Thursday, October 24, 2013

Coping with preempts

Preempts are my favorite bids in bridge, but unfortunately other people know about them too! Long ago, I developed a rule to live by: after the opponents have preempted and you find yourself in what looks like a good, playable spot, don't try to improve on your contract unless you're sure you can do it in safety. This is especially true, apart from the fact that we are more likely to run out of room, because we suspect that the distribution will not be kind to us.

Recently, I've added a corollary: bid what'ya got. Do you have an obvious bid that will describe your hand? Or do you prefer to monkey about forcing the bidding but not really telling partner what you have?

A good hand for this latter rule came up recently on the last hand of a robot tournament on BBO.

I was in second place hoping for something I might be able to swing a few imps on. Well, there were plenty of imps flying about but the only other player to go positive on this hand was the one who was already an imp ahead.

So, how best to describe this hand? Playing the Leaping Michaels convention, I would probably bid 4♣ here. A slight misdescription perhaps but at least the hand would actually be a bit better than described. The robots don't play Leaping Michaels so bidding has to be natural. There seem to be several choices: 2♠, 3♠, 4♠, 3 and double. Can you think of anything else?

One of the nice things about playing with the robots is that you don't have to guess the meaning of your (or their) bid. Hovering over the bid will let you know what it means. This looked like a 3♠ call to me so I hovered: twice-rebiddable spades, 19+ total points. Although I didn't try it, hovering over 4♠ would have given the following description: 7+ spades, less than 14 hcp and at least 3 total points. In case you're wondering, 2♠ would be: overcall, 5+ spades, 12-18 total points. Clearly, this hand was much too good for two (or four) spades and the description for 3♠ was spot on. As Sherlock Holmes might have said had he been a bridge player: "it is an old maxim of mine that when one of your options describes the hand you have perfectly, why would you look for anything else?"

OK, I hear you say, but we risk losing the club suit that way. If we had spades and diamonds, I might have been tempted to double and then correct clubs to diamonds. But with the actual hand, I think there's far too much likelihood of an accident, or simply getting too high.

I wasn't best pleased when partner bid 3NT. Should I try to rescue him? How about the first part of the preempt rule? We are probably in a reasonable spot and any attempt to get to a better one might result in disaster. So I passed. This was the layout:

As you can see, 3NT is no slam dunk (4 would be tricky too but is in fact cold). The East robot started with the reasonable lead of K and after that his chances of a set were somewhat reduced. I knew from the bidding that West had the A so was able to play low on the diamond switch. West won and quite reasonably (but fatally for them) switched back to hearts. I had my nine tricks: seven black, two red.

My rival in the tournament chose to bid 4 which, while it was a totally incorrect description of the hand, did have the advantage of silencing his partner.  The others variously tried 2, double and 3. All met with disaster in one way or another. The robots were kind to those who ended in a minor suit game or slam. They didn't double.

Admittedly, it's only one hand, but I've generally found that making the most descriptive bids possible and quitting while you're ahead (i.e. stay with happiness) are good ideas when faced with a preempt.


  1. This hand looks familiar and I believe I was one of the players in 4 spades. Do you remember when you played and what the number of the tournament was?

  2. Possibly #5778 on 9/19 or #2277 on 6/4 (but that's less likely). Are you a birdwatcher/photographer, Dave?

  3. 1. I looked and couldn't find it.
    2. Not really a bird watcher, but my friend Kate is. She has bird feeders etc. in her yard. Here are some shots I took before when I visited her:

    (if you click the individual images, they enlarge in most browsers)

    3. Are you a bird watcher/photographer?