The Power of the Preempt
Sometimes it works well to start the bidding at a high level and to bid more than you can actually make! These bids are called preempts, and they're really effective for getting in the opponents' way. You can open with a preempt, overcall with a preempt, or respond with a preempt. They all show the same thing - weak hands with long suits.
The higher you start, the more cards you're showing in your suit. (eg 2♠ shows six spades, 3♠ shows seven, and 4♠ shows eight, all with 6 - 9 points). This style is the opposite of constructive bidding, (meaning you expect to make your contract) - it's obstructive or preemptive. (you DON'T expect to make your contract!) They promise only 6 - 9 points, and shouldn't look like a one-bid. They're single-suited... with honours at the top, at least two of the top three (AKQ), or three of the top five (AKQJ10). Open this hand 3♠ and you've described it perfectly.
♠ K Q J 10 9 8 7
♥ 8 6
♦ 8 4 2
Preempts were not supposed to have any other suit, or a void, but it's not the end of the world if you have them these days. Happily the rules have relaxed, but you must be aware of the vulnerability. At favourable, (your side not vul, their side vul), be daring and open as much as possible, sometimes with a card fewer than you're supposed to have. At unfavourable (your side vul, their side not), be within two tricks of making your contract. With the hand below, you can assume seven spade tricks, so when you open 3♠, you're two tricks short of making it.
♠ A K Q 10 9 8 7
♥ 8 6
♦ 8 4 2
Playing tricks are often more important than points when dealing with preempts. In the hand above, there are six tricks if spades are trumps, but you wouldn't take many tricks in defence. Also, as usual, the shape of your hand is vital, so although you might have a long suit, the length of your short suits is a factor as to how much you bid. 7222 shape is not as interesting as 7411, for example.
Two Level Openings
Called Weak Two's (opening 2♦, 2♥ and 2♠, not 2♣), these are preempts too, showing six card suits. There will be a whole lesson on Weak Two Bids soon.
♠ A K J 10 8 7
♥ 7 4
♦ 9 2
♣ 8 3 2
Three Level (and Higher) Openings
Three-level openings, 3♣, 3♦, 3♥ or 3♠, show good seven-card suits and 6 - 9 points, less than a one-bid. Four-level openings, 4♣, 4♦, 4♥ or 4♠, show good eight-card suits and 6 - 9 points, less than a one-bid. You're bidding more than you expect to make, but it's ok.
♠ A K J 10 8 7 6 ♠ A K J 10 8 7 6 3
♥ 7 ♥ 7
♦ 9 2 ♦ 9 2
♣ 8 3 2 Open 3♠ ♣ 8 3 Open 4♠
Responding to Preempts
Your partner, with a preempt, is trying to tell you there's really only one place to play the hand, so don't try to “rescue” them to another suit if you have nothing in theirs. It's unlikely you'll find a fit. A preempt is not forcing, so generally, pass without a fit. But a change of suit is forcing, so if you have a 6-card major and a good hand (13+), and partner has opened 3♣/♦, show the major. Opener will raise with two+ cards, and return to their suit with a singleton or less, so you won't miss the major game.
With a fit for the preempt, raise it with two types of hands:
(1) Three or four quick tricks and points. e.g. Partner opens 3♥ and you hold
♠ A K 7
♥ J 10 4
♦ A K J 8 6
♣ 10 4 You have four quick tricks (♠AK and ♦AK). Raise to 4♥ and expect to make it.
(2) Trumps and not many points. You're not expecting to make, but you're "upping the ante". Partner opens 3♣
♠ 10 6 3
♦ 10 9 6 2
♣ K 10 7 6 5 Bid 5♣ because you know the opponents will make at least 4♥. Don't push them too high though, e.g. to a slam they could have made, but would never have bid themselves. Judging how far to push is a delicate art!
After you have played the hand, watch the walkthrough video. Click on the little box icon in the menu to change the video to full screen.
Practise the hand from this lesson's main video here
Preemptive openings should look quite different to one bids. A one-bid has 13-20 points, any shape, with honours in other suits. A preempt will have 6 - 9 points, one long suit (six or seven + cards) and almost no winners in other suits.
If you held 16 high card points say, and a seven card suit, start with one, and jump to three at your second turn.
If you held 6 high card points say, and a seven card suit, start with three, and don't bid any more.
Preemptive and normal overcalls shouldn't look the same either.1♥ (1♠ overcall) might show five spades and 8 - 17 points, but 1♥ (2♠ overcall) would definitely be six cards and a weak hand 6 - 9 points. There must be a jump for the bid to be preemptive. There will be a whole lesson on this soon.
Just because you have a long suit doesn't mean you always preempt. It’s an option. Don't do it if you think you'll lose more than 500 points. So, overbid by only two tricks when vulnerable (- 500 = two doubled vul undertricks), but three tricks when not vul (- 500 = three doubled non vul undertricks). This is called the Guideline of Two or Three.
Two-level preempts are generally made with six card suits, 3-level preempts with seven-card suits, and 4-level preempts with eight-card suits. You can vary this occasionally if you feel like it, but don't be inconsistent about your preempting style, as partner will rely on a certain suit quality and length. The seat you're in must be considered too. In second seat, don't be too wild (one opponent has passed, so the contract might belong to your side). In third seat, your partner has already passed, so loosen up and preempt more.
Test your knowledge
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