Breaking the Law
Here we discuss the Law of Total Tricks, with some examples of when we might cast “The Law” aside occasionally in favor of getting really good suits into the auction. Total Tricksters should probably skip this article, it’ll only raise their blood pressure. Others, those who feel that The Law of Total tricks is a useful tool but not a religious text, can read on without fear of medical complications. All of the hands in this article come from the Wednesday Game of 4th March, 2008.
To a large degree “Total Trick” bidding relies upon being honest about our suit lengths, the logic being that, if we know how many combined trumps our side has, then we are well on the way to knowing how high to compete (often, with an 8-card fit we’ll have safety at the two-level, with 9 we’ll go to the 3-level, and so on). Here’s a whole bunch of tools which help us do just that:
- We open 5-card majors, and rebid them to show a 6th.
- Overcalls show 5 cards (or more).
- Bergen Raises are used to distinguish between 3- and 4-card support.
- Two-Way Drury does likewise.
- Our Weak Twos show 6 cards and a true Total Trickster will rarely have only 5.
- At the 3-level, in a fit auction, we are more likely to bid again with an extra trump than we are when holding a few extra values.
There are numerous other examples, but you get the general idea. Anyway, this article was prompted by an extraordinary number of hands in recent Wednesday Games where making the “anti-Law” bid not only made sense, but also worked out rather well. Please don’t get us wrong, this article is in no way intended to be an obituary for the Law, which remains a valuable bidding tool.
Four Card Overcalls
Here we give three instances from the Wednesday Game of 4th March, 2009, all of them where one of our protagonists had good cause to overcall with a 4-card suit.
♠ AKQ3 South West North East
♥ 743 Pass 1♣
♦ QT6 ??
South has 13 HCP and support for the unbid suits, so this looks like a Takeout Double, eh? No doubt that will be the choice of many but is it really the right bid? No, that Spade suit is too good not to bid, all the more so as Partner is a passed hand, and N-S are likely to be defending. So, let’s help out Partner here, with a useful lead-directing bid.
Bottom Line: 1♠ works like a charm, but in this case it’s because of the preemptive effect, crowding the opponents, getting them too high.
♠ KQJ2 West North East South
♥ 832 Pass Pass 1♥
♦ Q4 ??
Double would not be so terrible, but we rather like 1♠, of course. We may only have four of those Spades, but the suit is chunky and if North ends up in No Trump we’d love a Spade lead.
Bottom Line: This time West’s 4-card overcall has no effect on the outcome, neither one way nor the other.
♠ 72 West North East South
♥ AK87 Pass Pass Pass 1♦
♦ 65 ??
Yes, why risk a vulnerable 2♣ overcall, when there is a safer 1♥ bid available? Yes, it’s a Heart short, but it’s also the suit that West would like Partner to lead (there’s a good chance that North will play this one in Spades).
Bottom Line: West’s 1♥ achieves nothing much, but it avoids something dreadful! If West overcalls 2♣, he is likely to get nailed for -200 or -500.
Some 6-Card Suits
A holding such as ♥J87643 is considered to be a 6-card suit, provided that the cards don’t stick together. To us it looks more like a 5-card suit (unless Partner supports, in which case we would treat it with a lot more respect). How about ♥AKQJT? This suit has a little je ne sais quoi, if you will, and seems be saying “6-card suit!”
♠ T986 West North East South
♥ AKQJT Pass 1♣ Dbl
♦ 9843 1♥ Pass 2♣ Pass
Step 1 is for West to realize that he has a 6-card suit. Step 2 is to decide whether to bid 2♥ or 3♥. Our own choice would be to go low, considering all those losers in Spades and Diamonds, and further bearing in mind that the void is in Partner’s long suit. 2♥ is the winning call, it’s E-W’s last chance to play in a making contract.
But you will have noticed that this Board has been recycled! On the previous page, South illustrated the power of a well-timed 4-card overcall, by bidding 1♠ over 1♣. Now, West bids 2♥, and E-W are on the road to a minus score!
Usually we have a 5-card suit to open 1♥ or 1♠, but in 3rd seat we often make an exception.
♠ A62 North East South West
♥ AKT2 Pass Pass
♦ J82 ??
Even in 1st or 2nd seat there is something to be said for opening the North hand with 1♥, though that might be considered fighting talk in some quarters. But surely, in 3rd seat, when Partner is a passed hand and our chances of buying the contract are therefore diminished, it makes sense to throw in a 1♥ opening, in no small part to get the right lead from Partner. Make the Heart suit even stronger:
We’d obviously also open this 1♥ in 3rd seat, and the Hearts are so good we’d do the same in 1st or 2nd seat, too!
5-Card Weak Twos
- Never, ever when Red vs White
- When Red vs Red, only in 3rd seat with a really good suit and shortness somewhere (even then consider a light one-bid instead)
- White vs White, a very occasional foray is fine, given a good suit and some shape.
- When White vs Red, there’s more license, and in 3rd seat it’s a duty to get into the auction on the most slender of pretexts.
So far, the examples have been about bidding good suits, despite their lack of length. On this hand we might go out of our way not to bid a good suit:
♠ K6 North East South West
♥ T62 1♣ Pass
♦ AKQJ7 ??
It would be hard to argue too vigorously against a response of 1♦, but just because we have a really good suit, does not necessarily mean that we have to bid it! There’s much to be said for responding 3NT here. Sure, it’s not perfect, for all North knows the defense might rattle off 5 Hearts, for example. But usually they won’t and East will be operating in the dark on his opening lead. On the actual deal, bidding 3NT directly is the winner (10 tricks), whereas if N-S indulge in a leisurely exploration of possible suit contracts, East will find the killing (Spade) lead, and that will be just 8 tricks.
In our final example, West has a lovely 6-card major which he sees fit not to bid:
♠ KQ9843 West North East South
♥ J7542 1♥ Pass
♦ AJ ??
This is an easy one! We don’t bother to bid 1♠ here, we take charge of a Heart slam auction with a Jacoby 2NT bid. Later we can leap to 5♣ (Exclusion Key Card for those that play this exotic convention). Bidding 1♠ will result in a convoluted auction such as: 1♥ 1♠, 2♣ 2♦, 2♠ 3♥, 4♣, etc. Now Hearts are agreed at too high a level, and the Exclusion option is lost.
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