Monday, April 26, 2010

Opening Bidder's Compact

In this blog, I expand on one my earliest blogs The "no undo" principle, in particular as it relates to making marginal opening bids in first or second seat.

We've all opened a marginal hand at times and thought better of it as the auction climbs up to the stratosphere.  But, when you open in 1st or 2nd seat, you make a compact with your partner.  The implicit terms of this contract are (as far as I know this is the first statement of these terms):
  • I promise never to pass a forcing bid;
  • I promise that, having limited my hand, I will respond appropriately when partner requests a control;
  • I promise always to tell the truth about the number of key cards I hold;
  • I promise to support partner if I can do so at the two-level.
Of course, this all sounds pretty straightforward, doesn't it.  You would never pass any forcing bid whether you had opened or not.  But other people do it.  And of course you understand your obligations when it comes to control showing bids.  And you wouldn't dream of lying about your key cards!  But I'm betting that you haven't given a lot of consideration to the final point.

Here's a case in point.  Matchpoints, white on red.  You deal yourself this following hand: ♠K984 Q5 Q8 ♣AJ963.  Playing strong notrumps, you open this hand 1♣ and your left hand opponent bids 1.  Partner doubles, which at this point could be a normal negative double or a good hand with a good suit, to be introduced later.  RHO bids 2.  Your call.

If partner has a "normal" negative double, he will have both majors.  If he has some other good hand he might just have one major.  If he's chosen to double with only 3-4 in the majors, he will have a good balanced hand.  In any case, now is the time to show your four spades.  You're still able to show support for partner's presumed spades at the two level.  Do it.  Here's what might happen if you don't.  Partner reopens with another double (two-way, this time) and this time you show your spades.  LHO now bids 3.  Here's what's going through partner's mind.  You didn't bid 2♠ over 2 so you can't have four spades.  You didn't rebid clubs so you probably don't have six.  So presumably your hand is something like 3235 shape and probably 13 or 14 hcp because you probably wouldn't open a 3235 hand with 12 hcp unless your clubs were strong enough to rebid.  Partner still feels it's our hand but doesn't want to bid 3♠ on a 4-3 fit.  So partner doubles again.  By your agreements, this double is intended as penalty (based on the three-strikes-you're-out rule).  At this point, you really have no reason to pull the double, even though you have an uneasy feeling that your hand is more distributional than you'd like.  The opponents take 10 tricks and we record the lovely score of -870.  3♠ would be down 1 so that would be -100 assuming it's doubled.  If the opponents bid on to 4, our side would feel that it had done everything it could have and happily pass.

There is a possible semi-exception to this rule.  Suppose that, again playing strong no trumps, you open with a balanced 12 count and you have the opportunity to make a support double (showing three of partner's suit).  Should you feel obliged to double?  Or could you pass?  I think that it's acceptable with a minimum hand and only three card support to pass, at least for this round of bidding.  After all, the "Law" says that we may not be safe at the two-level with a seven-card fit.  And, partner has another chance to bid.

The alternative strategy of passing at your second turn any time you have a minimum hand, even with a known 8-card fit, is losing bridge, I believe.  How many times have we heard the mantra "support with support"?  Thus, supporting partner's suit (or implied suit) at the two level does not promise any extras.

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