Partscore Competitive Bidding by Ron Klinger

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When the opposition bidding dies out at a low level, should you pass it out and defend or should you come back into the auction?

Ron Klinger
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Source: Learn more from Ron at Ron Klinger Bridge

When your side has not entered the bidding early

When the opposition bidding dies out at a low level, should you pass it out and defend or should you come back into the auction? In the following auctions, should South be inclined to sell out or come into the bidding? 


West North East South
1 pass 1 pass
2 pass pass ?


West North East South
1 pass 1 pass
2 pass pass ?

 There is a significant difference between the two auctions. In (1), there is no evidence of a trump fit for East-West. Indeed, East could be singleton or even void in diamonds. Where the bidding has not revealed a good trump fit, there is no urgency to compete. You should re-open only if you have something worthwhile to bid. That would be unusual given your silence on the previous round. A poor 6-card suit, too weak to overcall initially, would be justification. In auction (1), South might back in with 2 with something like:

 7 3  10 8 6 4 3 2  4  A K 9 7

If their last bid was 1NT, you should bid only if you have a reasonably clear-cut action. Otherwise you are risking a substantial penalty.

In (2), it is highly likely that East-West have at least eight spades together. If they have a definite trump fit, you should be eager to compete and should almost never sell out at the two-level.

The 3-over-2 rule

If the opponents bid and raise a suit and stop at the two-level, be quick to bid in the pass-out seat.

When they have a trump fit and about half the HCP between them, they can usually score eight tricks. If they have about half the HCP, then so does your side. If they have a trump fit, your side does too (almost always). Your job is to dislodge them from the safety of the two-level and push them to the jeopardy of the three-level.

You must be prepared to go the three-level yourself and possibly fail at the three-level. Even if you do not make your contract at the three-level, the cost will usually be less than what they would have scored if you had left them to play in two. Your bonus comes when they push on to the three-level. You have pushed them one higher than they wished to be and perhaps you can now defeat them. Having pushed them to the three-level, pass and defend. Do not push once more.

This advice about being prepared to compete applies only if there have been two passes to you. If you also pass, the bidding is over. The advice does not apply in the direct seat, when the last bid was on your right. In auction (2), North is in the direct seat over 1 and over 2. To bid in the direct seat, you need full values for your action. To bid in the pass-out seat needs courage more than points.

Suppose North did double 2. What would you expect North to hold?

As the action is in the direct seat, North should have about opening points or better with hearts and clubs, the unbid suits. North’s failure to double is sure to be due to inadequate support for hearts.

Suppose in auction (2) South doubles 2. What can you expect from South?

South should hold at least four hearts and four clubs, but the point count is almost irrelevant. If they have 18-19-20-21-22 HCP their way, then your side has the balance of 22-21-20-19-18 HCP. So, suppose in auction 2, North-South have 20 HCP. Then if South has 12, partner will have 8, while if South has 7, partner will have 13. What South has does not matter, since the combined partnership total will be close to the 20-point mark.

Suppose you have decided to take action in the pass-out seat. What actions are available?

The Delayed Overcall


West North East South
1 pass 2 pass
pass ?    

 One option for North is to bid 2, 3 or 3, a delayed overcall. If the suit you bid could have been overcalled at the one-level, poor suit quality explains the failure to bid earlier. Expectancy for a delayed overcall is a 5-card suit but the suit does not require any suit quality. A 2 delayed overcall might be:

 J 8 7 4 2  A 2  K Q  7 5 3 2

An important consequence is that partner need not be anxious later in the defence to lead your suit. The failure to overcall at once marks you with a poor suit. In (3) above, North might bid 3 with:

 A 5  K 2  K 9 3  J 8 6 5 3 2

(bad suit in a good hand), or with :

 9 2  8 7 4  5 2  A K 8 6 3 2

(good suit in a poor hand)

After a delayed overcall by partner, never raise partner’s suit if the opponents do not bid and almost never bid on if they have been pushed to the three-level. Do not be impressed if you hold 13-14 points. Partner has already taken your values into account when making the delayed overcall.

The Delayed Double

The delayed double is generally used when you are short in their suit and hold 3-4 cards in the unbid suits. If they have bid and raised a major, then the delayed double should include 4 cards in the other major and tolerance for the minors. If they have bid and raised a minor, the delayed double should be at least 4-3 in the majors.


West North East South
1 pass 2 pass
pass ?    

 To double, North should have at least 4 hearts and at least 4-3 in the minors. A shortage in clubs is permitted as long as North is prepared to remove a 3 reply to 3 (6 diamonds or a reasonable 5).

The reason for not doubling earlier is lack of strength. To double 1 North should have about the same strength as an opening hand. For a delayed double, the shape is important but the high card strength is largely irrelevant.

In reply to a delayed double, partner should choose the best suit at the cheapest level. Do not make a jump reply to a delayed double! Do not become excited because you seem to hold a good hand. The fact that the opponents have stopped at the two-level has marked you with some strength. Partner will have deducted the points in hand from 20 to make an estimate of your likely strength. If you feel you have a really good hand, you can be reasonably confidant that the doubler will have a bad hand to compensate.

The aim is to push them to the three-level. Once that has been achieved, neither the doubler nor partner should push again. Push them once, not twice. ‘Do not go to the well too often.’ Bid again and a penalty double is imminent.

After you have pushed them to the three-level it is rarely right to make a penalty double after a delayed overcall or a delayed double. They have robbed you of nothing so that a penalty double is not needed. Defeating their contract will already gain a decent score for you. A penalty double at the three-level is warranted if the hand belongs to your side, if you have say 23 HCP or more and they have 17 or less. If that were the case, your side would have been in the bidding earlier.

The delayed 2NT overcall


West North East South
1 pass 2 pass
pass ?    

 What action should North take with:

 9 5 3 2  4  K Q 5 2  K J 3 2

Since they have bid and raised a suit and stopped at the two-level, it is right to take action, but North cannot afford to double. What if partner bids 3? You are then beyond anything that resembles sanity. An overcall or 3 or 3 lacks suit length and how can you tell which minor to bid?

The solution is to use a delayed 2NT overcall as a request to partner to bid but to choose only a minor suit. A delayed double says, “Pick any suit” while a delayed 2NT says “Pick one of the minors”.

The delayed 2NT cannot sensibly be a genuine no-trump hand. With a powerful balanced hand, you would have taken action on the previous round (1NT overcall or double). This use of 2NT follows the concept of the unusual 2NT overcall where an immediate overcall of 2NT shows at least 5-5 in the minors, about 6-11 HCP and a willingness to sacrifice should the opponents bid a major suit game. The delayed 2NT is usually 4-4 or 5-4 in the minors (with 5-5 you might have bid 2NT on the previous round). It might be 5-5 in the minors if the suit quality of the minors is poor.

The North hand after auction (5) above is ideal for the delayed 2NT. The 4-card holding in spades means that partner should be singleton or void in spades and therefore partner is very likely to have length in one of the minors.

Possible outcomes of the 3-over-2 rule

(a)You let them play at the two-level          –110

(b)You bid at the three-level and make     +110

(c)You bid at the three-level and fail          –50/-100

(d)They bid to the three-level and fail        +50/+100

(e)They bid three and make it                    –140

(f)They double you at the three-level         –500

If you leave them unchallenged in a major suit at the two-level, you will be scoring –110 most of the time. If you take one of the foregoing delayed actions and commit yourself to the three-level, you will do better in three situations (b, c and d). If they push on to the three-level and make it, you are no worse off. Making three in 2 or making three in 3 is the same result.

Occasionally you will have a horror result, doubled and down some large number. If all of the above results were equally likely, the recommended strategy is still sensible. You come out in front 60% of the time (b, c and d), break even 20% of the time (e) and suffer 20% of the time (f). In fact, (f) is the least likely result. Most of the time you can make eight tricks in your trump fit and most of the time you will not be doubled. They have only about half the HCP and as they have a trump fit, a penalty double is not appealing. Experience indicates (b, c and d) occur about 70% of the time, (e) about 20% and (f) about 10% of the time. The important thing is not to focus on the bad times. When a calamity does occur, reflect on all the great results you have had.

Suppose the bidding has started:


West North East South
1 pass 2 pass
pass dble pass ?

 What action should South take with :

 7 4  8 6 3  Q J 5 2  A 9 6 4

It is not clear which minor to choose. Partner could be 4-3 in the minors, perhaps even 5-3. Why risk picking the wrong minor? Why not use the 2NT reply to a delayed double to ask partner to choose the minor? It would be rare to want to play in 2NT opposite a delayed double. The partnership can hardly have the strength to make 2NT viable. In reply to an immediate takeout double, 2NT is a natural, strong balanced hand (commonly 10-12 points). In reply to a delayed double, use 2NT for the minors.

When is it unwise to follow the 3-over-2 rule?

(a) When their trump fit may not exist

If the bidding does not reveal a good trump fit their way, usually after responder has given merely a preference, you need not compete as vigorously.


West North East South
1 pass 1NT pass
2  pass 2 pass
pass ?    

 They have stopped at the two-level but they have not bid and raised a suit. South’s 2 preference need not be more than a doubleton and perhaps they are playing in a 7-card trump fit. Be wary of bidding here if you hold three cards in opener’s suit as East is quite likely to score a defensive ruff in hearts if you buy the contract.

(b) Do not compete if they are playing in their third suit as trumps.

For example :


West North East South
1 pass 1 pass
1 pass 2 pass
pass ?    

 The only place left for you is clubs and they know so much about their hand patterns that a defensive cross-ruff is quite likely. When they finish in their third suit as trumps, declarer is quite likely to play the hand as a crossruff. Your best defence is to lead trumps at each opportunity.

(c) Do not compete against notorious underbidders.

You may know the regular underbidders in your club. If not, keep track of those pairs who are often scoring +170 when the field is in game. Once you have established who these chronic underbidders are, do not bother to compete against them in the partscore zone without full values. It is quite likely that they have missed a game and if you give them a second chance, they may bid on to game. Let sleeping dogs lie. The stronger your opponents, the safer it is to compete when they have stopped at the two-level. Strong players rarely miss game.

(d) If an opponent takes a long time before passing partner’s two-level raise, do not come back in.

The person who trances (thinks for a long time) and then passes is considering a game invitation. If you come in, they will frequently push on to game and make it. Do not protect against a trancer.

The 3-over-3 rule

When the opponents have competed to the three-level over your two-level bid, should you pass and defend or should you bid three over their three? Most of the time you will better off defending. Quite often neither side can make nine tricks, so why should you fail when they are about to fail? Do not assume that because they have bid to the three-level, they are bound to make nine tricks. The opponents are quite fallible.

One of the best guidelines in this area uses the number of trumps held by your side as the basis for your decision:

At the three-level:

With eight trumps for your side : Pass and defend.

With nine trumps for your side : Bid 3-over-3.

Note that this guideline applies only when the bidding is already at the three-level. At the two-level, follow the 3-over-2 rule.

If both sides have a trump fit and one side has nine trumps, one side figures to make nine tricks (not necessarily the side that has the nine trumps, though). If this is so, then if your side is the one making the nine tricks, it obviously makes sense to bid 3-over-3. If their side is going to make nine tricks, you should still bid 3-over-3, choosing to go one down (you should make eight tricks) rather than let them make their three-level partscore.

The partnership should be able to tell whether eight or nine trumps are held. If your side has bid and raised a suit, you should have eight trumps together. If either partner has an extra trump, then the partnership should hold nine trumps. If neither partner has an extra trump, then you have only eight trumps together. Playing 5-card majors, a raise of opener’s major shows 3+ support. If responder actually has four trumps, responder knows the partnership has nine trumps and so responder is the one to take the push to 3-over-3.

This is a trouble area for those pairs who may raise partner’s 4-card major with only 3-card support. It is much harder for such pairs to gauge whether the partnership has seven or eight or nine trumps.

If you are going to take the push to 3-over-3, it often pays to take the push at once.

For example:


West North East South
1 pass 2 pass
pass 2NT ?  

 If East intends to bid 3 later, East may as well bid 3 now. This shows no extra strength, just an extra trump. The advantage comes when South is unable to indicate the preferred minor and so North may have a tougher choice of lead.

The 4-over-3 rule

Do not bid a partscore hand to the four-level. If they outbid you at the three-level, pass and defend rather than push on to four. Most of the time you will fail in four. Why not hope they fail in three?

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