The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Bridge Bidding for Gamers, part 1

The latest Bridge Review on BGG sparked off yet another “Bidding is too complicated” comment.  Onigame’s discussion of bidding is a good starting point, but  I was wondering how much of the rationale behind bidding I could teach quickly. Hence this post. The Bridge Bidding for Gamers series (assuming I finish it) is meant to quickly cover the theoretical basis for bidding systems, in particular Standard American. It won’t cover much in the way of conventions, or complex auctions. Just opening, responding, etc. It’s not meant to be detailed. It’s meant to give people the background as to WHY some bids are forcing, some bids are not, etc. Once you understand that bidding makes sense. Well, sometimes.

Hand Evaluation — In general:

  • Aces are worth 4 High Card Points (HCP)
  • Kings are worth 3 High Card Points
  • Queens are worth 2 High Card Points
  • Jacks are worth 1 High Card Point

You can get (and lose) HCPs for your hands shape (having no spades, for example, or having 6 or more cards in a suit). I’m not going to give guidelines for that yet, since I’m just discussing theory.

Theoretical Basis — In general, a partnership having 26 (out of the 40) HCP has a better than average shot of making a game in 3NT or 4 of a Major.  (Game in 5 of a minor usually takes about 29 HCP, so you usually aim for 3N or 4 of a Major). [In general, “M” means Major and “m” means minor, so I’ll just write 4M for “4 of a Major”]. 33 High Card Points usually makes a small slam. (Footnote — It’s actually 25 HCP, but I’m being slightly conservative).

The Fundamental Rule of  High Card Points — If you aren’t yet in game, but a reasonable possibility of game exists, you cannot pass. Similarly, if you know there is no chance at game, you should pass when convenient. If you aren’t sure (game is possible), then you should make a bid to elicit more information.

So you should categorize your hand as:

  • Very Weak — No hope for game.
  • Weak — Mild hope for game; partner will need close to the maximum.
  • Invitational — If partner has an above average hand, you should be in game, below average you should not.
  • Game Forcing — You know you want to be in game, but need to figure out which one.
  • Slammish — You not only want to be in game, you want to investigate slam.

You won’t always be able to narrow it down to a single category.  But you can usually narrow it down to 2-3 on after one bid, and further bids can narrow it down.

Let’s take some examples, but first, two more definitions:

  • The Opener is the person who makes the first (non-Pass) bid.
  • The Responder is opener’s partner.

Partner opens showing 15-17 HCP. If you have 11-14, you have a Game Forcing hand. You can’t pass; and shouldn’t make any bid below game that your partner could pass (what bids those are depends on your system). If you have 9-10 HCP, you are Invitational. Less than that you are Very Weak. Partner’s opening, being very defined, lets you instantly categorize the hand with very narrow ranges. (And if you have 15+ HCP, you are Slammish.)

Partner opens showing 12-20 HCP. That’s a pretty wide range.  Can you define the point ranges?

  • Very Weak: 0-5 HCP. You know the partnership is capped at 25 HCP. You shouldpass this bid. With any more points, you have to bid at least once! (You may sometimes bid again if partner has picked a suit you absolutely hate, but you are taking a risk that partner will have 20 HCP and simply jump to game, since you “promised” 6 or more HCP).
  • Weak: 6-10 HCP. Partner will need 16-20 HCP. Not likely, but possible. (Partner is much more likely to be at the lower end of the range, since 10 HCP is an average hand).
  • Invitational: 11-13 HCP. Unless partner has a minimum, you will get to game. The 13 HCP hand will go unless partner shows 12 HCP. (In practice, there might not be enough bidding room to make such fine distinctions, often the 13 HCP hand may just treat the hand as Game Forcing and hope partner didn’t open with a 12 count).
  • Game Forcing: 14+ Points. Note that any hand that is Game Forcing could turn slammish if partner shows the high end of his range. Even invitational hands could turn slammish if partner reveals a 20 count. Such is the nature of wide ranging bids.

Partner opens showing 21 or more HCP.

  • You can’t pass! Partner’s hand could have 26 HCP by itself. You’ll need to bid, even if you have 0 HCP, and await developments.  With 4 (or more) HCP you are in a game forcing auction.

So, how do you show what you’ve got? Well, that depends on system, but in theory bids can be defined as:

  • Signoff — Some bids are explicitly defined as “I know we don’t have game. Shut up.” For example, there are signoff bids after partner opens showing 15-17 HCP. The range is so narrow you can signoff (in your best suit).
  • Non-forcing — A non-forcing bid means you hand is invitational, at best. Some non-forcing bids mean “weak,” and some mean “invitational.”
  • One round forcing — Means that you aren’t very weak, and could be very strong. But you could be weak and just waiting for partner to deny a maximum hand before passing.
  • Game Forcing — a bid that means the partnership cannot stop below game (typically defined as 3NT … this leaves the option of stopping in 4 of a minor if a significant flaw is found in the High Card Points and hand).
  • Slammish — Forcing to game and looking for slam.  Often these bids are above game, but sometimes they are below game.

So that covers points, next up … shape and suits.


Written by taogaming

February 27, 2010 at 10:48 am

Posted in Bridge

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