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In one of my games, there were three passes. Fourth seat elected to "pre-empt," three hearts with something like the following:

♠xx ♥KQJxxxx ♦Jxx ♣x

One of the opponents doubled (for penalties), after having passed, with something like:

♠Axx ♥ATxx ♦Kxx ♣xxx

The result was down two (doubled, not vulnerable). The three non pre-empters had about 11 points each, hence no bids.

I asked, "Why did you do that? You could have broken even by passing out the hand."

Bidder responded, "I bid my cards, that's what you're supposed to do with seven of a suit."

Did he overlook the issue of "position"? That is, if the bidder had been THIRD seat. after two passes, would pre-empting have made much more sense, to presume that (barring a freak distribution) that fourth seat might have had all the cards and that the pre-empt might then have saved a game?

Did it make sense to pre-empt in fourth seat with the cards that the bidder held? If his hand had been somewhat stronger (say a king of diamonds in place of the jack), could he have had a positive "expectation" with a different bid, such as a "weak" two hearts, or even one heart?

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This hand should surely pass. It does make sense to open at the 2 or 3 level in 4th seat occasionally, though; see: – hunter Feb 23 '14 at 14:59
up vote 9 down vote accepted

I've always understood the general rule to be: open with a weaker hand than usual in third seat, but with a stronger hand than usual in fourth seat. As such, no, it seems like probably a bad idea to pre-empt in the fourth seat, for a couple of reasons.

  • It seems to miss the point of pre-empting entirely. Usually, a pre-emptive bid is meant to deprive the opponents of bidding space, in a semi-sacrificial (or possibly fully sacrificial!) way. If the opponents have shown no interest in bidding... what do you think you're doing?

  • If you're not pre-empting to get in the opponents' way... what ARE you doing? Your partner has passed and thus has about 10-11 points at best. What contract are you hoping to make with about, or slightly less than, half the points of the deal?

Having said that - it could be a good idea to bid on a pre-empt hand in fourth if, for instance, you had 90 points below the line in a game of rubber bridge. But make sure you are doing it for the right reason. If your partner has a dogmatic belief that pre-empt hands require a pre-empt bid, without any seeming understanding of what a pre-empt is for, then perhaps he needs to be send back to Bridge school for a refresher course!

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+1: The question is backwards. It should be: "Does it make sense to preempt in 4th seat", rather than "NOT preempt". – Aryabhata Oct 12 '11 at 5:42
@Aryabhata: Edited title per your suggestion. – Tom Au Oct 12 '11 at 21:31

In fourth seat, after three passes, you should be "bidding to make." That's because you have the option of getting a zero score just by passing. You don't have to worry about "sacrificing" when your opponents haven't bid.

The hand, ♠xx ♥KQJxxxx ♦Jxx ♣x, doesn't qualify. It is only good for five tricks, and even assuming that partner (with 11 points) is good for 2-3, you're more likely to go down than to make. Which is what happened.

Upgrade the hand to ♠xx ♥KQJxxxx ♦Kxx ♣x, and I would open a "weak" two hearts. Given the importance of the major suits, the case for opening would be much stronger if the suit in question were spades, and I would pass if it were diamonds or clubs (only 90 points, too easy for the opponents to get 100 or more).

The diamond K would make the hand almost a trick stronger (and be absent from the hand of the doubler) it's now worth six tricks. Assuming that the remaining 31 high card points are evenly divided, partner should still be worth two tricks, and a contract for eight tricks is likely to make.

Your nine high card points are close enough to everyone else's "ten," so that your seven (solid) hearts in one hand probably gives your side a clear advantage. This was not true with the actual hand.

For a "three" level bid in fourth seat, most authorities say you need 11-14 high card points, with the ability to make seven tricks, with partner contributing two. That's because such a bid is not really a pre-empt, and therefore shouldn't be a "sacrifice."

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