Bad Bridge: Six conventions and practices that are ruining your bidding
Sometimes we get bad advice: financial, medical, or perhaps career. This holds true in bridge, and whether we learned a pet convention from one of our partners or read about it online, many bidding gadgets that sound cool are problematic in practice. I can often tell a good bridge player from a bad one simply by the conventions they choose to play.
Aiming to make you better bidders, I have a short list of conventions and bidding treatments that you should avoid:
I paraphrase the great Larry Cohen in saying that Gerber isn’t a bidding convention, it’s baby food. A mystifying holdover from antiquated mid-20th century bidding, Gerber is one of the most abused conventions in club level and social bridge. Gerber was never designed to be used for hands in which we are going to play in a suit, yet people find ways to shoehorn it into those auctions (we already have a very fine – and superior – convention for that called Roman Keycard Blackwood). Even when we have balanced hands, does knowing how many aces our side possesses allow us to count twelve tricks for a small slam? No, it does not. The only benefit Gerber serves is to keep us out of bad slams when we are actually missing two aces, and quantitative bidding is already effective at keeping us out of those slams.
In truth, Flannery is a very accurate bid. Its problem stems from frequency: the hand type does not come up often enough to make it worth playing. How often do you pick up a hand with exactly four spades, five hearts, and 11-15 points? Compare that with how frequently you hold a hand that could make a descriptive weak two bid in diamonds, and that is really all you need to know.
Stolen bid doubles after 1NT interference
This one is a marvel of a head-scratcher. No respectable expert player uses stolen bid doubles in any situation other than after a 2C overcall of 1NT as Stayman; yet, this treatment is widespread in club level bridge. If you insist on playing stolen bid doubles as replacements for Jacoby transfers, you will never be able to compete for a proper partscore when responder holds a balanced hand. Doubles by responder MUST be played as takeout or you will find yourself either passing in cowardice or simply guessing what the final contract should be. You might as well be playing Ouija instead of bridge.
Weak jump shifts with no competition from the opponents
The objective of a preemptive bid is to reduce the bidding accuracy of your opponents. If we preempt in first seat, we will sometimes preempt our own partner – but we only have one partner and two opponents, so the odds are in our favor. If we preempt in third seat after partner has dealt and passed, we know this is not our hand. But when our side opens the bidding and the direct seat opponent passes, why on Earth would we want to make a weak jump shift? Philosophically, it’s just plain wrong. When partner opens a suit at the one level, he can have a very good hand, wide-ranging in both strength and distribution. Why would you eat up unnecessary bidding space and make things difficult for your own partner?
Losing trick count (LTC)
This is arguably the single most abused method in all of bridge. As originally conceived, LTC does have some value. Heck, I teach a seminar on the subject. But LTC must be used with discretion and in very specific scenarios to be effective. Counting losers is never a substitute for sound evaluation and judgment of a bridge hand. Moreover, if you really want to play it, then read Ron Klinger’s book The Modern Losing Trick Count to establish a solid foundation and understanding of how LTC works. If you have not read the book, then don’t bother, because you are only doing your bridge game a disservice.
Zar Point hand evaluation
Let me double check here: Are we decoding DNA for the purposes of creating a cure for a global virus? Are we generating launch algorithms for nuclear warheads? Or are we playing cards? Regardless of its accuracy, the Zar formula is completely impractical for anyone sitting at the bridge table – especially less experienced players who already have more than enough to remember! Just count your honor points, look at your distribution, and use judgment and partnership agreements to guide your decision to open the bidding or not.