Theory and Conventions


M J Bridge



Competing at a high-level

Although the thoughts on this page can be applied a little more widely I have in mind the specific conundrum as to whether or not to compete at the five-level.  Note that I am not primarily concerned with contracts which you expect to make - you will need a pretty solid penalty double against vulnerable opponents before you turn down the opportunity to bid your game.

I am looking at the decision whether or not to bid one more as a sacrifice.

We are in the world of fine judgement.  It is the mark of an expert to be able to differentiate between the offensive and defensive potential of specific holdings.  I am not such an expert.

Traditional guidelines

There are a few adages around which may or may not helpful, but which, as ever, contain at least a grain of truth.

One old saw is ‘the five-level belongs to the opposition’.

This might not deter you from competing at the five-level over the opponents’ major suit game, but it definitely advises against making a further bid once your opponents have themselves bid to the five-level.

Another of the traditional guidelines is ‘six-four, bid some more’.

Again, not a bad starting point.  Such a shape is likely to have considerably more offence than defence and because of this the sacrifice will frequently score better than allowing the opponents to make their game.

But there is more to it than either of these ‘rules of thumb’.


As indicated above, vulnerability will be a consideration.

At its simplest, there is little point in going down 500 if the best your opponents can do is score 420.

Are they making?

Even more important is the question as to whether or not the opponents are making their game.

If the opponents have struggled to their contract and you can see as much as a well placed king or the likelihood of a poor trump break then pass and aim to take them down.  How often have I been so pleased when my sacrifice went down for a mere -50, only to discover that I could have had +50 simply by keeping my mouth shut and defending.  This is the ‘phantom sacrifice’.  I do it far too often, but I am by no means alone in this.

Offensive and defensive holdings

This is the bit where the judgement of the experts leaves me a very sorry second.

At the present time (2016) Andrew Robson is writing an excellent and authoritative series of articles in ‘English Bridge’ on the theme of ‘Double, Bid or Pass?’.

The best that I can do is to pick one or two general points, but the underlying message is clear - get your guidance from the top experts, and develop your own judgement as best you can.

In general an offensive hand is one with ‘fairly’ extreme shape, probably including a void, and honours in the long suits.

A defensive holding will usually be less shapely and will frequently contain honours (even minor honours) in the short suits.

With an offensive holding you might bid on.

With a defensive holding and no real hopes of a making contract your way you will pass every time (or just possibly double).

Playing the room

And finally, and this applies particularly at pairs scoring, will the opponents contract be bid by the rest of the room?

If most of the room is going to score 200 for 3 + 1 then there is little point in making a well-judged sacrifice of 300 against your opponents possible game-score.  You will do badly anyway - just defend and try to get them down as your best chance of a good score.

Andrew’s suggestion is that to sacrifice at the five-level over the opponents’ four-level game will be the correct action roughly one time in five.

I have no reason to argue with the judgement of a master.

Beginner and above