Don't Freeze

Author: Michael Berkowitz
Date of publish: 02/15/2023
Level: General Interest

My mother claims I was in tap class because it would help with my coordination. I'm pretty sure it was because that class was held at the same time as my sister's ballet class and it killed two birds with one carpool. 

Regardless, the time came for my first recital. I don't think my sister's pep talk helped. She told me, "Don't freeze." I froze.

My fellow 7-year olds tapped around in something resembling the routine we practiced while I did my best impression of a statue. My sister sometimes threatens me with video of this performance, but I'm pretty sure it was deleted... I hope.

In bridge, you are similarly put on the spot at times. Freezing (in bidding, this means passing) is usually the worst choice when you don't know what to do. If partner makes a bid you don't understand, try to figure out what it could mean and if you still don't know, bid SOMETHING. It's better to play one level too high than to accidentally play in a 2-1 fit. 

If you happen to be wrong about a bid being forcing, it's rarely the end of the world. Let's look at two notrump auctions where our opponents get in the way. 

1NT (2♠) 2♠ P ?

Are we forced? The answer is no, but if you haven't seen this auction before and choose to raise to 3♠ (or bid some other suit), then all that's risked is going one level too high. Compare that with this auction: 

1NT (2♠) 3♠ P ? 

Are we forced? The answer is yes, and if you haven't seen this before and choose to pass, you'll be playing 3♠ instead of game or potentially slam. Which mistake seems worse? To me, the second is much worse than the first. If you aren't sure of what to do, it's still better to assume forcing than to guess that a bid is not forcing. 

While it's hard to know exactly which scenarios will cause that "uh oh" feeling in any person, here are some common ones: 

After a preempt to open the bidding, all bids (except for raises or jumps to game) by responder are forcing! The general concept is that once you've preempted, your partner will only introduce a new suit if they might want to go to game in that new suit. That is a more important case to resolve (wanting to bid game) than wanting to improve the strain for a partscore. 

If partner bids a new suit after your preempt, you can raise with support, show a feature if you like your hand, or rebid your suit if you have a minimum without support. You can't pass.

If the opponents preempt, you should similarly be thinking about forcing bids. Preempts can often put us in ugly situations. Say we have this auction: (2♠) --2♠ (Us) - P - 3♠ (Partner) -- Pass --?

With the opponents being weak, we have to bid something. If our hand is: 

♠ KQJ87   
♥ 987  
♦ AQ3  
♣ 76
 we don't have an easy bid, but we must do something. 

Another case that comes up frequently: new suits after you have a major suit fit. If you have a fit in a major, any new suit is forcing until you get back to the major. You (or partner) might make a bid like this for a number of reasons. Maybe it's some kind of game try (below 3-of-your-suit), or possibly a control bid for slam (above 3-of-your-suit). Regardless of whether you've learned that bid yet, you need to bid SOMETHING and not pass. This auction does not exist (no interference): 1♠ -- 2♠--3♠--All Pass. 

When faced with a forcing bid (or a bid that you think might be forcing), you don't always have an easy or clear bid to make next. In those situations, you just have to remember "Don't Freeze."