Bob Mackinnon

Mixing It Up

Getting into the bidding with a weak hand can cause confusion, and if you can get partner involved, so much the better, confusion-wise. Some believe that distribution is everything, so they will enter the auction on topless suits. ‘I have never seen a 6-card suit I didn’t like’ is their motto. Bidding in this manner reduces the information content of their bids, but that is a small price to pay in their way of thinking. If the opponents are misled, so much the better, as there are 2 of them and only one partner.

The aim of undisciplined preemptive bidding is to have the opposition play in the wrong contract, or to misplay the hand if they reach the right contract. There is an art to this. You mustn’t bid too high, and you mustn’t bid too low. Your aim is to give the opponents a losing option. If you don’t accomplish that, then not only is your effort wasted, it may also aid the opponents in their quest for a good score against you.

One of my rules is: don’t preempt if you have more points outside your long suit than you have within it. So it was with grim satisfaction that I witnessed an undisciplined preempt from my partner that got us the shared bottom it deserved. His second seat bid of a weak 2 was based on AK 85 Q96532 842. His RHO balanced with 4-4 in the majors and the opponents reached 2, their best contract. I raised to 3 on T752 643 A7 AKT6, a good sacrifice at -50, but a shared bottom, as the deal had been passed out at most tables. Missing the AK in both black suit, the opponents were not about to be pushed to the 3-level.

In a recent issue of Bridge Magazine, World Champion Sally Horton commented that her late husband, the British expert Raymond Brock, felt that the most effective preempts were made in 3 of a major or 4 of a minor, and that her experience has borne this out. Such proved to be the case when later in the session, both vulnerable, my partner preempted to 4 over 1 on this collection : Q94 5 J K9876542. This caused enough confusion to get away with, a rare occasion where -200 represented a good matchpoint score. If the opposition had bid to 4 they were in trouble on the 5-1 split, and the LHO was reluctant to raise spades on 862, so the Q played its part.

Consider what to bid on this hand, 3 4 T86542 JT874, after partner opens 1 and your RHO doubles. It seems to me there are 2 options, ‘pass’ because you have nothing, or 2, for the same reason. Our opponent chose a middle path, not the best choice as so often the case. Look at the deal from our point of view.

All Pass


 Before the opening bid on my right I was pondering the best way to approach this 3-loser hand. I had decided to open 2 to find out first how many controls partner held. 6 was my primary target. I was somewhat surprised to see my RHO open 1. Much as I hate takeout doubles dominated by a long suit, this hand did provide an alternative to hearts in the form of a good 4-card spade suit. Over 3 Jack bid 3, guaranteeing a 5-card suit. After RKCB revealed the A, it was easy enough for me to bid the Grand Slam with confidence. I expected an average result, as it was possible we could make 7NT if partner held the Q. It came as a surprise that only one other pair managed to get as high as 7. Definitely North had his 1 bid (14 HCP and 3=4=3=3 shape), so what happened?

My feeling is that the 3 preempt helped us immensely, as it gave Jack the opportunity to show his 5-card length. If my LHO had passed, a jump to 2 would not have guaranteed a 5-card suit. The temptation to bid an informative 3 was there, placing the auction in a cooperative mode when really we do best if the doubler can take charge and extract information from his partner. I conclude that the best action by South was to pass. As is often the case, bidding on nothing does very little to hinder determined opponents, and may help them. Doubt must be genuine to be effective.

An interesting point in the play of the hand arises. The K is led to the A in dummy. What is the best way to go about making 13 tricks? Should you start with hearts or with spades? It seems safe enough to start with the A and a low heart to ruff. On the second heart the preemptor ruffs with the T. You must overuff, so what now? Do you play for spades having been dealt 2-2, so play for the drop in spades? Well, the preempt has been informative. It is most likely that the cards are divided 3=4=3=3 in opener’s hand and, therefore, 1=1=6=5 in the preemptor’s. It follows that declarer must immediately finesse the 9 through the opening bidder in order to bring in his contract. A second finesse will be needed. Note that if the spades were split 2-2 it is most likely that the honors are split (in accordance with the law of restricted choice), so the same finesse is indicated, although it is not as urgent.

In the old days it was claimed that bad bidding demands good play, and such was the case on the next hand, although bad defence was required as well. I suspect this was always so.

(1) Forcing


At matchpoints 3NT is the obvious spot, but Jack has been playing a lot of team games recently in preparation for the Regional Knockouts coming up. When he went bypassed 3NT with a bid of 4 there was nothing to do other than blast to slam. With only bad bidding to go by, the opening leader chose to lead her fourth highest from a suit headed by a queen.  Hurdle #1 was cleared with flying coattails when the J won in dummy. A plan was formed. Jack played off 4 rounds of clubs. He eliminated the majors and led from 765 towards the AQ4. North played the 8, dummy, the 4 and South, the T, thereby forcing herself to lead back into the AQ tenace. South had misdefended earlier when she discarded the 3 from KJT3, guaranteeing the endplay.

The perils of the cooperative approach to slam bidding when one player should be the captain were demonstrated a week previous when, using Precision techniques, I was able to score a clear top by reaching a slam missed at every other table. Perhaps 2/1 players might like to try their hand at this combination.



The auction features a myriad of asterisks, but is not difficult to grasp. Basically the stronger hand asks questions about controls and the weaker answers as best he can. 2 is a limited NT bid, 8-10 HCP. 2 shows a spade suit and asks for support. 3 shows 3-card support the transfer allowing opener to ask how good the spades are. 4 shows a control honor. 4 asks for a diamond control; 4 shows the K. 5 asks, how good are your clubs? 5 reveals the A.  It was at the very end that I made the mistake of bidding 6 – the Matchpoint Devil made me do it. The safest contract is 6, and there was no need to risk a slam contract that no one else will reach. A bid of 6 would have given responder the option of bidding 6, but here he would pass as I had bid his best suit.

The main weakness of the asking bids employed is that distribution is left somewhat a mystery until the very end when responder has a chance to get his 2 cents in. With a distribution of 3=3=4=3 two losers could be disposed of on the 4th and 5th spades.

Let’s now speculate on how the hand might be bid using 2/1 methods. Presumably, even today, no one outside China will open 1NT. So we start 1 – 2. OK, I give up. I can’t see how to reach 6.

Highland Village Verses

Fair Mary MacNaughton
Will do what she oughtn’t.
Her head there sits on it
A tam not a bonnet.

She is my blossom,
I am her bee.
She is my apple;
I am her tree.

Ten toes point towards Heaven;
Ten toes point towards Hell.
Which way we are headin’
Nae-body can tell.

Stillman Andy MacVey
Lets a quart go astray,
As the Good Lord intended
When Scotch He invented.



Larry LowellFebruary 11th, 2013 at 8:42 pm

The last hand is difficult for Strong Club schemes because 3=2=5=3 hands with weak minor suits are treated as balanced. One of my partner’s auctions would go 1C – 2D (8-10 bal) – 2S (Asking) – 3D (showing 3cd or better Spade support and 3 controls). 3S asks in Spades and 4C = Q spades. Opener knows responder has A clubs and Q of spades, but where is the K?. 4D asks and 4S = K of diamonds and now 6S. However, opener never learns that the Diamond fit is better for IMP scoring.

DavidFebruary 14th, 2013 at 4:51 pm

I think an auction that would work for the last hand would be fairly simply 1S-1N (Planning to show a 3 card limit raise)-3D-4C(as your hand got better over 3D)-4H-4S-5H(worth another call if partner was co-operating)-6D(take your pick of slams)-P

Bob MacKinnonFebruary 14th, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Quite often the answer to ‘how to I get there’ is simply this ‘bid it!’ I would like to be able to jump to 3 diamonds/1NT with this hand, but is it part of the 2/1 system?

On similar lines, I like to reverse with a good 6-loser hand, but find that too is not part of the system. Maybe it should be.

Rob BradfordFebruary 18th, 2013 at 11:00 am

I’m surprised that you don’t seem to consider the obvious 1 spade (or maybe one heart?) psyche on the 1165 hand, Bob!

There’s nothing there but a fit for partner, and I see no reason to let anyone know about THAT until the opponents try to penalize spades — as you point out, it just makes it easier.

Bob MacKinnonFebruary 18th, 2013 at 10:21 pm

I like to keep it simple. Of course, playing against you I would need to expand my horizons.

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