Support with Support Part I by Andrew Robson

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Bridge is a game at which two people should combine rather than add together their efforts.

Partnership Bidding at Bridge
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Partnership Bidding at Bridge The contested auctionby Andrew Robson and Oliver Segal, 1993

Andrew Robson

Andrew Robson

Introduction

Bridge is a game at which two people should combine rather than add together their efforts. These articles are going to make life easier for your partners. If you assimilate the approach and use the methods detailed, then you will be a much better and more successful bridge player.

Making life easy: avoid the last guess

Is anything in bridge more comradely than supporting partner’s suit in the auction?

Not only do you convey the glad tidings that he is likely to declare the hand, but you will make his work in the subsequent auction so much easier. He will be able to make a reasonable evaluation of his hand straight away; and if he remains unsure of the level to which your side should bid, he will know exactly what bids are forcing. The real practical benefits of this ‘making-life-easier’ approach to bidding are hard to overestimate. But the advantages of immediately showing your support for partner’s suit go far beyond simply reducing the strain on his mental processes. There are important theoretical considerations that argue in the same direction.

Consider your opponents’ fit

Bridge is not a game played by two people – a proposition frequently ignored by bidding theorists – and your opponents have not paid their table money to observe you in admiring silence. They want their slice of the action. And, as anyone will tell you, they are getting more and more aggressive in demanding attention.

So, what is the significance of all this for supporting partner? If your side has a fit, so (almost certainly) have your opponents. It’s that simple. The better your fit, the better will be your opponents’ and thus the more likely they are to mess things up for you. The conclusion: if you have a fit for partner, you must convey this at your first bid. Otherwise you may find your opponents have presented you with an awkward guess on the next round.

You are South. You hold as responder to the opening bid:

10 6
Q 5 4 2
A J 6 3 2
Q 5

and the auction proceeds

West North East South
  1 1 ?
       

For the moment, let us assume your choices are between 2 (forcing) and 3 (invitational). Now, if West passes, 2 should work all right. You will bid 3 (or 4) at your next turn and partner will be in a nice position to judge the limit of the hand. But what happens if West bids 2, or 3, or 4!? Don’t you sort of expect him to? Well, let’s not be dramatic – say it’s only 2. Partner passes and East bids 3.

West North East South
  1 1 2
2 Pass 3  

Now what? Bid 4 and discover partner has:

Q J 4
A 8 7 6 3
K 4
K J 3

By bidding you will convert a potentially good plus score into a minus one. Or pass and find partner had:

7 5 2
A K 7 6 3
K 4
A 4 3

– a missed game?

And the problems are much worse if the auction goes:

West North East South
  1 1 2
3 Pass Pass  

because now partner was under pressure also.

OK, so this time you reject 2 and try 3. What do you gain?

Well, for starters (and how important this is!) West can’t bid 2. If he would have bid 2 over 2, he may pass (and that will probably be the end of your opponents, who may now miss a profitable sacrifice or fail to compete the partscore when it was right to do so). Or he may allow himself to get pushed to 3, misleading his partner and possibly giving your partner the chance to make a lucrative penalty double.

Secondly – and at least as importantly – if West does bid 3 (and, let us say, would have done so anyway), see how much better placed your side is.

(a) (b)
Q J 4
A 8 7 6 3
K 4
K J 3
7 5 2
A K 7 6 3
K 4
A 4 3

With hand (a) partner will probably double, while with hand (b) he will bid 4. And if he passes? So will you, and without a qualm.

Avoiding the last guess

Now, why was it that bidding 2 presented us with problems, while bidding 3 did not? The simple answer is: because when we did not show our support immediately we found ourselves taking the last guess – whether to show it later when the enemy had forced up the bidding.

The idea of ‘avoiding the last guess’ is the single most important concept we shall address in this book. In short, most of the theory, most of the methods we have undertaken to introduce are designed to enable you to avoid taking the last guess.

It is often said that experts ‘guess well’. In fact, what most characterises the bidding of a top partnership is that they rarely guess at all late in the auction. For if you do take the last guess, you will get it wrong a lot of the time, however good you are – and the error will be irrecoverable. Whereas if you force your opponents to make the last guess, it is they who will be conceding frequent losses to you.

More ways of raising

To return to the hand you were considering earlier,

10 6
Q 5 4 2
A J 6 3 2
Q 5

West North East South
  1 1 ?
       

you are probably wondering what the problem is. You’d likely have bid 3 anyway. ‘It’s easy,’ you’re thinking, ‘whenever I’ve got a raise to 3 I’ll bid 3 .’ Fine. But what constitutes a raise to 3 in this context? How about…?

a) b) c) d) e)
6
Q 10 4 3
J 7 6 5 4
6 5 2
6 5
K 10 4 3
J 7 6 5
K 10 6
6
Q 10 4 3
7 6 5
K Q 10 6 5
A 6
Q 5 4 3
K 7 6
Q 10 6 5
6 5
A 8 4 3
7 6
K Q 10 6 5

More ways of supporting partner

In a very real sense all these examples are types of a raise to 3 (particularly playing five-card majors), as we shall see later. Yet it is surely absurd for one bid to cover all these hands. What we want is more bids. We must use more of the limited vocabulary available to us to describe hands with support for partner. For these are the sort of hands that turn up frequently and must be accurately described immediately, if we are to avoid the ‘guesswork’ we spoke of above.

A problem hand – raising and bidding suit at once?

Before we return to the five hands (a) – (e) given above, let us examine a different (though connected) sort of problem. You hold, vulnerable against not (what else?)

K J 6 5
10 5 2
A Q 10 9 2
4

and the bidding has started

West North East South
  1 3 * ?
       

* weak

‘what will I do if West bids 5 ?’, then you are thinking along exactly the right lines. What of 4 , then? Better. But if West bids 5 (and they always do), will partner know what to do with:

A Q 7 4 3
Q
K J 7 4
J 6 3

Five spades is an easy make, and – worse! – so might five clubs be. And remember, there is no point in bidding 4 if it is we who are going to guess 5 over

West North East South
  1 3 * 4
5 Pass Pass ?

For after all, partner is much more likely to hold

A Q 7 4 3
K J 7 4
7
Q 6 3

Obviously what we would like to achieve is a way of communicating in one bid: (a) our ability to raise spades to the four level, and (b) our fine diamond suit. For in so doing we shall give partner the complete picture. He will no longer be forced to guess. He will be able to make a well-informed decision. We shall leave you to work out a way of doing this – it is not so hard – and return to the hand later.

Defining hand types

It is now time to categorise the hand-types that we might hold in support of partner. Looking at the five hands we gave you at the beginning of this section, on the auction,

a) b) c) d) e)
6
Q 10 4 3
J 7 6 5 4
6 5 2
6 5
K 10 4 3
J 7 6 5
K 10 6
6
Q 10 4 3
7 6 5
K Q 10 6 5
A 6
Q 5 4 3
K 7 6
Q 10 6 5
6 5
A 8 4 3
7 6
K Q 10 6 5
         
West North East South
  1 1 ?
       
a) 6
Q 10 4 3
J 7 6 5 4
6 5 2
We shall define hand (a) as a preemptive raise to 3. We want to bid to 3 quickly,
more to provide an obstacle for our opponents than to suggest a game.
     
b) 6 5
K 10 4 3
J 7 6 5
K 10 6
We shall call hand (b) a mixed raise – that is a semi-preemptive raise with some defence.
     
c) 6
Q 10 4 3
7 6 5
K Q 10 6 5
Hand (c) we shall uninspiredly refer to as a mixed (or semi-preemptive) raise with a
good side suit.
     
d) A 6
Q 5 4 3
K 7 6
Q 10 6 5
Hand (d) we shall designate a (neutral) limit (ie invitational) raise.
     
e) 6 5
A 8 4 3
7 6
K Q 10 6 5
Hand (e) – you guessed it – is a limit raise with a good side-suit. 

Borderline cases

Before deciding how we should treat these hands, a few words of caution: the boundaries between these five categories are not clear-cut. You might well pick up a hand that it appears possible to place in two, perhaps even three of the categories. Now, where it is purely a matter of high-card points (HCP), the distinction is not too important – vulnerability, your particular opponents and your style of opening bids will provide the requisite criteria for making a sensible choice. And, in any event, as we shall discover, many auctions will limit your options to distinguish high-card strength, such that it is often unnecessary in practice to make close judgements of this sort.

It is the overlap between (b) and (c) and that between (d) and (e) that can prove problematic. In short, what constitutes a ‘fair side-suit’?

When to show a side suit

(We shall continue to assume that the auction has started with 1 from partner, 1 on the right.) First, the more values you have outside your suit (and partner’s), the less inclined you should be to show your sidesuit.

For example:

a) b)
6 5
K 7 5 3
6 4 2
A J 9 2
Q 6
Q 7 5 3
Q 10 6
A J 4 2
   

It is not unreasonable to treat hand (a) as a mixed raise with clubs. But hand (b) is quite clearly a neutral limit raise and not a limit raise with clubs.

Secondly, your trump support must be good. To show a side-suit on the given auction, for instance, you should generally have four trumps, particularly if your partner’s opening may be a four-card suit. This is because, in practice, a fit-raise sets trumps for your side. With exceptional concentration, however, and invitational values, such as

J 6
A J 7
6 4 2
K J 10 4 2

three-card support will suffice for a limit raise with clubs, even opposite a (potential) four-card major in a weak no trump system. More anon. Within your side-suit any king, queen, jack, ten (or nine) ought to encourage you to show the suit. An ace, particularly if unsupported by minor honours, should not be paid overmuch attention – it will take a trick
even if partner does not fit the suit. For example

a) b)
J 6
K 10 7 5
K 6
A 10 5 4 2
J 6
Q 10 7 5
A 6
K J 10 4 2
   

Hand (a) is a neutral limit raise, while we would treat hand (b) as a limit raise to 3 with clubs. Of course, as the last two examples suggest, the reverse logic applies to honour cards outside trumps and your side-suit. That is to say, aces outside need not discourage you too much from showing your suit, while kings, queens and jacks outside ought to do just that. Thus

c) d)
6
J 10 7 5
A 6 4
K J 9 8 2

6
J 10 7 5
K J 6
K J 9 8 2

   

Hand (c) may be shown as a raise with clubs, but hand (d) should not be. And remember one last thing in this context. If partner ends up on lead against your opponents, he will probably lead the suit you show. So if that seems likely (as when, for example your right-hand opponent (RHO) has made a take-out double), make sure it is what you want partner to do.

The need to establish priorities: what features of your support to show?

Making partner ‘boss’ of the auction

You may be fearful of putting your opponents in a better position to judge the hand. This is (generally) a very misguided approach to your first bid in a competitive auction. It is a strategy associated with players who don’t respect their partners and who always blame them when things go wrong later in the auction. The point is, by making a very descriptive support bid you are only making your partner ‘boss’ of the auction. He alone knows the full extent of the fit/misfit, and (if you have any faith in him) that will be an excellent thing for your side. If LHO thinks that, just because you have a fair side-suit the whole hand must be a lovely double-fit, he will soon discover otherwise – the hard way. Consider West’s decision on the following hand, at Game all:

Q 10 6 5
7
6 4 2
A J 9 5 4

West North East South
  1 1 4
?      

South’s bid of 4 showed a raise to 4 with a diamond suit. West must now decide whether to bid 4 – as a good sacrifice, or even to make. If partner has something like

A K 7 4 2
6 5 4
J 5
K 10 6

you risk a humiliating double game-swing to the enemy if you pass. But what if the full hand is?

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

East should lead a club against 4 and that will take the contract off easily. Yet 4 doubled goes for -800. In short, West is guessing!1 That is because neither West nor East had an accurate picture of their combined strength. Neither is boss of the auction. It is essential that you recognise the significance of this. It is true that South has revealed his hand to the enemy just as surely as he has done so for his partner. To a certain extent his opponents may be able to make use of that information (more perhaps on lead than in the auction). But there is a huge difference between (a) knowing half of your assets and half of your opponents’; and (b) knowing the whole extent of your combined strength, and thus the enemy’s combined strength also.

In the auction the crucial task is for you or your partner to get the ‘complete’ picture of the 26 cards your side holds. It is far, far less valuable to know only your own 13 and 13 of your opponents’. This does not mean that you should gratuitously give away information. If you are fairly sure you know how high your side ought to bid – whatever the opponents might do – then you should take the direct, unscientific route. We shall look more fully at this sort of consideration in chapter 3.

Not enough bids

Defining hand-types is important, but is not unfortunately the only difficulty involved in raising partner. For it is an imperfect world, and in most auctions you will not have sufficient bids available to enable you to assign one for each hand-type. This means that we must establish certain priorities so that we can make the correct choices and what to show clearly and immediately, and what to leave ambiguous. An example auction should illustrate the point. Remember that over

West North East South
  1 1 ?
       

we identified five types of hand we might want to show as some sort of raise to 3 . Let us see how many bids we have available to us to show these hands. Postponing explanation for the time being, we shall say our options are 2 , 3 (or 3 ), 3 and maybe 2NT!! – see next chapter. We shall define 2 as showing a high-card raise (promising invitational, limit values initially – though may be stronger); 3 (or 3 ) as showing a raise with a fair side-suit (we call such a bid a ‘fit-jump’); and 3 as showing
a preemptive-type raise.

Which compromises to make – strength or hand-type?

You see that compromises have to be made. But where? One ‘fusion’ is (in effect) forced upon us. We have no way in this auction of distinguishing a pure preemptive raise from a mixed raise. Both will have to be bid with 3 . The other fusion is not so obvious. One alternative would be to put all limit raises through 2 , leaving 3 to show a mixed raise with clubs; the other option is to bid 3 to show either a mixed or limit raise with a club suit, reserving 2 for limit raises without a concentration of values.
We are forced to choose, in other words, whether it is more important to define our strength accurately (remaining unspecific as to hand-type), or to focus initially on describing our hand-type (leaving our high-card strength ambiguous). What do you think? Does it feel right to you to bid 2 or 3 with hand (e)?

6 5
A J 7 5
6 4
K Q 10 5 3

Let us say immediately that it probably won’t matter if the opponents remain silent. If we bid 2 , partner can make some forward-going move (like 2NT) with a fair hand and we can now offer him 3 or 4 . While if we bid 3 over 1 , partner can prod us with a 3 bid2, enabling us to sign off in 3 with minimum values or bid beyond with extras (such as one the given hand). But what if our left-hand opponent (LHO) bids 3 or 4 ? Now what do you wish you had bid?

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