A decade or so ago, Michael Farebrother, (an English Bridge authority) authored an article titled Preempts Made Sane. That implies that preemtive bids are often insane. Who with any experience at the bridge table could disagree with that? What creates the aura of insantiy is the lack of partnership standards. If you do not have any rules or standards for preempts, then you end up barring your partner more than your opponents. Most important are hands that you do not want to preempt on even though you may have the requisite number of cards in the suit. Here are some of Mr. Farebrother's rules paraphrased:
1. When you preempt, you are denying holding an opening hand. If you are in first or second position, and hold a decent 6 card major suit with 10 or 11 hcps, a preemptive call will more often be wrong than be right. It’s not that your hand is not good enough, it is too good and the bidding space that you take up will probably belong to you and your partner, thus frustrating an intelligent "game going" auction. I too often see hands like AQJxxx, x, K109, xxx opening 2 spades. Why not open 1 spade? If partner holds xx,xxx,AQxxx,AQx, we have an excellent play for 4 spades; but it is unlikely we will find our fit and game if partner has to start responding at the 3 level. On the other hand, no matter what partner responds to 1 spade, you have a nice, safe rebid of 2 spades, so there is not much risk in taking it “slow and easy” with this hand.
2. Do not preempt if you have a limit raise for a major. If you open 3 diamonds with Q10xx, x, QJ10xxxx, A, you will miss your spade game if partner shows up with AKxxx, xxx x, KQxx. One thing that I have learned about this type of hand is that if you pass initially, even if partner does not have a good hand, there is usually plenty of time to enter the bidding later and it is almost risk free, since you are a previous pass.
3. Don’t preempt with more than one Ace or King outside your suit. Partner should always be able to count on your for not more than 1 defensive trick. This will be critical in his decision on whether to either double the opponents or sacrifice. When you preempt,the preponderance of your high card strength should be in your bid suit.
4. Avoid preempting with a void or more than one singleton. A highly distributive hand has a lot of defensive strength. Again, partner will underestimate your defensive strength, and you may be down 2 doubled, when all opponents can make is a part score. Sound familiar?
5. Do not preempt with a weak broken suit. QJ109XXX is a weak suit, but at least it is solid and will always take 5 tricks. KJxxxxx, may only take 3 tricks and if you hear 3h/p/p/x/p/p/p, you have located the AQ10x(x) directly behind you. Everyone should do that once to really feel the pain. It is somewhat akin to my experience with bad overcalls. How often have you been tempted to overcall with a crappy suit, and then at the last minute gain your sanity and decide to pass. It is incredible how many time that happens to me and the next thing that occurs is that my LHO responds in the suit that I was going to overcall
In the next part I will indicate what I believe is a sensible approach to establishing partnership standards for preemptive bidding. I will warn you that my recommendations for bidding standards for preempting will reflect my strong belief in being able to trust your partner. Call me old fashioned!