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1 - 1 Auctions

1 - 1 auctions can be awkward.

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Responder can not place the contract accurately because opener might hold anywhere from 11-18 HCP. At the same time, responder's hand usually ranges from 5-19 HCP, so responder must be able to show sign-off, invitational, and game-forcing strengths. This combination of unlimited hands for both opener and responder often leads to guessing in the subsequent auction.

Here are two tips to get better results after a 1 opening:


Tip 1: With a game-forcing hand and exactly 4 spades start with a 2/1 response

South
AKxx
xx
Kxx
KQxx
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You bid 1 right? With four good spades, why bid something else? While 1 looks innocuous, it can lead to difficulty when you hold a good hand. Let's look at how the auction might continue.

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Hmmmmm, that's awkward. Too strong for 3NT, but the only low-level forcing call is a fourth suit forcing 3 call.

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Great. Do you know what to do now? I don't.

1. Has partner guaranteed 5 diamonds? Or does he hold: xx Axxxx AQJx xx?

2. If he does have 5 diamonds, is this hand good enough to go past 3NT?

3. If opener had rebid 3, 3 or 3NT would you feel certain you knew what to do?

Responder's hand could be weak or invitational so most bids after 2 are reserved for weaker hands. Our only way to create a game force is 3. Unfortunately, the 3 call cramps opener's auction, frequently forcing him to make a strangled 3 rebid without a 5th diamond or a 3 rebid without a 6th heart. In the end 3 provides little help--it just defers our awkward choice for one round. If you could have made a forcing call of 2NT after 1, you would be well placed. Then opener could raise to 3NT with a minimum or bid out his pattern with good shape and some extras.

Is there a way we could have created a game force more cheaply?Let's look at a different auction.

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Well, this is a lot easier. You can now comfortably rebid either 2 or 2NT. You will have little trouble finding a reasonable contract whatever opener holds.

This auction is easier because 2 creates a game force a level lower than 3 did. All follow-up bids are forcing, which is exactly we needed on this hand. You will never miss a 4-4 spade fit since either you or partner will bid spades whenever a 4-4 fit is present when playing this style.

Here is another example.

North
Axxx
Kxx
Ax
Axxx
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What now? 3 is not forcing. Neither is 4. This hand is too strong for a jump to 4 anyway. Where does that leave you? Using 4SF again.

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Now you will have to bid 4 to show your heart fit. Unfortunately, the bidding room below game is gone so your slam search will start at the 5-level (if partner chooses to risk it).

But if you respond 2 instead:

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Now you have an easy game-forcing 2 call. The slam auction begins low and should move smoothly.

Why did our auctions work so much better when we responded 2? In effect we reversed the order of our bids. In the first auction, we showed 4 spades on round 1, then created a game force on round 2. In the second case, we create our game force with our first bid and then showed our shape later (if at all).

In both examples our hand was balanced and strong. When you hold a balanced hand, you would rather that your partner, who may be unbalanced, describe his shape. By making a cheap call game forcing call (2), you allow partner to bid out his pattern slowly.

Bottom line: When your hand is strong and balanced, create a GF as early as possible and subsequent auctions will be much easier.

Tip 2. When your hand is weak and its primary feature is a minor suit respond 1NT

South
Jxxx
x
KQxxxxx
x
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What do you think your best final contract will be? 2? Any ideas how to get there from here? For that matter, could you even play a contract of 3?

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Much easier. The partnership will have no trouble finding 2 or 3.

"Wait just a cotton-pickin' minute," I hear you say. "Couldn't we miss a spade fit bidding this way?"

Yes, you could, and I hope you do if you use this tactic against me. Fortunately, you won't miss one often. To miss a spade fit, opener would have to be 4-5 or 4-6 in the majors, and that pattern is relatively uncommon. Opener also has to be too weak to reverse. Lastly, even if you do miss a 4-4 spade fit, a 7-1 fit often plays better when your shape is 7-4-1-1. So maybe 1 in 10 times this sequence occurs, a 1NT response will cost you.

Let's contrast that with the auction beginning 1 -- 1. If opener rebids 1NT we can get to a contract of 2 or 3 (depending on your methods). But if opener makes any other response, it will be virtually impossible to stop in a minor-suit partial. So a 1 response will frequently leave you stuck in a bad spot.1NT works better because it allows us to clearly say, "Long diamonds in a weak hand" no matter what partner rebids.

Conclusion

Both tips improve our chances of success by planning the auction a round ahead. To see why, think of your hand as having general characteristics.

In my first tip, the hand characteristics were: "game forcing, balanced, four spades." By communicating the game-forcing aspect first, we were able to setup a nice easy auction that gave us plenty of time to communicate other messages later. In my second tip, the characteristics were: "weak, long minor, four spades". Once again, by communicating the important characteristics first (weak and long minor), we greatly increase the chances of finding a good contract.

Thinking about the general characteristics of a hand and planning an auction appropriate for that hand type will improve all your auctions.

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