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Better Preempts III: Who has the Values?
This is the firstof two articles about the effect of the auction on jump openings.
A preempt is a bold stroke made by a weak hand to consume bidding room andcreate uncertainty. Creating uncertainty is a good thing if the deal belongs to the opponents. However, if it belongs to us, that uncertainty bites us instead. The preempt is unnecessary when we own the hand because partner will open if we pass and we can bid slowly to the right contract.Think of a preempt asa bet that the hand belongs tothe opponents.Based on this observation, we should only preempt when we believe the deal belongs to the opponents. But how can we know? Though we can not know for sure, we can make an educated guess based on clues from our hand andthe preceding auction.

Who Has The Values?
Assume you have the below handand are considering a preempt, and that any bidder preceding you has passed. How many HCP can you expect partner to hold? What about the opponents?

Seat LHO Partner RHO OpponentsHCP
1st 11HCP 11HCP 11HCP 22HCP
2nd 13HCP 13HCP 7HCP 20HCP
3rd 17HCP 8HCP 8HCP 25 HCP
4th 11 HCP 11 HCP 11 HCP 22 HCP
The chart above shows the expected distribution of HCP. The numbers shown are the most common for each player. On real deals the number will vary and may be more or less. But if the chart says a player rates to hold 17, he will hold 17 much more frequently than 11. Thus, even though these numbers are imaginary in some sense, they orient us as to what we can plan for.
In first seat no one has passed in front of you. Consequently, the 33outstanding HCP rate to be divided evenlybetween the three unseen hands. The opponents rate to hold a 22-18 advantage in totalHCPand will own the deal significantly more oftenthan we will.
In second seat, your RHO is a passed hand. A passed hand normally has at most 11 HCP, but how many HCP can we expect on average?To answer this question, Eugene Hung kindly ran a simulation. Assuming you are in second seat with 7 HCP and a 7-card suit, hecalculated a mean HCP for a passed hand of 7.2 HCP (which I rounded down to 7). When we simulated a third seat preempt, the mean HCP for a passed hand jumped up to 7.9, which I rounded to 8.
When your passed-hand RHO rates to hold 7HCP, the opponents' expected advantage in HCPgoes away (not surprising since you and RHO have the same count).The hand will belong to our side half the time, and when it belongs to the opponents, it will frequently be a part-score deal. The justification for taking risks declines. Therefore we must protect ourselves by preempting conservatively with good suits and normal length.
In third seat, your partner is limited by his pass. If we give partner and RHO 8 HCP, the opponents have an excellent chance for gamedespite a passed hand RHO. The justification for a risky preempt has increased enormously since we have a couple tricks of leeway against their likely game.
In fourth chair, we run into a special case. We have the option to pass the hand out if we expect a negative score by bidding. Since a preempt is by design a bid for a minus score, we should never preempt in fourth chair. Instead, jump openings are used to show intermediate hands--hands in the 10-14 HCP range, with a good suit (usually 6) and game interest. With both opponents having passed, their total is at most 22 HCP, so the auction will either be a game auction in your direction, or a part-score battle. Using jump openings with intermediate-strength hands helps to win thepart-score battles by shutting the opponents out when they might be able to compete for the partial.
What happens to HCP around the table whenpreemptorholds only 4 HCP?
Seat LHO Partner RHO OpponentsHCP
1st 12HCP 12 HCP 12HCP 24 HCP
2nd 14.25HCP 14.25 HCP 7.5HCP 21.75HCP
3rd 19HCP 8.5 HCP 8.5HCP 27.5 HCP
4th N/A N/A N/A N/A
Predictably, the opponents are more likely to have a game when your hand is a king lighter. In first chair or third chair, this is a significant incentive to preempt, since the likely game or slam for the opponents gives you leeway. However, take a good look at second chair. Partner's expected hand has gotten stronger when our hand is weaker. With an average of over 14 HCP, he is likely to have the values to bid on inprecisely the situation when you would least like him to bid.
The moral? While alight hand may encourage you to preempt in 1st or 3rd seat, watch out in 2nd seat.Extra credit: Whydid I write N/A for fourth chair?
What happens whenpreemptor holds 10 HCP?
Seat LHO Partner RHO OpponentsHCP
1st 10HCP 10 HCP 10HCP 20 HCP
2nd 11.5HCP 11.5 HCP 7HCP 18.5 HCP
3rd 14HCP 8HCP 8HCP 22HCP
4th 10 HCP 10 HCP 10 HCP 20 HCP
The opponents are much less likely to hold game values when preemptorhas 10 HCP. When the opponents rate not to have a biddable game, any negative score will IMP poorly for us. Thus, ironically, when we have a maximum-HCP preempt, it is important to hold a good suit. If we go for a number holding a poor suit (trumps breaking badly) we have likely lost 10+ IMPs since opponents are so unlikely to have a game. We want a hand like: x, KQJTxxx, xx, Axx when preempting with an HCP max.The opponents will have a hard time doubling us, and our contract has a good chance to make even if they do.
When you preempt, you are making a guess about who owns the deal. The analysis shows that the more HCP we have, the less often the opponents own the deal. A 6-HCP increase in our hand from 4 to 10 HCP enormously decreases the chance that the opponents own the deal.
When opponents can bid and make a game, we have more leeway to preempt since we don't care about going down 2 or even 3 doubled.Therefore, we can take great risks preempting with very weak hands. At the other extreme, we must be cautious preempting with values to avoid going for a number against a partial.
In addition to our own HCP, passed-hand opponents and partners massively influence which side rates to own the deal.
  • In 1st seat, the opponents own the deal a majority of the time when we have a weakish hand. This supports an aggressive preemption philosophy.
  • In 3rd seat, since we are weak and partner has also passed, the opponents are virtually guaranteed to own the deal; we can really flex our muscles.
  • In 2nd seat, since RHO is limited, partner often holds significant values, so we preempt conservatively.
  • 4th seat is a special case. We never need to intentionally bid for a minus (we can pass instead), so our jump openings are intermediate, not weak.
Seat position, not vulnerability, is the single most important factor drivingeffective preemption. The rule of 2, 3 and 4 is built upon on how much you can afford to lose when the opponents can make a game. It says nothing about whether the opponents are likely to make a game. When considering a preempt, our first test should be whether preemption rates to do us some good. Only if we pass that first test should we ask "how high?" (and consult the rule of 2, 3 and 4 if we like).
The next article offers more specific advice about tuning jump openingsin each of the four seats.
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