No offense intended in the title. My first disclosure is that I made a game try yesterday afternoon accepted by my partner and we both ended up like Peking Duck on a spit. Here is my hand so you can savor it. AQJ9xx, xx, AK, xxx. The auction was 1s/2s. Your bid Oswald! Here are the understandings of the partnership: 2nd suit game tries (a/k/a help suit tries) and in a competitive auction a re-raise asks about the quality of trump support.
Many experts (including Ron Klinger and Mel Colchamiro) and countless bridge teachers have advised their readers and students to follow the rule of 5-6-7. Bid game with 5 Losing Trick Count (LTC), make a game try with 6 LTC and pass with 7+LTC. In fairness to Mel, he later enunciated a different and safer rule for 5-4-2-2 hands but that is not germane to my hand. My hand is a 6 LTC hand, so I started looking for a way to invite.
I didn’t have a second suit (you can’t use 2nd suit help suit on a 3 card suit) and I wasn’t particularly interested in partners trump quality since I was 50-50 to pick up the King even if partner didn’t have it. This gave me pause for thought, but I apparently need a longer pause and more thought. I decided that given the limitations of our agreements it might be reasonable to use the re-raise as an omnibus game try asking partner to simply evaluate the quality of his raise. Standing ready to absolve partner of any blame if she did not figure this out, I bid 3 spades, partner bid 4 and we learned to make perfect circles on our personal scorecards.
What observations will help avoid this huge embarrassment the next time?
1. When I couldn’t find the right bid I should have passed. My hand also demonstrates that there are times when “Help Suit” will not help and trump quality is not the primary concern. We (and I think most regular partnerships) needed a more flexible agreement on game tries.
2. My hand met all the prominent tests for a game try, 6 LTC, 3 ½ Quick tricks, 5 controls and a good 6 card suit. Actually, the “don’t blame me refrain” is somewhat weak. For one thing, half my points and 3 of my controls were in a 2 card suit. You want your controls and touching honors in suits in which you have length so you can make tricks from little cards. Second, even with a 6 card suit, I had the worst possible distribution: 6-3-2-2. Third, if I visualized the hand that partner would need to have to make game, it really boils down to controls, Ace, Kings and singles and voids. Queens and Jacks are worthless. Although a short suit game try (asking partner where he had shortness or 2nd round control) might have been better that was not our agreement. Even if our bidding had more precision, my game try was too aggressive for matchpoints.
3. Partner never saw an invite that she didn’t want to accept and it didn’t help that it was the last set of boards. We suffered the ultimate indignity of going down 2 in 4 spades when the field was making 2 spades. At least we played it well! This brings me to another point. You need an understanding with your partner about who does the stretching to reach games. In matchpoints (in spite of my bid) I prefer sound game tries by opener so that responder can stretch a bit on hands that smell like game. This strategy will keep us at 2 of the major on high risk trials. The bottom of the barrel is to be in 3 of a major down one because nobody else thought your hand was worth a try. If the scoring is IMPS, I think the understanding should be just the other way around. Games are a big premium (particularly vulnerable) and you can’t get there if you don’t try. David Berkowitz recently reiterated a comment that Jim Jacoby make to him about IMP game tries: “Don’t make them vulnerable, just bid the game.”
4. Another way to add more certainty to game tries is to use "semi- constructive" major suit raises. With this understanding partner does not raise the major unless he has a really good 7+ to 10 hcps. With lesser hands and 3 card support he first bids 1NT (forcing) and then supports the major at the 2 level. This helps prevent useless game tries since you know in advance that partner does not have a strong raise. The argument against this is that 2 of the major is more preemptive than 1NT and forcing opponents to enter at the 3 level has its virtues in competitive auctions. Choices, Choices!
Steve Robinson, a well known bridge expert, conducts a bidding survey among his expert friends every other month. It is published on the District Six web site http://www.districtsix.org. Recently he asked 20+ bridge professionals about game tries and as you can imagine he got some support for every kind of game try known to the bridge world. There were two consistent themes.
Very few experts like 2nd suit game tries for the very simple reason that they give the opponents too much information about the opening lead and defense. Eric Compton said “Disclosing your hand at IMP’s is losing bridge.” Larry Cohen said “I don’t like to tell.” Marty Bergen said “the very last thing declarer should do is tell the enemy which suit he is weak in.”
I have to say that the re-raise system we used did not give away any information t our opponents or to each other for that matter!!
What has evolved at advanced levels are two way and three way game tries where one of the options is to ask responder to further describe his hand. Many of these trials ask responder in what suit he would accept a game try. Responder bids his positive responses up the line and the major suit at the 3 level as a rejection of the trial. This discloses nothing about opener’s hand and only gives information about the dummy. Not much of a gift!
One such system would have the next bidding level after the raise ask responder for a suit in which he would support a trial. (Ex. 1h/2h/2s or 1s/2s/2NT). In the heart example 2NT is a surrogate bid for spades so there is no overshoot. If 1s/2s/2NT, then if responder bids 3 diamonds it says he accepts in diamonds but would not accept a trial in clubs.
If this were a two-way system, then any bid other than the next level by opener asks a different question. In many systems that is a short suit trial, again revealing nothing about opener’s hand. So 1h/2h/3c might ask about 2nd round control of clubs. Alternatively, 3 clubs could be a 2nd suit game try if that’s your agreement.
This is an advanced topic and for some of my readers may have to be put on the shelf for later. But there is something that all of us can take from this post. If you see 1s/2/s and then some other bid by opener, ask what the bid means. Players are notoriously bad about alerting their game tries. If the game try is a second suit game try (which it will be in most club games) start thinking how you can use this information and responder’s further bidding to direct your opening lead and defense.