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Preempting then Acting Again

“Advanced players know the rules. Experts know when to break the rules.” - Anonymous

We have all heard bridge teachers state, often in unequivocal terms, that you should not act again after opening a weak two bid. It seems like sound advice based on the following simple logic: partner has a much better idea of your hand than you have of his hand. How can anyone argue with that?

Well I can, because the times, they are a-changing (in fact, they have long since a-changed.) Preempting has proven too effective a tactic to limit to the ‘traditional’ hands. So, in exchange for the gain of added frequency, we pay the price of decreased precision in describing our hand. And with the wider potential range of hands comes the need to act in competition with those hands at the extreme ends of shape, strength, and offense/defense ratio. Let’s take a look at the types of hands with which it might be profitable to take such traditionally unwelcome action.

Before we continue, a quick aside. Don’t be so concerned with the choice of opening preempt that the attempted point gets lost. Perhaps on a hand where I give a 2-level opening, you would have opened 3, or 1, or even not opened at all. That is fine, but in that case I ask you to either accept the alternate style, or make the smallest possible change to the hand that will allow you to feel fine about proceeding. Now, on we go.

Holding a Second Suit

Holding a second suit is not the impediment to opening a weak 2 bid that it used to be. That realization raises the question of when you want to attempt to show your second suit in spite of partner’s lack of interest. The two most frequent situations require different analyses. These are: 1) partner has raised your preempt, and 2) partner has not acted at all.

If partner has raised your weak two bid, and the opponents have entered the auction, then showing the second suit may be crucial to helping partner make the correct decision. Suppose you hold x KQ9xxx QTxxx x and with both sides vulnerable the auction goes 2 (X) 3 (3). Although partner’s raise doesn’t invite you to bid game, you have learned a lot about the hand. The raise has alleviated any concerns about the solidity of your heart suit (likely the reason you opened 2 rather than 3 to begin with) and the extreme shape gives you too much playing strength to risk passing. You are likely to make 4 or have a good save over 4. Bidding 4 now is the perfect way to involve partner so he can make an accurate decision if the opponents bid 4. If he holds Axx Jxx KJx xxxx then he will know our hands fit well and he can take a cheap save in 5, whereas if he holds Axx Jxx xxx KJxx he will be happy to pass and hope for a plus score on defense.

There are also occasional opportunities to bid a second suit even when partner hasn’t acted. Distinguishing characteristics of these situations are when the opponents seem to be in a great contract, and the auction suggests partner is marked with some values. Let’s give you x xx QJTxx AJ9xx with neither side vulnerable. Suppose you deal and the auction goes as follows: 2 (P) P (2), P (2) P (P), back to you. The auction has told you a lot. With the opponents stopping at this low level, your partner almost has to have a fair amount of strength, probably at least a 10-count. And it seems that the opponents have found a fit. So why roll over and let them play there? I say come right back in with 3. You have good odds of striking a club fit here so take advantage of them. This hand occurred in actual play and my partner held a 13-count with a club fit. The opponents could have made 2 and my side scored up an easy +130 instead. I think that type of outcome was entirely predictable. The clues were there, they just had to be used.

Reopening Doubles

It is well-known that if you open a suit at the one level and an opponent’s overcall is passed back to you, such as 1 (1) P P, you should strain to reopen with shortness in the opponent’s suit. The situation is quite different after opening a weak two bid. Your hand is much better described in terms of both shape and strength. Additionally, partner had a penalty double available so there is much less need to protect his hand. Still, there are hands that are worth reopening with a double.

Consider the above auction but a level higher: 2 (2) P P. What if you hold x AJT9xx Kxx Jxx? You have more strength and more defense than partner might have expected, so he may have missed out on a close penalty double. Your hand would also make a great dummy for either minor holding 3 cards in each minor and prime cards. And finally, if none of those options pan out, your hearts and your hand are probably good enough to avoid disaster in 3. It seems that too many good opportunities can be missed by passing here.

That said, we still can’t forget conventional wisdom. Partner already passed despite having a decent idea of what we hold, so we want to have safety if we aren’t going to make the expected pass. The important aspects to the above hand are the maximum strength, the excellent takeout shape, and the transferable values between offense and defense. While some slight concessions may be made in any these areas, there is not much margin for error. So I would also reopen with a double if I held x AJT9xx Kxx xxx, or x AJT9xx Kx Jxxx, but pass with hands much farther off than those.

Having considered my ideas about when to bid again after preempting, here are a few practice problems:

1.
South
AQJxxx
xxx
x
xxx
W
N
E
S
2
P
3
4
?
2.
South
x
KQ9xxx
Q10xxx
x
W
N
E
S
2
P
3
P
?
3.
South
x
xx
QJ10xxx
AJ9x
W
N
E
S
2
P
P
2
P
2
P
P
?


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1: Pass. There is nothing exceptional about your hand or your situation. You have no idea if they will make, or how many tricks your side might take. Your preempt has done its job by causing the opponents to guess, so don’t let them off the hook by acting again.

2: Bid 4. You hold the same example hand used above, just without interference by the opponents this time. Your hand is again upgraded opposite a fit and justifies taking a shot at game, but this time the opponents don’t appear to be interested in bidding. In that case, why tell them about the other suit? Maybe partner holds Ax of diamonds and you are about to receive a favorable lead from the K if you don’t help the opponents.

3: Bid 2NT. This is again similar to a prior example hand, but with the minor suit distribution changed to 6-4. Partner is marked with some values and the opponents seem to have found a fit, so you want to compete without misleading partner about your shape. What else could 2NT mean except secondary clubs? Double is another possibility, but you don’t want to risk partner passing that if he couldn’t double on his own. He might expect something a bit more maximum and likely a heart trick as well, perhaps x Kx AJ9xxx JTxx.

Preempting and bidding again may have been a foreign topic to a number of readers. However, there is no reason to stop thinking just because of the general principle that your hand has already been described. Information gleaned from the auction may change your perception of your hand, or make it safe and profitable to describe an unknown feature to partner. So if the situation is appropriate then don’t be afraid to jump back in there and do something unexpected! I wish you the best of luck.


Josh Donn Josh Donn is a former junior internationalist for the United States. He has a junior world and open national championship to his credit as well as several other top-ten finishes on each stage. His main interests lie in bidding theory and issues of bidding judgment. Outside of bridge, Josh is a Casino Accounting Manager. He has worked at some of the largest casinos in the world and is an expert in casino operations, regulations, and software. He grew up in Syracuse, NY and currently resides in Las Vegas, NV.

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