We had been waiting for the situation to occur all game. Partner opened 1 and the next hand bid 2 showing hearts and an undisclosed minor. You have 12 HCP and a 4-card spade fit so you elect to cuebid 3. Your left hand opponent now jumps to 5 and there are two passes back to you. Here it is, another five-level decision.
One of the most difficult aspects of the game is the competitive auction, and the five-level is the hardest of the hard. What are the considerations that make up a good five-level decision?
1. Do we have a probable plus?
2. Do the opponents have a definite minus?
3. How strong are the opponents?
4. How strong is the field we are playing in?
5. Are we – with a reasonable degree of certainty – making a game. Was the game we bid very aggressive?
6. Are we sure of the size of our fit?
7. Are the opponents saving?
Occasionally we are driven to bid because the opponents have told us that they believe our side has a slam. More often, however, the opponents save prematurely, not realizing that our fit is not as good as they think it is. Sometimes we have already taken an optimistic view and they are providing us a safe option by allowing us the opportunity to double them. We have all experienced the phantom save upon occasion, and sometimes we go minus 800 against 680, because no one found the slam.
Players with less experience are more likely to save poorly. This is not an issue about the quality of their game nearly so much as their lack of experience. Also weaker players playing stronger opponents tend to save more often, as they lack confidence in their defense. The save is also an exciting action, and players that are less disciplined are vulnerable to yielding to the temptation to save.
If we are playing in a weak field, then any minus score is likely to matchpoint poorly. Playing in a regional in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico recently, my partnership found an excellent vulnerable 4S save, scoring -200 against the sure -620. We were the proud recipients of 1 matchpoint. Had we defended 4, we would have received only 1/2 a matchpoint, as only two pairs out of the thirteen who played the board bid a game. Had we been playing in a North American Bridge Championship event, we would have received about 40-45% of the matchpoints, since that is a much stronger field and therefore more pairs would have bid the close game.
In general, declaring at the five-level is bad business. The five-level decision is so difficult that the phrase «the five-level belongs to the opponents» has been indelibly etched in the experienced bridge player’s mind. My first bridge mug read «Jesus Saves…but only when he is not vulnerable.» That does not mean that you should avoid the action all together, just make sure you include your instincts in the decision process. Your gut will often tell you when to bid.