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My principles on bidding
The fundamental goal of bidding is to have the right hand play the hand at a safe level, as often as possible. As a corollary, we want to *avoid* playing hands we can't make. To this effect, we can then identify certain key principles:

1. Captaincy. The bidding captain is the one who will make the final decision on maximum safe level, and therefore name the trump suit. We want to resolve captaincy at a low level.

2. The more information the opponents have, the better they can compete. A key concept during the bidding is, which side has an information advantage (IA)? IA exists when I have explicit knowledge, but my opponent(s) don't. A few simple illustrations:

North: 52
East: 53

South has IA over East because West hasn't bid yet. South has IA over West because East's bid is a request for information; it hasn't shown anything. North has offered captaincy to South, so that's not in question. If South is going to bid, he should never bid below 60. South doesn't want West to be able to give meld easily, if he can help it.

West: 52
North: pass
East: 53

South has massive IA over West. East just saved -- the most ambiguous of all bids. South does NOT have IA over East; they have the same amount of information. Note that East didn't have IA on South when he bid. Again, South can't bid less than 60. If West has a 6 card run, he probably can't bid it, or he's doing so blindly. East might be able to outbid South, but that's unavoidable. And some reasonable amount of the time, he can't.

Final fundamental point: as often as possible, bids that *sound* the same, should *mean* the same thing. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, we want it to be selling AFLAC. The goal is to reduce the variables to as few as possible, so that the meaning of a bid is clear, in both obvious and non-obvious situations.

We've covered most of the basic bid types and common situations extensively, so I'll just reiterate them briefly:

Meld-asking bids
These bids request captaincy, showing at least some level of playability and trump quality, and ask partner to give meld. These bids are always the cheapest bid available over the previous bid.


Meld-showing bids
These bids offer captaincy to partner, and give him information. Meld bids are NEVER the cheapest bid available. NOTE: I include aces and double aces bids here.

Save bids
These bids say little or nothing. They're made in order to avoid a disaster because partner would be on the hook to name trump, if saver's LHO doesn't bid.

Note that
North 52
East 53

Any bid by South is NOT a save, because it fails the core test: North's not on the hook if West passes.

A preempt is a bid to at least 60, made before your partner has had an opportunity to bid, OR if partner's last bid was a meld-ask. Intelligent preemptive bidding is really a subject to discuss on its own, but one thing can be said: it should always be a *strong* request for captaincy. These are preempts:
50-52-60 (TERRIBLE bidding, but I've seen it)

A shutout bid is made when you have IA OR captaincy at your bid, in an attempt to keep it. The comments "South should bid at least 60" can also be written as "South should make a shutout bid." North is *never* expected to bid again, even if he's still in the auction. Note the 50-51-60 sequence above...that 3rd bid is now a *preempt*, not a shutout. Opener's hand is totally undefined. Shutout bid examples:

North 52
East pass
South 60 South takes the offered captaincy

North 52
East 53
South 65 South takes the captaincy and tries to maintain IA

North 52
East 54
South 65 South takes captaincy, tries to maintain IA on East, and denies West the 60 and 65 levels (quite often his maximum).

Note that I haven't said how to show X meld. I've said that the cheapest bid is a meld-ask, so that's pretty clear-cut. But there are 2 potential conflicting interpretations for a bid that's higher: does it show meld/aces, or is it in the preempt/shutout category? THIS is where our variables come into play.

What are our variables?

1. Captaincy: has partner asked to be captain, or offered captaincy to me? Has partner had a chance to bid yet?
2. IA
3. Current bidding level

A) I've asked for captaincy, and partner said OK by giving meld.
Jump bids are shutouts. Partner said, go ahead. IA and bidding level are not relevant here.

B) Partner's asked to be captain.
I hate preempting partner when he's showing at least a reasonable hand. I think it's a terrible idea. In the vast majority of cases, if you really do have that kind of playing hand, make the cheapest bid and request captaincy (and meld) from him. It can never hurt. So, IMO an auction like 50-pass-60, should NEVER happen. By definition, with partner asking for captaincy, I *cannot* make a shutout bid because I have no idea of level. Therefore, ALL non-minimum bids are meld-showing.

The sequences where this becomes important, relate to the last bid level. When it's low, there's room to show considerable meld. When it's not, is when the problems arise.

North 50
East 58
South 60 or higher

South is showing meld, no matter how high he bids. 60 is 2 steps, so 20 meld. 65 is 30, 70 is 40, and so on.

West 54
North 55
East 57

Same situation, but now of course 60 is 3 steps higher, showing 30.

Note that N-S in these auctions, are at serious negative IA.

C) Partner's offered captaincy
c1) We have IA on both opponents

North 53
East 54
South 65 is a shutout

c2) We have IA on only 1 opponent
c2.1) The bidding is LOW

North 52
East 55
South 65 IMO is a shutout because there's room to show meld

c2.2) The bidding is crowding 60

North 53
East 57
South 60 shows MELD...3 steps, so 30 meld.

Note that South can't shut West out below 80. One could say that if South bids 80 or higher, it's a shutout bid, but this is creating dangerous confusion and ambiguity. Keep it simple: if South wants it, he bids 58.

c3) We have no *meld* IA
There are 2 differing situations here.

South 52
West 54
North 56
East 58
South 70 is a shutout, because South's already shown meld

West 52
North 54
East 56

West 53
North 56
East 58

The difference is, of course, the level of the last bid. In c3.2, there's still reasonable room to show meld; it's a bid crowded, but still mostly manageable. In c3.2a, there's no room; 3 steps to show 30, which may well be necessary, becomes a 65 bid.

The *safest* course of action is to say that all South's jumps show meld, and he makes the cheapest bid to play. Again, as in c2.2, it might not be perfect, but it avoids more mistakes.

Now there's one major question left over: when is the bidding low, and when has it gone high? From experience, I'd say that 55 is the upper bound. If the last bid was 55, then I have steps below 60. If the last bid was 56 or higher, I'm getting jammed.

This has one other major impact, on 59. mick's point that 100 to show double aces is more logical is absolutely right. If we're into the high 50's, we need 59 as a step. It's rather unlikely we can't use 100 to show double aces. Smile My issue has never been with that part of the argument; it's been with using it on, say, an opening bid: it goes against the grain too much. IF we could ever establish a systemic norm, I'd say go for it. Try it on Yahoo, and you'll get passed most of the time.

So...the low/high impacts the meaning of 59.

If the last bid was 55 or below, 59 is double aces.
If the last bid was 56 or 57, 59 is simply a step in meld-showing.
If the last bid was 58, 59's meld-asking, or captaincy acceptance.

Finally, if South's 60+ would be a shutout, and 59 double aces, 58 is unlimited meld.

I think this covers everything. I hope it's not overly complex; I don't want it to be. I want to be able to ask a couple simple questions, and these are all quite easy ones, and have the answers give our action a clear meaning, based on very simple gaming logic. I realize I haven't discussed bidding over a preempt or shutout; I'll leave that for another time.

One other rare case...
North 50
East 54
South 58
West 70
North 75
East pass

South's 58 showed 40+. What if South has notably more? North has bid to 75 on the assumption South has 40. Therefore, if South has 50, 85 is safe. So, South can bid 1 over (80) to show 10 over what he'd shown already, or 2 over (85) to show 20 more.

This is a case where South making the cheapest bid is NOT to play. South has made an ambiguous meld bid, so he's clarifying it.

Another case along those lines:
South 51 (showing aces)
West 53
North 60
East 65

Aces bids don't deny meld. Per my discussion on expectations, South's aces bid can be read to give 25 total points...15 total meld, and 4 tricks for 10 more, or some variation along those lines. If South has more than this, we're back into the same kind of clarification above. Count South's meld, and adjust by aces *beyond* the 4 already shown. If you get to 25, you have enough extras to show. Bid 70. With 35, bid 75. Again: the cheapest bid is NOT to play, it's to clarify. And these bidding levels might seem odd, but they make sense when you remember that an aces bid generally has bits and pieces of other meld. Your partner should already be counting those.

PLEASE note that not everyone does this, but IMO it's the only thing that makes sense.

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