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No Game

This column first appeared in the March 2018 ACBL Bridge Bulletin.


Last month I introduce the concept of the Two Questions:

  1. Do we have a game?
  2. Do we have an 8-card (or longer) major-suit fit?


We then looked at what to do when the answer to Question One was YES – when we have a game we must make forcing (or game-forcing) bids until we reach the correct game contract. This month we’re going to consider the opposite scenario: when the answer to Question 1 is NO. Remember that there are three possible answers to this question: YES, NO, and MAYBE. We’re talking about a NO answer – partner has limited her hand enough for us to be sure we have no game. This hand belongs in a partscore.

Bridge scoring incentivizes keeping the auction as low as possible on partscore hands. We get no bonus for playing in 3 instead of 2 or 1, and there is a risk that we might go down in the higher contract. So the first rule when we determine the hand belongs in a partscore is Stay Low. Our goal is to find a reasonable spot and stop quickly.

Notice that I said a “reasonable spot,” not the best spot. When we’re bidding a game or a slam we need to worry about getting to the best spot. We usually have enough space and time to make this determination. In partscore deals, staying low in a reasonable but imperfect spot is usually better than trying to find a magic contract that may or may not exist. Especially when such a search risks getting us overboard.

Here’s a basic example:

South
84
KQ74
J842
643
W
N
E
S
1NT
P
?

Let’s start with our two questions:

  1. Do we have a game? NO. We have 6 HCP, partner has 15-17, so our maximum total is 23.
  2. Do we have a major-suit fit? MAYBE. If partner has 4 (or 5) hearts we have a heart fit.


Because our answer to Question One was NO, we know this hand belongs in a partscore. The issue is which partscore. The realistic contenders from our point of view are 1NT, 2, and 2. If partner has a fit in either of our suits, it’s likely the suit contract would play a little better than 1NT. However, we cannot abandon the reasonable 1NT contract for a fit that may or may not exist, since if we do not find a fit we will be in trouble.

There is no way for us to find a diamond fit, so the only realistic option is using Stayman to find a 4-4 heart fit. That will work great when partner has 4 hearts: she will bid 2 and we will pass. If she were to respond 2, we would pass that and hope we had found a fit. The real danger is that she might bid 2. What now? Let her play a 4-2 spade fit? If we bid 2NT, not only have we gotten ourselves a level higher, but we are inviting partner to bid a game; she might well accept and get us 2 levels higher than we want to be. The only solution that guarantees that we play in a reasonable partscore contract is to pass 1NT.

Notice that if we make the hand stronger so that the answer to Question One is YES – say

South
A4
KQ74
J842
643

We can now use Stayman and check for the heart fit. When we have a game, we have the time and space to worry about Question Two and get to the best spot. But when it’s a partscore hand, we often need to prioritize staying low over finding the perfect spot.

Here’s another example:

South
AQ842
4
108532
J7
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
2
P
?

Partner has described a minimum opening hand with 6+ hearts. Let’s look at our two questions:

  1. Do we have a game? NO. We have 7 HCP, partner has at most 15 or so.
  2. Do we have a major-suit fit? MAYBE. Partner might have 3 spades. Or 7 hearts.


We know we belong in a partscore. It’s quite possible that 2 or 3 would be better than 2, but still we must pass. We certainly can’t bid 3, as that would be forcing and would get us way too high. 2 would at least be non-forcing, but it would risk getting us to a much worse contract. We know we have at least 7 hearts between us; partner could be void in spades. While 2 might not be our best spot, it will at least be reasonable and most importantly it’s a nice low contract.


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