How High

Pat Harrington

My beginner class learns to decide on a contract and to play it before they learn how to bid. They look for a fit and decide how high the bidding will go based on the partnership’s total high-card points. Let’s look at two deals that help my beginners learn a very important lesson. Look at the North–South hands in both examples and decide the best final contract for North–South without worrying about how the bidding will go.

♠ 8 5
K J 8 6 5 2
♣ Q 9 7 2
♠ K Q 6 2 ♠ A 10 9 3
A 7 3 10
J 9 4 2 Q 8 7 6 5 3
♣ J 6 ♣ 8 5
♠ J 7 4
Q 9 4
K 10
♣ A K 10 4 3


♠ A Q J 6 2
A 6 4
10 3
♣ 8 6 3
♠ 10 5 ♠ 9 7 4
7 3 2 J 10 9 8
K J 8 4 2 A 9 6
♣ A 5 2 ♣ 10 9 4
♠ K 8 3
K Q 5
Q 7 5
♣ K Q J 7

On deal 1, North–South have a fit in clubs and hearts. East–West have three top tricks defending a contract in clubs or hearts. We opt for playing in 4 because a major-suit game requires only 10 tricks. A minor-suit game requires 11 tricks. The lesson for my beginners: With two fits — one in a major and one in a minor — game in the major is easier to make. A partnership needs about 26 playing points (high cards and points for distribution) to make a major-suit game. Because a minor-suit game requires an extra trick, a partnership needs a bit more — about 29 playing points — to play 5♣ or 5.
On deal 2, North–South will choose between 3NT and 4♠. North and South have balanced hands, but 4♠ is the winning choice. Against 3NT, West leads the 4, and the defenders quickly take five diamonds and the ♣A. In 4♠, East–West can win only two diamonds and the ♣A. The lesson here for my beginners: 3NT requires only nine tricks and a major-suit game requires 10 tricks, but you have more control when you have a trump suit. It is usually easier to make 4 or 4♠ when you have a fit than it is to make 3NT with the same cards. 3NT and four of a major require about 26 points.
Later, my students learn how to bid. Their job is easier because they already know to focus on finding a major-suit fit before they agree to play in a minor or notrump. They realize that the word “major” in major suits means something. Hearts and spades are of major importance in bidding games.
Back to the two examples at the beginning of this article. Would you have reached the right contract with the North–South hands? That isn’t always easy to do. In our next few articles, we will look at methods for finding a major-suit fit.

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