“Pre-empting: the mad helmsman” by Pierre Saporta

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If there’s one thing that my partner loves, it’s pre-empting! It gives him the impression of being modern, young, aggressive in a good way.

The annoying part is that there is no limit to his creativity in this area. He is nicknamed the mad helmsman (because he rowed a lot in his youth).

Here are eight hands with which he indulged in pre-empts with the South hand. Would you have done like him?

game mad helmsman
► Click here to read the solutions

1 – South is right. Vulnerable against not, this weak-two opening is perfect, even though it is a maximum. Note however that with a singleton in Hearts or Clubs it would be wiser to open 1♠.

2 – South is wrong. Third in hand and additionally non vulnerable against vulnerable, this weak two is very timid. If you want to disturb your opponent, you should rise one level higher: open with 3♥.

3 – South is right. In theory, there are two contraindications to this preempt of 3♦: you have only six cards and a four-card major on the side. But in practice, it would be unwise not to enter the bidding at this stage and to achieve three things with one bid: disturb your opponents, give partner a lead and suggest a defense. Let’s also note that the Diamond holding is perfect for a pre-empt and that the Hearts are particularly meager.

4 – South is wrong. This jump to 4♠ could turn out very well and put terrible pressure on the opponents. But several elements are in favor of a more subtle intervention (1♠ in this case):

  • The Spades look as if they had been in a hurricane and if the opponents’ cards are badly placed, a Double could well lead to the Spades digging our grave.
  • We have a lot of defensive tricks that are not planned in the program. Partner, who is not warned, could bid higher in a competittive situation, paving the way for a big swing.
  • You have an unpassed partner. If he has some useful cards, even slam could loom on the horizon if you go slowly.

5 – South is wrong. It is wrong to beieve that with such a collection you are secure at the four-level because of the distribution. True, you need five trumps to jump to 4 ♠, but you also need some distribution outside the trump suit. A 5-3-3-2 distribution is the worst possible in this context. Just raise to 2 ♠ (or 3 ♠ if you play the jump raise as preemptive).

6 – South is wrong. Contrary to a wide-spread idea this jump raise is not pre-emptive, at least not in the French standard system. It is a constructive bid, which shows 11-12 points. Remember that a cue-bid of 2♠ would be game forcing. A simple raise to 2 ♦ perfectly does the trick here. If East had doubled, this jump to 3 ♦ would have been a pre-empt because you could have shown a limit raise with 2NT, Truscott.

7 – South is right. Non vulnerable, four trumps and a singleton allow you to pre-eempt at 3 ♥. Is there any need for reminders? In competitive auctions, the distribution takes precedence over high card points.

8 – South is wrong. It is true that, vulnerable, this pre-emptive raise to 3 ♥ undoubtedly requires some strength. But here you have too many values to sit back. A jump to 3 ♣, showing a constructive raise in the Bergen style with four cards, is much better judgement.

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