Bridge Is a Partnership Game

In another article (Lessons Learnt) I discussed some things I saw while playing a couple of games at a local club. I’ve also noticed other things over the years, perpetrated by opponents, a few of which I discuss here. Again, these will be general errors or straightforward ways of staying out of trouble and maintaining partnership harmony — which usually leads to a more enjoyable and rewarding game of bridge.

The common aspect of these errors is failure to treat the auction and defence of a hand as a joint venture with one’s partner.

Bidding

Bidding the Same Values Twice

While there are bids in most bidding system that do not show extra values, players fall in love with the idea of bidding. Suppose you play 5-Card Majors and a new suit by opener at the one level doesn’t promise an “unbalanced hand”. The following auction (opponents passing throughout):

West
East
1
1
1
1NT
?
 

has East showing 6 or more points with 4 or more hearts. Your minimum range might be 6 – 9 points. Here the 1NT simply confirms you are in that minimum range and do not have a hand that wants to take a preference to one of opener’s suits. Hopefully the 1NT bidder has a club stopper, but it isn’t guaranteed.

Suppose the non-jump, non-reverse rebid by opener in a new suit, as in the following auction, can be passed. That is, it shows a minimum opening bid, with at least 5 cards in the first suit and 4 in the second.

West
East
1
1
2
?

So, here East, with a minimum response is allowed to Pass with a preference for diamonds. Suppose East has the same minimum response, but prefers hearts (perhaps East has 3 hearts and 3 diamonds) and the auction proceeds:

West
East
1
1
2
2
3
?

What is going on here?

East has already said he has nothing extra. He may even have a doubleton heart (and only 2 or 3 diamonds). He’s still got the 6-9 points he promised, but he’s limited to that. If he had any kind of a reasonable fit and enough for game if opener had a maximum for his non-forcing rebid, he would have tried 3 as an invitation to game.

What is going on, is opener is bidding the same values twice, or his 2 rebid was a gross under-bid.

Opening Pre-emptor Bidding Again

There is a generally accepted philosophy concerning pre-emptive bidding. It is that an opening pre-emptor bids the limit of his hand and then passes unless “forced” to bid by his partner. The pre-emptive bid has described his hand and now further action is up to his partner. His partner is allowed “to operate”, that is, with the knowledge that his partner will respect he is the captain (“partnership trust”), he can raise opener’s suit on any hand he wants. His objective may be simply to make life more difficult for the opponents to know what is the correct level (part-score, game or even slam), or it may be to try and buy the hand.

Here is an example of violating partnership trust:

W
West
N
North
E
East
S
South
2
3
3
4
4
?
 
 

The opening bidder has no idea what his partner holds for that 3 bid. He might hold 3 spades to a high honour and have bid based on “The Law of Total Tricks” (LoTT), or he might have bid on a doubleton small spade, “to push the opponents around”.

In this sequence, West had no business bidding 4 (whether or not it turns out alright).

Not Supporting Partner’s Suit

I am a proponent of support partner’s suit at the earliest possible opportunity. I believe it is a sound bidding principle and one that strong players follow. If partner opens 1 or 1, you have support and you have a bid that shows this and your strength, then make that bid; do not mess around.

So, if you have 4-card or better support and play a convention like Bergen, Jacoby 2NT or Splinters and it fits your hand, use it. What happens if you don’t support partner immediately? Well, partner will never believe you have the support you do have and will misinterpret the shape of your hand, so you may eventually raise him to game, but he may discount the possibility of a slam, or bid on to a hopeless slam (because he misinterpreted the shape of your hand), or you may end up in the wrong contract (one of your suits or Notrump).

To illustrate this, let us suppose you play “old fashioned” Limit Raises in the Majors and you have the following auction:

West
East
1
1
2
3
?
 

You are West. Would you ever, in your wildest imagination, believe that your partner has 4-card support for your heart suit? You will assume he has 3-card support and may well misjudge the contract. Of course your choice of Pass or 4 may turn out just fine — but that will be luck and not skill.

Suppose you hold the following hand and the auction goes as shown below.

E
East
KJxxx
Qxx
Q10x
xx
West
East
1
?

What do you bid? If you were going to bid 1, shame on you! You should show your support for partner immediately by raising to 2. Partner has a 5-card (or longer) suit and you have 3-card support. So you have at least an 8-card fit. Your partner may be able to bid game or make a try for game (and with your maximum, you will co-operate).

I was very careful to say support partner’s suit at the earliest possible opportunity. If partner’s suit is a major, this is often immediately; however, if it is a minor suit, your bidding system may not permit a raise on the first round (for example, playing 5-Card Majors, your partnership may play that showing support for a minor on the first round denies holding a 4-card, or longer, major suit).

Making Unilateral Decisions

Guessing about the value of partner’s hand and picking the final contract without consulting partner is a sure-fire way to hurt partnership trust. Sometimes you will be lucky and the contract you pick is fine; other times you will be wrong and you will get a bad result.

Here is a deal from a short time ago. The perpetrator was lucky and was rewarded with an excellent score. However, the partnership could have reached the contract co-operatively, to get that good result. The next time they have the same auction, they may well get a terrible result.

S
South
Q1098
AK
KQ103
A104

South held the above hand. It’s a rather nice 18 H.C.P. They were playing a 15-17 1NT opening. The auction went something like this:

North
South
1
1
1NT
6NT
All Pass
 

So, “What”, you may ask, “is wrong with that auction?”

Well, North’s 1NT rebid shows about 12-14 H.C.P. (and, supposedly, a fairly balanced hand). Thus the combined partnership assets are:

  • Minimum: 12 H.C.P. + 18 H.C.P. = 30 H.C.P.
  • Maximum: 14 H.C.P. + 18 H.C.P. = 32 H.C.P.

With two balanced hands facing each other, 30 H.C.P. is generally considered woefully inadequate for a small slam. While 32 H.C.P. is generally enough (provided the partnership isn’t missing two Aces or an AK combination).

So South’s 6NT was an out-and-out shot in the dark. South was lucky, as North held a full 14 H.C.P. and 5 clubs to the King-Queen. South could trivially have asked for partner’s co-operation by making a bid that invited slam:

North
South
1
1
1NT
4NT
?
 

In this auction, North would Pass holding 12 H.C.P; on the actual deal, North would have been perfectly happy to bid 6NT.

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