Why do we do what we do?

April 2, 2009 at 7:53 am 20 comments

Between Sartaj’s comments on Hamman last week and Gill’s attacks on preempts I’ve been looking about a bit for an understanding of what they are on about. Maybe in context this hand is interesting.

2003 Bermuda Bowl Final
Segment 3
Board 11
Dealer South
Nil Vul









I can’t resist to mention in passing, that in our most recent poll Peter Gill was resoundingly voted in as sole selector of the winner of the Grand Prix (car race). One wonders if this famous Bermuda Bowl final, won in practice, as I recall, by a cigarette – or should that be lost by a cigarette – would have also been better off with a sole selector. True, we would have been deprived of an interesting tussle along the way.

On this particular hand, the Italian West, faithful to the convictions mentioned by Peter Gill yesterday, passed. It is interesting that Sartaj, for example, who did not consider opening 3C on KQx, xx, xx, KJ10863 (given by Peter a while ago in comments) thinks this is an automatic bid. I would have thought so too, but, then, I’m apparently the only person in the known universe who would have preempted the other hand too.

What I’m trying to get at, in a sea of comments – Australians preempt too much – this is an automatic preempt – this is an automatic pass – bridge is a two handed game – Hamman doesn’t seem to include the opponents in his theory of bidding – is that nothing is cast in stone, nothing (much) is clear cut, what we do as a problem will often not be what we do in real life. Most likely everything is relative, it’s in a context, all things, alas ARE never equal.

So, what did Hamman do on this West hand? He opened 3D. Sartaj and Peter would know Hamman’s game much better than do I. Would Hamman ALWAYS open this 3D? Never mind, he did. He might have had all sorts of reasons. Because he considers it automatic. Because he is playing against a system he wants to nip in the bud – it could be that always wants to stretch to stop the Italians use the methods to which they are so attached. Of course, that would be supposing that Hamman thinks bridge is a four-handed game and I don’t actually see how you can play bridge except with that view.

Or it MIGHT be what actually happened next. North, with that 5-5 opening hand values PASSED. Presumably he would not have done so if partner had not been a passed hand. But still, the point to be made is that North, even opposite a passed hand is in scary territory deciding to pass with that hand. He’s going to miss games opposite all sorts of ordinary bits and pieces that amount up to his partner’s first pass.

The Italian North got it right on the hand. Hamman went one down in 3D and in the other room 4C failed by one trick too for a few IMPs to Italy.

In practice, then, this is a victory for the passers – Ben Thompson, Peter Gill – but I fancy putting the pressure on. I fancy making North sweat for a bit, hoping that he wasn’t losing a game swing, is worth the few IMPs lost. I’ve gotten to play quite a few of the Italians online over the last couple of years and I’m with Hamman – this is my best chance of beating them….Hmm. Now that I think of it, having to decide what to do with a hand like that over a preempt…it’s enough to make you want to go outside for a cigarette, isn’t it?

This is really only part one, not finished yet, but going shopping now, so back tomorrow.


Entry filed under: bidding, thoughts on bridge. Tags: , .

Your bid. Preempts on holding pattern

20 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Andy  |  April 3, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    IMO, there are two important features about preempts. They are shape and suit quality (with other obvious relevant factors like seat position/vulnerability etc). Having both of these qualities is the green light for one to preempt as much as possible but some of the time you would only have just one quality. 6-4’s, 7-4’s and the 6-5 shapes are definitely great shapes to preempt and so thus you don’t really need *that* great of a suit quality. Lacking shape, having a decent suit quality should make up for it. I personally think not preempting with AQJ9xx (even the 9!) at green, you will just be waiting for too long for the ‘perfect’ hands to come around.

    • 2. Peter Gill  |  April 4, 2009 at 7:32 pm

      Nil vul Reisinger, Bd a Match scoring, opponents are Zia – Rosenberg. You hold 954, 76, KQJ984, 76. 1C on your left, Pass, 1S on your right. Your call, Andy?

      • 3. sartaj  |  April 6, 2009 at 11:30 am

        2D. Got to bid, nil vul.

      • 4. Peter Gill  |  April 8, 2009 at 5:44 pm

        At the table, I bid 3D, minus 800. At another table Sartaj’s
        then- teammate Paul Marston bid 3D, minus 800, and PM
        later said how foolish 3D was.

        The opponents have already exchanged their information,
        so preempting is too late. 2D is OK, but three small cards
        in RHO’s suit, strong opposition who will penalise you
        at the right time and take their tricks, flat 6322 shape,
        3D helps the opponents in the play more than 2D does –
        several factors argue against preempting here.

      • 5. Andy  |  April 8, 2009 at 10:41 pm

        This situation seems pretty different tbh. Firstly it’s bam, and AQJ9xx seems more of a firm suit than KQJ98x (Ace can draw a few trumps, so the King-suit will be more prone to trump promo). Under the stated conditions I would either bid 2D or pass depending on the current state at the table. We also have the additional information that partner passed 1C.
        In comparison to the other hand, that was in 1st seat and this is in the sandwich position.

      • 6. sartaj  |  April 8, 2009 at 11:04 pm

        Meckstroth in Bermuda Bowl 05/M19/H11/nilvul against us held

        After (1C) P (1S) he chose a quiet 2D.

        Perhaps we could have spent time in Ozone days analyzing and watching the way top players in the world play and trying to emulate them ; instead of continuing our Australian ways and making arguments blah di blah on internet forums.

        • 7. cathychua  |  April 8, 2009 at 11:16 pm

          I should hope so – 2D, I mean. Personally I can’t imagine anything more revealing of suicidal tendencies than weak jumps after the opponents have each made a descriptive bid!

  • 8. Peter Gill  |  April 2, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    On Bd 9, Round 9 of the 2004 SNOT, Bobby Richman (North) opened 3S, Dbl, Pass, 3NT = 720 vs 2220 at the other table.
    Vul EW JT82
    Dealer N 42
    AKQ 94
    9 AK6
    QT76 AKJ3
    A9542 KQ83

    And Bd 2 of the 2009 NOT Grand Final at
    sees Paul Gosney gaining 11 imps for his side by opening 3S on J87542, 95, void, J10432.

    Both these excellent and successful preempts, which I hope
    I would duplicate at the table have good shape, good position and good vulnerability, plus other positives. The 6322
    3D opener has none of these features. Perhaps I base my preempts on different concepts from many other people.

    • 9. andrew webb  |  April 3, 2009 at 9:57 am

      So far Peter, it looks like EVERYONE bases their preempts on those they’ve seen that worked, and I strongly suspect that the memory of the big 11-imp gains strongly outweighs all the 3/4/5 imp losses.

      Not that I have any evidence for the totals of the 3/4/5 imp losses either. I ran some sims on the pre-empt, and also the hand passed by Bocchi. They were inconclusive – Pre-empt 3D or not, as you like. The only strong-ish conclusion I came too was that if Bocchi were to bid, X would be best, because in the majority of the hands where acting over 3D gains a +ve score, it’s the S suit that provides it.

      But I already “knew” that. I’ve always doubled 3D with that Bocchi hand.

    • 10. Peter Gill  |  April 3, 2009 at 6:36 pm

      Bobby’s hand was J76532, JT82, 42, 10 for that 3S preempt. Later, Bobby explained that the weaker your fav vul preempt, the more desirable it is to have four cards in unbid major(s), since you will rarely make any contract, and the four card major will make it harder for them to double for take-out and bid accurately. I like learning new things like that – in 2004
      I was only just beginning to learn all the pros and cons
      of preempts. I think I’m now about halfway there.

      That same 2004 SNOT Grand Final had another remarkable (and similar themed) hand that’s never been written up anywhere. Bobby Richman opened 3D, gaining 15 imps when Mike Prescott passed thoughout on his cards at the other table. Click on Bd 28 at http://www.abf.com.au/events/spnot/2004/results.asp?E=sno&R=2&T=N
      3NT made on a diamond lead at the other table due to the effect of the EW post mortems on Bds 24, 25 and 27.
      This was the match in which I began to learn all about bridge psychology – our 11th-seeded underdog team trailed 2-52 at 1/4 time, trailed 64-78 at half-time, yet any observer looking
      at each team’s ambience as they ate lunch could tell that
      we were likely to win.

      Thomson teams are very strong in team psychology too.

  • 11. Jonathan  |  April 2, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    Another point to consider with AQJ9xx of diamonds – do opponents play a weak 2D? If so you’re already behind on the board, and I think opening 3D is more likely to restore parity than passing.

    Of course it’s impossible to conclude much from one hand.
    For example:

    Unfavourable, RHO opens 1H. You hold
    x xx xxx AK9xxxx. Do you bid a weak 3C?

    This was from a Gold Cup semi-final (UK National Teams KO) ages ago. I bid 3C; in the other room one of the J. Hacketts passed.

    The hand was something like:


    Declarer ruffed my C lead, drew trumps and discovered the S lie. He could count me for 2 or 3 diamonds and so has the
    safety play of DA and DK, with a possible endplay on me.

    In the other room my teammate thought it more likely that
    West was 1-2-4-6 having eschewed 3C, and so he
    hooked DJ. (My hand would have a D exit and East could always give a ruff/discard). Ouch.

    So is it wrong to preempt on these hands? We can’t tell from one example, however critical. Is it wrong to be predictable and always to do the same thing? Maybe. Or maybe there is an absolute write/wrong, but we don’t live long enough to find it out…


    • 12. Jonathan  |  April 2, 2009 at 6:05 pm

      Sorry, the contract was 6H of course. J

  • 13. Khokan Bagchi  |  April 2, 2009 at 4:29 pm


    Given that both Stansby and Zia opened 3C on that 4117 – it’s not exactly a “pure” hand like the second hand I presented – it seemed to me that it’s something a number of American experts might do.

    Probably the best example of a good result from a totally random preempt I’ve seen comes from the ’98 Rosenblum, where Bart Bramley opened 3D at favourable on the following hand:


    Yuk!! To me, it’s wrong in all respects: no shape, no tricks, no lead directing value and outside defence. I’m sure this hand is much worse than the Burgess etc examples.

    Anyway, Versace cued 4D (majors) and Sid Lazard found a gentle raise to 7D. Lauria now had to decide what to bid with:


    He guessed wrongly by bidding 7H, which went off when Bramley led a diamond. I think the Americans were nuts, but they sure got a great result.

    I’m guessing that Phil Markey might be the only one here who would open 3D with Bramley’s hand.

    • 14. phil markey  |  April 2, 2009 at 11:01 pm

      i think i might pass that one sometimes – one more spade and a singleton i get to open 2 diamonds and certainly any 6/4 shape same values its not going to be common for me to pass

      if it was first hand then always and extra points for first 3-4 hands – usually later in the match everyone expects me to open 3 diamonds with that so i pass

      • 15. phil markey  |  April 2, 2009 at 11:27 pm

        actually looking again that hand is a pretty classical baby psyche of 2 diamonds for me – i have spades and diamonds although i’m supposed to have 4-5 spades and 4+ diamonds – i nearly have that and i get more upside with that than 3 diamonds – and whilst the downside is more ugly its ugly only a bit more than opening 3 diamonds is ugly and ugly is ugly

        can anybody else get 5 perfectly clear ugly’s into a sentence ?

        i’m guessing maybe 75% i’m opening

      • 16. andrew webb  |  April 4, 2009 at 8:20 am

        I think your “ugly” sentence is a very ugly sentence with ugly redundant “ugly”s, but since ugly is what you were aiming for and ugly is as ugly does I have to concede that in this case ugly is not actually ugly.

        How’s that?

  • 17. sartaj  |  April 2, 2009 at 8:59 am

    “Hamman doesn’t seem to include the opponents in his theory of bidding”
    Cathy, I think you’ve really missed the point on this. 3D is a great example of category 1 of Hamman auctions – Declarative.

    That the Italians passed is “normal”. They do not preempt without a seven card suit at the three level.

    The difference between this hand and the one with KQx in spades is like the one between an ocean and a kitchen sink.

    A further perusal of the same final (or was it 2005?) will show you a hand where Meckstroth and an Italian held, dealer nil vul

    Meckstroth opened 3C and missed the making 4H contract his way and the Italian passed and won his swing.

    And these two preempts are not even close to “Australian” preempts. These are textbook with one flaw each.

    While the typical aussie preempt uses the four-handed crutch
    to justify its multiple flaws.

    • 18. Khokan Bagchi  |  April 2, 2009 at 10:03 am


      I agree that comparing the two hands (KQx xx xx KJ10xxx against xx xx AQJxxx xxx) is like chalk and cheese. Many top bridge players would preempt with the latter, but not the former.

      However, I don’t think you’ve captured the American attitude to preempting. From what I’ve seen written, top American players are very aggressive preemptors. I’ve also got a couple of examples from direct experience:

      (1) All vul, 1st seat (Expo 1988)



      At our table, the auction went 3C – 3NT, 4C – pass. At the other table, Zia also opened 3C, but passed Seamus Browne’s 3NT response. Zia later told me that he should have pulled 3NT.

      (2) Favourable, 1st seat (Bermuda Bowl 1997)

      I held


      I opened 3H. Zia, in my seat at the other table, also opened 3H.

      Both Zia’s and Martel/Stansby’s actions seem to be consistent with the general expert view in America.

      • 19. sartaj  |  April 2, 2009 at 10:18 am

        I doubt very much that the first action is standard expert view in America. Martel-Stansby are by american standards an active pair but even then its bit of a surprise to me.

        The second one, dealer at favourable, sure.

        But both of these hands are relatively “pure”. As are the Hamman 3D and the Meckstroth 3C discussed before.

        Compare these to the exhibits that Peter put up from the 2007Playoff final. Or Burgess’s 2H in the Yeh Cup that went for 800, Or Bobby’s opening in last year’s yeh cup that went for 800, Or my 2S opening in a Vandy match that led to an adverse slam swing, Or …this is just off the top of my head.

        And yet when i try to think of hands where our action-packed-mix-it-up-preemptive-style won us points, my memory cant think of anything…There must be some hands….But cant think of a great result…

        OK, yes, B-Z went for 5/800 against us when i opened 3D on Q to seven and out, dealer at favourable. Tony passed it with Ax of diamonds an 18 count. They balanced. But then again, thats another pure preempt, Q to seven and out. and favourable etc. etc….

    • 20. phil markey  |  April 2, 2009 at 4:24 pm

      While the typical aussie preempt uses the four-handed crutch
      to justify its multiple flaws.

      thems fighting words

      the “crutch” for all pre-empting is the 4 handed game otherwise it wouldnt be called “pre-empting” but i think i know what you mean

      my 2 regular partners in the last couple of years look at me incredulously when i complain about thier “over active”pre-empting – my complaint to them is that they pre-empt when the only real upside to the pre-empt was to push the opposition around in the hope that they make a mistake and i think its rare that your in a position where that is the only upside you need to make a pre-empt long term sustainable

      i figure thats what you mean ?


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