Monday, April 23, 2012

Distribution-showing bids in competitive auctions

I'd like to start this blog post with a definition of three different types of auction:
  • constructive: an auction in which the opponents take no part (may also be referred to as non-competitive);
  • semi-competitive: an auction in which the opponents intervene at a relatively low level and then subside;
  • competitive: an auction in which both sides are active right up to the final decision.
In some competitive auctions, it is clear which side "owns" the hand and therefore is trying to bid constructively, and which side is bidding destructively.  We wouldn't go too far wrong in labeling this type of auction semi-competitive but still it's a fact that even in those situations that we think are clear, it turns out that the side with the fewer high-card points sometimes emerges as the "owner" of the hand.
I've written previously about the use of fit-showing jumps which can be very beneficial in both competitive and semi-competitive auctions.  The tool is primarily used by the side which "owns" the hand and, in particular, by responder.  Like splinter bids, FSJs can describe your
distribution to partner quite accurately in one bid.  Unlike splinters, however, which are at their most useful in constructive and semi-constructive auctions, FSJs are usable only when the opponents have intervened or, by explicit agreement, when the jumper is a passed hand and cannot be showing a strong jump shift.

But there are many other types of distribution-showing bids in competitive auctions.  The particular type that I want to describe here is a kind of sacrifice-control bid which I'm going to call a
sacrifice-discovery bid (SDB for short).  Let's jump right into an example:

In a recent unit game, I picked up a good competitive hand, at favorable vulnerability: ♠ 7  KQT965  43 ♣ KQ94. My RHO opened 1 and I overcalled 1. LHO doubled and partner jumped to 3.  Since he could have made an FSJ, the chances of him also having Axxxx of clubs was non-existent, but he might have some length in clubs even so. In any case, I was fully prepared to save in 4 if necessary so over RHO's 3♠ call, I bid 4♣.  This conveyed the following message to partner: "I know that 3 is as high as you want to go based on the auction so far.  However, would you be willing to go to 5 in the knowledge that I have a useful second suit of clubs?  In other words, do we have a double fit?"

A double fit is typically worth at least one more trick – as good as or even better than the possession of extra length in our suit.  In fact, what happened was that LHO bid 4♠ and all passed.  Sometimes, these bids have unexpected outcomes.  Sometimes good and, to be perfectly honest, sometimes not so good.  However, there was safety in the 4♣ call because partner was, by virtue of his previous preemptive 3 call, effectively barred from any further bidding unless he had good length in clubs.  At worst, he would know that a club return was safe if he happened to win an early trick in trumps, for example.

The main job of the 4♣ SDB had been done – it prevented us from taking what might be an expensive sacrifice over 4♠.  This time, however, we were even more fortunate.  The expert declarer on my right, assuming that I was 6-5 or 5-5 and fearing an early ruff (or two) delayed setting up clubs (dummy had AJ632) until it was too late.  The result was that we went plus defending a contract which, double-dummy at least, should have been made.

Either partner might make a sacrifice-discovery bid but, as in this case, it is most likely to be perpetrated by the original bidder of our suit, since partner will have had a chance to make an FSJ already.  Now, I know of at least one likely reader of this blog that believes that it is a cardinal sin to give away this kind of information to the opponents.  Yet, unless an opponent happens to have a stack in the second suit, he or she will generally not know if the double fit condition exists or not.

Perhaps my LHO would have done better first to double 4 and then, when we ran back to 4, assuming that her partner had not doubled that, bid 4 or, conceivably, double again. They would have earned 100 for doubling us in 4.  Not as good as the 3 that they could easily make nor, obviously, the 4 that they should make with double-dummy play.

Of course, sometimes the opponents don't give us the room for such a bid, especially when our second suit is clubs.  But count me as a fan of the method, whenever I find that it is available.

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