23. Competitive Bidding

Methods of dealing with competition are woven throughout the other bidding topics. This chapter contains notes on an assortment of special topics.

In an established partnership, you can develop a style – be it aggressive, conservative, insane cowboy, you name it. It is important to realize that it isn’t so much that a given style is right or wrong, but that you bid as a partnership knowing what that style is. If you overcall very lightly, for example, your partner must be more conservative with replies to those overcalls.

Here are general principles to guide you:

  • Do not bid your same values twice.

    For example, you open 1♥, LHO overcalls 1♠, your partner bids 2♥, and RHO raises to 2♠. Do you now compete to 3♥?

    Ask yourself, “Do I have something more to tell my partner?” If your hand was an ordinary 13 point opening hand, you have shown those values already. Pass. Only go on if you have extras.

    If LHO now passes, your partner can use the same principal – he has promised you six points and three hearts, but if he really has nine points or has four hearts, then he hasn’t told you everything, so he can consider bidding 3♥ or doubling 2♠.

    Another way to look at this is that thirteen plus nine should be about right for the three level, all the more so with four trumps. Vulnerable, with only three trumps, a double might get you to the dreaded -200.

  • Another guideline is the “Law of Total Tricks”, which says that with a fit,

    the total number of tricks available in the hand is the sum of the lengths of the trump holdings. For example, in a competitive auction where they have shown an 8 card spade fit and we have a 9 card heart fit, there are 17 Tricks available. So if they can make 8 tricks in spades, we will be able to make 9 Tricks in hearts.

    In particular just remember that with 4 trump in support you’re not going to get too burned at the three level.

  • A passed hand is not always a poor hand. If your partner passed

    after LHO opened, it may be that he did not have enough to overcall. It may also be that he did have enough, but didn’t have a long enough suit, or his suit is the one LHO bid. That’s completely different from your partner passing in the first seat. It helps to say in your mind, “Partner has a hand that could not bid over that opener.” That’s not the same at all as “Partner has less than an opener.” We’ll see this at work in the section on reopening with a double.

  • Realize when you are “off the hook”. Your partner makes a takeout double, but

    your RHO bids over it. Or, your partner makes an Unusual 2N bid but RHO intervenes. You’re off the hook! You do not have to bid unless you have a worthwhile thing to say. When you do make such a “free” bid, your partner will infer that you have some reason to bid; when you bid because you have to, he cannot make such an inference.

  • Don’t be cheap. If your partner makes a takeout double, and you bid the lowest

    thing you can, you’re saying you don’t have 8 good points. Just because it is a competitive auction doesn’t mean to always go low.

  • Competing with balanced hands (e.g. 5332) but no fit is never as good as it looks.

    Lean toward defending.

  • If you have no defensive values, lean toward competing with something positive like

    and extra trump.

  • Extreme shapes call for extreme measures.

    Read Marty Bergen’s famous book, Points Schmoints. If you have a double fit, or you have a 6 - 5 hand, get really aggressive. “Six-Five, Come Alive” they say.

  • To balance is to bid in the passout seat. As a simple

    guideline, bid as though you had one more King in your hand, and your partner in reply will bid as though he had one fewer. At matchpoints, if your opponents are attempting to pass out two of a major, try very hard to balance. Be sure to balance properly and you’ll be a valued partner.

  • If partner balances, but the opponents “take the push” by going one higher, we don’t double and we don’t raise. For example:

      (1♥) P (2♥)  P
      (P ) X (P)  2♠
    The balancing double here borrowed a King in strength from partner. Neither of us
    should now bid 3♠ or double for penalty. The balance did its job. They might go down
    one now being a level too high. If they don't, we weren't likely to make 3♠.
  • Do not “sacrifice” against a part-score. Do not sacrifice vulnerable. Be hesitant about sacrificing at the five-level.

Look for a reason to bid, not a reason to pass.