Main     Lesson 5D by Richard Pavlicek

Competing & Sacrificing

Competitive auctions bring excitement to the bridge table. You will usually get a poor score if you fail to compete; or if you compete too much. Knowing exactly how high to bid on every deal is an impossible task — even experts have to guess sometimes.

This lesson explains some important guidelines to follow to improve your competitive bidding.

Partscore Competition

When neither side has the clear majority of high-cards — each side holds 18-22 HCP — it is common for both sides to be in the bidding. The continuing problem is whether to keep bidding or to sell out to the opponents.

If your side has already raised a suit, generally you should compete for as many tricks as your side has trumps. I would fine-tune this strategy by suggesting two rules:

 Compete to the three level with a nine-card trump fit, or with an unbalanced hand.

1.
 A 2 K J 8 7 6 K Q 4 8 4 3 9 4 3 Q 5 4 2 10 5 A J 10 5

 West1 Pass NorthPass2 East2 3 SouthPass

East competes to 3  because he knows his side holds nine trumps. If East did not bid 3 , West should pass 2 .

2.
 A K 9 7 6 Q 8 A 8 2 5 4 3 Q 5 4 7 5 4 9 6 3 A Q 8 6

 West1 Pass North2 Pass East2 Pass South3

West and East each have balanced hands and minimal trump length so it is wise to sell out. Note that 3  is likely to fail.

 Compete to the four level with a 10-card trump fit or with exciting shape such as 5-5 or 6-4.

3.
 A 8 3 J 3 2 K 4 A J 8 6 5 K 4 2 4 Q 8 6 3 Q 9 7 4 3

 West1 4 North2 East3 South3

West expects a 10-card club fit because a minor-suit raise typically shows five.

4.
 9 7 6 Q 10 8 3 Q 9 2 K J 8 3 K 4 K J 8 7 4 3 A 9 7 6

 West3 North1 3 East2 4 South2

East competes to 4  because of his 6-4 shape. If this goes down one, it is likely that 3  would have made.

If your side has not raised a suit, the strategy is more liberal:

 Compete to the three level if you expect an eight-card fit, or to the four level with a nine-card fit.

5.
 A 9 8 7 6 A 4 3 K Q 10 2 2 5 2 J 9 7 5 J 9 8 4 A 8 3

 West1 2 NorthPass3 East1 NT3 South2

East competes to 3  because he knows of the diamond fit. Note that West would not know of the fit without East’s raise.

6.
 K Q J 9 7 6 A 2 5 4 2 K 3 4 9 7 3 A J 8 7 3 Q 6 5 4

 West1 2 Pass NorthPass3 East1 NTPass South2 Pass

West should not bid 3  because he has already shown six and East would have competed to 3  with a doubleton.

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Competitive Game Tries

If partner has raised your suit and your right-hand opponent bids, it is impractical to use a bid in the raised suit as a game try — else how could you compete? Most good partnerships have these agreements:

 Any bid in the raised suit is competitive (not a game try).

7.
 3 2 A K J 10 8 K 10 6 5 3 2 A J 7 6 Q 7 6 Q 9 7 2 J 7

 West1 3 North2 East2 South3

West competes because his hand is unbalanced. He is not trying for game.

 A new suit bid is a game try. This is forcing and it may not be a real suit. Partner should return to the raised suit with a minimum; or bid game with a maximum.

 The new-suit game try is artificial and should be alerted to the opponents.

8.
 3 2 K Q 9 7 6 3 A 2 A 9 3 10 5 4 A 10 4 K J 8 7 4 8 4

 West1 3 North1 Pass East2 4 South2

West improvises 3  (artificial) to try for game, because 3  would be competitive. East has a maximum so he accepts.

9.
 A J 7 3 Q 8 2 7 6 A J 10 2 K Q 9 8 K 7 3 9 2 K 7 5 3

 West1 2 3 NorthPass3 East1 3 South2 Pass

East must bid 3  (artificial) to try for game, and West rejects by returning to the agreed trump suit.

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High Level Decisions

When both sides have a trump fit, the bidding sometimes gets to the four or five level very quickly — usually because of extreme distribution around the table. Assuming the high cards are about evenly divided (18-22 for each side), it is difficult to gauge which side can make what. In many cases each side can make its contract if the distribution is wild enough.

What to do? I would be guessing like anyone else, but experience has shown the following general advice to be sound:

 In a “pressure situation” tend to bid one level higher than you normally would if necessary to buy the contract. If the enemy competes further, let them play it. (Double only if you expect a two-trick set.)

10.
 3 K Q 9 7 5 K Q 9 7 2 A 3 8 4 J 10 8 A 8 6 4 J 8 4 2

 West1 5 North1 East2 South4

West normally would bid 4  so the push to 5  is justified under pressure. This time 5  will be set, but there is a good chance the opponents would have made 4 .

11.
 A J 10 8 9 7 4 4 3 K 9 6 5 Q 7 5 2 A 8 7 A Q 10 8 4 2

 West5 North1 East2 South4

West normally would compete to 4  (based on the known 9+ card fit and not having raised clubs) so he wings it to 5  under pressure. Note that 5  will make if the spade finesse works; and if it loses, the opponents probably could make 4 .

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Sacrifice Bids

Until now it was assumed the high cards were about evenly divided. Another case is a “sacrifice bid,” a deliberate overbid when opponents have most of the high cards and you expect them to make game.

When making a sacrifice bid, you should expect to be doubled and the penalty should be lower than the score your opponents would have made. Sacrifice bids are most attractive at favorable vulnerability (only the opponents are vulnerable) since you can afford to be set three tricks (minus 500) if the opponents have a game. At equal vulnerability you can afford to be set two tricks. At unfavorable vulnerability sacrifice bids are almost nonexistent.

If you sacrifice too much I’ll have you for lunch!

When considering a sacrifice bid, it is usually impossible to know exactly how many tricks you can win; or even if the opponents can make their contract. Some guesswork is required. Here are several tips.

 Sacrifice bids are likely to be profitable when you have a 10-card or greater trump fit and an unbalanced hand.

12.
 8 3 8 6 4 4 K J 9 7 6 5 4 2 Q 9 7 K 9 7 6 5 3 A 10 3

 West3 North4 East5 South
N-S Vul

East expects a 10-card fit so he takes the sacrifice, which is likely a gainful venture (down three) despite West’s terrible hand. If one of East’s diamonds were a spade, he should pass because then his hand would be balanced.

 Do not sacrifice if you have made a weak bid — it is up to your partner to decide whether or not to sacrifice.

13.
 — A J 9 8 7 5 2 10 9 2 4 3 2 A 8 6 2 Q 6 3 8 6 3 A Q 10

 West3 Pass North3 Pass East4 Pass South4
N-S Vul

Despite the favorable vulnerability, West should not bid 5  because he has made a weak bid. East becomes the captain and also passes because of the balanced shape. There is a good chance to beat 4 .

 Once you decide to sacrifice, do so immediately. Do not wait for the opponents to reach their final contract.

14.
 8 5 2 K Q 9 8 6 5 4 Q 8 5 J 10 2 A J 10 6 4 J 10 7 2 4

 West3 NorthDbl East5 South
None Vul

East anticipates the opponents will bid game in spades or clubs so he exerts the maximum pressure (routine at any vulnerability except unfavorable). Note the opponents can make at least 5 .

 If the opponents bid over your sacrifice (instead of doubling), it is usually wise to pass. Be content that you pushed them up.

15.
 K Q 10 7 5 4 Q 8 2 J 9 4 3 A 9 8 2 3 4 3 2 K J 10 6 2

 West2 Pass NorthDblPass East4 Pass South5
Both Vul

Once the sacrifice is taken in 4 , the best chance for a good score is to pass and hope you can defeat 5  (no matter what the vulnerability). If you bid on to 5  it would defeat the purpose of the 4  bid.

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