Preemptive Responses – Onward and upward.
In our last issue, we discussed the ins and
outs of preemptive opening bids. We began with hand
evaluation, making adjustments for our suit distribution.
With a very long suit, we are certain to take more tricks
when declaring trump. So in addition to counting High Card
Points, we generally add length points for suits longer than
four cards. It also stands to reason that a two suited hand
should score more tricks than a flatter hand. Of course,
it helps to have solid honors in our long suit/s. Recall
that when we do not have sufficient values to open a hand at
the one level, making a preemptive bid has several benefits:
1. Communicate to partner both the length and
strength attributes in preemptive suit, where we would
otherwise had to pass the bidding.
2. Consume bidding space to inhibit accurate bidding by
opponents - if we have a long suit, other players will
likely have offsetting length and strength in a suit of
3. Provide lead direction to our partner should opponents
ultimately win the contract.
4. Potentially provide partner the opportunity to raise the
preempt suit when opponents enter the auction bidding
We also discussed the importance of the
environmental factors including:
A. Vulnerability (best is non-vulnerable vs.
B. Relative seat position (how many players have previously
C. Prior bids by others (opponent/s, partner)
D. Table presence (psychological factors)
E. Fourth seat 2 level opening bid (exceptional, game try)
To begin, we trust that you and your partner
are “singing from the same sheet of music!” Hopefully it’s
safe to assume your partner:
1. Does not make unsound or erratic opening
2. Knows whether your responses are forcing or non-forcing
(with or without interference)
3. Knows how to respond to your query bids
Okay, let’s explore responder’s options after
our partner opened preemptively. Generally, we know opener
has less than 11 High Card Points. Otherwise, with a long
six or more card suit and two or more distribution points,
partner would open at the 1 level. We also know our partner
will have two or more good honors in the preempt suit with
not more than one useful honor in a side suit.
We might assume passing is the only option
with less than game-going strength. Game requires 25-26
points based on strength, less with distributional hands.
After partner preempts, we count tricks, not pure strength.
After partner opens preemptively, responder’s options are:
2. Raise or jump raise partner’s opening suit
3. Bidding 3 Notrump
4. Bid a new suit
5. Bid 2 Notrump, 4+ Notrump, or a conventional bid (Gerber)
The first three options are non-forcing. In
fact, opener should never make another bid after
initiating a preemptive call unless responder queries with a
forcing bid. Like opening 1 Notrump, preemptive opening
bids fully disclose our hand; the responder is now captain,
fully responsible to steer the auction. Continuing the
options, number four and five solicit opener for further
information. Shortly, we will describe responder’s forcing
bids and when to use them. Of course, if an opponent makes
an intervening call, the opener may pass with minimal values
since responder can still make another bid. Going back to
normal auctions without intervening competition, most
players agree responder non-raise bids are forcing. The
acronym RONF well describes this agreement - Raise (is the)
Only Non Forcing (bid). For most of this newsletter, we
will assume opener initially began with a weak two bid.
Okay, let’s dig into the details of responder’s options.
1. Pass – with no chance for game, our first
impulse is to pass (but see #2 below). Even with a long
side suit of our own and shortage in partner’s suit, game is
unlikely if we have a misfit with partner and are missing
most of the primary honors (Aces and Kings). So be careful
not make a forcing bid in a new suit simply because you have
a misfit. Partner has already signaled a weak hand with a
six card suit containing honors. If you bid 2 Notrump or a
new suit - both forcing, your chances to make a part score
go down as the contract level goes up. Yet if you have a
good 7+ card major suit and foresee a good chance to attain
game, by all means bid and rebid your lovely suit
(non-forcing). Here’s some illustrative hands:
a. 2H - ?
Q J 10 9 8 Q 2 A 10 9 Q 3 2
With two losers in Spades and several losers in the minor
suits, pass. If opponents bid 3C or 3D, you can bid 3H next
b. 2D - ?
A Q 9 8 7 6 Q 2 2 K J 3 2
Even with a six Spades and a singleton Diamond, pass for
now. If opponents bid 2 Hearts, you can belatedly bid 2
Spades. But if you immediately bid 2 Spades and partner
rebids 3 Diamonds, your side could easily get set where 2
Diamonds may make 8 tricks.
c. 2S - ?
Q J Q J 10 A 10 9 3 2 K Q 2
Although you have 15 points and good trump support, the hand
has too many losers to make either a 3 Notrump or 4 Spade
game. Why? The problem here is the hand is mostly
secondary honors, i.e., “slow tricks” (Queens and Jacks).
So we pass for now, prepared to either compete to 3 Spades
or possibly double opponents – after all, we have plenty of
d. P – (P) - 2H – (P);
Q J 10 3 2 Q 10 3 2 A 2 Q 2
Hmm, in this situation we initially passed. With a great
trump fit, should we press forward and invite or bid game?
Bidding game is unwise. First, our frisky partner may have
preempted holding no more than a five card Heart suit.
Certainly partner is allowed some liberties when we are a
passed hand, especially when non-vulnerable. Second, our
hand contains only one primary honor (4 HCP) and seven
points in slow tricks. Third, judging our Spade holding,
perhaps partner holds a singleton Spade or a void. Indeed,
if opponents bid 2 Spades, then raise partner
to 3 Hearts. If opponents persist and then bid up to 3
Spades, double for a juicy penalty – your partner’s tactical
bid has paid handsome dividends. If after your double
partner pulls the contract back to 4 Hearts, after the
carnage is over, smile across the table to your beloved
e. 2S - ?
A J 2 K Q J 10 Q J 10 Q J 10
With 17 HCP, certainly we must do something, right? No! We
have five losers, maybe four if partner holds an extra honor
in a side suit. Here’s a classic example illustrating the
downside of slow tricks when holding secondary honors.
Sadly, not all points are created equal.
2. Raise or jump raise partner’s opening suit - with less
than an opening hand, when should responder raise opener’s
suit? Well, Bridge is a partnership game so with support in
partners preempt suit and few defensive tricks, consider
upping opener’s preempt. Even lacking High Card Points,
generally it is a good rule of thumb to raise partner’s
preempt suit to the combined trump length (up to game).
a. 2H - ?
Q 2 K 3 2 10 9 8 7 6 5 Q 2
Trump length = 6 + 3 = 9. Despite our poor values, it’s
generally wise to raise partner’s preempt to 3 Hearts.
Raising partner’s preempt is definitely non-forcing, opener
must pass. Certainly opponents have enough points for game,
likely making 4 Spades. Of course raising the preempt might
have a slight downside, perhaps pushing opponents to a game
that they might not bid on their own.
b. 2D - ?
3 2 2 K 5 4 3 2 A 5 4 3 2
Holy smoke, the opponents certainly have at least a major
suit game. So now it’s time to turn up the heat by
promoting partners preempt. The question is how when and
how far? Unless you are playing against very weak opponents
reticent to bid game, time is of the essence. Bidding to
the level of your sides combined suit length, we bid 5
Diamonds (6 + 5 = 11, the 5 level). Prudent bidders may
choose 4 Diamonds with adverse vulnerability,
procrastinating on the 5 Diamonds until next bidding round.
While seemingly reasonable, this less aggressive maneuver
may allow opponents to find a fit and bid slam. Ah, that’s
Bridge – a game of questionable risk and reward.
c. 2H - ?
2 Q 10 3 2 4 3 A K 10 9 8 7
Bid 4 Hearts straight away! Here’s a prime illustration
why we count tricks instead of High Card Points. Partner
has six Heart tricks and with our great Club suit, we can
contribute at least another four tricks for game. While
initially bidding 3 Clubs may seem tempting, it allows the
opponents to sneak in the auction bidding 3 Spades. And
even though your side might have a powerful two-suited fit,
the opponents would also have a double-fit in the other
suits. Bottom line, never enter a bidding war without most
of the strength – especially when they control the master
3. Bidding 3 Notrump – without a major suit
trump fit yet, 3 Notrump is certain, by all means bid it
straight away: “the one who knows, goes”. But before
bidding 3 Notrump, a signoff bid, carefully evaluate your
controls (Aces and Kings) and the running suits.
a. 2H - ?
A K 2 3 2 A K Q J 3 2 A Q
With any lead other than Hearts, you can count nine tricks
off the top. Except with extreme distribution, it’s better
to play a Notrump game than try to eke out a minor suit game
requiring two additional tricks.
b. 2D - ?
A 3 2 K Q K J 10 2 A 4 3 2
This time we can count six tricks in partner’s preempt
suit. Certainly partner is a solid bidder, promises two
honors in the preempt suit. With the anticipated Heart
lead, you will take 6 Diamonds, 1 Spade, 1 Heart, and 1 Club
to make your game.
c. 3H - ?
J 10 9 2 A 3 2 A 4 3 2 A 2
Here we have nice trump support, yet are one trick short in
a 4 Heart game. But wait, there is another option! When
partner opens at the 3 level showing a seven card suit, we
may be able to make a 3 Notrump game with fewer points.
Even with a Spade lead, here our secondary Spade honors are
solid. After opponents win three rounds of Spades, we
should be home free unless we get an unlucky break in
4. Bid a new suit – except when we are a passed hand,
bidding a new suit is forcing one round. Thus, responder
shows a good 5+ card suit and interest in game or slam.
a. 2D - ?
A K Q J 2 K Q 10 3 2 -- K J 2
Bid 2 Spades, forcing. Even if opener cannot support Spades
and rebids 3 Diamonds, we can rebid 3 Hearts (bidding a new
suit is game forcing).
b. 2D - ?
A J 10 A K Q 10 3 2 K 4 3 2
Begin with a forcing 2 Hearts bid. We plan on rebidding 3
Hearts, non-forcing. While game is close, it will be
difficult to reach partner’s Diamonds unless opener shows a
feature. We will cover opener’s rebids in the upcoming
5. Bid 2 Notrump, 4+ Notrump, or a conventional bid (Gerber)
– each of these bids is forcing one round. Responder shows
a good hand, querying opener for additional information.
a. 2H - ?
A K 3 2 J 2 Q 10 2 A K 3 2
It is unclear whether 4 Hearts or 3 Notrump is the best game
contract. Bidding 2 Notrump asks opener to show a
“feature.” Provided partner holds an Ace or King in a side
suit (Diamonds here), playing in 3 Notrump may play better
than 4 Hearts.
b. 2S - ?
K 9 3 2 -- A K Q 2 K Q 4 3 2
Wow, here’s a beautiful hand begging to bid slam. Yet
grandslam is also possible – how would you find it? Using
a slam convention like Blackwood or Gerber, what would you
bid after opener shows two Aces? Ah-ha, a Heart Ace would
be wasted while the Club Ace is golden. Here again,
querying opener by bidding 2 Notrump allows opener to
possibly show a delicious feature, bidding 3 Clubs (showing
the Club Ace). Answering the affirmative, we can belatedly
use our slam convention to disclose the Spade Ace. Note –
most players consider it a “no-no” to preempt with two Aces
in the side suits, while a trump Ace and one outside suit
Ace is fine for two-level preempts.
Finally, let’s discuss situations where
opponents interference with preemptive bidding. In our last
issue, we learned not to overcall opponents’ preemptive bids
without opening values and a good suit. Similarly, we
should assume when an opponent overcalls partner’s preempt,
the opponent has both a good suit and shortness in the
preempt suit. While a thorough discussion of interference
would be a newsletter itself, here are some common
scenarios. Note - opponent’s overcall is shown in
A. 2D – (2S) - ?
1. K 10 2 Q J 3 2 Q 2 Q J 3 2 Pass
2. K 2 Q 3 2 Q J 3 2 K 4 3 2 Bid 3D
3. K Q 10 9 A 10 9 3 2 -- K Q 10 2 Double for
Each hand has 11 HCP but that’s where the
similarity ends. On hand #1, we have plenty of slow tricks
(secondary honors), great for defense. While 3D might make,
opponents might also go down in Spades.
With nice trump support, bid 3 Diamonds on #2; shortness in
Spades is also helpful.
On #3, it’s prime time to penalize opponents
with a double; all points are working with tasty honors
behind the Spade bidder and several tricks in the Clubs and
Hearts. One point: don’t double count the Diamond void –
here we only count the Spades for natural trick winners (we
can’t ruff Diamonds and still win Spade tricks). By the
way, be sure to check out our other column in this
newsletter, “Rule of 10.” This hand is perfect:
a. Combined HCP with partner = 20+
b. Trump misfit
c. Opponents bid = 8 tricks, plus our 2+ trump tricks = 10+
B. 2H – (X) - ?
4. K 3 2 Q J 3 A 5 4 3 2 6 5 Bid 3 Hearts
5. A Q 3 2 -- Q J 10 2 J 10 9 3 2 Pass
6. 3 Q J 10 2 Q 6 5 4 3 2 4 3 Bid 4 Hearts
On hand #4, our bidding level is the sum of
our combined Hearts: 6+3 = 9 Hearts, so bid 3 Hearts.
Remember, this is only competitive bidding, not inviting
Looking at hand #5, don’t worry - it’s fine
to pass. Opponents’ double at two level preempts is for
“take out” not penalty. Incidentally, Left Hand Opponent
probably has a handful of Hearts with few points. If LHO
bids 2 Notrump, belatedly Double for penalty and lead your
Club Jack. Poor opponents are in for serious trouble!
On #6, be a good partner by immediately
bidding 4 Hearts: 6+4=10,
i.e. the 4 level. Certainly opponents have a Spade game; a
Spade slam is also quite likely so we want to consume their
bidding space. In fact, with favorable vulnerability,
consider preemptively raising partner to 5 Hearts!
Finally, let’s briefly discuss bidding in the
passout seat. When three players have passed, the auction
is concluded unless the player in the passout seat makes a
call. Opponents never like to have the auction stolen by
our preemptive bids and may stretch their hand evaluation to
eke out a bid. As we’ve learned in this lesson, our
follow-up decision to pass, double, or rebid partner’s suit
is based upon our offensive and defensive tricks and our
trump fit. In a rare circumstance, we might initially pass
and belatedly bid another long suit of our own and misfit
with partner. Doing so after we have initially passed is
strictly “to play.”
At this point you are well on the road to
mastering preemptive bidding with your partner. In our
third installment we will continue with opener’s rebids
based on responder’s query.