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The Two Questions

This year I started writing a column for the ACBL's Bridge Bulletin. My emphasis is on thought process and how proper framing can guide us to better decisions. I'm going to publish the columns on Bridge Winners as well, where they can generate some discussion. This column is from the February Bridge Bulletin.

The goal of a bridge auction is to arrive at the right final contract. The final contract is composed of two elements: Level and Strain. Levels means how high we are bidding — does this deal belong in a partscore, a game, or a slam. Strain is the suit (or notrump) in which we choose to play. There are advanced considerations, like concealing information from the opponents and playing from the right side, but ultimately the auction is about getting to the right level and finding the right trump suit (or playing in notrump).

This means there are two essential questions we must always be asking ourselves:

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


Each of these questions has three possible answers: YES, NO, and MAYBE. This isn’t rocket science. But neither is bridge. For all its complexities, bridge is at its core about finding fits and bidding games.

We start with Question One, “Do we have a game?” because getting to game is the first order of business, and missing a game is the ultimate sin in bridge. I’m not talking about the 20-point game with 3 finesses onside and every suit splitting favorably. I’m talking about the meat-and-potatoes 25+ HCP games. Make this your bridge motto: you WILL NOT play in a partscore with 25+ HCP.

When you ask Question One, “Do we have a game?” and get a YES answer, your number-one priority must be making sure the partnership gets to game. That means you can’t make non-forcing bids. Ideally you can make a game-forcing bid; if not, you must make forcing bids until a suitable game contract is reached.

Again, not rocket science. And not anything you didn’t already know. But by prioritizing it in our thought process, we make sure we don’t do something silly like make a bid partner can pass at the partscore level with a game-forcing hand. When we’re thinking about the right things, we can often find the right bid by process of elimination.

Let’s put this into action:

South
KQ10543
K4
AJ4
Q9
W
N
E
S
1
P
1
P
2
P
?

Too often I see players excited to show off their nice 6-card suit and bid 2. Some realize the hand is too strong for that and bid 3. Remember, as important as finding major-suit fits is, it’s second on our priority list. Let’s start, as we always should, with our two questions:

  1. Do we have a game? YES
  2. Do we have a major-suit fit? MAYBE


Since the answer to Question One is YES, we must make a forcing bid. One of our most basic rules is that new suits by responder are forcing, while other bids (rebidding your own suit, raising partner, or bidding notrump) are non-forcing. That rules out bids in notrump, spades, diamonds, and clubs. Process of elimination leaves us only one bid: 2. We aren’t wild about bidding a 2-card suit, but our priority at this point is getting to game, which means we need to make a forcing bid. And this is the only one available. This situation is so common that we’ve given it a name and made it a convention: Fourth Suit Forcing. Even if you’re not explicitly playing this convention with your partner, the logic that led to the convention’s creation will compel you to make the bid. (And then probably add it to your card before the next round starts!)

Once we deal with Question One, using Fourth Suit Forcing to create a game force, we can focus on Question Two. If partner has 2+ spades we have a fit and want to play in 4; if not, we probably belong in 3NT. The key concept at this point is that Strain takes a backseat here to Level: we have to set the game force first, and then worry about which game is best.

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