My friend and partner Colby Vernay of Lacon IL is fond of telling bridge stories that feature the Last Buffoon. I don’t know the origin of the term, but Colby uses it to describe a player who makes the final costly mistake in a competitive auction. He admits that he sometimes risks assuming that title, but always with a reasonable expectation that an opponent will wrest it away from him.
The idea is that an aggressive, potentially dangerous bid can be a good gamble if it gets you to your best contract or pushes the opponents into a bad one. Ideally, your bid will be bold enough to give the opponents a legitimate problem, but not so reckless that they have no choice but to go for a penalty.
That’s the strategy you use every time you preempt. You bid the full limit of your hand at once and try to force the opponents to make the last guess. The Rule of 2, 3 and 4 and the Losing Trick Count can help you determine the bold-but-not-reckless level for your bid, but they’re not fool-proof. If you don’t want to be «caught speeding,» you need to recognize the situations where it’s wise to pull in a notch.
One is when the opponents bid notrump. After a strong 1NT on your right, what’s your call at favorable vulnerability holding:
J — 9843 AQJ109876?
The Rule of 4 suggests that it’s safe to overbid by four tricks at this vulnerability. With seven (perhaps eight) playing tricks, you might choose a 5 overcall.
The classic way to make the last — and only — mistake in an auction is to preempt so high that the opponents won’t even consider taking your bait. Here, 5 doubled will almost always be the final contract. Your LHO already knows his partner has defensive strength, so unless he has a long suit and slam values, he won’t be motivated to do anything other than take the money.
A 4 overcall will create more of a dilemma for your opponents. Bidding will be more attractive to your LHO if the four level is available, and sometimes, he’ll stretch too far or choose the wrong suit. If 5 is a good sacrifice, partner may be able to bid it. And sometimes, you’ll be doubled at 4 and save 200 points.
Discretion is also advised when you have the right suit length and playing tricks for a preempt, but not the right suit quality. What’s your call in first seat, vulnerable vs. not, holding:
K986543 2 72 K Q4?
Using the Losing Trick Count, this is technically six losers and seven playing tricks, which qualifies for a 3 bid. That level should make you nervous, especially because you know your opponents will look for any excuse to penalize a vulnerable-vs.-not preempt. Trust your instincts and open 2. There’s no rule that a weak two has to be exactly six cards, nor that you can’t have extra playing strength when vulnerable.
The trademark strategy of the Last Buffoon is to pass up an early oppor-tunity to give the opponents a prob-lem, then try to play catch-up later. What’s your call in first seat, both vulnerable, holding:
8632 KJ10643 QJ2 — ?
Purists object to a weak two-bid with a side void or four-card major and would consider it heretical to have both. For many players, though, this hand is a 2 opener in any seat, at any vulnerability.
If it’s not your style to open 2 , you have to accept that you may be muzzled for the rest of the auction. If you do get a later chance to bid, it could be awkward. After 1 by partner, 1 by RHO, is this the hand partner will expect for a 2 free bid?
What you cannot do is let the op-ponents exchange information, then barge in at a high level. If you pass and the auction goes 1-Pass-3, a vulnerable overcall with this hand rates to earn you a starring role in one of Colby’s stories.