Monday, September 29, 2008

Three-Way (Kokish) Game Tries

It's important for every partnership to have a good structure for game tries when one of a major gets raised to two. These should apply in any of these situations:

  • 1H (P) 2H (P);
  • 1S (2D) 2S (P);
  • 1C (P) 1H (P) 2H (P);
  • 1C (P) 1D (P) 1S (P) 2S (P);
  • (1D) 1S (P) 2S (P);
  • (1D) 1H (2C) 2H (P);
Basically, one of a major has been raised to two, and there has been a pass after the 2H or 2S bid. There could have been prior bids by one or both partners, and there could have been interference (or even an opening bid) from the opponents... but the important thing is, one of a major has been raised to two.

Standard practice in this situation is the "help-suit game try" -- when the one of a major bidder has enough above a minimum that he wants to investigate game but not enough to just up and bid four of the suit (I'll call that player 1M for short) bids a new suit where he has some losers that need to be taken care of. In response to this, his partner (we'll call him 2M) can bid game if the "help suit" is well covered (with high cards or shortness), return to three of the major if the "help suit" is not at all covered, or bid three of another suit that he has "stuff" in when he's not sure if his holding in the "help suit" is enough for a game bid.

Let's show a couple of examples:

Partner has opened 1H, you raised to 2H, and he bid 3C as a help-suit game try. You hold:

(a) JT5 KJ64 86532 7

(b) JT5 KJ64 72 8653

(c) JT5 T94 KQ9 K942

With hand (a), your lousy five-count has turned to gold. Partner will lose a club but then trump any further club losers in the dummy. Bid 4H!

With hand (b), you still have a lousy five-count. You can't do anything about partner's club losers, and he probably has some spade-diamond losers as well. Bid 3H and hope he makes it.

With hand (c), you have a good raise to 2H, but that alone shouldn't make you bid game. You have some help in clubs, but not enough to go straight to game yourself. Here you should bid 3D. This tells partner, "Yes, I do have some help in clubs, but not enough to be sure of game. I do have some nice stuff in the diamond suit, too--- maybe that information will help you make the right decision."

Many years ago, some players turned the game try system on its head-- they bid the suit where they didn't want their partner to have high cards -- their singletons! This is called the short-suit game try. Partner will tend to bid game with no wasted values in that suit -- something like three small is a great holding here -- and sign off in three of the major when he has wasted high cards in that suit.

Which works better, help-suit or short-suit game tries? If I had to pick, I guess I'd say short-suit, but thankfully, I don't have to choose between them.

Eric Kokish came up with what he called two-way game tries. This structure has held up very well over the several years that I've been playing it.

Let's talk about the 1S - 2S auction first:

1S - 2S -

  • 2NT = asks partner where he would accept a help-suit game try.
  • 3C = short-suit game try.
  • 3D = short-suit game try.
  • 3H = short-suit game try.

When 1M relays with 2NT (asking for a help suit), 2M will bid the cheapest suit in which he would accept a help-suit game try. So if 2M has QT6 J84 KQ632 86, he'll bid 3D over 2NT. This not only tells partner about that diamond help, but since 3C was skipped over, 1M knows that 2M has a poor club holding.

So let's say the auction went 1S - 2S - 2N [asking] - 3C [showing goodies in clubs], but 1M wasn't interested in the club suit. He can now bid 3D or 3H, asking for help there. So, theoretically, an auction might go like this:

1S - 2S; 2N [asking] - 3C [stuff in clubs]; 3D [do you have stuff in diamonds?] - 3H [Not really, but I have some goodies in hearts!]; - 4S.

It gets just a bit trickier for a lot of folks when hearts are trumps. If we were to use 2NT as the "help-suit ask" over 2H, there would be no way to show spade help-- so we use 2S as the asking bid.

1H - 2H -

  • 2S = asks partner where he would accept a help-suit game try.
  • 2NT = short-suit game try in spades.
  • 3C = short-suit game try.
  • 3D = short-suit game try.

One more little space-saving maneuver: When partner asks with 2S, to show spade help we bid 2NT. So if the auction goes 1H -2H -2S [asking] - 3C [stuff in clubs], 2M has denied help in spades (the "cheapest" suit).

So there's Kokish's two-way game tries. Astute readers may have noticed the title of this post was three-way game tries. What's the third way? We use the re-raise (1H - 2H - 3H or 1S - 2S - 3S) as trump asks. If we've opened a 16-count with Jxxxx of spades, after partner's raise we certainly don't want to be in game if partner has a medium hand with Txx of spades. SO we make the trump-ask of 3S. Pard will pass with Txx but bid game with KQx or AT9x.

The re-raise can also tip 2M off that the values for game are there, but the trump quality may not be-- so if he holds 10 HCP but a trump suit of 854, the funny looking but highly intelligent auction of

1S - 2S - 3S - 3NT - Pass

can occur. How about that -- 10 HCP opposite 16, we take our nine tricks in 3NT when the rest of the field is losing three trump tricks and an ace in 4S. Go team!

I've also been known to use the "trump ask" of 3H or 3S as a preemptive action. I once held

AKQxxx x Qxx Txx

and the auction went 1S (X) 2S (P) to me. I bid the "trump ask" of 3S knowing full well pard wouldn't bid 4S. It was a slight risk that he would bid 3NT, but knowing my LHO had a big hand it seemed that the tactical bid was the percentage action. I turned out to be right (for once) -- lefty had enough values to take another bid over 2S but not over 3S. Down two, -100, against lots of -170s and -620s their way.

So, to sum up: When one of a major gets raised to two (no matter what bids came before those),

  • the next step is an asking bid
  • everything else between the next step and three of the major is a short-suit game try
  • three of the major asks for good trumps.


Sharon Fauss said...

This is an excellent explanation. Thanks

Ted Miller said...

Excellent explanation. However, I prefer 2-way Kokish. The raise to 3 of a major is too valuable as a straight invitational bid for those cases when opener lacks a singleton for a short suit game try, but has scattered strength so he has no need for a help suit game try either.