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Game Tries in Competition

Compare these two auctions:
Auction 1
West North East South
1♥      1♠         2♥    Pass
3♥     Pass     ?
Auction 2
West North East South
1♥      1♠       2♥     2♠
3♥      Pass    ?

When should East bid 4♥?

The answer on No. 1: when East is at the top of the range for his raise 6 to 9 (or 10) support points. West’s 3♥ is a game try in No. 1 because West had the option of passing and playing in 2♥.

The answer on No. 2 is that East should never bid 4♥. All West is doing is trying to get the deal played in East- West’s trump suit. What if West did want to make a game try in No. 2? West must bid a new suit. There is plenty of room over 2♠ to do this, so West should try to choose a suit that will help partner make an educated decision. Many pairs bid a suit where opener needs help – a three- or four-card suit that will have several losers unless East can provide high cards or shortness to help out.

Here are some possible hands for West, who wants to make a game try in No. 2. Remember, West cannot make a game try by bidding 3♥ because that is merely a competitive bid.

1. ♠7 2 ♥K Q J 6 3 ♦A 5 ♣A Q 6 4
2. ♠6 2 ♥A K J 6 5 ♦K 7 5 2 ♣A J
3. ♠7 4 ♥A K J 8 4 ♦Q 7 6 ♣K Q J

On 1, bid 3♣ as a game try. On 2 and 3, bid 3♦ as a game try. It is all well and good to show where you need help when you have room in the bidding. Sometimes you won’t have room. Look at Auction 3:
West North East South
1♠      2♦         2♠    3♦

What will it mean if West bids 3♠? It’s a competitive bid, not a game try. To make a game try, West can bid a new suit but there is only one new suit below 3♠, so you can’t ask East to evaluate his hand by looking at any specific suit.
Still, 3♥ in that bidding sequence can be treated as a general game try. It could be even worse:
West North East South
1♠      2♥         2♠    3♥

We know by now that 3♠ by West is merely competitive. But if West bids any new suit, East-West are beyond the point of no return and must get to 4♠. When there is no room between your opponents’ bid and three of your own suit, a solution is to agree to use the double as a game try (it has a fancy name, but don’t worry about that now). The beauty of it is that East has three choices:  carry on to 4♠, sign off in 3♠ or pass and convert the double to penalty when East believes  North-South have bid too much. East might do this with a good minimum and only three spades and something in hearts.

Please don’t pull a game-try double out of your hat without prior discussion with partner or you could find you have
given the opponents a top score when they make 3♥ doubled. If you don’t use game-try doubles in auction 3, you will be forced to guess whether to underbid and settle for a 3♠ contract or to make the possible overbid of 4♠. This may not be a huge problem because there is a lot of bidding, making it less likely that you have a game anyway. While being forced
to guess on the few hands where you might have game isn’t ideal, sometimes it is best to opt for simplicity because every convention you add increases the complexity of your system and gives you more room for misunderstandings – especially with new partnerships.

Years ago, in his book The Secrets of  Winning Bridge, Jeff Rubens gave this advice about conventions (you may have heard it about commas, too) “When in doubt, leave it out.” It’s my advice, too. Use a simple, consistent system and play your cards well and you will win your share of the time.


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