Sunday, December 7, 2014

The principle of substantive discretionary bids

I mentioned this idea long ago in one of my first blogs in this series (see Every bid tells a story) and maybe it's time to dust it off and give it another airing. For brevity, I prefer to call it the "Principle of Stuff."

It strikes me as simply common sense that if you are making discretionary bids (that's to say a free bid when an opponent was the last to act, especially when it was your right-hand-opponent who last acted) then you should have some substance in your suit. And I will go further. The more you are sticking your neck out, the better your suit will be for the purposes of partner's lead.

Here's an example that came up in a club duplicate. I dealt myself the following hand at favorable vulnerability: ♠AJ T98642 AKQ7 ♣4. Naturally, I opened 1 which was followed by 2♣ on my left. Partner passed smoothly, as did RHO and it was back to me. I didn't have to bid again, although with a 14 count and shortness in their suit I think I always would. But technically my second bid was discretionary. So should I repeat the bad six-bagger, or bid diamonds where I actually had some stuff and would welcome a lead if the opponents win the auction with 3♣? Double is also a possibility I suppose but with only two spades and no extras to bid a third time, that seemed unpalatable.

This decision (2) helped us to a 75% board and I later mentioned to my partner that I had chosen to bid diamonds at my second turn at least partly for lead-directing purposes. He was a little surprised, saying that if he'd ended up on lead, he would have certainly led a heart. So much for this idea being "common sense."

When you are bidding in a constructive (non-competitive) auction, your choice of bids is largely dictated by your system and the relative lengths of your suits. With two five-card suits, for example, you will open the higher ranking and at your next turn bid the lower ranking. There's no way for partner to infer which might be the stronger suit. But this is because you believe that it's your hand and that you are simply trying to determine what strain and what level to play in.

If, instead, you make an overcall you are putting yourself in some danger. Partner may have no fit and no high cards. You should have some good stuff in your suit. What if your hand is good enough to make two overcalls without any encouragement from partner? Having survived your first overcall unscathed, you are seriously sticking your neck out the second time. Partner can of course give preference to the first suit if he likes it more, but there may be no escape from a bad result if partner has little support for either suit. It makes sense then that the second suit is likely to be the better suit because if it was weak, you would be unlikely to mention it at all – you haven't been forced to make a second overcall. Perhaps it's only a minor inference but it seems to me to be valid.

Here's a more compelling example from the recent 0-5000 Blue Ribbons...

What's going on here? Partner could have bid 2NT over 2♠ to show both minors, right [well, let's assume so, anyway]. Why is he bidding out his suits like this? He's either a lunatic or he's get a good hand with both minors. Which do you think is his better minor? If he had equal quality in both suits, he might perhaps have bid 2NT. But what we do know for sure is that his clubs must be very good to stick his neck out quite so far (a four-level solo effort, vulnerable).

So, are you tempted to do anything? 5? What makes you think we can make 5? The spade king might be useful but the hearts are tram tickets. We have no fitting honors in diamonds. Partner might be able to make a four-level contract with a trick or two from our side. But we basically have half a trick unless he has losing clubs to ruff. And if 5 might be a sacrifice, why are we doing it red on white?

How about double? Partner has overcalled two suits, so double will not be cooperative. It will be penalty. Do you think they can make 4♠? Each player is limited in values. North seems to have an extra spade. But I see no reason to assume that they can actually make 4♠. Indeed, our singleton is opposite partner's best suit. That sounds like a bit of a misfit. Double is the right call (+300 for about a 90% board) but pass would be acceptable too (70%).

On defense, I think it's rather obvious that we will be leading a club and indeed that is the only lead to achieve down two. Here is the hand record. Possibly, West overbid in the circumstances, but it gave our side the chance for a very good score. Without the club bid, the opponents would most likely be making 140 for about 40%.

So, I think it's worth paying close attention to the way partner bids his suits, especially if there was an alternative method of showing both suits. A dangerous bid should be based on a good suit. Therefore, when my partner freely bids a second suit, I always lead it if there's no clear reason to lead the other, such as a singleton. It seems to work out pretty well most of the time.

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