The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Bridge Bidding for Gamers — Part 3

The last general principle (which Alexsim alluded to) is what I’d call refinement, but it has lots of names. (Michael Lawrence calls it “The Box.”) But let’s give it a big name.

The Fundamental Rule of InformationDon’t repeat yourself, and don’t assume partner is repeating himself.

Bidding takes up space, so once a bid has conveyed information, further bids refine it. For example, if your opening bid shows a point range from (Low to High) then if your partner forces you to bid, a weak bid would show from (Low to Middle) and a strong bid would be from (Middle to High). In all cases, “Low, Middle and High” depend on context. If partner doesn’t force you to bid, then you usually pass with a minimum, or just a touch higher. How much higher depends on what partner knows.

You can see this principle with suits (dealt with in part two). Once you’ve shown a suit, voluntarilybidding it again shows more cards in the suit. An ideal bid:

  • Narrows your point range
  • Provides useful distributional information (by showing extra cards in your suit, a second or third suit, or the fact that you’ve shown everything).

[One of the assumptions here is that point range is static, which isn’t true. How many points your hand is worth depends on the state of the auction … but we’re simplifying for now].

The Refining Principle means you pay attention. If you’ve shown 0-7 HCP, and partner invites game, you accept with 4-7. If you’ve shown 15-17 HCP, and partner invites game, you decline with 15. The real question isn’t “How good is your hand?” The real question is “How good is your hand, relative to what you’ve been able to show partner.”

Now, sometimes you can only show one aspect (strength or distribution) effectively, but all bidding should convey some new information about one of those aspects. Some bids (particularly opening bids) have a huge range, but you start narrowing it down on your next bid (or pass).

The counterpart to refinement is that at some point there is enough information, or the risk/reward ratio says further investigation would be tricky.

The rule of captaincy — Once you have enough information to place the contract, place it. And once your partner has placed the contract, you need to have something undisclosed and abnormal to over-ride that decision.

So, when you open 1NT (which is a very narrowly defined bid in most systems), many of the bids that responder can make are final, or asking for specific information. The vast majority of time, opener’s follow ups are either rote, or refinement. On the other hand, opening 1 of a suit (which shows a wide range in standard american), responder can make many forcing bids, but rarely takes Captaincy until the 2nd round of bidding or later.

Bids of 3NT (or 4 of a major) usually end the auction, since you’ve reached game (and, by implication, do not have enough to go onto slam). When it doesn’t end the auction it’s usually the case that the non-captain hand has extra distribution (and wants to play in a suit, not 3NT) or many more points than expected (and feels that slam investigation is safe enough). Passing is a strong statement that you have enough information and don’t want to do anything. (Which is why you pass an opening bid of a suit if you have fewer than six points and no long suit, you may not want to be in that particular contract, but you want to convey “We don’t have game” as soon as possible.

Anyway, I think these posts have given enough of a fundamental basis for bidding to make sense. An actual bidding system still has lots of details, but if you keep the key points in mind, they actually make sense. Just remember:

  • 26 points for game, 32+ for small slam
  • You want an 8 card fit or better to play in a suit
  • If you have a fit and enough points for game, you want to be in 4 of a major, but prefer 3NT to a minor suit game. (Assuming you don’t have a suit the opponents can run).
  • Opening bids (and responses) define your hand, but the followup bids refine it.
  • Once you have enough information, place the contract.

Written by taogaming

March 13, 2010 at 8:12 pm

Posted in Bridge

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2 Responses

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  1. This is a very good series. I knew most of what you put out there, but it’s well-presented and (as a beginner) something very useful to have.


    March 14, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    • Thanks. There are gaps, but it’s only about 2.5k words. Hopefully I didn’t put any howlers in there. I’m working on a “Standard American” one page cheat sheet. Slowly.


      March 14, 2010 at 6:25 pm

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