Saturday, April 30, 2011

How many bids is your hand worth?

The question of how many bids your hand is worth is an aspect of bidding which I find is hardly mentioned even in books on competitive bidding, which themselves are rare.

Let's take a really simple, everyday example: ♠K52 JT839 ♣A8643 with the opponents vulnerable.  Partner opens 1 as dealer and RHO doubles.  We expect our side to have at least half the high-card points but the auction is already competitive so probably we won't have things all our own way unless partner has significantly more than a minimum.  Assume for the moment that fit-showing jumps are not in our arsenal.  Our choices are between 2 and 3, although I suppose we might get some fringe votes for 4.  We expect to compete to 3 anyway so how about bidding 3 immediately?  But wouldn't we do that with ♠952 JT839 ♣K8643?  In this latter case, our hand is worth one bid only in support of hearts so we plan to go as quickly as possible to our "lawful" level and partner will know what to expect: four trumps and too few points to bid 2 and compete later to 3.  The first hand is worth two bids when partner opens 1, so that bidding 2 immediately and then competing to 3 if necessary will show four trumps and sufficient points to bid twice.  With a different hand: ♠K52 JT398 ♣A8643, we have enough for one bid in support of hearts: 2.  After that call we shall for ever hold our peace unless partner forces us to bid again.

So far, we're in pretty standard territory, right?  Any dissenters?

Now we come to the latest Partnership Bridge column (Bridge Bulletin, May 2011) by the always-interesting Granovetters.  So far, their column is unavailable on the web but the situation was similar yet a little more complicated perhaps.  You hold ♠95 9JT83 ♣A86432 and as before (opponents red), partner deals and opens but this time it is 1.  As before, RHO doubles.  How many bids is our hand worth in support of diamonds?  I think the answer, as before, is one.  The extra complication here is that our suit is diamonds – partner might not have five of them this time, indeed he might not even have four!  Should we immediately jump to 3?  We might look a little silly if partner has one of those rare 4432 hands.  But partner would know right away that we have a fit for diamonds and little in the way of defensive strength.  Let's say that we decide to bid 2 and the auction continues: 2 – 3 – 4.  Partner has confirmed diamonds – presumably he has either five diamonds or a good hand (he won't have three diamonds for sure).  Should we now sacrifice in 5?

Absolutely not!  We already told partner that our side has at least half the high cards (or very close to that) and that we have some defensive values.  Apart from having a long club suit headed by the ace, there is nothing about our hand in this auction that remotely suggests taking another free bid.  If partner has a suitable hand (and assuming that you're playing cooperative doubles) he can double to ask your opinion.  Or he can sacrifice.  Even if partner's double would be for penalties (as most people would play), you have no reason to pull it and definitely no reason to forestall a double by saving.

Note that the situation would be entirely different if partner had bid 3♣ over 2 (instead of 3).  Now, you have a monster double fit and you most certainly would bid 5♣ (or 5) in the direct seat.  Indeed, at these colors you might even jump straight to the six level!

In the hand that the Granovetters discuss, it turned out that our hand did bid 5 (doubled of course) which was down only one trick (good news).  The bad news was that 4 would have been down two!  There were 18 total tricks (a rather common number) but whereas the save would have been good if the tricks had been distributed 10-8 in favor of the opponents, the sacrifice was a phantom with 10-8 in our favor (or 9-9).

I think the Granovetters both missed the point that North made a horrible unilateral decision on his hand-worth-only-one-bid.


  1. Hi, Robin,

    The topic of competing is an interesting one, and you present some nice examples.

    I think of the key concept in situations you describe not as how many bids a hand is worth, but rather as engineering a situation where the opponents have to make the last guess. That means putting maximum pressure on the opponents and letting them figure out what to do without further assistance from us. Sometimes they will guess right, but much less often than when we give them a second chance.

    Take, for example, one of the auctions you presented of 1D – (Dbl) – 2D – (2H) – 3D – (4H). As you suggest, sacrificing at 5D seems unilateral, and wrong. I think the reason it is wrong is that a 5D call is making your side have the last guess (as to whether 4H is making or not and whether 5D is a good sac or not). Meanwhile, your side’s 2D call might have forced advancer to bid 2H on a hand where he might have preferred, absent your 2D call, to have jumped to 2H or to have bid just 1H: the 2D call pressured him to guess what to do. Similar with respect to the 3D raise: that call has taken away the room for doubler to show invitational values; he had to choose between a competitive 3H call and a game bid. To now bid 5D is to undo all the good work of the pressure bids your side had made in raising to 2D and 3D. A 5D call means that your side has made the last guess and an opponent who might have overbid before might know to double now.

    As far as some of the specific hands you present, I think that Kxx, JT8x, x, A8xxx is a pretty routine limit raise of 1H opening bid. Thus, had there been an intervening double, a Jordan 2NT call is the right call. With a 1D opening bid having been met with a takeout double and responder holding xx, x, JT8x, A8xxxx, I would bid 3D directly. I am not going to worry negatively about partner’s being the dreaded 4=4=3=2. Much more likely that he has at least four diamonds, and since I am planning on going on to 3D anyway, I would do so right away in order to make the opponents guess how many hearts to bid. Unless partner has a clear decision to bid on in diamonds, I am done bidding on this hand, happy to have put pressure on the opponents and content to see how they handle the pressure.

    A couple of asides: one reason that I do not like Bergen raises is that they can put the last guess on opener’s side and not on the opponents. Bidding to three level just because we have nine trumps when the opponents have not even yet competed just seems unwise to me. Now, when they have entered the auction, then getting to the three level quickly Is putting the last guess on them.

    Finally, an example from the RR Swiss at just concluded Seniors Regional. You do not even have to see a hand, but just listen to the auction to note that second hand has erred by making his side make the last guess when fourth hand’s auction had put such guess on the opponents:
    1 2 3 4
    1C P P 1S
    P P 3C 3H
    4C 4H
    4H was doubled and went for 300. 5C was making, but the opponents were never bidding 5C on this auction, they were surely going to rest in 4C and my side would be -150 only. Our teammates were -110 defending 2H, a poor result anyway, but one that was not helped by the 4H call. 4H gave the opening side a second chance: they could go right by doubling or they could go super-right by bidding 5C. Meanwhile, fourth hand’s auction had made the opponents guess and they were about to guess wrong, settling for +150 by bidding 4C (or even +50 by passing 3H) instead of bidding game. (For the record, a 2C balancing call would not be Michaels’ but would instead be akin to a balancing double where double wasn’t chosen for fear that second hand might pass 1HX and balancer’s hand was either too strong to settle for 1HX or lacked enough defense [such as being void in hearts] for 1HX.)

    -- Jeff

  2. Thanks, Jeff. Your comment may be longer than my blog! I totally agree with you re: helping the opponents to make the last guess. Of course, that is always a prime consideration in a competitive auction. But helping partner guess well by describing your hand accurately is implicit in that.
    I had intended to make the Kxx, JT8x, x, A8xxx hand just too weak for a Jordan/Truscott action but I guess I failed. Perhaps I meant the high club to be the K as in one of the other hands.
    Inferring errors from auctions without seeing the hands is one of my favorite pastimes too. I'm always amazed at how people can bid so inconsistently (for example, making a non-forcing bid then bidding game after partner makes a non-forcing, non-inviting bid).

  3. Your last parenthetic reminds me of one of the unfortunate moments at Cape senior regional I just attended. Second hand responded 2D, 4-card Drury to his partner's fourth hand 1s opening. Fourth hand showed a subminimum by rebidding 2S. Second hand now raised to 4S. A little bit of nonverbal chuckling, but then I had to make my opening lead. I held KQ-fifth of hearts and KQ-third of clubs. I led the CK and this made two tricks difference in defense. Clubs were Jxx in dummy opposite Axxx in declarer and hearts were Ax in dummy. With heart lead, I will be able to cash a heart when in with my first club winner and then am entitled to another club winner and partner the setting trick. With club lead, the clubs can be set up by winning ace, drawing trumps and leading toward the jack. I can win the first club and force out the heart ace with a heart switch. But then CJ is cashed and declarer enters hand with an extra trump in order to pitch the losing heart on the thirteener club: two trick difference and my lead moved my pair from +50 to -450, probably about 90% of a board. Ah, well.