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April 25, 2000
Know Your Job
The Scorecard is the publication for ACBL District 16. I was asked and consented to write a regular column aimed at the 0-299 masterpoint player. I will post my columns here as they may be of benefit to the same readers that benefit from my newsletter.
Scorecard, Volume 32, No 3 - May/June 2000
I am asked about many hands during the course of the year. The majority of these hands
fall into the bidding disaster arena. The question in the mind of the student is how the
bidding should proceed so that they can arrive at game/slam or locate the fit in a
particular suit. Through these questions I have come to realize that most players in the
0-299 masterpoint category are missing a very crucial, yet fundamental, concept. They do
not know their own job description.
Do you know anyone that has the annoying habit of talking continuously? They never hear a word you have to say because they are always talking. In truth, talking and listening are mutually exclusive activities. If you are talking, then you are not listening and vice versa. The same principle applies to a bridge auction. If everyone is talking, then no one is listening. A bridge auction works much better if one player talks and the other player listens. The talker describes his or her hand as accurately as is needed. The talker answers questions. The talker follows instructions. The listener asks questions. The listener issues instructions. The listener makes the decisions for the partnership. This is the concept of captaincy. One player must be in charge during each auction.
Who gets to be captain? Well, let us see if we can work this out logically. The captain should be the player with the most information available to him/her. A simple example may help. Partner opens 1NT in first seat. At this point which player knows the most about your combined holding, you or partner? You, of course, know much more. You know that partner has a balanced hand with 15-17 points AND you know exactly what your hand contains. Partner, on the other hand, may know whether her hand is 15, 16, or 17 points but knows nothing about your hand. You may already be able to determine if this is partscore, a game, or a slam hand. Partner would only be guessing. You may already know that your side has a fit in hearts or spades. Partner would not have a clue. So the answer to our question is that RESPONDER gets to be captain. Once partner opens the bidding you are captain. That fact does not change throughout the remainder of the auction. Opener's job is the talker or describer. All of openers bids tell something about his/her hand. As the auction progresses, opener's bids narrow the description of strength and distribution until responder, the captain, has enough information to determine the final contract. Responders job is listener. All of responders bids issue instructions, ask for more detailed information, or set priorities for opener. Responder is searching for the needed clues so as to be able to answer two basic questions. What level does the potential of our combined holdings indicate? In what suits does the partnership hold a fit (so it can be named trump)? As soon as both of these questions can be answered, then the auction is ready to end.
It is responders bids alone that carry the labels of forcing, invitational, or signoff. Opener's bids are not assigned these labels. Opener cannot force, he/she can only describe. Opener does not get to make decisions as that is responders job. The better job that opener does with respect to accurately describing his or her hand, then the better job that responder will do in making the final decisions. As opener, you should focus on painting a picture of your hand. If partner can see your hand in his/her minds eye then the right contract will be reached. As responder, you should think of your bids as tools, not as descriptors. Use your bids to get the information from opener that you need in order to make a sound decision.
The best partnerships are where each player takes care of his/her side of the table and does the job assigned. If you are opener, then do the best job possible in describing your hand and leave the decision-making up to partner. Just because you have robust 17 count does not mean that the hand belongs in game. You must learn to absolutely trust your captain. If you described your hand and partner decides partscore, then it is a partscore. If you are responder then take your job seriously. It is up to you to determine the answers to the level and denomination questions.
Consider your tools carefully. What do you need to know and how best to find it out?
Okay, let us get to a couple of common questions (I know they are racing through your head).
Is 2 forcing? The answer is no. You cry, But, it is a new suit! It does not matter. East is captain. New suits BY RESPONDER are forcing. West has described a hand with hearts and clubs and strength between a minimum opening and a hand just short of a jump shift (about 12-17 points). If East can determine that a club partscore is the proper contract, then pass the proper rebid. I would respond 1 and then pass 2 with:
As West, what should you rebid? For some reason, an overwhelming number of players want
to rebid 1NT. Why, I do not know. Yes you have heart stoppers and you have a minimum
strength hand, but a 1NT rebid says more. It also describes a balanced hand. So what
should you do? I would open 1 so that I had a 2 rebid available for this eventuality. As describer
you must learn to plan ahead. A 1NT rebid is terrible. If you rebid 1NT with these hands
and the partnership gets to a wrong contract it is 100% your fault.
In conclusion, here is my advice for avoiding bidding disasters. Learn your job. Do it well. Let partner do his/her job. Trust your partner. Bridge is a team sport. Play it that way. Let me hear from you.