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In the first case, I was in "third" position, only them vulnerable at match points. Here I pre-empted 3 diamonds with the following 13 high card point hand: ♠ 2 ♡ KT ♢ AKQ6432 ♣ J53. I would not have done in the first or second position, but opposite a passed partner, I didn't see much of a chance of missing a slam. But it raised eyebrows with others at the table because I had 13 high card points.

The following hand, which I had played a few days earlier, was more obviously pre-empt material: ♠ A86 ♡ 2 ♢ AQ987432 ♣ 3. But I opened it 1 diamond instead of 4 diamonds in first position (neither vulnerable) to give my partner a chance to speak. The opponents found their heart fit, bid and made five hearts giving us a bottom.

I feel that the two hands are similar enough to bid the same way, and that either "pre-empt" or "one diamond" could be the right bid depending on position, vulnerability, and other factors. Putting aside the fact that the first hand has 13 (Milton) "Work" points, and the second one, "only" 10. I consider the first hand to have 7.5 potential winners, and the ability to make 9-10 tricks if partner has his statistical average of 9 "Work" points. I believe the second hand may have 8 potential winners because the eighth diamond compensates for the lack of the king, and similar potential of making a 3-4 level contract. And I believe that both hands have only two defensive tricks (the ace of diamonds and a side honor).

Am I wrong to consider the two hands equivalent and bid them the same way, or are there major differences that I have overlooked?

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  • 1
    In all my non-Namyats playing partnerships, I'm opening the first hand 3N in 3rd seat. Commented Apr 29 at 17:09
  • @AlexanderWoo: I have recently "come around" to pre-empting on this hand for a reason that surprised me. That is, with seven playing tricks, I can "bid to make" with seven tricks in hand, and a reasonable hope that partner will have the two I need, (instead of expecting to go down one or more). If I have 13 hcps, the average of the other three players is nine. And if partner doesn't have two tricks, the opponents might have a game that the pre-empt might prevent.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 30 at 3:04
  • I have narrowed the question by focusing only on my own thinking (and its possible flaws, rather than what "people" generally think.
    – Tom Au
    Commented May 7 at 5:25

2 Answers 2

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Short answers: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. That's what makes bridge interesting.

There is no right answer(*). It depends on your partner, your partnership, your agreed system, your opponents, the state of your game, the field, and your level of caffeination. Among others.

Please remember there is exactly one person whose opinion matters here. You say you got "raised eyebrows" from the table. If it was the opponents, their opinion Does Not Matter - especially if the preempt worked. If it was partner...?

  • Is this a new partner? Maybe stick to stuff she will understand.
  • Is this a partner that will preempt aggressively (or open aggressively)? Then the chance that you will win an auction starting at the 1-level is lower than if partner is sound and could have (say) QJ9xxx in one of the majors or have a flat 12 count. So, better to bid at the 3 level(**).
  • Does your partner try to blame you for all your bad results? Then do the thing that will Win The Post-Mortem(***). Sure, it may not win the board, but both you and partner are more likely to be concentrating on the next hand when it comes rather than the argument you get into on this one.
  • Is this a pair you expect to beat playing with the field? Then make the field bid. Similarly, if in a team game you think you're better than them, why open yourself up to a "random" 6-10 IMP swing with an unusual bid?
  • Is RHO a "can't be preempted" player? Maybe now's the time to bid 3 and get them too high with 20-20.
  • Is RHO a player that really pays attention to the auction? Again, a 3-bid with the 13-count, or a 1-bid with the 10-count, might elicit a misplay. At least, if you're known to be a "straight actor", anyway.
  • Are the opponents frisky with the red card? Maybe it's time to walk the dog (bid 1, then 2, then 3, hoping to eventually get doubled) with the likely 8 tricks, and go for +530 (or -100 into -140 or -300 into -620). Especially if your room is full of people who will re-re-bid bad suits just because they're long.
  • Are your opponents the best pair in the room? Then they're likely to beat you anyway, but even they might not be able to find the 30-point-deck slam if you open 3. If the opponents are weaker - not really much weaker, frankly - it might be harder to find the same 30-point-deck slam opposite a "real opener".
  • Is this a regular partnership? Then you should have discussed this already; do what partner wants you to do (including "use your own judgement"). Is this a pickup? Well, usually in your local community, you have a good guess as to how they think from how they play against you - but if the information's balanced, it might be better to "play straight".
  • Are you running a 45% game? Maybe it's time to try something unusual to get you to 50%. Is 42% going to get partner yelling at you? Maybe it's time to play straight and take your 45%. Similarly, are you running a 62% game? Do you want to increase randomness by taking an uncommon action? Or hope you can ride your good game with your better than average luck/skill?
  • Re: suit - that's always a consideration. That's (one of the reasons) why requirements for 3♣ and 3♦ openers are frequently different than 3♥ and 3♠ openers. In third seat, it's more interesting, though, because the other big reasons are "what does partner need to bid 4?" and "what should partner have to sacrifice (especially 4♠ over 4♥)?" which might actually give you more flexibility in minor preempts than major ones.

All of this (and more, I'm sure) to say, the primary answer is "yes, you can use judgement to make an off-system call, or even an off-normal call. In fact, doing it at the right times more often than others is one of the things that makes a better player. Third seat favourable is one of the 'freest' times - good for thinking about it." Do I think your judgement is right on these hands? Well, my personal belief is that the overstrong preempt in this position is more likely to work in your favour than the upgraded 1-opener. But there's never a guarantee, and I am not Larry Cohen.

The secondary answer is "if you annoy or confuse your partner, you will not score well, and you are less likely to be asked again." To me, that's more important.

The tertiary answer is "this session (like all sessions) is an audition." If you want partners in future that accept some off-book judgements, then play that way. If you want partners who make The Right Call, then do that. Play the way you want to be thought of by the person who might have a game free next week, both technically and in the way you treat your partner, and they might ask you sometime.

(*) There almost never is "the Right Answer" in bridge (at least, in the auction). Again, that's what makes bridge interesting. "I am right because The Book says so" died with Goren; unless you have agreed with partner/the rubber club rules/the "one system" event to Play By The Book.

Similarly, one swallow does not make a summer. Just because this hand got a bad result, doesn't mean the judgement was bad (or vice versa). There are people out there that look at the result on each hand and work out how best to get to the winning score; these players are called "Resulters", and they either burn through partners not willing to be wrong again (even if it would have been right 70% of the time) or end up with a system so full of exceptions and convolutions that they can't bid the 60% of the "normal" hands correctly.

(**) or 3NT with the first one, if you play Gambling. Yes, "zero outside controls", but partner with 2 aces and out won't bid 3NT after 3♦ either. And if partner's also on the risk-taking side (and you're not going to have a problem if she guesses wrong), she might pass with "nothing" and hope to go -250 or -300 into game.

(***) Do Not actually try to win the post-mortem. With pickups, avoid having a post-mortem beyond "do you want this call with my hand?" or "did we agree to play one-way or two-way Drury?" With a (want-to-be) regular partner, the post-mortem should not be something to win or lose, rather something to get on the same page over, or decide that something needs to change, or work out how better to get a message across in a way that both players can understand.

The thing here is that the kinds of partners who look for ways to make it "your fault" are less likely to have something to hang on to if you play it straight. So play it straight and avoid the hassle.

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  • It must be nice to be able to play enough Bridge to be confident as to whether you're currently (!) "running a 45% game" versus slightly more or less. Commented May 12 at 16:32
  • It is, yes. But "estimating your game" is a critical skill in duplicate, given that unlike most other games, you don't get an up-to-date running score. I have a Mike Lawrence book - "play a swiss teams with..." Hand 1, he ends with "as I expect they will bid game, I estimate a 10 IMP loss." And he keeps a running estimate for the other 55 boards. And compares his estimate to the "real result" at the end of each match. It's that key a skill. If you aren't there yet, try explicitly ranking your scores as you write them, on a 0-4 scale. See how close you get, after 3 or 4 sessions.
    – Mycroft
    Commented May 12 at 16:58
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With the edits and the change in focus, my other answer (while still valid, and I will refer most of my arguments for what I state here, there) looks like it's a little odd. Mostly because it assumes the answer to the current question asked is understood. So, let's look at that.

  1. Am I wrong to consider the two hands equivalent

Oh yes. The two hands are very different.

  • One of them will take 9 tricks in diamonds opposite effectively nothing; and 9 tricks in 3NT if partner has something in the black suits. It is also likely that they can make 4 of either major, especially if partner has three diamonds - and at that point, 5♦ is a great sacrifice at these colours.
  • The other one needs a lot of help to take tricks on offense. Sure, partner's singleton ♦K is "a lot of help", but without it you could lose 3 diamonds and the four outside cards if partner's 8-count is in the round suits. Or if partner's spades are such that you only have one spade loser, that's 300 into likely to be no game. Even 100 (undoubled) into no game is likely to be poor.
    • But let's be less concerned about bad fits, and say that they can make game. Now partner's sacrifice could be 800 or 1100!
  • The additional difference between the two hands is the second "sure" trick of the ♠A vs the "half-trick" (less than that, actually, as if they do have points for game, LHO's hand will be significantly stronger than RHO's, so more likely to have the A) of the ♥K. So it's more likely that "some cards" will hold them to 9 tricks. Now partner's sacrifice is only 500, but it's a phantom.

But:

  1. and bid them the same way,

Absolutely. If they both fit your agreements for a third-seat pre-empt, then you could bid them both as a pre-empt. And that agreement isn't wrong; the description of one partner's third seat weak 2s is "she has 13 cards, some of which (at least 5) are hearts." Partner will take that into account when deciding what to do - which may lead to less-than-optimal results. That's the downside to go with the upside of "good luck lefty, you're at the 3 level" more often.

You can also agree that in third seat, you can take liberties with your 1 bids. In a standard framework, there are downsides to that, as partner has to "not hang" you when you step out, which makes it more difficult to have good auctions when you actually have the goods, but it can be very effective, especially in a weaker field. As implied in the other answer, it does tend to be more effective in the majors than diamonds, though.

Why "a standard framework"? I play Precision, and I play Precision so that I can open good 10 counts (even in first seat) and partner won't hang me. I can bid that solid suit 1♦, and if I get a second chance bid 3♦ to show "tricks and a long suit", because I'm limited to 15 HCP. I can rebid 2♦ with the broken suit (and maybe bid 3 later) showing that hand. Or maybe I can't; see other answer for "it's less likely to work".

  1. are there major differences that I have overlooked?

Absolutely. See 1.

Are the differences sufficient to mean that it's wrong to make the same call third seat favourable with them both? See the other answer. Summary: up to what partner will expect, and what "stepping out" actions partner will forgive you for, and how willing you are to take the blame for a bad result when you "step out", no matter what partner did after.

For those saying "but what about pickups, where you don't know any of that?":

  • As in my other answer, it's only very rarely you have a "true pickup" without knowledge from playing against them, or playing with common partners, or even from knowing how "people in the area" are.
  • as a club Director, I've played "pickup" (to fill in a table, or as the spare) more than most; and when I do, I rarely have time to discuss system well (I frequently describe our system as "we started discussing 5 minutes after game time. We've agreed...") Even then, I get three things, and one of them is "what's your preempt style?" (the other two are "what do we play against their 1NT", and "what answers to 4NT?") If you do not know this - even with a pure pickup - you can't judge these hands correctly for your partner, and they can't judge what to do after. So find out beforehand.
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  • "and 9 tricks in 3NT if partner has something in the black suits." - if partner only has a club stopper, surely it won't be hard for opponents to find spades? Commented May 12 at 16:34
  • I did very carefully say "suits". It's actually more likely to make if the only stopper is in the spade suit, for the reason you mention.
    – Mycroft
    Commented May 12 at 16:43
  • Ah, I naturally understand "something in the black suits" as meaning either, not necessarily both. But I guess you would have said "something in a black suit". Commented May 12 at 16:44

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