One advantage of a "pre-empt" is quite clear: You take two levels of bidding away from your opponents with a "three" bid. But could that be cutting off your nose to spite your face?

Recently, I had something like KQxxxxx, and a side queen (I forget how the other suits were distributed but was told it didn't matter). My partner was disappointed I didn't "preempt" (in "third" seat). My response was "with seven points?"

My understanding is that people often bid three of a suit with seven cards and this little. Sometimes even less, particularly when non-vulnerable vs. vulnerable. In its extreme version, the mantra is "with any seven (suited) cards."

Isn't this risky? What if we're doubled and only make three or four tricks?

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    With 7 points and 7 cards I would never consider not pre-empting. In most systems (that I know of) this is an automatic move, because it will so often be to your advantage, over keeping your mouth shut. Jun 6, 2011 at 20:23
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    Incidentally, I don't think it makes sense to say "pre-empt with seven trumps". You pre-empt with a seven-card suit, and then only if you win the contract do they become "seven trumps"! Jun 6, 2011 at 23:28
  • @thesunneversets: I changed the title per your suggestion.
    – Tom Au
    Jun 9, 2011 at 17:40

4 Answers 4


Generally speaking, if you have only seven points as in the example hand, your opponents will have the preponderance of strength. Pre-empts are designed to eat up the bidding room that your opponents could otherwise use to zone in on the right contract. If, as it sometimes happens, your partner has the strength instead, the pre-empt is still good, as it paints a very accurate picture of your hand that your partner will use to determine the right contract.

If you get doubled and go down three or four, think about what your opponents will have. They will usually have missed a slam, and your result will compare favorably.

It will happen, but it is very rare that your pre-empt will be a total disaster.

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    Ok, it's "down four" versus "slam." Out of the fire and into the frying pan (the reverse of the usual).
    – Tom Au
    Jun 5, 2011 at 18:10
  • Only in the worst case scenario (vul against not) would down four doubled not be a good trade against a slam. In the best case (not against vul), you get -800 instead of -1430. Jun 5, 2011 at 18:21
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    Also, down four in a pre-empt means the opponents take two trump tricks when there are only six between the other three hands, and you make no side tricks at all; rare. Feb 2, 2013 at 17:56

Your response of "With 7 points?" makes me think you have some misconceptions about the hands the you ought to preempt on. (As an aside, I am really curious: What do you preempt on?).

One normally preempts on highly offensive hands, which when played in any suit other than your long suit will offer very little defense. The position also is relevant, as in third seat you can really be aggressive in your preempts, opposite a passed hand. The vulnerability and scoring also matters: at IMPS going down 3 doubled, non-vul (-500) against a making vul game is (-600) is a great sacrifice.

Don't look at the total hcp, but look at your suit length and how offensive your hand is.

So a hand like Jxxxxxx, Kx , Qx, Kx (9 hcp) is not a hand to prempt (it offers nice defense and is less offensive oriented), but you should preempt on a hand like KQTxxxx, x, xxx, xx (only 5 hcp).

With KQTxxxx as trumps, assuming partner holds 2 small trumps, you rate to take 5-6 tricks on average. If partner also has an outside A, you will take 6-7 tricks, which is a great bargain (going down 2 or 3) against opponents making game/slam, especially when vul.

The usual point of preempting is that you rate to take away opponent's bidding space, as well as pointing the way to partner in making a sacrifice over opponents game/slam bid.

Ultimately, like with any other bidding situation, it is a risk vs reward + partnership discipline scenario and if you don't go for a number sometimes, you are not preempting enough.


The Wikipedia page is actually really good; I don't think I could put it any more economically.


Especially, check out the graph on that page, which shows how many points you lose from undertricks at various vulnerabilities, compared with the points opponents will gain from making game. You seem to have trouble with the idea of making a sacrifice bid, but quite often it is just accurately gauging the lesser of two evils for your side.

Obviously if you're going to go down 6 doubled vulnerable, you never make a sacrificial pre-empt! But you'd be surprised how many tricks you can usually take with 7 or 8 of a single suit in your hand.

  • I have 7, partner has 2 on average. Opponents have AKQJ, divided 3-1. They take three tricks in the suit, we take four. Down five. OK, not in my example with KQ. K falls to A, Q scoops J, we take six, down three.
    – Tom Au
    Jun 6, 2011 at 21:19
  • @Tom: But you have to have some high card points to make a pre-emptive bid, you can't just do it with 7 diamonds and 0HCP. Even if you lose a few of your tricks in the trump suit, you still have overall control of trumps, which should help you convert some of your high card points in your OTHER suits to tricks... Jun 6, 2011 at 22:01
  • Seven is (more than) enough 0 is too few. How many do I need, 3, 4. 5? Mostly in my own suit, maybe a stray queen elsewhere? I can live with down three (nonvul) if the opponents have a slam or a vulnerable game.
    – Tom Au
    Jun 6, 2011 at 22:07
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    @Tom: I believe the conventional wisdom is something like 6-9 HCP to justify a preempt. Bear in mind that, suppose you hit the nightmare scenario and your partner has NOTHING to back you up, and the opponents double. Yes, you'll go down a lot, but your opponents probably had an easy small or even grand slam in their cards! Messing up their chances of reaching it is well worth the risk, IMO. Jun 6, 2011 at 22:11
  • also there is no guarantee you will be playing after your preempt - if partner really has nothing opposition may still be able bid anyway
    – jk.
    Jun 19, 2011 at 8:48

Originally (when Culbertson and others first studied Contract Bridge), the rule was "Seven cards and an outside Ace". With that and even a semi-reasonable dummy, you can usually make your contract, if left in it.

But a little more study revealed that the hands you don't make are usually the ones where the opponents have an easy game/slam and, more importantly, starting at the three-level often makes it impossible for them to find the right contract, even if they do bid. Too valuable to restrict: cutting the outside Ace down to a King or Queen reduces the chance of making your contract, but offers much greater scope to interfere with the opponents, so reducing their score at the risk of a small penalty to you.

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