensive hand. If you do open 5 card weak 2’s liberally, your partner needs to know this so that he doesn’t always misjudge later in the auction.

How much playing strength is required to preempt in first or second? I’ve never followed the rule of “2, 3, or 4″ or anything like that, if it looks like a preempt just preempt. I do recommend your 3 level openers to be about a trick heavier than your 2 level openers, despite a minority style of 2 bids being constructive and 3 bids being garbage. It just seems logical to me that if you contract for 1 more trick, you are showing the same hand type except a trick (generally in the form of a trump) better. I also suggest that any hand you open at the 2 level with red/white should be opened at the 3 level white/red. That is another way of saying that red/white preempts should be a trick better than white/red ones. At equal vulnerability, just use your judgment.

Nothing is perfect, the main goal of preempting is to make life hard on the opponents. If your requirements are too rigid, you aren’t preempting enough. However, the hands need to be offensive and able to take some tricks. 5332 just won’t cut it.

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