Kokish 3-Way 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:
- 1♥ (P) 2♥ (P);
- 1♠ (2♦) 2♠ (P);
- 1♣ (P) 1♥ (P) 2♥ (P);
- 1♣ (P) 1♦ (P) 1♠ (P) 2♠ (P);
- (1♦) 1♠ (P) 2♠ (P);
- (1♦) 1♥ (2♣) 2♥ (P);
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 1♥, you raised to 2♥, and he bid 3♣ 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 4♥!
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 3♥ and hope he makes it.
With hand (c), you have a good raise to 2♥, 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 3♦. 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 1♠ - 2♠ auction first:
1♠ - 2♠ -
- 2NT = asks partner where he would accept a help-suit game try.
- 3♣ = short-suit game try.
- 3♦ = short-suit game try.
- 3♥ = 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 3♦ over 2NT. This not only tells partner about that diamond help, but since 3♣ was skipped over, 1M knows that 2M has a poor club holding.
So let's say the auction went 1♠ - 2♠ - 2N [asking] - 3♣ [showing goodies in clubs], but 1M wasn't interested in the club suit. He can now bid 3♦ or 3♥, asking for help there. So, theoretically, an auction might go like this:
1♠ - 2♠; 2N [asking] - 3♣ [stuff in clubs]; 3♦ [do you have stuff in diamonds?] - 3♥ [Not really, but I have some goodies in hearts!]; - 4♠.
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 2♥, there would be no way to show spade help-- so we use 2♠ as the asking bid.
1♥ - 2♥ -
- 2♠ = asks partner where he would accept a help-suit game try.
- 2NT = short-suit game try in spades.
- 3♣ = short-suit game try.
- 3♦ = short-suit game try.
One more little space-saving maneuver: When partner asks with 2♠, to show spade help we bid 2NT. So if the auction goes 1♥ -2♥ -2♠ [asking] - 3♣ [stuff in clubs], 2M has deniedhelp 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 (1♥ - 2♥ - 3♥ or 1♠ - 2♠ - 3♠) 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 3♠. 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
1♠ - 2♠ - 3♠ - 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 4♠. Go team!
I've also been known to use the "trump ask" of 3♥ or 3♠ as a preemptive action. I once held
♠AKQxxx ♥x ♦Qxx ♣Txx
and the auction went 1♠ (X) 2♠ (P) to me. I bid the "trump ask" of 3♠ knowing full well pard wouldn't bid 4♠. 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 2♠ but not over 3♠. 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.