21 May 2012

The art of not pre-empting

Pre-empts encourage bidding. When we pre-empt we're using up space and trying to talk our opponents out of bidding; the problem is they know that and tend to overbid to compensate. Convincing the opponents to overbid when holding little defensive strength is a little odd.

Take a look at this example from a recent matchpointed pairs event:

Vul: NS
Dealer: South
A T 8 5
Q T 8 5 4 3
Q 8
K 8 3
K 7 2
K J T 6 5 4
7 5 4
K Q 9 6 3
A 6
A 3 2
A J T 9 6 2
J 4 2
J 9
9 7

At most tables the South player advanced a weak two which ran to East who tried 3. West was left in an uncomfortable but easy situation, it's at least as likely there are 9 tricks in no trumps as hearts and it scores better.

3NT is a great spot and many declarers helped themselves to an overtrick. How many East Wests would reach it unassisted however? The bidding makes it's way around to East who opens a heart. West has a 2♣ rebid which East might raise but might pass. It's difficult to get beyond 3♣.

Maybe if the West hand were a shade stronger, possibly:

K Q 3
T 7 2
A J T 6 5 4

It could be opened at the one level and all would be well but I suspect the existing 10 count doesn't meet most partnerships criteria.

At my table our opponents didn't open the pre-empts which set them on track for an excellent board but then stumbled at their next opportunity:

Pass Pass Pass 1
Pass 2 2 Pass
2 Pass 3 Pass
Pass X 3 Pass
Pass X End

About to stop bidding in two of a minor our generous opponents thoughtfully offered +800.


  1. Two points:

    1. South has a semi-balanced hand which is the worst sort of hand to preempt with. Give south a singleton in clubs/diamonds and a prempt starts to look good. It makes the opps have to guess at a high level when suits are breaking badly.

    2. Preempts are useful offensively. Swap the north and east hands (and give south a singleton in clubs or diamonds). Any way that N-S finds 4S without starting with a preempt?

    1. Thanks for your comment. It was Zia who said the best preempt was on a 7222 shape because you silence your opponents when everything is breaking well for them.

      Pre-empts are useful and, as you point out, some contracts are virtually unreachable without a pre-empt to start things off.