Avoid the Convention Trap, Part 2

By Chris Willenken

Chris Willenken

In my last article, I advised improving players to avoid spending time learning new conventions, and we talked about some effective ways to improve your bridge.  The feedback was positive, so let me offer two more pieces of advice.

First, always pay careful attention to the bidding, even if you don’t expect to have any decisions to make during the auction.

So many times, I see players staring into space at the opponents’ turn to bid.  Those players are missing a lot of opportunities.  For one thing, every bid that an opponent makes represents an opportunity to start counting that player’s hvand!  In fact, if the opponents have a long auction, you will often be able to call declarer’s exact shape after the opening lead.  Consider a mundane auction such as 1N(15-17)-2C-2H-3N-4S.  Declarer should be either 4-4-3-2 or 4-4-2-3.  If partner leads a spot card in one of the minors, you will often be able to use your lead methods (4th best, or 3rd/5th) to determine whether declarer has two or three cards there.  Now you know declarer’s exact distribution before playing a single card!  (And you also know declarer’s HCP—16 HCP give or take a jack—were you listening?)

Also, if you listen carefully, you may find yourself with the opportunity to make a brilliant bid or double.  Imagine that you hold QJT9 xx xxxx xxx.  Could you imagine doubling the opponents’ 4S contract if partner never acted?  I can.  Let’s imagine that the opponents bid 1NT-2C-2S-3S-4S.  If you were listening, you know that dummy has 8-9 points, with declarer having 16 or 17.  That leaves partner with at least 11 HCP and possibly more!  Wouldn’t you bet that partner will be able to take two tricks to go with your guaranteed trump tricks?

Both of the examples I gave involved 1NT openings by the opponents, which is no coincidence.  It is especially easy to get a read on a player’s hand when their shape and strength are already narrowed down quite a bit.  But the concept works on other auctions as well—you’ll simply need to put in a bit more effort to follow the flow of the bidding.

Second, in the bidding, don’t get trapped by a “bad good hand” or a “good bad hand”.

What in the world is a bad good hand?  Here is an example:  You open a strong 2C with AQJxx AKQJ Qx Kx and rebid 2S.  Partner raises to 3S, showing slam interest.  How do you proceed?  Most players I know would go straight to Blackwood.  A cautious few would make a control-showing bid of 4C.  But in my mind, 4S is the correct bid.  If partner has two aces, or an ace plus the trump king, slam is a poor proposition.  And if your partner has more than that, surely he will bid slam himself over your 4S signoff, remembering that you opened 2C.  This is an example of a bad good hand.  Sure, you have a lot of points, but you already showed every one of them when you opened 2C.  So from that moment on, you should keep your foot on the brake.

The good bad hand is equally important to recognize.  Imagine you hold Kx Qxxx xxxx xxx.  Your left hand opponent opens 1C, and partner overcalls 2C showing 5-5 in the majors.  Your right hand opponent bids 3C.  What is your call?  Many would pass, but I would bid 4H!  If partner has as little as Axxxx AJTxx xx x, you have decent chances to make game, and if partner has less than that, surely the opponents can make something.  The key is that your hand came to life when partner showed the majors.  You have a big fit, and both of your honors are guaranteed to be helpful in filling in partner’s long suits.  This is the time to step on the accelerator.

Thinking back on my suggestions from this series of articles, I notice that my suggestions all fall under the category of good habits.  A great thing about bridge is that you don’t need to be a genius to look like one!  All you need is a disciplined approach to the game.

About the Author

Chris Willenken is one of the world’s top bridge players. In 2022, he won the Vanderbilt Knockout Teams and earned a silver medal in the World Mixed Teams. He offers private playing lessons on BBO.

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31 comments on “Avoid the Convention Trap, Part 2”

  1. I'd add a little about disentangling 2C hands. It may likely need a few conventions like Kokish and/or controls showing responses, perhaps only for players below the expert level. If 2D rebid shows 0-1 controls, the provided hand is easy to stop below a perilous level after 2C-2D/2S-3S sequence showing the interest from the responder's perspective.

  2. Fantastic article and written with wit. Thank you. I must try my best to remember these great tips and hopefully improve my game. Already looking forward to the next article.🙏❤️

    1. You have to click on the star that will be your rating not multiple stars for 2 or higher. If you hover over any of the stars you will see what it means.

  3. Excellent articles!! Surprisingly even after 2 years I have been ignoring the point count of opponents... and instead focused on conventions. Very enlightening to say the least and look forward to more such articles in the future

  4. Great Article 1 and 2! After reading Article 1, I focused on counting well the opponents' remaining HCP & other suits and made better decisions. Next step is to digest your Article 2.

  5. wouldn't 3 hearts be the correct bid in the last example (the good bad hand), since you know partner has 5 and you have 4? Then if partner was Maxi (michaels) he could go to 4 - if they bid 4 clubs.

    1. Hi Claire,

      It's a great question. There are only seven conventions that one really needs-- perhaps this will be the subject of my next article!

      1. I would be very happy to know those 7 conventions that are useful . Looking forward to your articles on that item.

  6. I need to know what the convention is when he says left hand opp bids 1C and Partner says 2C meaning 5 5 in the majors?

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