by Kitty and Steve Cooper, Fort Collins, CO

A player from Fort Collins who wishes to remain anonymous consulted us about a preempt that went wrong: “Vulnerable against not in a pair game I held  S 5  H KJ98654  D 42  C K76 and opened a weak two in hearts. I was worried about going for 500, so did not want to open three. We missed a game. Was I wrong?”

Coopers: It is not a good idea to open a weak two with a seven card suit. It is important to have the expected length in your suit when you preempt so that partner can judge well what to do next. As long as your suit quality is reasonable, you preempt to the normal level even vulnerable against not. If the hand does not qualify then it is better to pass than open the wrong number for your length. The only exception is when you have 7222 distribution at unfavorable, then you might demote the hand to a weak two and apologize to partner if it works out badly. The hand you held was a fine three level opener.

A classic preempt is less than an opening bid, around 6-9 high card points, with most of those points in the long suit. You should open two with a six card suit, three with a seven card suit, and four with eight or more. A hand such as S 5  H KQJ984 D 42 C 976 would be a classic three-level preempt. It is acceptable to have a somewhat weaker suit, as you did, particularly when you have a side ace or king. Non-vulnerable the suit can be much worse, but vulnerable it is best to have good intermediates and either two of the top three honors or three of the top five. The better your suit, the less likely it is that the opponents have good enough trumps to try for a penalty.

Remember that the objective of a preempt is to make trouble for the opponents with minimal risk for your side. Partner’s job is to continue the preempt by adding the number of trumps in his hand to the expected number of trumps in your hand and contract for that number of tricks. So with three trumps he raises a three level preempt to four or a two level preempt to three; with four trumps he raises a weak two to four. Sometimes these contracts even make, as in this case where your partner had three trumps and two aces and the hand was friendly. Normally partner needs either a strong no trump hand or a great fit with aces to expect to have a game actually make opposite your preempt. Thus these raises are usually just furthering the preempt.

(Steve here. While I don’t exactly disagree with anything that Kitty wrote above, I’m not nearly as committed as she is to raising a vulnerable preempt based entirely on how many trumps you have - many good players nowadays are willing and able to defend doubled even without much in the way of trumps. Nor am I committed to counting the cards in my long suit and then preempting to the appropriate level - indeed, it is kind of Kitty not to have mentioned the time that, vulnerable against not, I went for 800 after opening 4S on jack ten eighth and out; the person at the other table more sensibly opened 3S and went for 500. Another factor to consider is the form of contest - if you’re playing IMPs you are more likely to get away with a bad vulnerable preempt than at matchpoints, where the enemy is far more likely to convert a takeout double and hope for the best.)

(Kitty here. Steve is right, you do not have to continue the preempt by raising when you have a hand that wants to defend their contract. Also I would have passed the jack ten eighth and out since the suit quality was so poor, thus achieving a better result than either of them)

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