Friday, June 4, 2010

Pressure bids

There's a certain type of bid, of which I happen to be rather enamored, called the pressure bid.  I learned to do this from Robson and Segal: Partnership Bidding -- The Contested Auction, a brilliant book BTW.  A pressure bid is a uni-lateral jump bid made with the purpose of disrupting the opponent's auction and misleading the opponents about the layout of the hand.  It is a gambit which, by its very nature, can only be made once partner has passed.  Not, by the way, when partner has passed over an opening bid because while he may have a worthless hand, he might also be laying a trap for his opponents.  Like the heffalump trap, it's better to try and stay out of it ourselves.

More conservative authors, such as Larry Cohen, call this a wide-ranging jump overcall.  It's wide-ranging because the strength can be anything from almost a bust to just under an opening bid and because the distribution may be more balanced (or possibly less balanced) than might normally be expected for the bid.

The partner of the pressure bidder must respect the fact that he's already passed and, as always, should avoid taking marginal actions.  But opposite a pressure bid, the responsibility of passer is a little more extreme.  The way I characterize it for my partners is: don't raise unless you have:
  • four trumps and a side void; or
  • five trumps and a side singleton; and/or
  • a reasonable expectation of making game if partner is at the top end of his strength range.

There is a control bid which can be used to encourage the pressure bidder to sacrifice if he has a good distributional hand: 3NT.  This obviously needs to be used only in partnerships which have explicitly discussed it.  Otherwise, pressure bidder's lips are forever sealed (except when passer invites game).

One of my partners has suggested that I should keep track of the pressure bids that I make to see how they work out in practice.  This of course is an excellent suggestion which thus far I have neglected.  My guess is that I come out ahead probably 60% of the time.  It is a strategy prone to tops and bottoms by its nature and the fact that most other players will not be doing the same thing.  In a way, it is similar to psyching, and thus should only ever be used on good opponents.  There is no point in making a pressure bid against a pair that you were probably going to get a good board from in the normal way.

So, I shall try to use this space for tracking my pressure bids, beginning with one which turned out to be a modest success.

The scene: the last (third) board of the first round of a club game against a good pair (who actually won their direction, despite getting only 23% for the first round).  They are vulnerable and we are not, the typical colors for pressure bids.  My hand: ♠AQJ98 64 QT ♣9743.  Partner deals and passes (the green light goes on!) and RHO bids 1.  I confidently bid 2♠ (there is no point in making these bids with less than 100% confidence!)  Partner alerts and then explains my bid (whether this is really necessary I'm not sure but it certainly helps later if the opponents feel damaged).  LHO reluctantly passes.  Partner, as expected, passes too.  RHO, after some thought, comes in with a double.  This is the moment you've been dreading: your bad weak jump overcall has now been exposed and you are going to pay the price.  As it happens, partner has three spades and our butcher's bill for 2♠X would actually be only 100.  LHO bids 3 and there it rests.  In fact, the opponents can, with careful play, make 3NT.

Now, here's the fun part.  After I drop the T on the first round, declarer quite reasonably plays me for a singleton diamond and finesses into my Q.  I am now able to give partner a ruff in clubs, the suit to which I switched on winning the ♠A at trick 1.  So we end up getting two tricks we're not entitled to and we are the ones collecting 100 and scoring 9.5 out of 15 (63.3%).  I suspect that we would have done better but the obvious 3NT takes some quite careful play and I'll bet that many of our "teammates" ended up going down in that contract.

I know that it's only a matter of time before I am down 1100 on a board on which we rated to go plus.  But so far, after maybe ten to twelve of these types of bid, I have yet to befall such a fate.

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