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Hijack Bids

Improving your Bidding Series


How to Hijack the Opponents Bidding to Show Two-Suited Hands in a Competitive Auction


“It is important to understand why we learn conventions. They are tools to help us better communicate with partner. But we must become a craftsman and learn to use our tools effectively. Until we do, we will not be able to get the most out of them.


The process of learning to use a new convention can be a difficult one. We will often take one step back (make mistakes or have bidding mixups) in an effort to move forward. It is important for us to recognize this and realize that adopting a new convention and learning to use it effectively is a long term investment in improving our game.”

— Robert S. Todd


Today we are going to explore conventions that allow us to efficiently describe two-suited hands. By two-suited, I mean two suits with 5 or more cards in them. These hands come up more often than you think, and play better than you might guess. There is strong evidence to suggest that when you have such a highly distributional hand, you want to bid it aggressively.


I include the quote above because many of the means to show such a hand come up in competitive bidding situations, and there are a raft of conventions to help define your hand precisely. In fact, it is easier to describe such hands if the opponents are bidding! These conventions are what I like to call "Hijack bids". By that, I mean these are bids that take hostage the opponents' bid to use to our advantage. We will examine:


Michael’s Cue Bid

Unusual Notrump

Sandwich Notrump



Michaels Cue-Bid


The Michaels Cue Bid is the most familiar of this set of conventions, so we will start with it. It is so firmly entrenched in modern bidding that it is not necessary to alert it; it is even on the Standard American Yellow Card.


As South, we hold:

S: K Q J x x

H: Q J x x x

D: x x

C: x


Assume that East opens the bidding with 1D, neither side vulnerable.


What do we know?

We know we are too weak to open the bidding with only 9 HCP and 11-ish total points.

But wouldn't we LOVE to tell our partner about our beautiful two-suited hand? Even if partner opened the bidding, we may never get to fully describe our hand because of our low point count. But thank Goodness that the opponents opened the bidding! We have enough to make an overcall. But we sense that we need to be more disruptive than a simple overcall, especially if opponents open a minor suit (if they open a major suit, we would be really happy!). A simple overcall would take at least two additional bids to convey our distribution to partner, and we simply are not strong enough to bid so high. We need something more urgent. Fortunately, East’s opening bid gives us an opportunity to do just that.


THIS IS A BIDDING OPPORTUNITY! We can now tell partner some valuable information in one bid, if we use a convention called “Michaels”, we can take advantage of the opening by opponents to accurately describe our hand!


E S

(1D) – 2D


When we bid the same suit that the opponents bid, we are signaling that we have 5-5 or better distribution in two of the unbid suits.


Cue bidding a minor suit always indicates that you are 5-5 in the major suits. Always the majors. BUT, you can be a little off on the distribution, say 5-4 or 6-4, and still make use of this bid.


Cue bidding a major suit always indicates 5 of the other major, and a 5-card minor suit. In this case, you MUST have 5 of the other major, but you can get away with a 4-card minor suit in a pinch.


Partner cannot pass our bid unless the opponents bid over it first. There are generally two ranges of point counts for this bid – weak (0-10-ish points) and strong (16+ total points). Strong hands would follow up with another bid; weak hands would normally pass whatever partner responds with (unless it is the 2NT minor-asking bid, more on that later). “Mid-sized” hands (11-15 points) would open normally, first bidding the higher-ranking suit, followed by the lower-ranking suit. Note that some partnerships play Michaels for ANY point range; they feel that the opportunity to show your distribution in one bid is compelling.


Michaels is a great way for a strong two-suited hand to enter the bidding and immediately show both strength and shape. But more often, it is a great way to enter the bidding with a weak but distributional hand that can be very disruptive to the opponents. At the very least, we take away the immediate raise of the opener's suit, AND give partner a chance to pick which suit to continue the disruption with.


We can employ Michaels over any one-level opening suit bid. Here is what we promise with each overcall:

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Michaels After Opponents Have Bid Twice

What if opponents bid two suits before you get to bid? For example,

W N E S

(1D)– Pass – (1H) – ?

In this sequence, a cue bid of the FIRST suit of the opponents is Michaels, while a cue-bid of the second suit is NATURAL, showing length and strength in that suit. So,


W N E S

(1D)– Pass – (1H) – 2D


This is Michaels, showing 5-5 in the unbid suits


W N E S

(1D) – Pass – (1H) – 2H


This is a natural overcall, showing a long, strong heart suit.


There is one important caveat: The ACBL forbids using a convention over a convention. Thus, if the opponents open 1C as a conventional bid (e.g., players who use a "Big Club" system use 1C to indicate a big hand, but it says nothing about their club suit), then 2C must be a natural bid; Michaels (or any other conventional bid of 2C) is not allowed.


What are Partner’s Responses to Michaels?

If partner knows which two suits you are showing, he/she is expected to bid the one that he has the best support for. If he has EQUAL support (length, not strength!), bid the lower ranking suit. That gives you a chance to correct to the other suit if you get doubled! PARTNER MAY HAVE ZERO POINTS, but he is expected to make a bid anyway.


If the Michaels bid was a cue-bid of a major suit, then there is some question as to which minor suit was promised. Responder can bid 2NT to ask his partner to bid his minor suit (this assumes he/she has no support for the major suit!).


If your partner senses game, or even slam, he/she can show this by bidding the cue-bid suit AGAIN. For example:

S W N E

(1D) -- 2D – (pass) – 3D


East, our partner, is showing game-going values and possible slam interest!


Responding to Michaels – The Whole List

In general, partner should bid the best suit that he has support for at the cheapest level. With 4-card support, the opportunity to pre-empt the opponents even more arises, and he/she can jump to the 3-level. A No-trump bid is asking partner to bid his unspecified minor, and other suit bid are natural (but rare). See the following pages for the Whole List.

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The Unusual No-Trump Bid


The Micheals bid has a natural complement: the Unusual No-Trump. This bid is used to show the two lowest unbid suits. For example, as South, we hold:


S: x

H: Q J x x x

D: x x

C: K J x x x


Assume that East opens the bidding with 1D, neither side vulnerable.


What do we know?

We know we are too weak to open the bidding with only 7 HCP and 9-ish total points. We also know that we would LOVE to tell our partner about our beautiful two-suited hand.


Well, fortune has smiled upon us. We can now tell partner some valuable information in one bid, if we use a convention called “The Unusual No-Trump”, we can take advantage of the bid by our opponent to show our partner the shape of our hand.


E S

(1D) – 2NT


When we overcall with a jump in NT, we are signaling that we have 5-5 or better distribution in the TWO LOWER RANKING unbid suits. This convention is in such common use that it need not be alerted by your partner. In this particular bidding sequence, we are showing that we have at least 5 hearts, and at least 5 clubs (the two lowest unbid suits).


Partner cannot pass our bid unless the opponents bid over it first. Just like Michaels, there are generally two ranges of point counts for this bid – weak (0-10-ish points) and strong (16+ total points). Strong hands would follow up with another bid; weak hands would pass whatever partner responds with. “Mid-sized” hands (11-15 points) would open normally, first bidding the higher-ranking suit, followed by the lower-ranking suit. Note that some partnerships play Unusual No-Trump for ANY point range; they feel that the opportunity to show your distribution in one bid is too compelling to pass up.

What are Partner’s Responses to the Unusual NT?

Since partner knows exactly which two suits you are showing, he/she is expected to bid the one that he has the best support for. If he has EQUAL support (length, not strength!), bid the lower ranking suit. That gives you a chance to correct to the other suit if you get doubled. PARTNER MAY HAVE ZERO POINTS, but he is expected to make a bid anyway.


Remember, if you bid the Unusual No-Trump with a big hand, you owe your partner one more bid. If you bid it with a weak hand, you must pass whatever partner bids.


If your partner senses game, or even slam, he/she can show this by making a jump bid

.

S W N E

(1D) -- 2NT– (pass) – 4C


East, our partner, is showing game-going values and possible slam interest in clubs. Note that the 4C bid cannot be Gerber, since the 2NT bid is artificial.


Sandwich No-Trump

The list of conventions showing 5-5 hands continues with the so-called "Sandwich No-Trump" bid. Here, we show 5-5 in the two unbid suits after the opponents have made an opening bid and a response.


As South, we are dealer and we hold:


S: x

H: Q J x x x

D: x x

C: K J x x x


The bidding goes like this:


S W N E

Pass – (1D) - Pass - (1S)


What do we know?

We know that our length (and what little strength we have) is in the suits NOT bid by the opponents. We also know that partner declined to bid, showing either a hand too weak to make an overcall, or a hand too balanced to do so. We also know we would LOVE to tell our partner about our beautiful two-suited hand.


We might be bold enough to make an overcall with this hand,but that would require several bids to convey the fact that we are 5-5, and we just aren’t that strong. We could also make a negative double, but that only promises four in each suit. We need partner to know that we have two five-card suits NOW, before the bidding gets beyond us..


Well, fortune has smiled upon us. We can now tell partner some valuable information in one bid, We can use a convention called “Sandwich No-Trump” and take advantage of the bids by our opponents to show our partner the shape of our hand.


S E N W

Pass 1D Pass 1S

1NT


When we overcall in NT (without jumping) after the opponents have bid twice, especially after an initial pass, we are signaling that we have 5-5 or better distribution in the two unbid suits.


This convention must be alerted by your partner. In this particular bidding sequence, we are showing that we have at least 5 hearts, and at least 5 clubs.


Partner cannot pass our bid unless the opponents bid over it first. There are generally two ranges of point counts for this bid – weak (0-10-ish points) and strong (16+ total points). Strong hands would follow up with another bid; weak hands would pass whatever partner responds with. Note that in this particular bidding sequence, since South initially passed, North will know that South is weak. “Mid-sized” hands (11-15 points) would bid normally, first bidding the higher-ranking suit, followed by the lower-ranking suit.


Note that some partnerships play Sandwich No-Trump for ANY point range; they feel that the opportunity to show your distribution in one bid is too compelling to pass up.

What are Partner’s Responses to Sandwich NT?

Since partner knows exactly which two suits you are showing, he/she is expected to bid the one that he has the best support for. If he has EQUAL support (length, not strength!), bid the lower ranking suit. That gives you a chance to correct to the other suit if you get doubled! PARTNER MAY HAVE ZERO POINTS, but he is expected to make a bid anyway.


Remember, if you bid Sandwich No-Trump with a big hand, you owe your partner one more bid. If you bid it with a weak hand, you must pass whatever partner bids.

Conclusions

This set of conventions, taken together, provide a powerful set of tools to "Hijack" opponents bids to show your distribution in one, or at most two bids. They can be disruptive with weak hands, and set the stage for more precise bidding with strong hands. I encourage you to discuss these with your partner and consider adding them to your bidding toolbox!

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